Open Forum: Irreverence and Buddhism


irreverence: n 1. lack of due respect or veneration; disrespect 2. a disrespectful remark or act

What role does reverence play in Buddhist practice?

The Buddha repeatedly discouraged any excessive veneration paid to him personally. He knew that an excess of purely emotional devotion can obstruct or disturb the development of a balanced character, and thus may become a serious obstacle to progress on the path to deliverance. The history of religion has since proved him right, as illustrated by the extravagancies of emotional mysticism in East and West

…It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that the Buddha disparaged a reverential and devotional attitude of mind when it is the natural outflow of a true understanding and a deep admiration of what is great and noble. It would also be a grievous error to believe that the “seeing of the Dhamma” (spoken of in the first saying) is identical with a mere intellectual appreciation and purely conceptual grasp of the doctrine. from Access to Insight

So what do you think?  This conversation has already started and I didn’t expect it’s introduction to be so heated.   If I offended any readers then I apologize, humbly and deeply, and would appreciate any input and comment on this topic by individuals much more learned and experienced than myself.

The 32 Signs of an Enlightened Fellow without commentary by me (although the gibbon fingers I thought was hilarious) 



Some videos of irreverent comedy in a church….

Check out Nathan’s post on this over at Dangerous Harvests ~ Drama Wars: Are Online Humor and Irreverence Just Paths to Samsara.


97 thoughts on “Open Forum: Irreverence and Buddhism

  1. I wonder how long it will be before someone tells you you’re a terrible, irreverent person for making fun of the Buddha’s 32 marks? 🙂

  2. John…what is the matter with you? This isn’t even funny as satire. Sorry, Trevor, but it’s really a drag to see an otherwise intelligent person with much that is positive to offer waste his time in this life mocking the Buddha in this unwarranted way. C’mon, John. Sometimes it’s OK to just close the laptop and walk away from a bad idea.

    • Well, Badger, if it had to be someone. I’m glad it was you. But seriously, the descriptions barely touch the image of the Buddha I usually see portrayed. I’m curious why the disconnect? Were I in a Dharma group and chit-chatting I probably would have just asked but since I’m not I figured I would have fun with it.

      Did you know that there are something like 80 more marks. That is just a crazy amount of marks…who recorded these anyway?

      I guess even intelligent people gotta role with the stupid occassionally. And even funny people throw out a sqeaker! Like my dad used to say – “You can be stupid, just don’t be f*cking stupid!”


      • I appreciate your measured response, John, honestly, and even the hint of contrition. Takes a big man, as they say.

        This isn’t a matter of attachment, as our brewer friend would have it, and it isn’t a matter of the Buddha, either. Of course an enlightened being wouldn’t care less one way or the other. Except, perhaps, in one sense. No Buddha, or bodhisattva, or badger Buddhist, would like to see someone create negative karma. I know this is a debatable matter in these parts, but in the same way it’s possible to be agnostic regarding whether karma exists, it’s equally possible to be so regarding whether it doesn’t exist. Wouldn’t it be a little smarter to err on the side of caution? There are a million things to goof on; why choose the scriptures of one who spent his whole life urging others toward a path of non-harmfulness, compassion, and wisdom? And whose teachings have withstood 2600 years of way more scrutiny than we’ve given them, if we’re honest?

        Yes, there are said to be 32 major and 80 minor marks on the body of one who is in his final rebirth to awaken as a buddha, or a ‘Chakravartin’ king, a universal emperor. These originally were recorded in the Vedas. As the longer Buddhist sutras in which they are described explain, each mark is a symbolic indication of countless lifetimes accumulating acts of compassionate sacrifice for the benefit of others. Let’s take a look at the content of our own lives by comparison to see if we’re in any position to mock this.

        Anyway, all I’m saying is that you’re better than this, and I can see that you know it. Please use your powers for good!

        • good response, badger. I have a hard time believing in rebirth. I believe in it conceptually. The whole signs thing is hard to swallow. It sounds neat but it sounds a little too much like the seven signs and four horsemen shtick that John the Revelator pulled. Those scriptures have been around a long time too. Age does not make one wise whether you’re talking people or writings.

          Nellalou called me an iconoclast. That’s fine. I don’t accept things because, I don’t accept them. I’ve never even read the damned kalama sutra. If you think I’m not Buddhist enough for you, so be it.

          You can go live on the mountaintop with the Zennist and practice your true religion.

        • I had to look up what contrition meant. And it is the second time this week where a commenter called me “measured”.

          Anyway, all I’m saying is that you’re better than this, and I can see that you know it. Please use your powers for good!

          As I asked of Nella Lou, give me till Monday since there is a larger conversation that I would like to have on this.

          Although I fear it is running up quicker than I thought. I just had two more comments pop up while typing this.



  3. hahaha! Don’t be attached badger. I’m sorry, the first time I read about the “32 signs” I was astounded by the complete and utter idol worship portrayed by them.

    Accept what you will , I suppose. I think Sakyamuni Buddha was great, don’t get me wrong. The signs are nothing more than purest attachment and badger’s reaction proves it. As soon as you start thinking of the Great Physician as holy, you are walking down the road to delusion.

  4. Well I held off for quite a while before deciding to write anything here.

    Let me get this straight then.

    If Brit Hume and Bill O’Reilly belittle Buddhism that’s a huge travesty but if someone claiming to be Buddhist does it that’s OK?

    If the Taliban blow up Buddha statues that’s horrid but if Buddhists demean their own that’s OK?

    If someone “outside” of Buddhism has a criticism that’s their ignorance and a call to arms to dispell it by any and all nasty means necessary. And if someone identified as Buddhist has a criticism that’s “attachment” or some kind of expression of their own uptight view of free-wheeling anything goes kind of pop-Buddhism. But bashing people with that same pop-Buddhism about “attachments” and belittling their criticisms with the justification of “fun” is OK?

    If someone feels offended it’s only their personal issue and no fault of those who utter offensive statements?

    It is one thing for Ikkyu to piss on a statue that he had been asked to consecrate and quite another for everyone involved in Zen to think they have both his iconoclastic attitude and level of understanding. (There’s your arrogance-been reading the Twitter comments)

    Here’s an interesting note on American Buddhist Perspective today. In comparing the strictly factual form of understanding of Buddhism to that of the other extreme which Justin calls narrative but which I would call making it up. (It’s the George Bush methodology according to Justin)

    “The other extreme would be to say that whatever Buddhists do or say is de facto “Buddhist.” If Buddhists justify a war, then the war is “Buddhist.” If Buddhists say you don’t need to meditate or that there is a permanent existing Self, then these ideas are also “Buddhist.” In this extreme there is no legitimate ground for saying a Buddhist has misunderstood “Buddhism” or that this or that Buddhist’s practices are in fact not “Buddhist.” All forms of criticism (read “critical thought”) and that dualistic thing called logic are thrown out the window. ”
    Narrative verses Awareness in Buddhist Ethics at

    So many people seem to take this extreme perspective, (usually on reading two lines of the Kalama Sutra out of context) and use it to justify any sort of action.

    I have a really hard time trying to find any reason for writing this. It is not humorous, clever, edgy or even particularly intelligent.

    It’s a wallow in self-indulgence at the expense of some of your Dharma brethren and their beliefs. But of course I am wrong and all religiously messed up and can’t take a joke and attached and full of PMS and just nasty and insane and insensitive and loud and boring and…and…

    Don’t get upset though. It’s all in fucking FUN!

    So now you’ve heard from a badger and a bitch.

    • Nellalou, I couldn’t agree more…

      “It is one thing for Ikkyu to piss on a statue that he had been asked to consecrate and quite another for everyone involved in Zen to think they have both his iconoclastic attitude and level of understanding. (There’s your arrogance-been reading the Twitter comments)”

      Please keep up the good work.

