After reading the article on Nichiren Shoshu in your Winter Issue (Vol. II, No.2), I want to caution those Westerners who choose to chant Na Mu Myo Ho Renge Kyo that it is an extremely powerful mantra that is neither, like everything Buddhist, bad nor good. It simply will help manifest whatever lies in one's deepest heart. It can help one gather wealth and prestige, but understand there are severe karmic consequences for greed; or it can help bring about a spiritual blossoming.
There are those who teach that this chant is a fast path to spiritual awakening or enlightenment. I am not sure that faster is necessarily better. I myself experienced psychological problems while chanting it, and I watched other Westerners go through similar struggles. Sometimes it may be better to choose a slow, deep current rather than the roaring rocky rapids.
Sandy Mcintosh's article on Nichiren Shoshu (Vol II , No.2) brought out two points often missed in the legitimate my-dharma 's-better-than-your-discourse surrounding NSA.
First, few Western-born Buddhists begin the path with realization of ultimate reality as their motive. It's easy for economically privileged individuals to put down the acquisition of material goods that they or their families already possess. However, they, and myself, are often caught in the desire to heal their bodies, be relieved of their neuroses, experience harmony in relationships, be a "serious" dharnla practitioner, or even hdp achievt: world peace. Loftier than getting a BMW, perhaps, but still very samsaric and understandable, given our present relative awareness. A little compassion for all of us would be useful.
Second, Mcintosh mentioned how large numbers of African-Americans (and others for whom exploring Eastern spirituality is not considered chic) were exposed to Buddhism through NSA. This was the case for me. Though I quickly realized that the sect was not for me, contact with it ignited three questions for which I will be eternally grateful—Who was this Shakyamuni? What did he really teach? Where can I learn more?
Los Angeles, California
THE SHADOW OF SHANGRI-LA
As a Tibetan I was deeply disturbed to read Keith Dowman's article "Himalayan Intrigue" (Vol. II, No.2) concerning the rebirth and recognition of the Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa. While the author appears to accept the recognition, his article, with an abundance of misinformation and the omission of important material, does more to obscure than to clarify the situation.
Unlike Mr. Dowman, I was present at Rumtek monastery, the seat of the Karmapas, on June 12 and was witness to events described by him. He is misinformed when he describes Rumtek as being at risk from "two busloads of Khampas, known for their ferocity." There were, in fact, a dozen or so Khampas, of whom I myself am one, present in peace and good faith, attending the Forty-nine Day services of our late beloved Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche.
What actually occurred at Rumtek was an illegal deployment of the Indian army. The force with legal jurisdiction in Sikkim is the Sikkimese Armed Police. The central government of Sikkim was reportedly livid when the invasion of Rumtek by the Indian army became known and effected its immediate withdrawal. The population of the state of Sikkim went on strike for two days to protest the use of the army against the persons of Situ Rinpoche, Gyaltsap Rinpoche, and all those present.
The resistance which the soldiers, armed with loaded automatic weapons, met was that of desperate Tibetans trying with their bare hands to protect the lives of their great lamas and others. They were also attempting to bar the sacrilege of guns in the very shrine of the Karmapas. Believe me when I tell you that this was not an "attack" by "disaffected monastery employees and Tibetans" but actually the unarmed facing unprovoked armed aggression on harmless beings and a sacred place.
Mr. Dowman also asserts that Tai Situ Rinpoche and Gyaltsap Rinpoche "claimed Kagyu unanimity in order to obtain the Dalai Lama's verification of their candidate." It is interesting that he chose such a disrespectful and prejudicial characterization of communication among three of Tibet's highest lamas. He then strangely fails to mention that His Holiness the Dalai Lama experienced a vision of his own which confirmed for him the authenticity of the Sixteenth Karmapa's letter.
One distortion surpasses the rest in its lack of understanding of Tibetan culture and its potential for confusion to the minds of the unwary. Mr. Dowman claims that "there is not one single Karmapa reborn in this world, but a multiplicity of Karmapas." This statement is wholly and entirely inaccurate.
His Holiness Karmapa's statement that he would "manifest eight hundred incarnations" is not in any way the same as saying that he would manifest in eight hundred emanations. Anyone with an understanding of Tibetan Buddhism should know the difference between these two very different ideas.
This error lays a spurious foundation of understanding in those without a background in Tibetan culture or access to accurate information. All one has to do is look at a list of the Karmapas through history to see that there has been only one Karmapa at a time, succeeding one by one through the generations. That there have been multiple candidates from time to time is true. But in an American presidential election, does a multiplicity of candidates result in a multiplicity of presidents?
Tibet and its people, religion, and culture have been ravaged over tbe last forty years by Chinese Communists. As we and our tradition have sought refuge and hope of new life in the West, we face another, far more subtle threat. When "experts" with limited understanding take it upon themselves to define our culture and experience for us, to intrude their beliefs and agendas where ours should be, then they have ravaged us as surely as those with guns.
Los Angeles, California
(Tenzing Thinlay was a translator for the late Karmapa.)