Sunday, April 6, 2014

Red Robed Charlatans

I was browsing facebook one day, when I came across a link that had been posted or shared by someone on the news feed.  This person was asking others to help support her lama and his charitable projects a posted a link to Feed a Monk.  Well, generally my charitable efforts are aimed at the general populace, not specifically sangha, but I decided to check out the link because hey: feeding the hungry is feeding the hungry!

I spent a long time reading through, trying to figure out which monks were being supported, until I reached the final paragraphs (emphasis added by me):

"But in America, begging monks are often met by police interference.  Luckily, through the convenience of the internet and the safety of paypal, you can improve your Karma and lovingly support this monk by making a cash gift in the amount of your choosing. Your generosity supports my simple, spartan diet and helps me to be of service to others." 
Okay, so basically, it's a self fundraising page parading itself as 'supporting the sangha'. Far from a charitable venture.  I decided to check out more about this guy.  He claims to be a recognized reincarnation, he also acts as a weight loss guru (??)

In his video about prostrations, he proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that he has nothing beyond a rudimentary knowledge of Buddhism and obviously no respect for Tibetan culture: pointing the soles of his feet towards the shrine, disregarding all of the symbolism and importance of prostrations and calling them "fun tools to play with" despite them being a serious part of practice for many Tibetans.

But here's what it comes down to:  he is playing lama, claiming a role in a very serious and sacred religious and cultural institution. Not only is he doing this falsely, which is the biggest form of disrespect, but he's also bastardizing Tibetan traditions in order to make a buck and a name for himself!

Worst part yet: he's far from the only one.  There are dozens of "lamas" out there playing dress up, claiming (or bribing for) recognitions, bastardizing and disrespecting Tibetan culture and traditions all to make themselves famous or get some money!  Other examples include a woman who has changed her name multiple times and attempted to delete those histories, whose only "recognition" is from a lama only referred to on her own web page, and who charges $165 for a 6 hour web class, while claiming to be a teacher of a "rare lineage" of Buddhist yogis. Another is an entire so-called lineage of western "Rinpoches" who spend page after page defending their bizarre system and legitimacy without once showing actual, legitimate Tibetan lamas who support and recognize them. There are too many other examples to list here. All of them teach bastardized, offensive practices which cause anyone know actually knows about Tibetan culture and Buddhism to cringe in embarrassment.

Of course, if you call them out on this, they accuse you of being "racist against white people" (Hrmm, have we heard that one before?).  Completely putting aside how problematic the entire accusation of "reverse racism" is: No, that's not what's going on here.  It's appropriating Tibetan culture and sacred faith, completely bastardizing it, defending being offensive either by crying "racist" or by claiming it's a justified sacred practice.  It doesn't matter what your race is: if you are doing this, it's offensive.

You want to practice Buddhism? Fine. Whatever, it's your beliefs.  You want to be a highly respected lama?  Well then you sure as hell better work your butt off to deserve it.  Learn Tibetan, go to Shedra, live in monastery and deal with all the daily life difficulties without getting out of it because you're white, follow the rules and the vows, respect the religion and culture you're working within; and earn, let me say this again earn any title or respect you may reserve.  Don't think it's possible? Talk to Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo.  Don't you dare think that you deserve it for some reason, or can claim it with no work, no legitimacy and no backing. That's just spitting on Tibetan culture.

And playing tulku?  Claiming to be recognized and a reincarnation?  Don't even get me started.  Yeah, I'm sure it all seems like fun and games: it's not. It's an actual, 900 year old theological system. And whether you think it's real or not, it is part of the religion and culture and don't you go trivializing it just because you want to play god!  Do you walk around claiming to be the pope, saying that you are the one truly ordained by God and that the election of the college of cardinals doesn't count? I don't think so.

This is straight up exploitation of Tibetan culture for the sake of money and fame.  

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