Comedy of errors in the land of Konchog Sum

Laden Tshering Samdup

Laden Tshering Samdup

By Laden Tshering Samdup

KATHMANDU, Nepal, 3 September 2017

Nepal has just finished celebrating the festival of Teej. The main celebration is held at Pashupatinath temple, Kathmandu. Lacs of devotees, all women on fasting and dressed in their best finery, gather here, sing devotional songs and dance throughout the day and into the night. This temple is a UNESCO heritage site and the main item of worship is Shiva Linga or the phallus of God Shiva. There is Kamakhya temple in Assam, India, equally holy for Hindus and where the item of worship is a vagina-shaped rock considered the abode of Mother Goddess Kamakhya.

The question here is, am I being a ‘portly-built dirty lecherous Buddhist Guru’ by writing all this? I suppose so, if I was a certain Tibetan Lama in Europe who made the mistake of showing a disciple a picture of a ‘hideous looking’ deity with a fully erect … Never mind the fact that you may be treated to live performance by a Naga Sadhu when you visit Pashupatinath Temple. By the way these Sadhus, stark naked and covered in cemetery ashes with matted hair, are viewed by the general public as the epitome of worldly renunciation and venerated as such. It is believed having no attachment to worldly objects enables them to serve the society and nation selflessly. They don’t smoke ‘expensive cigars’ but a much more potent stuff called marijuana, not to just get a high but to enable them to avoid worldly distractions and practice self control.

There has been a disclosure tagged as sensational about the antecedents of the above-mentioned lama. It concludes that he is an imposter Tibetan trader turned You Tube Lama, or maybe round-the-corner butcher, who wears Tibetan dress similar in colour to a Lama robe just to fool the masses. They give vivid descriptions of his native land in Tibet and his family background, and do not spare even his mother, the good old lady.

Talking sense here perhaps does not matter and all I can say is, some of his personal acquaintances are sure having a hearty laugh over this sensational disclosure.

They attempt to give authority to their voices by trying to drag in His Holiness, alleging that the lama was the main source of financial aid to Tibetans. Someone close to His Holiness responds, but remains non-committal on the issue, giving general advice but clears the doubt unequivocally that His Holiness does not accept any financial aid. Then His Holiness finally breaches his silence and speaks on the subject pointing out that the particular Lama has been disgraced by his students. These words soothe hurt feelings and are further extrapolated by the grieved party to mean the Lama is a disgrace.

Then there are the words of one who held a senior position in the institution created by the Lama. She tried to be scathingly critical about the behaviour of the Lama but could not hold herself back from praising him also. Some of the behaviours of the Lama she alluded as abusive are more illustrative of managerial goof-ups rather than abusive actions, and are expected in an organization of thousands of people and where petty politics and push-and-pull and one-upmanship are bound to happen. The Lama probably could not fit in properly in the role of a boss.

She spent 28 years under the aegis of the Lama and is now erudite enough to write a book on Buddhism and teach and spread her own brand of Buddhism called secular Buddhism. Her dedication to Tibetan Buddhism is commendable, but her achievements also vindicate the Lama’s efficacy in imparting Buddhist teachings.

Guru-devotion or teacher-student relationship is the essence of Tibetan Buddhism, or for that matter, of any scholastic endeavour. Each field of learning has its own unique method to impart learning. It’s all right to expect loving care from your teacher in High school and condemn him in case of physical or other abuses, but in Tibetan Buddhism the only love you can expect from your Guru is his wish that you attain enlightenment and to achieve that he shows no mercy. Naropa breaking all the bones of his body thinking that his Guru wished him to jump from the height of a temple. Milarepa building towers of rocks, dismantling and building it again just to gain Tutelage under Marpa. Tibetan history is replete with such stories of appallingly rigorous apprenticeships undergone by famous Gurus.

However, physical abuses such as punching, kicking and hair pulling, as allegedly meted out by the Lama to his disciples, remain inexplicable even to me. But what I do know is the fact that these otherwise ever-smiling and jovial Lamas are extremely intolerant of any infractions while conducting pujas or rituals, and that is perhaps the only thing that really gets their goat. Getting just a punch in the gut would be considered extremely lucky if a disciple was to commit an infraction in a public gathering and in full public view.

Mental continuum is the area of focus of Tibetan Buddhism. Its endeavour is to redress the negative mental afflictions that hinder the achievement of Buddha-hood. From our ordinary perceptions, the Lama’s action of making his disciples watch him crapping, no doubt, is very filthy, egoistical, and emotionally humiliating to his disciples. But then it could also be interpreted as an effort to familiarize the disciples with the abhorrent aspects of life so as to enable them to control their hatred or aversion and become a person that does not hate or have an aversion to anyone or anything. It is such qualities that enabled Mother Teresa to search the streets of Calcutta for the filthy and putrid dead, dying, sick and old destitute.

The concept of I, me, or mine, or ego, is recognized as the source of greed, desire, envy, jealousy, etc., human aberrations designed to give short-term happiness but long-term suffering not only for self but for many others. This curse of ego is denounced extensively by all religions, but none except Tibetan Buddhism gives the practical guide to conquer it.

The reason for many great gurus of Tibetan Buddhism spending a lot of time in cemeteries or burning ghats observing human bodies burning, relatives crying and in the night, wolves and dogs devouring their fill, is just to shock themselves with the dreadful scenes and leave an indelible imprint on their mind of the impermanence in the samsaric world and to refresh their memory on the final resting place of all our worldly achievements wealth, fame, and name of a life driven by ego or I, me, and mine.

