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the truth will set you free
June 5, 2006 10:41 PM   Subscribe

Stripping The Gurus. Sex, violence, abuse and enlightenment. Chogyam Trungpa, the Dalai Lama, Zen masters, exposing the reality behind the facade of various spiritual teachers. Geoff Falk also writes about the spiritual beliefs of rock stars.
posted by nickyskye (66 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm not very persuaded. For starters Vivekananda and Shri Ramakrishna (particularly Vivekananda) did not hide the fact that they had "outside interests". Vivekananda is famous for urging people to try everything.

There's little evidence Vivekananda "abused" trust placed in him. On the other hand several modern "Gurus" have abused this trust, essentially purporting to live an ascetic lifestyle while all the while taking full advantage of the bounty of the west.

It makes little sense to group the two together.
posted by BTD_Venkat at 11:41 PM on June 5, 2006


Good post, nickyskye.

See also The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad (excerpts here.)
posted by homunculus at 11:42 PM on June 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


Helen Twerkov [sic], was blunt about her suspicions: “It’s a difficult situation, because no one who knows Steven Seagal—who’s been around him—seems to think he demonstrates any elevated spiritual wisdom”

Awseome.
posted by Jimbob at 11:43 PM on June 5, 2006


On the one hand, always good to have a dialog regarding these issues. On the other hand, his case against the current Dalai Lama is so non-existent that the strongest comment that he can make about this is he admitted that he had had a temper and that he had not had sexual relationships. It seems to me that he is trying to condemn all spiritual teachers with a broad brush. Many of them deserve this condemnation, but not all. I think he mentions the Dalai Lama to "sell the chapter" by trying to imply scandal. As he correctly notes, there have been many scandals throughout time in many different traditions. On the other hand, the astute and careful seeker could find many teachers who are leading impeccable lives. You dont so much hear about them as they arent in the news and dont necessarily trade on charisma.

"Make of yourself a lamp..."
posted by jcworth at 12:02 AM on June 6, 2006


This book smells of a smear campaign...and is vaguely disturbing. I was never one to accept gurus, especially Indian ones, unconditionally, and I've heard enough stories about, say, people like Satya Sai Baba, but still...
posted by dhruva at 12:09 AM on June 6, 2006


The Dalai Lama has many important things to say. And, because he's also human, many of the things he says are wrong and/or stupid. Should we disregard the former because of the latter?

I think these guys would be a lot better off if they stopped pretending they were incarnated gods. But then, I never did have much sympathy for Mahayana.
posted by 1adam12 at 12:20 AM on June 6, 2006


In the news: Dalai Lama honours Tintin and Tutu
posted by homunculus at 12:38 AM on June 6, 2006


Is it possible that the book is directed less at skeptics with say an already healthy suspicion of religion and instead directed more at those acolytes that literally accept these "gurus" as incarnate gods by presenting them with a more nuanced (or human) portrait of the Dalai Lama?
posted by Juggermatt at 12:39 AM on June 6, 2006


jcworth, The Dalai Lama was on the CIA payroll, $180,000 a year, used to operate his exiled government’s offices in Geneva and New York up until 1974.

"In 1956 the Dalai Lama, fearing that the Chinese government would soon move on Lhasa, issued an appeal for gold and jewels [donated by the serfs] to construct another throne for himself. This, he argued, would help rid Tibet of 'bad omens'. One hundred and twenty tons were collected. When the Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959, he was preceded by more than 60 tons of treasure."

Not such a non-materialist pacifist.

The Dalai Lama has also publicly endorsed for decades a number of Tibetan lamas who are/were notoriously exploitative and overtly cultic, such as Trungpa or Sogyal Rinpoche.
posted by nickyskye at 1:37 AM on June 6, 2006


I'm looking forward to delving into this, thanks. At a quick glance, very relieved not to see Thich Nhat Hanh in here. Whew.
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 1:45 AM on June 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


Mother Teresa, Nobel Prize winner:

I cannot say that Mother Teresa was continuously callous and calculating about misrepresenting her charitable activities - from time to time she became extremely agitated, especially with people who were close to her, that she should be represented in such an extreme charitable light. When, for instance, Edward Le Joly, first wanted to write a book on her, she erupted:

Do it, do it. We are misunderstood, we are misrepresented, we are misreported. We are not nurses, we are not doctors, we are not teachers, we are not social workers. We are religious, we are religious, we are religious.34

posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 2:13 AM on June 6, 2006


There are no gurus, there are no great teachers... if you submit your spiritual path to someone else's direction, you abdicate the necessity of walking the whole way yourself.

In addition to this there are a great many authorities who are kind of tarnished, like Mother Teresa, like Baker.

Bah.

Here's a true Zen Master, if there is such a thing:

“Transmission is nothing special,” or “Actually, there is nothing to transmit”.

See? People bow before Teachers. There is nothing to bow to.