  5. From various sutras, the Buddha said that he’s not to be known by marks or signs. If you look for the Buddha by his signs and marks, you truly do not see the Buddha.

    But the most beneficial thing about this post is informing people *of* the 32 perfect marks of a Buddha. Even though it is done with irreverent humor, John still accomplished a great deed by spreading this knowledge to greater audience.

    Well done, well done!

      • Srsly! This is a rather arcane bit of information that usually one only encounters reading sutras. The beneficial part is reading and knowing about the perfect marks. Having those topics in the mindstream is of immense benefit. Whether you believe in reincarnation or not, being made aware of those signs is like having the blueprint for building the body of a Tathagata.

        Without knowing about the structure, the form cannot be built. So, in future lives when its your turn to descend from Tusita heaven and teach the Dharma, your nirmanakaya body will be stunningly beautiful to behold and inspire others to attain Buddhahood just as you have.

  6. All of that stuff is laughable so, bravo for the sense of humor. No one needs to read that to practice the Dhamma. What benefit do I gain from having read that?

  7. Funny, my immediate response is to agree with GK – thanks for raising this perhaps odd feature of Buddhism. In fact this seems to be a theme in Indian Buddhism, that being morally good and being good looking are intertwined. Although it also notes that being light skinned is one of those good features you get by having been morally good in past lives. When I told this to one of my (darker) Indian friends, she wasn’t amused.

    Of course the line between cleverly bringing up topics for discussion (in the sangha or the blanga) and being offensive is going to be different from person to person. I can see where people would find your post offensive. So, even while I don’t, I abide by the advice of the Kalama sutta to hear out the words of the wise (Bitterroot Badger and NellaLou).

    So the question is, can you do this and still be funny? I bet you could.

    *PS. thanks, NellaLou, for the nod to my post.

    • See, this is where it is tricky. I was cracking up when I wrote the original post. I thought it was (and is) hilarious.

      But the comment about “iconoclastic attitude and level of understanding” is off the mark. I’m having fun and talking, I don’t pretend that my understanding is better than anyone else. I do however abide by the fact that I communicate in a wry and off-beat manner.

      I mean why would anyone take offense at me calling the Buddha ugly by a description that was, well, ugly?

      It seems strange that when I make fun of my own religion people assume that I am making myself more than I am. I purposefully didn’t include references to burning sutras and knocking down statues for that reason.

      Check the video of an atheist performing in the church.

  8. There is no idolatry in considering the Buddha (as historical figure or metaphorical symbol) one’s teacher or the first teacher in this Buddhist path.

    Abhisanda Sutta: Bonanzas (3)

    ‘Indeed, the Blessed One is worthy and rightly self-awakened, consummate in knowledge & conduct, well-gone, an expert with regard to the world, unexcelled as a trainer for those people fit to be tamed, the Teacher of divine & human beings, awakened, blessed.’

    How can one practice Dhamma if one does not know what Dhamma is in length and breadth? What are the merits and the benefits of merits?

    Abhisanda Sutta: Bonanzas (3)

    “Monks, there are these four bonanzas of merit, bonanzas of skillfulness, nourishments of bliss…the Awakened One (Buddha)…Dhamma…Sangha…endowed with discernment of arising & passing away — noble, penetrating, leading to the right ending of stress. (Awakening).”

    Garava Sutta – On Reverence

    “Those who were Arahants, Rightly Self-awakened Ones in the past — they, too, dwelled in dependence on the very Dhamma itself, honoring and respecting it. Those who will be Arahants, Rightly Self-awakened Ones in the future — they, too, will dwell in dependence on the very Dhamma itself, honoring and respecting it. And let the Blessed One, who is at present the Arahant, the Rightly Self-awakened One, dwell in dependence on the very Dhamma itself, honoring and respecting it.”

    Kalama Sutta: To the Kalamas (AN 3.65)

    “So, as I said, Kalamas: ‘Don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, “This contemplative is our teacher.” When you know for yourselves that, “These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness” — then you should enter & remain in them.’

    Thanissaro Bhikkhu in his translator’s introduction to the Kalamas Sutta:

    “Although this discourse is often cited as the Buddha’s carte blanche for following one’s own sense of right and wrong, it actually says something much more rigorous than that. Traditions are not to be followed simply because they are traditions. Reports (such as historical accounts or news) are not to be followed simply because the source seems reliable. One’s own preferences are not to be followed simply because they seem logical or resonate with one’s feelings. Instead, any view or belief must be tested by the results it yields when put into practice; and — to guard against the possibility of any bias or limitations in one’s understanding of those results — they must further be checked against the experience of people who are wise. The ability to question and test one’s beliefs in an appropriate way is called appropriate attention. The ability to recognize and choose wise people as mentors is called having admirable friends.”

    Those who would like to believe the “lamp unto one’s self” or “don’t believe anything you read” or “do as you yourself see fit” lines of thinking might benefit from knowing the context from which those words are lifted.

    We take refuge.

    Do we burn our house down when we take refuge inside against the storm?

    • very pretty words. Words they are and words they will forever remain. I don’t think John is being disrespectful to the Buddha. I think he is pointing out another ancient scripture which makes no damn sense. Science doesn’t support it. Genetics doesn’t support it. Buddhist thought doesn’t support it. You may think you are correcting the iconoclasts of their wrong view but all you’re are doing is spewing words.

      • “ancient scripture that makes no sense.”

        “Buddhist thought doesn’t support it.”

        And what does Buddhist thought support in this little exercise?

        • I noticed you ignored the part about science and genetics.

          I expect your next question will be: what is your practice. That one one always wins, right?

          Deep bows to you, ma’am. Metta to you and yours. May your knowledge of Buddhist scripture lead to a favorable rebirth in your next life.

          Rough words harm both the self and others while kind words bring benefit to all. — Sukhavativyuha Sutra

          I meant no harm and mean no harm. I am only beginner and no matter how long I practice, that is what I shall remain.


          -J. Andy Lambert

    • So my making fun of the Buddha is destroying my refuge? Is making fun of Christ wrecking your salvation?

      “Those who would like to believe the “lamp unto one’s self” or “don’t believe anything you read” or “do as you yourself see fit” lines of thinking might benefit from knowing the context from which those words are lifted. ”

      There is no statement of mine about not needing the Buddha, the Dharma nor disreguarding morals.

      I’m talking about jokes. I make fun of all my teachers, advisors and instructors. Why is it such a problem if I make fun of the Buddha? Do we take our images so seriously? I’m not walking into a temple and destroying an icon. I am poking fun at a man whose mouth reached so far around that you could see his smile from behind? I mean, thats a statement right there…

      Comic quality aside….



      • “Is making fun of Christ wrecking your salvation?”

        You seem to have mistaken me for Pat Robertson. Is anyone who disagrees with you painted with the fundamentalist brush?

        “I’m talking about jokes.”

        I know some nasty rape and genocide jokes. Hey they’re only jokes.

        “I make fun of all my teachers, advisors and instructors.”

        That’s between you and them. If they like to be treated in that fashion it’s not my concern.

        “Why is it such a problem if I make fun of the Buddha? Do we take our images so seriously?”

        It’s more than some random image.

        “So my making fun of the Buddha is destroying my refuge?”

        Good luck with that.

        • By “your” it was aimed at any general Christian not you in particular. I never said you or anyone elee was a fundamentalist. I encourage people to converse and disagree with me. I don’t wield that brush.

          Thank you for your well-wishes. I try to use humor in my daily life. Like all of our strengths, sometimes it scores and sometimes it doesn’t. As of yet, those that have had a lasting impact on my life, have been fine with it.

          That is not to say that it hasn’t gotten me in trouble before or to say that I haven’t pushed the envelope at times.



