Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Child of the Sixties

This is one from the heart, for certain expat readers of this blog -- and you know who you are:

Apart from the occasional "whatever became of" flurries, that seem to die out as quickly as they begin, it seems that few people remember Ossian Kennard Maclise -- the little Anglo-American boy recognized by His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa as an incarnation of Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche (no, not this one, but another one).

Few people except his Mum, that is: she is the celebrated 'Sixties cultural figure Hetty Maclise, who has now taken to blogging, as have virtually all other surviving celebrated 'Sixties cultural figures (his Dad, Angus Maclise, of the Velvet Underground, passed away in 1979). For those of you who remember the time and the place -- and I am certain that you do -- Hetty was deeply responsible for content in San Francisco's Oracle, which was the first of a breed, founded by Allen Cohen and Michael Bowen. Angus was also a terrific fellow -- in New York, I once swapped him some silver Tibetan coins for something or other -- and I think he was the one who motivated the whole "lets go to Kathmandu" thing that was popular around then.

It is all flooding back.

Hatty and Angus were also great friends with Ira Cohen -- who I once traded for a mattress (was trying to furnish an apartment in the Village) by giving him a copy of Oracles and Demons of Tibet -- he refused to take money, saying he had to have the book. Ira, in turn, was also friends with Nazli Pema -- from her chalk drawing on the sidewalk in Paris days, before she married Tarthang Rinpoche.

We wound up getting kicked out of the Village apartment, only to move into Allen Ginsberg's Lower East Side apartment, which at the time was being kept by Rick Fields. Allen was in California, visiting lamas. Rick was supporting himself writing neo-Japanese pornography -- in English, mind you: rather elegant phrases like "the rain that falls inside" were his pride and joy -- and I had just landed an advance from Random House to write book on Buddhism in America that I never wrote. We used to have long discussions with Rick about this, to the point where he decided to pack his bags and leave in search of a lama -- and later, in 1981, wrote the book that I didn't.

This man predicted YouTube 40 years before it happened.
Meanwhile, Ira had introduced us to a memorable and visionary fellow named Stuart Leeder. The reason why I remember him is because (1) he was a remarkably kind human being, and (2) he had this crazy idea that someday, everybody would have a television camera -- except he called them "portable video cameras." He said that someday, people would send videos back and forth in place of letters. Did you ever hear of such a thing?

We had left Allen's apartment by then, and flush with the book advance had moved to East 92nd and Madison -- to a two bedroom garden apartment -- where the household consisted of Shirabin and me, my friend Aman Baher, a lapis-lazuli dealer from Kabul, and Stuart Leeder. Shirabin got me a Rolls-Royce for my birthday that year, so you know, there were also a number of hangers-on who wanted to ride in that car.

Shirabin was famous for more than 15 minutes

That is how it was in those days. There was a genuine spirit of camaraderie. I try to explain it to young people sometimes, but they just don't get it. Everybody knew everybody else, everybody wrote poetry or invented something, and sure enough, everybody got to be famous for fifteen minutes.

If you click this link, you will be transported to one of the Tibetan Buddhist world's most singularly remarkable historical records: "Namtar of the Wee Lama Boy." It is singular not only for recounting the story of Ossian, but for the unusual sidelight it throws on the whole Karmapa-made-it-rain-for-the-Hopis incident, and the whole Hopi Tibetan prophecy nexus.

Did I tell you -- this is about the 'Sixties?

Might want to download it and save it, before it disappears.

Love and Peace, and all the best to those who write in -- although I have this theory that if you remember enough about the 'Sixties to write about the 'Sixties, you weren't really participating in the 'Sixties -- but that is just one more thing the lamas did that was beneficial: they kept some of us away from the damn dope.

Recognize Freda Bedi's handwriting?

Afterthought: You know, it was all so easy in those days. If you wanted to see the Dalai Lama, you just went to see the Dalai Lama, and he would serve you tea. If you wanted to hang out with the Karmapa? No problem: more tea. If you wanted to meet Dudjom Rinpoche, the door was always open. You could make friends rather easily.