...and the young man asked, "Why are you scraping that brick on the floor?"
The zen master replied, "I am polishing it into a mirror."
posted by ewkpates at 3:52 AM on June 6, 2006


*bows before ewkpates*
posted by quonsar at 4:15 AM on June 6, 2006


Anthony Storr's Feet of Clay is a good read for those interested in the subject.
posted by stinkycheese at 4:27 AM on June 6, 2006


nickyskye, don't bother. The free tibet cultists know all about the DL's past but prefer willful ignorance and double standards.
posted by skallas at 5:30 AM on June 6, 2006


Meh. I'm not convinced- not that I dispute the facts, but I dispute the conclusions/assumptions. Who sets the rules? Who says that just because you claim to know a thing or two about Buddhism you can't drink, or be a womanizer? Trungpa is nothing compared to a guy like Milarepa or Marpa... if anything he was only sort of outrageous compared to his lineage. I don't think many of his students would find surprises in that article. In other words, if you know your teacher is a drunk and a womanizer (as almost all of Trungpa's students did and do) but think he has something to say regardless, I don't see that as cult-ish behaviour. I see it as a human acceptance of limitation.

In my opinion, it's even more neurotic to expect your teachers to behave like saints. It makes it too easy to say "Whew, thank God I could never live like that; now I don't have to feel so bad about not living up to my expectations."

On another note, Christianity has seen abuse scandals and tithing of 10% of your income for centuries, but you don't see the c-word thrown at it this often (and there's no link in this post to altar boy scandals...)
posted by bobot at 5:36 AM on June 6, 2006


See also Rick Ross's site.

I find Adi Da (Franklin Jones) and Rama (Frederick Lenz) particularly bizarre/compelling/hilarious/sad. (Lenz committed suicide in 1998, but his website lives on.)
posted by staggernation at 5:40 AM on June 6, 2006


I'm trying to find sources for the Dalai Lama accusations, anyone help me with that?
posted by NinjaTadpole at 6:00 AM on June 6, 2006


I also thought the chapter on the Dalai Lama was pretty weak, until I read on to his take on sexual morality. I'm not too surprised about how conservative he is, but I am, as always, fascinated by the disjunction between the liberal veneration of him and his positions and those actual positions.
posted by OmieWise at 6:05 AM on June 6, 2006


what crap.....

I have great respect for the Dalai Lama, that section held nothing of import regarding the man. What was the point.
posted by HuronBob at 7:13 AM on June 6, 2006


Jello said it best.
posted by TedW at 7:20 AM on June 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


Interesting stuff. Thanks for the post.
I read a fascinating book called The Double Mirror for a class on Tantric Mysticism a few years ago. It's written by a one-time disciple of Trungpa and addresses the conflict that he felt about the teacher and his teachings.

I've always been personally uncomfortable with the idea of the guru/disciple relationship. So much potential for abuse there. However, I am not convinced that such a relationship is entirely without value. One should choose one's guru very carefully.
posted by apis mellifera at 7:24 AM on June 6, 2006


Sexy Sadie what have you done
You made a fool of everyone
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 7:26 AM on June 6, 2006


nickyskye, skallas, can you point me towards some sources for the Dalai Lama accusations? The throne specifically.

I would hate to think that they were baseless accusations thrown up against a disapproved establishment, not that China (picking a name from the air) have ever meddled in such things.
posted by NinjaTadpole at 8:08 AM on June 6, 2006


Geez, these people are only human. Why can't we judge them, and their failings, in that light? I fully agree with ewkpates in that one shouldn't look to these people as someone godly. If anything, they should be role models. And like all role models, they aren't perfect. It's awfully hard to live up to people's expectations if they think you are infallible. Maybe instead we should remember they are human like us and while may have some good insights, should not be held above us?
posted by Dantien at 8:16 AM on June 6, 2006


Hell o Dalai and Tibet or not Tibet
posted by hortense at 8:27 AM on June 6, 2006


> The free tibet cultists know all about the DL's past but prefer willful ignorance and
> double standards.

Skallas, you could say exactly the same thing about the admirers of Martin Luther King willfully overlooking his sexual escapades. We do have this need to look up to the best we have, even if they are human and imperfect. The idea, as I understood it, was to admire and emulate the best in the best; and when some debunker brings up their imperfections that's a good time for each of us to go and revisit our own.
posted by jfuller at 8:29 AM on June 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


Dantien, the whole point here is that gurus claim to be more than human. Realized, perfect, infallible, god incarnate, etc. They convince their followers to believe this.

You're absolutely right about how these people should be regarded. And exposing their human failings is a way to try to get that point across to those who believe in, or might be inclined to believe in, their more-than-humanity.
posted by staggernation at 8:38 AM on June 6, 2006


On another note, Christianity has seen abuse scandals and tithing of 10% of your income for centuries, but you don't see the c-word thrown at it this often (and there's no link in this post to altar boy scandals...)

There's a chapter on the Roman Catholic Church in Stripping the Gurus.
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 8:44 AM on June 6, 2006


As ewkpates points out, using the tools that teachers such as the Dalai Lama recommend leads to the inescapable conclusion that no teacher (including the Dalai Lama) is above reproach.

Lin Chi Zen Master said, "If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha. If you meet a Patriarch, kill the Patriarch." Zen Master Seung Sahn says that in this life we must all kill three things: First we must kill our parents. Second, we must kill the Buddha. And lastly, we must kill him! ... Buddhism is quite unique in that its founder never said, "Believe what I say." Buddhism means find out for yourself.. i.e., kill the Buddha.
posted by blucevalo at 8:46 AM on June 6, 2006


> gurus claim to be more than human.

Some do, some don't. The ones who put themselves in the public eye and make the extraordinary self-claims are the ones we suspect of running a racket of one kind or another. But eliminating them still leaves a very large number of holy (or substitute your own term, as long as it means "holy") individuals who have not yet had their fifteen minutes of notoriety and aren't looking for them.
posted by jfuller at 9:06 AM on June 6, 2006


Some do, some don't.