    • “Bonanzas?!?” Gotta Love Thanissaro Bhikkhu for his interesting translations. I had to look up Abhisanda and found “yield, outflow, overflow….” (not a criticism, just interesting for a younger fella who doesn’t hear the word bonanza too often)

      To answer your last question, I might re-direct the analogy and suggest that John was merely picking at the paint-job on his house during the storm. I don’t think he meant to burn down the house (Buddha), nor do his words constitute a major frontal attack – for me at least.

  9. John you’ve certainly stirred the pot this time. Damn.

    I guess I read the original post differently, I wish you had left it up, maybe you could email me a copy or something. Maybe I misunderstood. When I read it, it seemed like a funny way to look at something in a literal light that had no basis in reality, and was meant to be symbolic? Kind of like 80,000 golden bodhishattvahs that emerge from a crack in the earth? Were we supposed to literally believe that the Buddha had extra illuminated teeth, or was it symbolic? I took that as the Buddha had such a compassionate, wonderful, positive presence about him that you could feel his joy/happiness from behind him, and that you could just feel him smiling without having to see him smile?

    Maybe I’m wrong and those 32 things were literal. Maybe he did look like Dhalsim from Street Fighter. Kinda weird and far-fetched, don’t ya think?

    I suppose I laughed at the context, but I also found value in seeing those 32 things as metaphor/symbolism.

    That was my take.

  10. I am so glad I am not a part of this conversation, but I will mention the irony in a particular person in this thread of comments scream holy hell, yet can trash and belittle those with that ignorant “American Mentality.” Pot.Kettle.Black

  11. This discussion reminds me of this video from the OSHO International Foundation which @KingBritt posted on Twitter a few months ago:

    PS: It’s funny.

    PPS: No, I’m not a follower of OSHO

  12. I agree that there should be room for irreverence within systems of belief or study, but I also agree that it should be grounded in understanding and done with the right motivation…

    since my motivation was primarily to be impish, I’ll be moving on. Thanks for holding the forum on the topic though! Good one! 🙂

  13. About iconoclasm and criticism.

    There are times when criticism and irreverence are warranted. When it comes to institutions, corporations, people in leadership roles lying, cheating and stealing to not speak out is to tacitly condone that harmful behavior.

    And when friends are walking a path that is harmful to themselves and others one isn’t much of a friend to not point that out.

    There are other times when criticism and irreverence have no basis and are done wrapped in a Buddhist cloak for no other reasons than fun or personal aggravation or attention seeking or anger without regard for either the broader social implications or harm done. One sees any little opening and takes a shot just because. No particular reason. No benefit to anyone in any way.

    It always comes down to intention.

    Everyone has their own ethical lines I guess. And there’s always a few people who have none.

  14. There is so much hypocrisy in some of these comments it sickens me. How someone can be so pro-equality, yet sneer their nose down on other people’s religious practices and denigrate an entire nation of people. I believe the “intention” of some is to be a religious bigot without coming right out and saying how horrible someone else’s practice maybe, what was it, “A TOTAL MORASS TO ANY REAL SPIRITUAL DEVELOPMENT”. Such fucking irony given the Egaltarian banner they walk around with. Yes ladies and gentlemen, people screaming for equality can themselves be horrible bigots!

  15. John, I find your Twitter posts and links interesting enough that I continue to follow you, but it’s not as rip-roaringly funny to me as it is to you. Amusing, but not hilarious.

    My reservation with it is that you’ve made Buddhist iconoclasm your “schtick,” turning your considerable talents toward the service of this one narrow brand. I don’t mind the humor, but it does seem to be appropriating the foolishness parts of Buddhism to promote yourself. In that regard, I think you could be more balanced and allow more of the heart connection with your Buddhist practice to shine through as well, not just the entertaining iconoclasm.

    But you could lose followers among the people who merely like to see holes poked in things, so you’d have to decide if it would damage your brand to balance ridicule with appreciation.

    • Ellen, good comment.

      To answer you, I think I do balance that out fairly well (ridicule and appreciation). This one post just really set people in an uproar. I talk about Buddhist practice in the raising of my daughter, my reservations and enjoyment of my sanghas as well as silly videos and a serious attempt at rebranding organizational Buddhism.

      To be completely honest my connection with Buddhism (as you describe my heart connection) is rarely something I write about. When I do, I do. Feel free to browse through some old posts and see where you think that is.

      I do notice that people go away when they don’t like me talking about certian topics (atheism and the such usually) and that is their decision. I know people that don’t link to me anymore but still visit and comment from time to time.

      I don’t measure the people that visit. I just try to be honest and open in my conversation. I accept that sometimes it rubs people the wrong way and, when appropriate, I try to remedy and learn from those situations.

      If you believe that my posts don’t take some toll on me or make me reassess my practice daily then you may be missing the point of this blog. I work through these issues with everyone else.

      Cheers and thanks for commenting,


  16. Wow. I don’t think I have much to add, except that:

    * I know John didn’t have any negative intention in posting this; quite the contrary–it was intended to lighten things up through the use of humor
    * If you don’t find it funny, you can move on
    * If you’re attached (Gollum: “So bright… so beautiful… our precious”) to the image of the Buddha–especially that provided by the 32 Marks, then you’ve got serious work to do

      • Is there an actual reproduction of those signs in the form of a painting or statue? I would love to see it.

        On another note, I recall being quite surprised to come across the images of the Buddha as emaciated and skinny. I found it disturbing but I appreciate what that image speaks to.



        • John, here’s the thing. Those marks of the Buddhas idealized form would not be seen by everyone; this is made clear throughout the sutras. It’s only the mystics who had purified perception that saw like that; hence the eight Brahmin priests invited to examine the infant Siddhartha had to explain to King Shuddhodana what they perceived. We perceive according to our karma or, if you wish, mental predispositions. Thus, the 89-pound bulimic sees a fat girl in the mirror, as an example.

          There are definitely ideal proportions and marks used by Buddhist artists and these are also detailed in the canon. Very tricky to reproduce, especially in sculpture. In many people’s estimation the 17th-18th c. Mongolian artist Zanabazar was perhaps the greatest ever; when I saw his statue of Buddha Amitabha in Ulaanbaatar it literally made me weep with joy and wonder. It was like the actual Buddha was right in front of me.

          Now, I want to ask you to suspend your disbelief in karma, enlightenment and reincarnation for a moment. Suppose that just prior to his birth as Siddhartha, the Buddha was actually a tenth-level, realized bodhisattva. He was totally beyond the possibility of ordinary samsaric rebirth (as one is after the 7th level) and had the immaculate clairvoyance to be able to select the precise moment in time and circumstance for his enlightened activity to bear maximum benefit.

          Now, suppose further that in the India of 2600 years ago, where he would take birth, the canon of scriptures used throughout the land for thousands of years, the Vedas, contained teachings on the 32 major and 80 minor marks of one destined to be either an unprecedented emperor, or fully awakened spiritual guide. In your compassion and wisdom, wouldn’t you appear in just that way to those who could see, in order to foster faith in the liberating path you would illuminate?

          I suspect you, and many of your readers, would have to get over a number of conceptual barriers to believe such things are possible, but I figured I should present the somewhat more ‘orthodox’ way of looking at it.

          The emaciated figure in meditation you saw was most likely the famous Ghandaran statue that was in a Pakistan museum and now given to Sri Lanka. It depicts Siddhartha at the very end of his six years of severe ascetic discipline (described by him many times in shocking detail in the sutras), just prior to receiving the nourishing meal from Sujata that gave him the energy for the meditation session under the bodhi tree that resulted in his final enlightenment.

