Letters to the Editor - Winter 1993

No Right, No Wrong (Con't.)

I object to Pema Chodron's (Vol. III, No.1) calling the suggestion to publicize the truth about misbehaving teachers "McCarthyism." Joseph McCarthy slandered people, lied about them, unjustly destroyed their reputations, all in the service of his own political ambition and ideology. The spirit behind the recommendation of the conference of Western dharma teachers is the opposite of this. It is simply to tell the truth. Tell the truth, and let the hearers of that truth decide for themselves what to make of it and what to do about it. Telling the truth is what eventually put McCarthy out of business.

"Let he who is without sin cast the first stone," Pema Chodron quotes, but the reference is imprecise. Jesus chastised the multitude not for saying what was so, but for being vengeful. There is a big difference between telling and stoning. Besides, if we look more closely at the situation, we see Jesus coming to the rescue of a woman (an "adulteress") being scapegoated by men for a man's sexual transgression. With whom would that same Jesus stand in today's Buddhist scene?

When American (or Asian) Buddhists threaten would-be truth-tellers with ostracism, expulsion, or some form of Buddhist hell—that is McCarthyism, that is stoning.  

Lewis Richmond
Mill Valley, California

I would like to express my appreciation to Tricycle for having the courage to publish Pema Chodron's interview. It is the first time in years that any publication has allowed for a view that does not demonize Trungpa Rinpoche. I commend Tricycle for going against the grain and encouraging some real debate instead of perpetuating old negativities. As for the letter from Dharamsala, what may be more appropriate than associating it with McCarthyism is a comparison to the Council of Nicaea. For many of us who have abandoned our Christian roots in favor of the less dogmatic spirituality that Buddhism offers, this council marks the tyranny of religious bureaucracy over matters of the spirit. It honored standards, canons, and creeds—all of which must have looked very necessary to safeguarding the true spirit of Christ. Yet in retrospect, it was the beginning of the end. Buddhism in the West is still so young, so fresh, so full of possibility. Let's give it a chance.  

Toby Price
Ellsworth, Maine

Congratulations on the great interview with Ani Pema Chodron. There are two old Indian maxims to remember: when the chela (disciple) is ready the guru appears, and the chela always gets the guru he/she deserves. The circumstances of our lives are what we have created in past lives and, yes, the progression of lives is totally fair. This has been prophesied as an age of many false teachers, and though it is not fashionable, we have to take responsibility for our own actions. It is incumbent on us to investigate the teacher, and if we are lucky enough to make a relationship with a true one we would do well to have the kind of devotion that Pema displays.

What would the ethics police think of Guru Padmasambhava's consort raising a small boy so that when he was sixteen she could use him in tantric practice or how she taught four bandits and converted them to the dharma by letting them rape her! Oh, to have studied with the Lady Yeshe Tsogyal, mother of the Termas. The great teacher can speed things along: as Trungpa Rinpoche said to me way back when in Scotland, "I can only be a mirror and create situations." Did he create some wild situations. Many of them I did not understand, but just as Pema said, for everything he did in relation to me I am eternally grateful.  

Tendzin Parsons
Northfield, Massachusetts

Tricycle's campaign to demonize sexually active male Buddhist teachers reached a blue-nosed pinnacle in the Fall Issue when Helen Tworkov interviewed Pema Chodron. I was happy to see her fail in her attempt to get her to join forces with the PCSH (Politically Correct Sexual Hysterics), perhaps because the nun is wise enough to know that prurient priests and gods have been with us since Yahweh set up Adam. So have self-proclaimed vulnerable women who duck responsibility for silly romantic judgment and mushy self-control.  

Murray Yaco
Fowlerville, Michigan

I was quite appalled at Helen Tworkov's interview with Pema Chodron in the recent Tricycle. I have been a student of Vidyadhara, the Venerable Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche's for many years, and the rudeness and disregard for his renown and mastery of the teachings of the Buddha was inexcusable. To say that he was as well known for "drinking and having sex with his students" as for his teachings is a great insult to a great teacher. Although you repeat over and over this view that you have of Trungpa Rinpoche, you never mention his accomplishments: the establishment of meditation centers throughout the Western world where people practice the highest teachings of tantra in their native languages. His "unconventional ethics" were a combination of working diligently and compassionately with students and being, above else, extraordinarily human. He had great passions, great intelligence, and great humor. You cannot excise ego and attain liberation by adhering to the nonn. The nonn was established to protect our egos.

I would like to commend Pema Chodron for handling such aggressive and abusive questions deftly and with aplomb.

Eric P. Spiegel
New York, New York

As a Consulting Editor to Tricycle, as a supporter of the Dharamsala Conference, and as a strong advocate of all open-forum conferences dealing with contemporary Buddhism, I thought long and hard before writing this letter concerning the Fall Issue of Tricycle. I must state at the outset that while I support the right of individual expression, I disagree with Perna Chodron's views. Other teachers have very different viewpoints, many of them articulately expressed in many public forums, including the Western Buddhist teachers' conference in Dharamsala, India (March 1993), hosted by H.H. the Dalai Lama. Therefore, I felt it was most unfortunate that an international conference of such scope and importance was not reported in any serious way in Tricycle. It was a serious gap and an opportunity missed for timely coverage of serious issues facing Buddhism today.

The Open Letter that was issued from the conference was buried in the back of the magazine and completely missed by most of the readers I talked to subsequently. The very long conversation with Pema Chodron was given prime position in the magazine; from that extremely visible vantage point, Pema discussed points in the letter from a conference that she did not attend. I found her comments to have an unfortunate bias toward trivializing and distorting some of the most fundamental issues in Buddhism today, to wit, what significance a teacher's own personal conduct and ethics has in relation to the relationship with the student, and what responsibility a student has, in dealing with, and even confronting a teacher who (loaded term, I know) misuses, or abuses spiritual power, whether it manifests in sex or lies.

For Perna to dismiss a seminal point in the letter—"No matter what level of spiritual attainment a teacher has, or claims to have, reached, no person can stand above the norms of ethical conduct"—is disheartening to me, given the wide audience she has as a teacher, particularly from the Tricycle podium. Many caring, compassionate, and responsible teachers and practitioners are struggling with these thorny issues of teacher-student relationships; they are not acting out of hatred, as Pema's conversation seems to imply in broad-brush terms. Nor are they petrifying into "harsh judgment" with "no genuine compassion." Pema's reference to "women's complaints" about betrayal by male teachers seems a term that utterly trivializes the experience, and in effect, dismisses not only the anguish of those betrayed, but the reams of articulate, thoughtful analysis by Buddhist women (and men) on these issues, and the many conferences, dialogues, and teishos given in individual sanghas.

I have been enthusiastic about much that Tricycle has come to offer the Buddhist and non-Buddhist audience. I trust that Tricycle in the future can (1) find ways to give serious coverage to important conferences and new discussions on these subjects and (2) give equal time and forum position to those with significantly different viewpoints from Pema Chodron's. 

Diana Rowan
New York, New York

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