Of course. And it's funny how there tends to be a correlation between the degree of infallibility claimed and the magnitude of the failings eventually revealed. I certainly disagree with Falk's approach of implicitly conflating Tibetan Buddhism with Scientology, the Roman Catholic church with Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. There are definite qualitative differences between a destructive cult and a spiritual movement with a flawed leader.

But on the other hand, there may not such a clear line between "running a racket" and innocently "holy" as you imply. Yes, there are plenty of blatant cases of a guru establishing a whole organization with mercenary motives and acting in bad faith from start to finish. But I think that in many other cases, a cult leader begins with a genuine spiritual impulse and a compelling set of insights or teachings, which leads to having disciples, which leads to having power over them, which leads (because they're human) to the abuse of that power.
posted by staggernation at 9:39 AM on June 6, 2006


...I guess technically there isn't such a thing as a "degree of infallibility"; "amount of divinely give authority" is closer to what I was getting at.
posted by staggernation at 9:56 AM on June 6, 2006


Or "given," even. Jesus, I'm fallible today.
posted by staggernation at 9:56 AM on June 6, 2006


You are infallible at being human.
posted by zennie at 10:06 AM on June 6, 2006


One day, walking along the seashore you spot a package washed up by the waves. You take the package and unwrap it. Inside is a book. The book is filled with what reads as deep wisdom all written by hand. You take the book and read it cover to cover. You are deeply moved by the content and having read it you find your life has changed for the better. But you can find no indication of who the author is. What do you do? Do you search for the author or do you just accept the wisdom with gratitude? Or what if, having taken the latter path, you find out years later that it was written by a pathological mass murderer who raped and killed numerous people and who ended up hiding in a cave on another coast? Should this make a difference?
posted by donfactor at 10:52 AM on June 6, 2006


Oddly, nothing on Benny Hinn....so I guess he’s ok then.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:03 AM on June 6, 2006


Prince Philip, the god
posted by jfuller at 11:08 AM on June 6, 2006


the whole point here is that gurus claim to be more than human. Realized, perfect, infallible, god incarnate, etc.

I went to see the Dalai Lama speak when he was visiting the U.S. a few years back, and he made a point of rejecting this whole idea. The most he would claim was that he was "maybe a little more calm" than the average person, which seems pretty reasonable for a guy who spends a lot of time meditating. He struck me as a totally down to earth, good-humored kind of guy with no particular illusions about his place in the world.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:37 AM on June 6, 2006


If you want the gossip about hundreds....no, more like a couple thousand other gurus, try Sarlo's Guru Rating Service.

Me, I've been suckered by a guru or two and enlightened by another guru or two. Sometimes it's worth a try. It's not Hotel California...you can leave whenever something seems wrong.
posted by kozad at 11:43 AM on June 6, 2006


It's not Hotel California...you can leave whenever something seems wrong.

Well, except if you're in Jonestown.
posted by blucevalo at 11:58 AM on June 6, 2006


donfactor, that's almost the exact opposite of what usually happens when someone gets involved with a cult. I'll spare everyone the parallel extended metaphor. But it's precisely the authorship—the charisma of the leader—that draws people in. The content of the "book" is often secondary, and if it turns out to be nonsense, the follower may be too enamored of the guru to recognize that.

Mars Saxman, I don't by any means consider the Dalai Lama to be in the same category as the kind of guru I'm talking about. Geoff Falk doesn't appear to draw such distinctions, which is a big problem with his book.

Well, except if you're in Jonestown.

Or Heaven's Gate. Wow, their site is still up? (Then again, who would be around to take it down?)
posted by staggernation at 12:04 PM on June 6, 2006


NinjaTadpole, I'm reluctant to post additional links after my original front page post as I'm not sure if it considered proper MetaFilter netiquette.

Since you have specifically asked for sources, here are a few...

About the Dalai Lama's deception to get money from the Tibetan serfs to save himself and his entourage. The journalist is Norm Dixon.

Here is an extensive list of critical links about Buddhism and Lamaism from the Trimondi's Shadow of the Dalai Lama - Sexuality, Magic and Politics in Tibetan Buddhism.

The Dalai Lama's long time connection with the CIA is well documented, here, from the US Dept. of State. Another example is, The CIA's Secret War in Tibet.

Quoting Joseph G. Morgan, Department of History and Political Science, Iona College, who reviewed The CIA's Secret War in Tibet: In addition to training agents and paramilitary units for operations inside Tibet, the CIA took other steps to aid the Tibetan resistance. A CIA subsidiary, the Committee for Free Asia, financed a trip that Thubten Norbu, another one of the Dalai Lama's brothers, made to the United States in the early 1950s to plead for American support for Tibetan independence. When Tibetans lobbied for the passage of a United Nations resolution that expressed concern over PRC policies in Tibet in 1959, the CIA provided information to sympathetic journalists and editors in an effort to build up public support for the resolution. The Agency also assisted the Dalai Lama's government-in-exile by giving a $180,000 annual donation to the Dalai Lama's charitable trust fund until 1967 and by subsidizing a training program for Tibetan officials and agents at Cornell University. It also purchased Tibetan art works for display at the government-in-exile's Tibet House in New Delhi.