  17. wow i took a little break from reading so much on the internet and now i see this. dang john. you are so bad, you are going to a hell realm.

    so good job and more power to you!

    as my dearly deceased bff used to say, ‘if they can’t take a joke, fuck ’em’.

    jesus fucking christ lighten up people

  18. My apologies to Jesus Fucking Christ. If you can’t stand the discussion, maybe you should move on. John doesn’t seem tired of it yet — in fact, he not only invited discussion, he encouraged it. So there.

    • Ellen Ska is correct. I invite conversation and discussion. If we could move towards a larger conversation on this topic rather than the specifics of my poor branding and posts (I am joking here) that would be great.

      I do encourage it to be civil but that is more of a guideline than an actual rule!

      On a light note, I did a mindfulness training at the zendo today and guess which one I got? Right Speech. Sometimes I seriously wonder….

      Cheers and thank you to everyone for the honest and engrossing conversation!


  19. @BitterrootBadger Sorry, can’t nest another comment. But I will say that I don’t disbelieve in karma, rebirth or enlightenment. In fact, I would say that I believe in them as much as my skeptical mind allows.

    I appreciate the “orthodox” view and your time to explain it. I do still take issue (not with you in particular) but with the amount that many are expected to swallow of the canon (pali or mahayana) as if it were of supreme authority. I do confess that my reservations lie there rather than with concepts. I have the same reservations (hugely) with the Christian Bible or Islamic Kuran and most certainly with the Book of Mormon.

    Pretty much across the board, I question text and word of mouth. I don’t doubt that they are sacred to some and infallible to others but to me they are lessons and tools, not to be taken literally.

    Does this mean that I don’t believe anything in the canon? No. But it does mean that I view it skeptically.

    I appreciate the comments, explaination and discourse. I hope that it brings benefit to others as much as to myself.



  20. I am always much more saddened when I see folks become so unhealthily attached to their opinions, and sutras (or any other imagined “scriptures”) than I am when someone shows a sense of humour and light-heartedness in their Dharma practise.

    While my practice is largely influenced by Tibetan tradition, that does not mean that I don’t, as an antropologist (particularly as a theological-anthropologist) , recognise superstition for what it is.

    That said, it’s probably no surprise where I weigh in on all this, my friend.

    I’d be curious how many sick, dying, hungry or hurting people those who find time to criticise your sense of humour cared for the day they expressed their opinions. Seems to me that it’s of far greater concern to wonder why they’re not doing more for those who are REALLY suffering, than worrying about whether your sense of humour will result in some imaginary negative karma. I cannot begin to question you intent, so neither would I judge you as creating suffering in showing a sense of humour.


    (Khenpo) Gurudas Sunyatananda

    • Well, coming from a self-styled “Khenpo” (my own true Khenpo teachers would shake their heads in shame) who’s selling a self-created mish-mash of Tibetan Buddhism, Christianity, Zen, Hinduism, and 911 conspiracy theories, and whose every project listed on his site is “an idea that needs immediate funding,” I’ll take that criticism for what it’s worth.

      • Interesting choice of (sophomoric) words. I’ve never realised that one who was ordained in recognised lineage, and who has been recognised by both Tibetan tulkus and respected Zen teachers as the Root Guru and Refuge Lama for an international community of Buddhist contemplatives would be considered “self-styled”.

        However, I will point out that whenever anyone, steeped in their arrogance, ignorance and ego, criticises any other lama, abbot, guru or teacher, they utterly DISGRACE their own teacher.

        Maybe a little less time back biting, and a little more time studying “The Wheel of Sharp Weapons” by Dharmarakshita would be in order for you, friend. Then perhaps, you will learn that the proper way to show respect for your teacher is by showing respect to all others.


      • Badger.

        How many years did you spend in Mongolia again helping people?
        How much work do you do in a day at your current temple?
        How many appointments do you arrange for people to bring social justice talks to your area?
        How many meditation sessions have you facilitated? How many book publications, translations and distributions have you managed so that people could have the Dharma in their own language?
        How many animals have you saved in both your birding conservation efforts and other animal welfare schemes?
        How many hours have you put in studying the Dharma?

        Or on the other hand

        How many religious organizations have you set up for your own aggrandizement?
        How many of your own personal books have you got to push?
        How many plush retreats do you speak at, all expenses paid every year?
        How many advertisements have you made for your own claims of spiritual accomplishment?
        How many programs have you been on shooting your mouth off with your own personal recipe for spiritual salad?

        But who am I to mention these things? I’ve got no fancy religious titles-real or imagined, robes, books and all that.

        Though as someone with more than a passing familiarity with anthropology, the word superstition as a description of another’s religious practices is not something I’ve encountered in the scholarly literature since writings of the last century.

        But badger since you’ve made no claims of anthropological scholarship it’s not your concern. And it wasn’t even you that used such a backward term anyway.

        I’m always suspicious of someone who refers to himself with “His Eminence”, “born amidst what many believe to be auspicious signs”, “the powerful imprints of a previous incarnation as a Bodhisattva were clearly manifested in all that Little Sunyatananda did”…. here is a whole biography that’s so fantastic it rivals anything about the Buddha in the Jatakas. I think he’s jealous no one is making fun of him too.

        • While I find passive-aggression distasteful, childish and a sign of the kind of character with whom I am dealing, which only causes me sadness for someone who is so deeply suffering that they have to attack others, about whom they know so little, I do feel that your attacks warrant correction NellaLou.

          I’ll begin by pointing out that as the spiritual director of the Contemplative Order of Compassion, particularly as the lama for the monastic community, and as the retired bishop-exarch for the Franciscan contemplatives, I do not possess the kinds of grand and “glorious” authoritarian powers to control the sangha. We are congregational — ruled by consensus. Period. And that includes the unfortunate elements of our public face, website, brochures, etc.

          Those who know me are well aware of a three year long “discussion” I have been encouraging among our sangha, to remove all of the culturally-derived, and over-the-top “story line” from the website.

          I have publicly scoffed at suggestions made by prominent Tibetan lamas that my birth was auspicious, have begged the sangha never to discuss (absurd) suggestions of previous incarnations, etc.

          It has been a STRUGGLE. I finally got them to agree to stop referring to me as His Eminence the Lama Blah-blah-blah. However, I have no choice from a legal perspective, in what our publishers and attorney tell us MUST appear in the copyright since it is not ME, but the Office entrusted to me, which owns all of the copyrights, etc.

          Whether you like it or not, the highest ranking prelate in the Catholic, Orthodox, Eastern Catholic and Tibetan traditions is referred to as His Eminence. Not my personal cup of tea, but that is the Office I hold. Get over it.

          With the recent passing of one of my oldest and dearest students and nuns, who was actually one of my school teachers in the fourth grade, I no longer felt it necessary to defer to her insistence that I be referred to as “the Dharm’acharya” — a compromise, when I expressed discomfort with being called their guru or lama, since I was named “servant of the teacher” and will always be such.

          Therefore, the appropriate use of “khenpo” as the Order’s abbot, and as an historic successor to five of the original disciples of Rav Yeshua (Jesus), is something I can live with.

          So much for your patent bullshit about self-described titles, etc.

          Now, regarding your passive-aggressive questions:

          1. How many years did I spend in Mongolia again helping people?

          None. I spent thirty-three years working with the sick, the poor, the dying and the marginalised in the United States (six monastic locations) — in Miami, in Orlando, in D.C., in Atlanta, in Phoenix and in Los Angeles. (I only spent three intermittent years in India, serving at the feet of my teachers.)

          2. How much work do I do in a day at my current temple?

          I do 98% of the work here at the ladrang, including almost all of the cleaning, most of the cooking, and presiding over all of the liturgical celebrations. The only reason I cannot do all of the cleaning is because I cannot drive. I have lived with a shattered arm for the past 26 months, having already had one excruciating reconstructive surgery, and while I continue to push the limits, cannot lift anything heavier than 7 pounds without pulling on some of the eighteen screws that hold the ten and a half inch plate in my arm. So lifting the cast iron pans to wash them is beyong my ability, as well as driving to the laundry facility.