The great Yogini of Tibet Venerable Machig Labdron in the eleventh century refined and developed this subject further by devising the Chod rituals wherein the aspirants visit fearful places and imaginarily offer their physical body, recognized as the base and source of our ego, to the deities and devils as red feast, white feast etc. in order to rid themselves of this mental fixation of ego. The suffocating bear hug on us of this ego is considered to be so powerful that conducting the chod ritual once or twice is not sufficient but needs to be conducted at least 108 times in different cemeteries before we can say we are somewhere and yes, we are on our way to practicing genuine compassion and love for all.

The Lama’s question to a lady disciple “Did you have a good f…” during breakfast in front of everybody appears to me to be a simple but ingenious way to shock and awe the disciple to shed this ego sometime manifesting in the form of self respect. However our natural tendency is not to let it go but protect it and treasure it and so this question to many appeared to be ‘degrading, shocking, gripping and hurting people’s integrity’.

Nowadays, scamsters operating as Gurus are a dime a dozen. To protect aspiring neo-Buddhists from these unscrupulous people, His Holiness advises exercising extreme care while choosing a Guru. I believe Tibetans don’t have this luxury — and confusion — because they generally follow the Gurus of the sect of the family in which they are born. For neo-Buddhists the best bet is to trace the lineage of the Guru. In this web-driven world, this should not pose much of a problem because the web is choc-a-bloc with Tibetan masters trumpeting their wares.

It would also be a good idea for those doubting the subject Lama’s credentials to make a search on the WWW. They should not be surprised if they find almost all the who’s of who of the Lama world making a beeline to the institution established by the lama and giving their blessings and empowerments. Further, if you wish to have an idea of what Tibetan Buddhism is all about, the most informative and quality teachings would be made available to you by the website created and maintained by the Lama’s institution.

Then there are allegations of the Lama misusing his status as Guru to gain donations and favours from his disciples. If a Guru had to resort to pressure tactics to obtain donations etc then there is something drastically wrong in the system, and such a system being no longer self-perpetuating is destined to crash very soon. Tibetan Buddhism lived and thrived for thousands of years amongst the Tibetan community because Gumbas and Lamas were financially or otherwise supported voluntarily by the non-monastic community.

In today’s modern world, money matters. It is considered very smart to obtain best value for money. However for a Tibetan the best value for money, now or before, has always being religion. So we have high prices being paid for religious artefacts, lavish expenditures on rituals, especially funerary rituals, huge donations for building monasteries and their adornments. Lamas are generally the beneficiaries of such generosity in order to disburden them of the drudgery of earning their everyday living and to allow them to devote all their time to practising and teaching the dharma. Fortuitously the reach of Tibetan Buddhism has spread far and wide and many discerning non-Tibetans have come forward to extend a helping hand. These gentle people, with their exemplary acts of supporting a cause that espouses happiness, compassion, and love, hav given the hope that bombs and greed only shall not rule the world.

Allegations on the Lama of living a “Lavish, gluttonous, and sybaritic lifestyle” on donations received sounds jarring to the ears of a Tibetan and horribly out of place in a world where generosity is practised without any strings attached.

Guru devotion does not flow from disciple to Guru only. It has a flip side which enjoins the Guru to ensure that teachings are bestowed only to suitable vessels. The traditional system of indoctrinating a person from infancy into monastic life ensured a pure mind unsullied by any mental defilement is available to imbibe the teachings. Mandatory years of solitary retreat and meditation sharpened the acumen sufficiently to make the person fit to receive effortlessly the most advanced of teachings.

Tibetan Lamas in their zeal to propagate their religion have left no part of this world without a Gumba, or Tibetan Buddhist learning centre as it is nowadays called. The interns that the Gurus get in these centres have not been nurtured through the time-tested traditional methods, but are mentally matured adults already fixated to certain ordinary perceptions. Such deformation to suit the Western style of education has made Lamaism a mere vocation instead of a lifelong mission. The interns, in turn, driven by their mentality of ‘rat race’ and ‘I am the best’ attitude, make the blunder of gaining entry into the most advanced of teachings or the sanctum sanctorum, the inner circle where even the Angels fear to tread without gaining the necessary mental maturity or wisdom — one openly admitting she got entry there through her boyfriend. So this dilution of dictum on the Gurus to ensure that the teachings are bestowed only to suitable vessels has lead to the painful and awkward experience both for the Guru and the inept interns involved.

In any case Buddha-hood is beyond the reach of most of us. We have to make do with whatever Tibetan Buddhism has to offer us to make our stay in this samsara as comfortable as possible. Good news is, there is lots of it. Just as a few drops of the nectar water ‘Jinlab’ that lamas serve us, is sufficient to purify ourselves, a few drops of Tibetan Buddhism teaching, if diligently practised, are potent enough to relieve us of most of our mental tensions and enable us to live an all-accomplishing, wholesome, and good life.

If our greed for more overcomes us we can always utilize the services of ordained lamas to conduct Dzambala wealth and prosperity or Amitayus long life or Sangey Menla medicine or Gesar energy or lung rituals, the list is endless — but don’t expect the deity to come and leave a pot of gold in your house. What you can expect is subtle changes in your life that open up avenues to what you wished for. No harm in trying.

Stay tuned!!!!!!!! Coming up in next episode, a much more interesting subject called … SEX.

About the author

Laden Tshering Samdup is a retired businessman living in Kathmandu. He has MA (Hons) in economics from Birla Institute of Technology and Science from Pilani, Rajasthan, India. He can be reached c/o Boudha Peace School, Phulbari, Kathmandu, Nepal.

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