Recent lectures on the subject by former CIA operatives at Stanford Uni. The CIA set up Tibet House in America and elsewhere in collaboration with the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama's first Western monk he ordained, Robert Thurman (father of Uma), was set up oversee Tibet House in New York, along with Richard Gere.

"His Holiness" the Dalai Lama permits himself to be worshipped as a deliberate reincarnation of a line of other Dalai Lamas, a god-king. He sits on an elaborate throne which is then itself worshipped.

He struck me as a totally down to earth, good-humored kind of guy with no particular illusions about his place in the world.

That is his Western shtick. But even in the West he allows himself to be worshipped as a reincarnated god-king, sits on a throne, teaches and encourages a belief system that allows people to protrate themselves on the ground to him.

The content of the "book" is often secondary, and if it turns out to be nonsense, the follower may be too enamored of the guru to recognize that.

the whole point here is that gurus claim to be more than human. Realized, perfect, infallible, god incarnate, etc. They convince their followers to believe this

Yes, staggernation, that is the core problem with these and so many other gurus or so-called spiritual leaders.
posted by nickyskye at 1:19 PM on June 6, 2006


drat, I meant to make a link out of the online book by V&V Trimondi, Shadow of the Dalai Lama - Sexuality, Magic and Politics in Tibetan Buddhism.
posted by nickyskye at 1:38 PM on June 6, 2006


Boy, Geoff Falk didn't take a lot of time to learn about Tibetan Buddhism before writing this. Yes, the Sixth Dalai Lama rejected monasticism and traditional Tibetan doctrines about sex, and womanized. Which Falk thinks makes him a fraud. And then the Fourteenth Dalai Lama didn't reject monasticism and traditional doctrines about sex, or womanize. Which Falk thinks makes him a fraud.

What was that about double standards, skallas?

Just as many liberal religious people reject their religion's teachings about sex, many liberal Buddhists reject the Dalai Lama's views on homosexuality and masturbation. (Know any pro-choice Catholics?) This is because people are capable of accepting some things a guy says and not accepting other things a guy says. That doesn't make them mindless cultists; in fact, just the opposite.

Also, I love that Falk cites British imperialists and Christopher Hitchens as authorities on what the old Tibet was like. I'm sure Hitchens has heard from reliable sources that the Dalai Lama is hiding Saddam's WMDs.

And, yes, the Dalai Lama accepted help from the CIA. Um, he was about to get blown up. I'm not clear on what the problem is.
posted by Polonius at 2:31 PM on June 6, 2006


And, yes, the Dalai Lama accepted help from the CIA. Um, he was about to get blown up. I'm not clear on what the problem is.

The deception of the Dalai Lama, taking the money and running, leaving all the serfs who coughed up the money for his escape behind to get slaughtered, for starters. The reality the money from the CIA was for training Tibetan guerillas to kill people. I didn't see that anywhere in the Bodhisattva vows and certainly not in keeping with the image of the Dalai Lama as an incarnation of Chenrezig, Buddha of compassion. So everybody else is supposed to be not attached to possessions but it's okay for him?

A womanizing Dalai Lama is an hypocrisy when he's the head of the largest monastic sect, the Gelugpas.

Funny you should mention weapons of mass destruction and the Dalai Lama. There's a book out, Into Tibet: The CIA's First Atomic Spy and His Secret Expedition to Lhasa.
posted by nickyskye at 3:12 PM on June 6, 2006


Kill the Buddha
posted by alteredcarbon at 3:21 PM on June 6, 2006


Did he mention anything about Jesus Christ hanging out with whores or engaging in fits of violence in temples? How about Mohammed and his womanising bigamy? And I'm sure old Lao Tzu got up to some mischief up in the mountains, even if goats don't make the best witnesses...
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:33 PM on June 6, 2006


I too thought "aww crap. I hope Thich Nhat Hanh isn't on there." He isn't. Not enough scandal, or not guru enough? Who knows.
posted by edheil at 4:47 PM on June 6, 2006


I too thought "aww crap. I hope Thich Nhat Hanh isn't on there."

"The truth isn't in the packaged religion. It's a gift you find along the way, if the way is moral, elegant and socially sound.", Joe Szimhart, cult information specialist.

I don't think it's in the packaged religion or adoring an idealised human being/guru/teacher. As Alstad and Kramer have written in their The Guru Papers, "religions construct a realm different from and superior to daily life, label it spiritual, and then create authorities who give unchallengable directives on how to get there." The authoritarianism of the Eastern traditions is better concealed than the Western spiritual traditions. "Oneness ideologies denigrate individuality as illusory and self-interest as sinful, the source of all suffering and evil....The very nature of any structure that makes one person different and superior to others... breeds authoritarianism". This makes it all the easier for cults to arise around Eastern teachers. Teachers admired, ok, respected, ok, idealised, pedestalised, not.
posted by nickyskye at 6:35 PM on June 6, 2006


As opposed to duality - where we need authoritarian conduits to the almighty?

The prevalence of "Gurus" in Eastern traditions is being seriously overstated here.

All you need for a contrary view is to compare the stuff perpetrated in the name of Eastern vs. Western traditions. The Western traditions seem to allow for perpetration of evils (i.e., action contrary to the faith in question) on a societal scale. The Eastern tradition on the other hand not so much.

