I feel called to write about the intersection of whiteness and the recent reports of the Sakyong's sexual misconduct and abuse of power. I am heartbroken, since my affinity for Buddhadharma originates with Trungpa Rinpoche. Shambhala: Sacred Path of the Warrior saved my life, as it taught me to discover courage and possibility in every moment, just by staying with my raw, vulnerable heart. Ironically enough, these teachings taught me how to stay sober and how to find sanity in confusion. These insights of brokenhearted clarity are incomplete, yet they ring true to my heart, and so it is. I write this for the benefit of all beings. May we know our true nature.
I wrote the following poem after I read the Buddhist Project Sunshine reports and the horribly insufficient statement by the Sakyong prior to the release of the report:
Words of courage
Far cries from shunyata
Casting holiness onto men
Perversions of practice
Refusing the teachings
Material spiritualism has dawned
In the mahayana, I comfort mahasiddhas
I rock grown children to sleep
Father against son
Mother against daughter
What basic goodness is without original sin?
I recall my first Shambhala training, about basic goodness, which was taught in contrast to the Judeo-Christian concept of original sin. I remember raising my hand in contempt, "Is not the propensity to forget our basic goodness an expression of original sin?" The teacher looked at me blankly, ignored my comment, and moved on.
Sin means "to miss the mark." By forgetting our basic goodness, we are missing the mark, failing to see our true nature in image and likeness of God, of Buddha, of Christ, of Tao, of the living Dharma within, etc. This is the essential shadow of Shambhala: not fully investigating forgetfulness, bypassing ancestry, only looking into the nature of lotus and mud, refusing to discover how much blood is in the mud. Rev. angel Kyodo williams calls this, "willful ignorance."
When I go deep into my hara lately, I am washed to a familiar river bank in Georgia, where I meet Trungpa Rinpoche. At first I found this to be odd and kind of crazy—I’m prone to such things. But I am starting to become familiar with these journeys, and they have helped me feel into his teachings.
The few times I’ve done this at length, he comforts me and offers me some wisdom, or there is some magical quality of merging with him. This week, I saw him sitting on a rock, with his head in his hands, weeping. I went to comfort him, to rub his back. I began to weep myself, as I knew he did the best he could to reach as many people as he could, and that there was so much he didn’t know, so much he couldn’t have known—about the social unconscious of western civilization, of whiteness, of intergenerational trauma and systems of oppression.
One of the anecdotes that stands out to me about young Trungpa Rinpoche, was how put off he was by being “tokenized.” He talked about how, when he began university in largely white environments, everyone wanted to have a “pet lama,” but no one wanted to practice. He was depressed and even considered taking his own life, because he couldn’t teach and felt that teaching was his only purpose.
In order to teach, Trungpa Rinpoche fully immersed himself in western civilization, particularly in the United States. He traded his robes for suits, started teaching to artists and poets, intellectuals and hippies, and he never stopped teaching. He saved my life—having never even met him—because of the ripple effect of the students, teachings, and institutions he left behind in his wake. Many of you know I graduated from Naropa University and am profoundly impacted by my contemplative education.
Now, I grew up very Christian and very Confused. Trungpa Rinpoche not only offered me a map for actually experiencing the love of Christ, but he also reminded me of him. I began thinking of him this way, like Jesus. Trungpa Rinpoche sacrificed himself for humanity. He didn’t get nailed to a cross. He got nailed to whiteness. He willingly acculturated to a violent, unconscious, nasty world—“in the slime and muck of the dark age”—and he did the best he could, and now his legacy is being sullied. I feel responsible in ways I cannot fully articulate (see Lama Rod Owens).
I myself have always had one foot in Shambhala and one foot out, being all-in on Naropa University. Much of the reason I never took the Sakyong as a teacher was because of receiving so many teachings through Naropa faculty, present and of old. Naropa has been, and continues to be, an embarrassment of riches—may the world know more about this great institution holding the secular vision of enlightenment set in motion by Trungpa Rinpoche! Many of these teachers are, or have been, Shambhala practitioners and original students of Trungpa Rinpoche.
As these Shambhala revelations unfold, I’m feeling more called than ever to stay and rely on my practice, to breathe Truth into this community. This is what I have been practicing for; this is the warrior's exam. I have come to see that whiteness lives in me in all the ways that would have me demonize the Sakyong, ignore the victims, throw away the teachings, and wash my hands of it all. Patriarchy matters too, of course, and yet I cannot separate the two in my own white, male body. They live in me as one and the same, along with all the ways in which I have traded embodiment for dominance.
My ancestors sold their Alabama plantation and moved to Texas to “start over.” This propensity to leave, to bounce out, to abandon, lives deep in my bones, and I vow to transform such cowardice, avoidance, and ambivalence. Perhaps this is why I always loved the teachings on "Bravery" and "Genuine Heart of Sadness"—these are such compensatory charges. Whiteness would have me leave my body, leave institutions, leave governments, and then go recapitulate violence on other bodies, on other lands, in other institutions, start other governments—until there is no land, no body, no heart, no wisdom left.
In Jesus’s last days, he summarized the teachings: Love yourself, love others, and love God completely and equally; that this is the essence of all the laws and all the prophets. What an impossible Love.
In Trungpa Rinpoche’s last days, he taught secular enlightenment, a vision big enough to create enlightened society, based on warriorship, the natural byproduct of staying in tenderness and bravery. What an Impossible Love.
I won’t be encouraging anyone to stay—that’s certain to me. Everyone needs to choose for themself, now, and also as grief and change unfold. I will stay as long as I am invited, to speak truth and testify to the teachings, to shine light on unconscious recapitulations of violence, and as long as I myself am not being abused, or abusing.
I will transform this body,
not leave it behind,
not cast it onto others.
This is how I atone.
This is how I awaken.
KI KI SO SO!