          3. How many appointments do you arrange for people to bring social justice talks to your area?

          Since I’ve taken office, I’ve personally arranged for more than 75 social justice events for our monks and local communities, as well as having participated in several hundred programs over the past thirty years, including extensive personal service among the Haitian community in South Florida and Central Florida doing both migrant farm work advocacy and AIDS counseling/case management.

          4.How many meditation sessions have you facilitated?

          Let’s see, two per day minimum for 27 years, before being forced to semi-retire due to Parkinsonism and AIDS (go ahead… dare to attack me on how I got AIDS, as a direct result of being raped and beaten on May 10, 1983 in Hollywood, Florida, while walking home one night.) So let’s see, to answer you next belligerent question, approximately 19,710 meditation sessions, and approximately 270 two or three day silent retreats, and 27 month-long retreats.

          5. How many book publications, translations and distributions have you managed so that people could have the Dharma in their own language?

          None. Instead, we preferred to work at bringing the Dharma to the West in a more accessible and culturally relevant way, while actively supporting the work of the Translation Bureau of the Library of Tibetan Works & Archives with our sadhanas.

          6. How many animals have you saved in both your birding conservation efforts and other animal welfare schemes?

          Personally, I converted the room that was designated to be the “lama’s meditation and reception area” into a small aviary, in which we rescued 38 exotic birds that were being abused, as well as having given homes to several cats and three dogs. Because of my neurological condition, I cannot be exposed to the toxoplasmosis found in bird droppings or cat litter, so we now do what we can to inspire others to carry on the work.
          How many hours have you put in studying the Dharma?


          1. How many religious organizations have you set up for your own aggrandizement?

          None. In the past 32 years, I have never ONCE received a salary or stipend for the work I do. I personally funded the operating expenses of six monastic houses — providing rent, food and utilities for 54 monks and four nuns. To this day, I have never received one dime of compensation, nor does the Order pay for my rent or utilities now.


          The community would like very much to see the Order somehow manage to provide a safer, healthier dwelling for myself and my household, but right now, that is not something they can do.

          2. How many of your own personal books have you got to push?

          100% of the revenues from my books, tapes, retreats, etc. goes directly to the work we do with the poor (providing meals to the homeless, blankets in winter months, paying rent when someone is in an emergency situation) and the remaining balance is used to cover the cost of web hosting, and transportation.

          This past year, the royalties from the books were also used to pay a portion of the $900/month in prescription drug co-pays I had to cover, twice, until I could get compassionate-use coverage.

          3. How many plush retreats do you speak at, all expenses paid every year?

          I never accept a DIME for the retreats I direct. The only expense that is paid is ground transportation on the East Coast and coach airfare to the West Coast, my meals and room at the retreat centre.

          I’ve never experienced the absurdity of a “plush” retreat… since that would seem to negate the purpose of the retreat in the first place!

          4. How many advertisements have you made for your own claims of spiritual accomplishment?


          5. How many programs have you been on shooting your mouth off with your own personal recipe for spiritual salad?

          I’ve been on somewhere in the vicinity of maybe one hundred or so television programs, and my only message has been to warn people that folks like you exist and are an unfortunate problem in the West, and to warn them not to believe that they need to rely on gurus, teachers, lamas, scriptures or religions to find the happiness they seek. And yes, I have and will continue to let them know that while I haven’t got any magical secret for them, I can share what works for me, according to the Dharma and support their personal decisions, paths and cultural expression of their spirituality.

          Any more questions?

          As my beloved grandmother used to say, “Namaste, Bitch!”

  21. (I apologise for any inconvenience or confusion that I may have caused by inadvertently responding from within the blog that is maintained for my “self-styled” work as a semi-retired Eastern Catholic archbishop… something I am sure the vitriolic temperament of bitterroot will find endless enjoyment attacking as well. We do what we can to entertain those who are so much further advanced than we simple, poor, slovenly monks… Always willing to lend a hand to amuse these great masters of the Dharma)

    • Funny how your entire “organization” seems to exist in the same backroom apartment you live in in Lancaster, PA. These other members of the Sangha you claim exist don’t seem to exist. I see a fake, a charlatan who has a false organization set up with multiple websites and self-aggrandizing (and toothless) legal mumbo jumbo, fake apartments and “suites” at the same place that are used to separate the gullible from their money. When they don’t easily do it, you nastily chastise them in your LiveJournal site ( There isn’t a single thing you are that isn’t full of judgment, anger, and nasty speech. You claim none of the rules apply to you, not even the 5 simple precepts that apply to lay people. You know better than anyone else and are incapable of calmly and properly accepting criticism because you believe your own ideas and claims to proper action are the right ones to be followed. A self-made religion falsely using the labels “Catholic” and “Buddhist” which is neither and which is really nothing.

      You conveniently wait for people to die before you start spouting off about conversations that you had with them (how convenient they are no longer around to confirm or deny your b.s.) which, shockingly, are 100% supportive of the world according to you.

      You can call yourself anything you’d like, but that doesn’t make it so. The truth isn’t that bendable.

  22. So I’m wondering, John, what the ‘take-home’ from all of this will be – for all of us. Perhaps we all need to be a bit less sensitive – perhaps more sensitive, perhaps compassionate and wise. All of us short of Buddhahood get riled up, all of us make mistakes. We live and learn, hopefully with a couple more good-friends at the end of the day than we had before. And maybe, just maybe, a bit wiser.

    • I don’t know Justin. My purpose was to have a conversation, blunt and honest, and I would hope that the result would be the things you list but I fear that the take-home message was just more division and ire.

      Whether that was of my own failure in facilitation or just the nature of people….I don’t know.

      If everyone walks away wiser, then I would be impressed.



  23. Pingback: Talking Dharma Tonight at « Sweep the dust, Push the dirt

  24. It really comes down to how people deal with personal suffering, how they cope with their lives and how they find comfort in whatever tradition they choose. I, more than most, despise those who take advantage of others for monetary gain while using a religious pretext to gain the confidence of others. Besides that, who are we to judge how one finds comfort? Who are we to judge if someone likes to combine Zen and …? Who are we to stand on our high and mighty horse and hold our noses at other peoples practice?

    It seems that the preconceived notion of what people feel is the authentic teachings is much more important than what people find comfort in, find some shelter from the storm of samsara. I have been disturbed to see the filth that I’ve been called just because, holy shit, I practice Vispissana with Zen. These are things that these people wouldn’t tell other faiths of their inherent incorrectness.

    If you believe your practice to be the correct ultimate one that is beyond reproach, great! But don’t belittle others because they seek a path that is different than yours. It smells of pretentiousness, it stinks of a holier than thou attitude, but worse it is a direct attempt to pull the rug of comfort that people find in their practice.

    Before we judge, perhaps we should remember that big fat ugly first noble truth. These are peoples lives we are talking about, not an exam on a college test.

    • Kyle, I hear you, really, but it’s not about finding personal comfort. It’s about the path one has appointed oneself to lead others onto and aggressively markets. The Buddha did not just teach the first truth; he taught four. These are not about temporary states of comfort, far from it I’d say, but the absolute transcendence of discontent and suffering. They only arise from an enlightened mind, so just as a seed and its fruit are exactly related, must result in that same enlightenment.

      After 2600 years of the most thorough scrutiny and practice, no one I know of has successfully refuted the Buddha’s view, methods, or result. So when someone comes along and says, “That’s all well and good, but I have a better idea,” I’m deeply suspicious. And when someone adorns themselves with titles from my tradition, which I know backwards and forwards, without any proper sourcing other than, “I sat with the Dalai Lama in the Kalachakra once,” I’m doubly so. I know the amount of study and development of inner realization it takes to be given the rare honorific of Khenpo. It has meaning well beyond “Abbot.”