Just a thought.
posted by BTD_Venkat at 7:28 PM on June 6, 2006


It is hard to get too exercised about the efforts of Tibet to resist Chinese occupation, given that the PRC has executed 77 MILLION PEOPLE (!!!) and imprisoned & tortured countless more. I read the following on another website and thought it was at least worth considering, viz the DL:

The Dalai Lama’s throne and in fact all the relics in the Potala are not considered to be the personal property of the Dalai Lama, they are the property of the state. The Dalai Lama, as is specified in the vows of a monk which he has always upheld, does not collect personal property or wealth. His only possessions are a few spiritual texts, a watch or two, and his robes and ritual objects (a rosary, etc.). When he requested that a new throne be built it was not his personal possesion but rather that of the state — the Tibetan Government. In the context of the Tibetan belief system, the creation of this throne was an offering to the protective dieties of Tibet, and the effect of making such an offering would be to bring about the karmic causes which would result in Tibet being protected from Chinese invasion. In fact, to be perfectly accurate, the Dalai Lama was making this offering of a throne, rather than receiving it. This is exactly like the case in which a wealthy person sponsors a charity drive. In this case, the Dalai Lama sponsored the creation of this throne (and his office also contributed precious gems and labor and other funds for its construction). So it is not correct to position this as the Dalai Lama receiving the offering; he was offering it along with the people of Tibet, and once offered it was not his property.

When the Tibetan Government went into exile along with the Dalai Lama of course they took whatever they could from their treasury. How else would they fund their exile government, and take care of the hundreds of thousands of homeless exiles who followed them to India? All other governments would do the same. It is perfectly rationale, and furthemore, justified. Nothing about that implies that the Dalai Lama gained personally from that. In fact, quite the contrary — he would have been much better off personally if he had simply submitted to China in the first place. Instead he chose to resist and was forced into a very difficult exile as a result. Furthermore, had the Tibetan government left their precious relics in Tibet, the Chinese would have simply destroyed them, as they did to almost all the monasteries and historical relics and artworks that were left behind. So even merely from the perspective of cultural preservation, it was necessary to remove those precious historical objects from Tibet before the Chinese army could get to them.

As for the Dalai Lama receiving CIA funding, this should not be taken to imply that the Dalai Lama worked for the CIA. Rather, it should be taken to imply that the CIA helped subsidize the escape and re-establishment of his government. The CIA did fund the Tibetan resistance, and also provided money for the Dalai Lama’s relocation and the continuity of government. If funds were provided for his office, that does not in any way imply that he himself benefitted personally from that. Think about the complexity of trying to relocate an entire government and exile community, and run an insurrection, and establish international outreach and an office in NYC etc. Now add to that the complexity of doing this while being invaded, hunted, and while still a very young man with no political experience. That is the situation that the Dalai Lama faced at that time. Not only would the expense have been large, but the use of funds would probably be a bit disorganized as well — after all they were on the run as exiles, and were outside of their ancient feudal civilization for the first time. They didn’t have the luxury to squander money for personal gain — they were fighting for basic day-to-day survival!
posted by jcworth at 7:58 PM on June 6, 2006


The Dalai Lama’s throne and in fact all the relics in the Potala are not considered to be the personal property of the Dalai Lama, they are the property of the state.

"What you seem to be leaving out here is that most of the people in Tibet were living in serfdom and were also essentially the property of the state. Isn’t human life more valuable than jewels and thrones?"

The Dalai Lama lived in a 1000 room palace in Lhasa, the Potala.

"But then, he’s also the leader of a nation, and thus to say he didn’t benefit from it on some level is more absurd than anything I said. That’s like saying the President doesn’t “get” anything from living in the White House. Sure he doesn’t own it, but that doesn’t matter."

As for the Dalai Lama receiving CIA funding, this should not be taken to imply that the Dalai Lama worked for the CIA.

So in other words, when I get paychecks from my company, I shouldn’t consider myself to “work” for that company? That’s a nonsensical argument.

"Starting in 1955 the CIA began to build a counter-revolutionary army in Tibet"

"Prior to Chinese rule, over 700,000 of Tibet’s population of 1.2 million were in serfdom” - working on lands owned by the lamas, under a feudal society of warlords and even slavery."

80,000 refugees fled Tibet into India, Bhutan, Nepal and Switzerland in 1959 where they were given international help. All the rest were left behind.
posted by nickyskye at 9:02 PM on June 6, 2006


"when I get paychecks from my company, I shouldn’t consider myself to “work” for that company?"
You may be paid by them, but do you work for them?

Was he working for the CIA, or was he being used as a convenient (but benign) stooge, set up as an inconvenince to China? If he did work for them, what work did he do?
Furthermore, when the CIA stopped their funding, why was this and how did this affect what he was doing? If they stopped employing him, clearly it would stand to reason that he would stop working for them - he would do something different.


Also, I'm still unable to verify the call for treasure from the Dalai Lama for his throne. I'm sure by now it's clear I'm placing the burden of proof on you, to establish that he was working in his own material interests. Not that I regard you in particular as trying to mislead, simply that you may have believed without consideration.
posted by NinjaTadpole at 3:19 AM on June 7, 2006


NinjaTadpole, The links on the Trimondi's site are enough to answer all your questions.

It's documented The Dalai Lama started working with the CIA in the mid-1950's and that the Tibet Houses around the world, set up by the CIA, are still in operation, 40 years later. Not only did the DL accept $180,000 a year but another million+ for training soldiers, who were shipped to secret training sites. That went on for about 20 years. Guess the DL wasn't just a one time stooge but over many years. The people in Tibet who supported the lamas in their huge monasteries lived in abject poverty, were illiterate without even the use of the wheel (!) and were ruled over by the lamas.

The Dalai Lama was put on a throne as a 2 year old child and worshipped as a god-king. Where in the Buddhist texts does it say it's right to take small boys from their families, put them into 'monk's robes' when they don't know about life, much less have any sex life to renounce and bully them into memorising texts, which they don't understand? That was the reality for tens of thousands of Tibetan boys, including the Dalai Lama.

When the Chinese fully invaded Tibet, the DL tricked uneducated poor folk into giving money under false pretences, supposedly for his throne to be even more fancy, and then took that money in his private escape leaving tens of thousands to be slaughtered. He is STILL accepting the money from poor Tibetans for creating fancy thrones, all over the world.

Yes, he was a stooge of the CIA and a puppet of an old, corrupt political system in Tibet. But he has free will, he's out of Tibet now and he still allows himself to be worshipped as a god-king. He still sits on a throne and he endorses/has endorsed, covered up for other lamas who are known exploiters of their students in the West.

That system of feudal rule kept the population of Tibet oppressed and the small handful of lamas living an elite, wealthy life. The DL didn't choose to be put on a throne but he has STAYED on that throne, he is almost 70 now,
being worshipped, prostrated to, his entire life. In whose interest is that? So I guess he was a stooge. He's worshipped as a living Buddha, where does stooge come into that picture?

The point is not to worship anybody as a superhuman teacher/guru.

The DL is simply another human being.
posted by nickyskye at 8:29 AM on June 7, 2006


Sure, he's simply another human being, nickyskye, but he's also the head of a major world religion, and the former head of a completely isolated third world nation that had about five minutes to absorb the last thousand years of world history before being flattened by China. Given the circumstances I think he's doing pretty well.

So what if the Dalai Lama does build fancy thrones using the money donated by poor Tibetans? That's how religions work. Are you this angry at the Pope, too, sitting in his fancy house in the Vatican surrounded by priceless artwork paid for by poor Catholics all over the planet? Sure, it sounds a bit ugly when you phrase it that way, but where else are religious organizations going to get money? I'm completely non-religious, but even I can see the beauty and spiritual meaning of a cathedral and appreciate the impulse that might lead people to donate large quantities of time or money toward such a thing. I don't know much about Tibetan Buddhism but it seems totally plausible to me that fancy thrones and elaborate monasteries have a spiritual significance in their culture that is less visible to us.

As far as I can tell your criticisms would apply to just about any religion. If you are universally pissed off at religion and think all religious leaders are bunk, well, that's fine, but from what you've said here it just sounds like you're picking on the Dalai Lama because people like him.
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:21 PM on June 7, 2006


Nickyskye,

Of course the DL is a simple human being, as he himself says at virtually every talk he gives. As to where in the buddhist texts it says it's appropriate to recognize children as reincarnated religious teachers, um, have you read the buddhist texts? Because, yeah, they say that.

And if the millions of serfs in Tibet were so oppressed, why do they want their Dalai Lama back so bad? (And yes, I've been there and talked to people. And yes, they do.)

Where on earth you get the idea that the people of Tibet were "property of the state" (or what that even means) would be interesting to hear -- prior to 1913, there wasn't even a centralized state in Tibet that they could have been property of.

And good grief, are you really shocked that people give a lot of their money to their religious leaders to build fancy temples and thrones? Try visiting any shrine in India, Nepal, Tibet, etc -- even poor people give lots of money, all the time, without being forced. Maybe you think that's stupid, but your disdain for their beliefs is your business.

And if you want to say the DL worked for the CIA, okay, he worked for the CIA, if that means both of them tried to stop the Chinese from taking over Tibet. If somebody wanted to hire me to defend my own people and homeland, I'd happily hop onto their payroll.

The DL isn't perfect, but he's doing the best he can, and almost all Tibetans love him for it. Give them a break; they've been beat up enough.
posted by Polonius at 5:04 PM on June 7, 2006


As far as I can tell your criticisms would apply to just about any religion.

Yes, I agree.
My criticisms are about putting people up on a pedestal as something other than simply human, flaws and all. And in some cases, very flawed, endangering others' wellbeing, while professing to or encouraging others to worship them as saintly.

If the DL says he's a simple human being, then let him sit in a chair, not a throne and not be prostrated or called a "living Buddha".

The only reason I wrote here about the Dalai Lama is in response to others' posts.

Most people don't have many illusions any more about the well-known Hindu gurus or the Catholic Church, also mentioned in Geoff Falk's book. However, many people do still have illusions about the Dalai Lama being more than a human being. I'm comfortable discussing any of the gurus in Falk's book.

he's also the head of a major world religion

You might want to get your facts straight. The Dalai Lama is not the Pope of Buddhism. He's not the 'head' of Buddhism. He's the political head Tibetan Buddhism and the head of one of four sects of Tibetan Buddhism.

Mahayana Buddhism has a number of different sects in other countries, such as in Korea and Japan. Theravadin Buddhism has its own sect heads in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and other countries. The DL is not considered their head by any means.