      But. A good night’s sleep has softened my view. Our friend’s site at least focuses mostly on real-world compassion and kindness and care for the marginalized. My sister was a cancer nurse in NYC at the beginning of the AIDS crisis. A beloved first cousin died painfully of the condition as have too many friends to count. So I applaud and respect that kind of on-the-ground ministry.

      I just wish our friend would not make such a public display of himself in the robes of the Buddha (when he’s neither a sramanera nor a bhikkshu), especially combined with Catholic costumes, or think it’s such an achievement to impishly create your own religion, since that could seriously confuse and mislead others.

      Sigh. Of course, I don’t run the zoo, and it’s not the first time I’ve been accused of being too nosy into other people’s business. Badger’s dilemma. Perhaps our friend is right, and I should just stick to applying the exquisite verses in the Dharmaraksita text he cites. Here are two:

      “I harbor all my self-centered desires deep within;
      For all my disputes I blame others for no reason —
      Dance and trample on the head of this betrayer, false conception!
      Mortally strike at the heart of this butcher and enemy, Ego! …

      “I dislike advice and am always difficult to be with;
      I am easily offended, and my grudge is always strong —
      Dance and trample on the head of this betrayer, false conception!
      Mortally strike at the heart of this butcher and enemy, Ego!”

      There’s much more like that. It’s a wonderfully ruthless text, and I thank our friend of reminding me of it.

      • Get this through your head, BitterRoot, please:

        I did not consign any titles to myself, nor have I started a “new religion”. I have no use for religion. Period. I have no need for titles or followers. Take the time, BEFORE opening that venomous mouth, and you might find that our paths are not dissimilar.

        For someone who seems to be such a canonical scripture fundie, you certainly have no problems discrediting or attacking someone who was ordained as a monk, whether you like it or not.

        Whether you like it or not, I have never set my robes aside. Whether you like it or not, I remain a validly ordained Catholic archbishop. Whether you like it or not, my path and the thirty year journey that I’ve shared, has never been one of anything more than a simple monk. Those who know me, work with me and have been entrusted to my pastoral care KNOW that.

        Talk to them before more of that sludge runs out of your mouth and brings your hateful and intolerant habituation into the spotlight.

        You can attack me all you wish, and were that where it ended, I would not care less. But you create untold suffering and betray your own teacher by your actions. For that, I am bound to insist that you grow up, or at the very least STFU.

        At the end of the day, you only continue to make an ass of yourself, much like your friend NellLou did. Thirty years of contemplative life leaves an irrefutable trail of witnesses, evidence and validation. And whether or not you like it, doesn’t change the path I have been on.

        So please, take time to consider how deeply you disgrace your teacher(s) by proving to be so vitriolic and shameful. Fundamentalism may well be your path. So be it. But allow for those who prefer to teach as Buddha taught… in the cultural context, framework and relevant language of his audience.

        And thank you for yours and NellLou’s mean-spirited attacks! I can now use them as evidence to demonstrate to our sangha why I have disagreed with their choice of verbiage on the websites. I have long held that their enthusiasm and love for their teacher, when viewed by the utterly ignorant and hateful would be misconstrued and used against them. You’ve beautifully illustrated that suspicion was right. Perhaps now I can get them to use the simple, unadorned and “plain” verbiage that I think suits someone who has lived for 30 years as nothing more than a servant of his teachers, who will never amount to anything greater than that, because there can be nothing greater than that privilege.

      • Hey Badger, perhaps you mis-understood the point of my response. I’m not taking sides in whatever dispute there is between the folks here based on credintials. I am in no position to express any opinion on that matter, I am purely talking on a personal level, about exploring the different traditions.

  25. …was asked to leave comment ~and would like to, however to comment on actual topic must study…much! but, will say this~find you fascinating, love your passion, your tweets frequently cringe inducing, sometimes funny~ but i can not not read them. as a writer who hasn’t been able to write for three decades, who has led a life full of miracles and mysticism i am coming to to the realization/understanding that ALL of these things we are talking, talking,… thinking, thinking,… about boils down to way fewer words than we insist on using and thoughts that we insist on thinking and that maybe~just maybe~ our thoughts and actions~here and now~ can’t/won’t affect our ‘next’ position in this universe….

  26. wow…speaking of irreverence….

    anyone else here see the irony-? and it happens so fast!

    …anyway, i was remembering the day when i was at “a major buddhist university” working on my MDiv, the subject of these marks was brought up in class. we all laughed at them, marveled at them, and eventually started looking about, comparing who-had-what marks. yep, we ALL did it, Buddhists (and a few non-B’s) of every stripe, experience and tradition. and as time wore on, we got more serious about it… one guy had like 6 of them and he was a bit of a celebrity for a short while. some of us were hopeful; some felt left-out. some got themselves a ‘tude about it, and others wondered at how they might grow their own… yep, even me.

    sooo…will the real Gollum please stand up? ~none of us are immune to The Precioussss~

    (great experiment you got going on here)

    • No worries at all, Petteri. You won’t find autocephalic (Old Catholic/Eastern Catholic) bishops listed on a Roman Catholic registry, since Pope Leo X granted autocephalic jurisdiction to the Bishop of Utrecht (and his successors) in perpetuity. (cf; Debitum Pastoralis)

      As (now retired) Bishop-Exarch of the Eastern Catholic (Autocephalic Maronite) Franciscans, I would be most happy to furnish you with a detailed lineage of my Apostolic Succession (which is used by the Roman Catholic Church to determine if a bishop was ordained in valid succession — something they incidentally are unable to prove themselves, since no records date back prior to Cardinal Rebiba, which can prove the Roman Catholic legend of Peter being the first bishop of Rome). Just email me and I will gladly provide the documentation.

      You may also choose to verify that I served in that capacity through the following organisations and individuals of note:

      1. North American Old Catholic Church – Archbishop Michael Seneco (presiding bishop)

      2. The Order of Servant Franciscans (formerly Franciscan Companions of the Immaculate) – Bishop Ken Young, presiding

      3. National Conference of Independent Catholic Bishops – 222 Tennessee Avenue NE, Washington, DC 20002

      • Thank you, I very much appreciate that information.

        I got curious, since I naively assumed that by “Catholic” you meant the outfit currently headed by Benedict XVI, and by “Bishop” you meant someone appointed by him or one of his predecessors to run a diocese. By ‘Maronite’ do you mean the church headed by Msgr Cardinal Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, or some other Maronite group, by the way? I wasn’t aware that there was a Franciscan order within the Maronite church, although Middle Eastern Christianity being what it is, I could easily have missed it. Nor was I aware of any connection between the Old Catholics and the Maronites. I’m also a bit confused by your references to yourself as Eastern Catholic, since the Old Catholic Church split off from the Roman (Western) Catholic one, and the Franciscans are a Western order as well.

        (N.b.: I’m not knocking the Old Catholics here — from the little I know of them, they seem doctrinally way nicer than the RCC.)

        Does this kind of thing apply to the other credentials also mentioned here? I.e., by ‘khenpo’ do you mean roughly the same thing most Tibetan Buddhists mean when they say ‘khenpo,’ for example?

        Here’s why I’m asking.

        I thought Jack Daw’s original posting was delightful: the way I saw it, he wasn’t mocking the Buddha at all; rather, he was poking fun at some rather amusing ideas some Buddhists may have about him. I don’t like dogma. I like ecumenicism. I like religions in general. I don’t think the path I follow is ‘the’ one; it’s just a path, and one that I find suits me. I have no problems whatsoever with syncretism or mixing practices from various traditions. I find Christian Buddhism a particularly delightful development, one that’s likely to enrich both Christianity and Buddhism.