The other 3 three heads of the Tibetan Buddhist sects consider the DL to be officially the political head at the moment but in Tibetan history the political/sectarian leadership was won in numerous bloody wars by the leaders of the other sects as well. Tibet was rife with violent sectarianism and Tibetan refugees still struggle with it. The Eastern Tibetans and Central Tibetans were often in Hatfield-McCoy style feuds and outright civil wars too.

isolated third world nation that had about five minutes to absorb the last thousand years of world history before being flattened by China

Actually Tibet and China have had both ongoing diplomatic and antagonistic relations for millennia, especially the Eastern regions of Tibet.

The Tibetan government, of which the Dalai Lama was the head, chose to be isolated. Numerous nations other than china tried to have diplomatic relations with Tibet and when emissaries were sent, they were for the most part killed at the border or refused entry. The political head of Tibet repeatedly chose not to allow anyone to own an automobile but himself or even own a wheeled cart. Things were carried on horseback until 1959, if a person were well off enough to own a horse.

There were no paved roads, almost no electricity except for the elite in Lhasa, no radios or telephones. No non-religious books, which mostly only monks could read and even most monks, who memorised the religious books may not have known what they were muttering when they read the words to officiate at a funeral or other ritual. Most Tibetan monks know nothing about meditation and believe that is something only the 'high lamas' or yogis are capable or wise enough to do. The population of Tibet was illiterate, knew nothing about the outside world, they were kept in the dark ages, no schools for non-monks all the way up to 1959.

World War l AND ll had already shaken up the whole planet by 1945. The Chinese Revolution had been taking place since 1927. The Tibetan government knew of millions being killed and still remained isolated. After all those years of the world in war and tumult around them, the Tibetan government, run by the DL and his entourage, STILL chose to be an illiterate, uninformed, feudal society, run by tens of thousands of monks living off the poor.

Gee, too bad they thought they were magically protected from reality. Tibetan lamas make 'divinations'. Sad how they didn't envision their country folk being slaughtered.

And you don't see anything wrong in this picture?

Of course it's fine to like the Dalai Lama, or any religious teacher, just in the context of reality-based truth.
posted by nickyskye at 5:20 PM on June 7, 2006


nickyskye - thanks for pointing out the distinctions between mahayana and theravadan forms of buddhism in this discussion, although i wish these distinctions were better understood more generally. personally, i consider myself a buddhist in the theravadan tradition--valuing the psychological, spiritual and ethical insights of the historical gotama buddha, while feeling more than a little uneasy about the cultishness and guru-worship that seems to be such a prominent feature of the mahayana traditions. there's also an implicit quality of sanctimony to the mahayana tradition that's always bothered me a little (what with declaring itself the "greater vehicle" and insisting that those furthest along the path to enlightenment should vow to defer their own liberation until everyone else is liberated--doesn't take a genius to figure out that in such a seemingly noble scheme, no one ever actually gets liberated!) but i think it's important to emphasize a bit more strongly that not all of us who value the psychological and ethical teachings of the historical buddha are mystical loonies intent on learning how to levitate, have better sex, or escape the consequences of our intentional actions; quite the opposite, i should hope, since that's pretty much the opposite of what the historical buddha taught, IMO. at any rate, you should probably be a bit more honest about Tibet's relationship with China. Here, you make a subtle, but significant rhetorical shift that I don't think passes muster (i've bold faced the relevant bit):

Gee, too bad they thought they were magically protected from reality. Tibetan lamas make 'divinations'. Sad how they didn't envision their country folk being slaughtered.

As the people of a sovereign, self-determined nation (though one you would seemingly dismiss as "backwards" and "uncivilized"), Tibet's country folk weren't being slaughtered; China's country folk were. What good would it have done for the Tibetans to get involved in the tumult, too? How could any effort to intervene have amounted to anything more than throwing more wood on the fire? IMO, the real point of spiritual meditative practice and reflection is not to be protected by a "magic bubble," to use your none-too-generous terminology, but to train oneself to manage and ultimately to subdue the primative passions that flare up into exactly the kinds of violent conflict you fault Tibet for not taking a more active role in. How can you possibly maintain progress toward subduing those passions when you're busy throwing yourself into the moral and spiritual morass of warfare along with everyone else?

Not to argue that the Dalai Lama and Tibet as a nation should be immune to criticism, but seriously, intentionally causing the suffering of others is the one thing that all schools of buddhism explicitly reject: It's the core buddhist belief. You and I might be fairly comfortable with convenient Orwellian fictions like waging offensive wars in the name of peace, but I would argue that no right-thinking human being could help but see such rationalizations as anything but absurdities.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 8:42 PM on June 7, 2006


The Dalai Lama has publicly acknowledged and apologized for "the despotism of the monks" and seemingly embraces democracy as an ideal for his homeland. Ironically he also had ties to that Japanese Zen Death cult that Gassed subway patrons in Tokyo.(details in my links up thead)
posted by hortense at 9:53 PM on June 7, 2006


all-seeing eye dog, Enjoyed reading your post.

(what with declaring itself the "greater vehicle" and insisting that those furthest along the path to enlightenment should vow to defer their own liberation until everyone else is liberated--doesn't take a genius to figure out that in such a seemingly noble scheme, no one ever actually gets liberated!)