        What’s more, sometimes BitterrootBadger and NellaLou do strike me as dogmatic, humorless, and overly concerned about other people’s practice and/or karma.

        And I just plain *like* what you’re saying on this thread. I very much want it all to be true.

        However, the Internet being what it is, I did my usual round of snooping, or ‘source criticism’ if you prefer the technical term. So it turns out that by ‘Catholic’ you don’t mean what most people mean by ‘Catholic,’ by ‘Bishop’ you don’t mean what most people mean by ‘Bishop.’ You give the impression here that you’ve devoted your life to contemplative practice and helping out the needy, yet your name also comes up in rather unsavory Internet marketing connections [ ] and you mention being (or having been) a part of the Herbalife pyramid marketing scheme.

        Some things you say about yourself strike me as being pretty far removed from what, to my limited understanding, the Buddha and his successors taught, and what you present in this thread:

        “He is best known for his on-going contributions to helping people unlock the power of their own minds — teaching them how to apply that power to create strong, loving relationships, make more money, and live more meaningful, prosperous, health and satisfying lives … Today, he resides in a comfortable, yet understated historic home, in downtown Lancaster, Pennsylvania — the oldest inland city in the U.S. — while growing a network of entrepreneurs in 82 countries and helping people increase their income by $900-$2100 their first four weeks, without quitting their present companies or business ventures.”

        (Source: [ ])

        Then, you blame some pretty out-there claims about yourself on too-enthusiastic students that you somehow haven’t managed to convince to tone things down.

        Now, I’m no expert, but I have been doing a bit of looking into the way various (mostly pernicious) self-help gurus work. One common theme is that they preach independence, yet foster dependence. I can’t help that your way of blaming the far-out bio on the web on your adoring students rings this particular warning bell.

        I guess my point is that whether you want to or not, when you say Catholic Bishop, or Franciscan, or Maronite, or khenpo, the default assumption is that you mean, respectively, someone appointed by the Pope to run a diocese, someone who’s taken his vows in the Order of Friars Minor, someone who’s a member of the Ecclesia Maronitarum, and someone who’s been awarded a rare and very high degree by one of the relatively well-organized Tibetan traditions.

        If, as it appears, your use of these terms is significantly different from these assumptions, it would be nice if you said so up-front, to prevent any misunderstandings. Or, perhaps, not use any titles at all. After all, that’s what you said you are — nothing more, nor less, than a simple monk, content to be a servant of his teachers.

        The bottom line is this: I get one picture here, from your words; yet the stuff that you’ve said about yourself, and other people say about you, on the Internet, paint a different picture. I’m not saying that any of it is reprehensible in any way. It’s just that there’s a disconnect, and I don’t know I can really take you at face value unless and until that disconnect is sorted out.

        (Come to think of it, do your students regularly refer to themselves as your ‘servants’ as well? If so, do you think it’s a healthy thing to do, for their spiritual development?)

        • *Le sigh*….this is why I practice mostly in my home. For better or for worse.

          Thank Petteri for your insight. Holy crap, that is some indepth snooping and disturbing detail you brought up. Also thank you for “getting” my post. I think most people saw it for the harmless humor as it was meant. However, I did apologize to those it insulted and removed it. I think we do have to take some responsibility for the irreverence that we may spout.

          Still amazed at how far this topic went off the rails,

          John (officially ordained runaway train conductor)

        • Thanks for the thoughtful response, Petteri! Normally, I wouldn’t want to confuse the issue by going into such deep detail, but you seem to have a fairly strong (actually stronger and clearer than most) understanding of the Catholic world, so I will attempt to clarify the historicity of the Eastern Catholic jurisdiction of which I am part.

          Somewhere around the turn of the 20th century, an internal movement of Polish (mostly Roman Catholic) clergy began to work with the Polish National Catholic Church and Old Catholic Church (Utrecht Union), after its attempts to reform the Roman Church failed. This sect came to be known as the Mariavite Old Catholic Church. Its founder and patroness, Mother Feliksa Kozłowska, founded a Poor Clare community in 1887, which eventually inspired the charism of the entire Mariavite Church.

          Our community, still finding some doctrinal and dogmatic issues with the attitudes of “superiority” that many traditionalist Catholics possess, and being drawm more authentically to the charism of the Desert Fathers and Desert Mothers, sought episcopal protection under an autocephalic Eastern Catholic jurisdiction, formed in the succession of a Maronite priest, who was later raised to the Episcopacy. This sect drew its succession both from the Mariavite Old Catholic and Johannite Catholic Churches. So I was ordained according to the same liturgcal rite used by the traditional Maronites, but within the successions of the autocephalic bishops. (As you probably know, the charism of bishops, who functioned more as elders, abbots and abbesses in the ancient church, was entirely autocephalic until the Great Schism of 1054 CE).

          From what I am told, after my Franciscan community split into two groups — one which would become the Contemplative Order of Compassion, and the other, which chose to follow a more traditional Catholic, theistic and dogmatic ideology, eventually became more Protestant-Episcopal/Methodist in the past couple years.

          The use of the title khenpo means the same for us that it does for most Tibetans. I am the abbot of the Contemplative Order of Compassion (particularly of the ordained monks and nuns, who make up the Contemplative Monks of the Eightfold Path). The community chose to use that word, because I frankly find such over-the-top titular terms as “High Lama”, “Holy Exarch”, “Beatitude” and such unnecessary and distracting for most people. Besides that, we choose to break with tradition, by NOT being hierarchical, dogmatic, theistic or superstitious, so why use terms that arose out of other cultures, primitive mindsets, and traditions that are not relevant to the postmodern ethos?

          Now, to address some rather serious assumptive errors you’ve raised:

          1.) You insinuate that there is disparity in the simple, easily verified fact that I have lived as a contemplative for 30+ years, because your “investigation” pointed out that one of the ways I supported the six monastic houses for more than 18 years, was by involving the Order in Herbalife International (and later Melaleuca). You should be very careful in making libelous and patently false claims that Herbalife was some sort of “pyramid scheme”. In fact, the company was founded by a close friend and student of mine, and while I personally find the marketing strategies of most people in that industry to be unsavoury and unnecessary, I was asked to teach a group of 25 people how to use Dharma principals to build an ethical, fair and financially successful business. And I did that, quite well apparently.

          Not once in the past 30+ years have I ever personally received a DIME of income from those programs. But having built an income of more than $26K/mo. for a number of years, we were able to fully sustain the operations of all six monastic houses, increbible outreach programs, and generous support of charities in Tibet, the U.S. and India.

          When the Internet began to change the landscape of network marketing, I left Herbalife International, and moved the Order into another company (Melaleuca), however, their owner supports some homophobic and right-wing PACs, so we walked away from that business, after a bit a battle with them.

          Pyramid schemes are illegal and are based on money-games, without products or products of substantive value. Herbalife brought the very FIRST herbal nutrition products to the United States, in 1981. Their products are real and of definitel value. I don’t believe they represent a good business opportunity today, because the Internet has made it possible for us to all find wholesale sources for the same products at a quarter of the price. (I have tried to convince them to change, having spent many a night on the phone with Mark Hughes before his death, urging him to consider some new ideas.)

          One thing I will not refute is the brief bio that has appeared in many of the business articles, including the one you cite, since that is based entirely on performance, not conjecture. Continue doing your investigation, and you will find that in the early 1990s, I was one of four managing partners in a virtual office technology company called MyFreeOffice, and did indeed teach people to use ethical and green marketing principles to build a sales force of 358,000 reps in 72 counties in the first 18 months, later expanding into 82 countries. And the compensation structure, based on the structure used by insurance professionals, realtors, and network marketing professionals, allowed 76% of their reps to earn between $900 and $2100 within their first four to six weeks, without their having had to spend a DIME. Now THAT was the kind of business I could encourage folks to bring around the world, especially to developing countries like Bangaladesh, India, etc., where the overpriced mark-up (something I fought in the network marketing industry until 2007) prevented poorer people from participating.

          In the end, the company was bought out aggressively by someone who would turn it into a typical MLM, and I washed my hands of the industry about a year ago, after doing consulting work for a number of companies that refused to adopt more rigid, ethical business principles, based on the Dharma.

          And like it or not, as you say, I don’t accept the notion that when I say Catholic I should apologise for the assumption made by others, that the Roman Catholic jurisdiction is the only game in town. Neither should it be my responsibility when someone errantly imagines that even within the Roman Catholic Church that the Order of Friars Minor represent the entirety of the Franciscans. As for your assertion that I have ever claimed to have been awarded a rare and very high degree by a Tibetan organisation, that’s something I’ve never done, and cannot find any evidence of in the website or any of my books. As far as whether or not I “deserve” to be called Khenpo or Dharm’acharya, I don’t even really dignify others’ opinions on the matter with a response. That my community enjoys acceptance and fraternal support from a number of very respected lamas, teachers and gurus from within and outside the Traditional Tibetan Buddhist world speaks for itself. But again, if some group chooses to assert that we don’t “deserve” to call ourselves Buddhists or Catholics, I truly have no objection whatsoever, as I find neither label particularly important.

          Have you taken the time in your “investigation” to bother reading any of the 600 or so articles I’ve published in blogs, etc. so that you can see a consistent history of suggesting that the community consider simply walking away from the use of these stupid, primitive titles that get others in such a snit? The whole thing reeks of religion, and I have no use for religion whatsoever.

          I agree that there is a disconnect. But I also recognise the reason for the disconnect is that the message I have consistently taught for 30+ years, and the life I have transparently lived for the same three decades threatens the very security and ego-centric attachments that traditionalists have to their teachers, their sects, their paths. That is why, I suppose that some of the tulkus, lamas, gurus and masters of many respected paths find no problem with who we are — because they understand it’s all bullshit… all labels… all doctrine… and all leads to suffering.

          It’s unfortunate that we rely so heavily on labels, and that even for my community, that our desire to walk away from institutional “religion” and sectarianism sort of makes us a “non-sectarian sect”. (LOL! That really bugs me… and tempts me DAILY to simply say, “OK, y’all, I’m done… I already told you that you don’t need me… now go… grow up… do… be… and let go of this belonging to a group.” But then there is a sense of commitment to sangha.)

          I’ve *begged* my community to consider simply following some traditionalist sect, or even a non-traditionalist one. And in the past two months, have succeeded in “placing” almost a majority of persons with other organisations, simply because the impact on my personal health continues to escalate, and I am quite content spending my last couple years in deep contemplation, eremitic experience and writing.

          I LOVE your final paragraph… and I agree with you, and have written about it extensively. I don’ty think it’s healthy for anyone to adopt anything greater than a servant’s mentality, because anything more is a distraction to the path. Period.

          I can assure you that if you’d spend ten minutes in person with me, you’d be able to make an informed decision on who and what I am about. I genuinely live well below the federal poverty level. I frequently have to go a couple days at a time with no food in my house. My total monthly income is just at $705/month and out of that, I have to pay ALL my expenses.

          I will never apologise for the contributions I made to the network marketing and entrepreneurial movements. Even if only a couple thousand people are doing that kind of work more ethically as a result, it will be worth the criticism I get for having been involved.

          I will never apologise for representing a non-dogmatic, non-theistic, non-religious and non-superstitious understanding of the dharma (of Buddha/Christ).

          I will never apologise for agreeing to serve as the “servant-father” of the community that is my sangha/satsang, or for the 2700 people who come to the blog each month and who come to me for advice, help and clarification on the dharma.

          My hope is that this conversation will underscore the need for our community to break completely with tradition and stop using the word “monks” and “nuns” and simply live as contemplatives (I blogged about this a couple months ago as well!) Those who wish to celebrate the sacramental tradition will still be able to receive ordination. All of them will still go through the ten to thirteen year process of formation and instruction before they are ordained. Nothing will change but the labels.

          And then maybe the rigid, narrow-minded folks that you’ve spoken of, who cling with desperate attachment to their narrowly confined rules, sectarian traditions, lineages and scriptures will find peace.



        • I would likewise have to add that there is not a single person who could successfully suggest with any merit that even ONE of my students are dependent in any way, on me as their teacher.

          Perhaps that was the case when we were still following the more traditional institutional “rules”, because I did provide them with their homes, their food, their health insurance, etc.

          But since 2007, not one member of the community has relied on me for a dime of assistance, and each lives their lives independent of formal community. (NB: four actually still live within the Roman Catholic institution; another one of whom was ordained as a priest, sub-rosa, despite her still living in an RC convent, who recently died).

          These are people who think, work, act and serve for themselves. And within the sangha, I *promise* you, healthy and frequent debate is exercised quite liberally!

          It’s not mine to “convince” them to change what they say about me. Buddhism doesn’t work that way. But I assure you, this whole exchange will be very useful in bringing about change!

  27. Because I question whether or not any appreciable good has come of the intercourse with NellLou and BitterRoot, I simply offer the following as an open response:

    I’m done commenting on the matter, and since it brings these two individuals discomfort to have to expand their tolerance for varied expressions of the practice to include our community, and particularly to recognise me as the teacher for our community, I will refrain from participating in this forum.

    I can only hope that the negative karma these two have accumulated in their attacks might only come to ripen on me, and that their own hearts and minds might soften under waves of compassion. It must be difficult to be so self-righteous and deluded by the fantasy that one possesses the “only way”.

    I guess when the Buddha referred to this as “the Middle Way” there were still some who didn’t get it.

    — Peace!

  28. Thank you, Garudas, for helping us all put Jack’s original commentary on the 32 Signs into its proper perspective.

  29. מה לעזאזל קורה עם פתיל זה? גם מישהו יכול לומר לי באיזו דרך לאחסן את הבצק? יש לי פודל ירוק!

  30. @Gurudas: Thank you again for your in-depth reply. Your story is a quite an unusual and very interesting one. Perhaps we’ll meet in person some day; I would be fascinated to hear more.

    Oh hey, can I play too?

    Ikkunat ovat auki kesäiltaan,
    tahkot vinkuvat, kohta pirskuu veri.
    Pojat hälisevät.
    Ruutuhousut nymfit ja hän koreasti maalattu jonka korvista riippuvat kultaiset sonetit.
    Mutta kylmyys huokuu jumalten suurista huoneistoista ja ihmisparka kuin pullo särjetään juominkien jälkeen.
    Tyhjät tienristeykset.
    Hienhajuiset lähteet.
    Paras täältä on poistua ensimmäisissä kengissään.

    (Pentti Saarikoski: Aineksia elegiaan)

    My clumsy translation:

    The windows are open to the summer night,
    the whetstones are whining, soon blood will spatter.
    Boys are clamoring.
    Nymphs in checkered pants and she the boldly painted whose ears are hung with golden sonnets.
    But the cold is blowing from the great apartments of the gods and the poor human like a bottle is broken after a carousal.
    Empty crossroads.
    Springs that smell like sweat.
    An aluminum moon.
    It is best to leave here in your first shoes.

    (Pentti Saarikoski: Ingredients for an elegy)

  31. Am I the only one who finds it amusing to read the Sutra’s to myself in German?

    And may I add, if any one thread in the blogging world proves the theory of Entropy, this is it.

  32. Pingback: The Dharma of Compassion » Blog Archive » The Litmus Test… Gurus, Tigers and Bears! Oh My!

  33. Pingback: Ich bin a ZeNAZI©®™! « Sweep the dust, Push the dirt

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