LOL, good points.

it's important to emphasize a bit more strongly that not all of us who value the psychological and ethical teachings of the historical buddha are mystical loonies intent on learning how to levitate, have better sex, or escape the consequences of our intentional actions; quite the opposite, i should hope, since that's pretty much the opposite of what the historical buddha taught, IMO.

Completely agree with you.

you should probably be a bit more honest about Tibet's relationship with China.

Where was I not honest? It sounds like you are uninformed about China slaughtering the Tibetans after the DL left.

though one you would seemingly dismiss as "backwards" and "uncivilized"

Please take a few minutes and read some information about life in Tibet before the Chinese takeover, like at Michael Parenti's site. Or here, about the theocratic despotism in Tibet.

Tibet's country folk weren't being slaughtered; China's country folk were.

Tibet's country folk were slaughtered once the DL fled the country. Did you not know that?

Of course, the Chinese were ALSO slaughtered in the Chinese Revolution, an unthinkably awful 77 million.

But the Chinese also killed many thousands of Tibetans. What the actual figures are I don't know but from the Tibet.org page it says on the days after the DL left Tibet for India:

"At 2.00 am the Chinese started shelling NorbuLingka. The Norbulinka was bombarded by 800 shells on March 21 Thousands of men, women and children camped around the palace wall were slaughtered and the homes of about 300 officials within the walls destroyed. In the aftermath 200 members of the Dalai Lama's bodyguard were disarmed and publicly machine-gunned. Lhasa's major monasteries, Gaden, Sera and Drepung were shelled -the latter two beyond repair - and monastic treasures and precious scriptures destroyed. Thousands of their monks were either killed on the spot, transported to the city to work as slave labour, or deported. In house-to-house searches the residents of any homes harbouring arms were dragged out and shot on the spot. Over 86,000 Tibetans in central Tibet were killed by the Chinese during this period. "

What good would it have done for the Tibetans to get involved in the tumult, too?

Well, flee with the gold, the CIA money and his own private entourage is what the DL came up with as his solution.

If one is a little (1.2 million population) country that is illiterate, with a feudal/slave system going on, no army to speak of, no cars, no weapons and Huge China has been making headway into Tibet since 1951, it would make sane, adult, political sense for Tibet to reach out and communicate with other countries and ask for political help or to make SOME kind of commonsense political changes to address what was barreling down the pike towards them. Diplomacy? Peaceful surrender? Making some sort of compromises with China?

War is definitely NOT the only option and I do not advocate war at all.

This thread is about ANY guru or teacher being held up as a perfect, superbeing and the danger that can cause.
posted by nickyskye at 10:01 PM on June 7, 2006


nickyskye--thanks for the info; i didn't know these particular facts about the dalai lama, as you correctly guessed. i'm not especially familiar with the specifics of the situation in tibet but have always heard it explained simply in terms of the DL having been forced into exile by the chinese government. thanks for enlightening me. if what you say is true as you describe it (and I certainly have no reason not to believe it is), then the DL's behaviour doesn't sound at all consistent with the principles of compassion and loving-kindness that a supposed emanation of Avalokitesvara is meant to embody.

as for the more general points about hero/teacher/guru worship, i couldn't agree more; and rock stars and gurus are, as a general rule, not to be trusted. but that doesn't mean they don't sometimes have useful lessons to teach.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 10:33 PM on June 7, 2006


all-seeing eye dog, Thanks for the civil dialogue. No enlightenment intended, lol, just info. :)
You, or anyone, can verify what I wrote on Wikipedia, Google or any of the links I included.
Some gurus have useful lessons, without the pedestal.

As Shakyamuni said, Be a light unto yourself.
posted by nickyskye at 10:54 PM on June 7, 2006


The apathy and superstitions of modern Tibetans are just as destructive to their country as romantic Western misconceptions, warns prize-winning writer Jamyang Norbu.
posted by homunculus at 11:12 PM on June 7, 2006


homonculus, As usual, great article! Thanks. You know, I think I knew the author in the mid-1970's up in MacLeod Ganj. A coinkidink. Loved the art accompanying the article. It's poignant to me that he is SO articulate and insightful about many of the things he discusses and yet he still believes in the mumbo jumbo of the Nechung Oracle, who I've seen a number of times and whose performances are every bit as dramatic as a Filipino faith healer. It's like Jamyang can almost, very nearly let go of his attachment to the magic-and-mystery mythology but in the end not. However, he can see it in others well and that's something. :) I'm really impressed he calls the DL out on buying into the magic bs.

He says, "Probably this would be a good time as any to mention that I personally do not reject the existence of deities, ghosts and oracles. I think that what people regard as real are to a great degree conditioned by the worldview of the period they live in. When ancient Greeks believed in gods and titans they probably did exist, and not merely as pale symbols of moral qualities or forces of nature as later European readings of the Greeks mythologies and epics would have us accept, but as living powers and entities that interacted in the lives of the people."

To me that's probably an indication he, as an example of Tibetan people, may be neurologically stuck in the bicameral mind.
posted by nickyskye at 12:33 AM on June 8, 2006


An article on DeLay is in the Post this morning. The guy was totally on the take. It ties in here because people are afraid of accountability.

There are gurus and teachers that walk the walk.

If one doesn't, people should kick 'em to the curb. But people don't. Why?

Nobody wants to be held accountable, so they don't hold anyone else accountable.

Which is basically the whole reason for a teacher/guru.
posted by ewkpates at 4:05 AM on June 8, 2006


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