I think this is the main thing that has changed. You didn't have a lot of idiots jealously guarding the door, jockeying for position close to the throne, and basking in reflected glory.

 Cool hat, Dude.

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11 reader comments:

Anonymous said...

What, in fact, has become of the first Western tulku?

Editor said...

Don't think he's the first, actually.

In the case of the Kagyu, HH Karmapa XVI had recognized more than one westerner at this point, which is the early seventies. The first westerners to be recognized (by Tibetans in captivity) date from the sixties. One has already passed away.

Nobody can say with any precision who was the first western tulku, but certainly, you would have to count Theos Bernard as quite possibly the first one we know about, and this is from the thirties.

Anonymous said...

Who was that Canadian tulku and when was he recognized?

Editor said...

He wasn't Canadian, but I know who you mean. That was Peling Tulku, who was actually born in Havana. He was ordained by Karmapa in 1977 and overtly recognized in 1980. He has just passed away this year, from a heart attack, May 14th. He was good friends with Gyatrul Rinpoche, and in 1985 met Penor Rinpoche, who gave him the title Vajracharya in 1995, and enthroned him in 2001 as the mind emanation of Padma Lingpa and the activity emanation of Karma Lingpa. The reason why you never hear about him is simply because he wasn't a ruthless self-promoter, and spent most of his time practicing.

Mama Mojo said...

Too bad things have become so professionalized. Since I was born in 1969, I missed out on pretty much everything, or so it would appear. Did get to sit very near His Holiness last month along with 10,000 other people in Amsterdam, which is the closest I'll ever get. It's fine, though. He seems to be in need of a less rigorous schedule, anyway. That aside, I wonder about the validity of your last statement. Has the time truly come when we can't rely on an external Guru. CTR said it in the 50s, and he learned it from his teacher, Jamgon Kongtrul. The Dalai Lama asks in his teachings whether we can't rely on Santideva's (and other great masters) words (in writing) as direct transmission. Then again, there are gurus in our midst. Maybe they just don't all come with the star status, prestige or allure that they once had. I guess that's sort of what you'd call impermanence. No matter the glitter of the past. All we have now is the preset.

J.Crow said...

Here is some Trungpa Video from the early days that I did on a "portable video camera". Somewhere in the box there is footage of Rick under Trungpa's direction doing some Mudra Theater excersizes. This clip though is a shot talk about sitting_all day.

Anonymous said...

I met Ossian in Woodstock, in 1999. He was hanging out, smoking weed and working on a translation of the Choying Dzo (which wasn't terribly good, though it was obvious he appreciated the text itself very much).

After a year or so he moved on, and has since not been heard from. I got the sense that being a Western Tulku conferred no particular advantage for him in this life, aside from a rather good basic Dharma education.

Other tulkus have told me that 1970's Rumtek was cliquish, and that non-Tibetans (including Bhutanese tulkus) were socially marginalized there. I think it would go without saying for a Western tulku.

Unknown said...

Thanks for your excellent website. There is a devotional offering on Fredi Bedi/Sister Palmo here:

Unknown said...

I named my eldest son Ossian, he was born a week after we viewed the movie at the buddhist centre in Auckland,New Zealand in 1986. He is now 31 and his sole purpose in life is the pursuit of esoteric knowledge, just like his dad :)

wilderness of pain said...

The PBS film on Ossian was life changing. I never became a Buddhist or new ager, dope smoker or dabbler of eastern meditation.

I am suburbanite Detroiter approaching middle age who's life perspective has been shaped by that film.

I realize our person and the world is as much spiritual as material.

I try to be a bit of peace in our American world of constant noise and consumerism.

I'm certain that Ossian will never see this post but thank him 4 being in the PBS film and helping shape my life.

All peace and light (and prayers)
to him. Wherever he may be.



I wonder if Ossian is still linked to Tibetan Buddhism and/or would he be interested in traditional catholic monasticism to compare and contras
from his experience.

A follow-up film, 30 + years after the original PBS program might be very enlightening

Unknown said...

Hello alltogether,
I do a book about the 16th Karmapa and included Ossian in the chapter about tulkus the 16th Karmapa found ( I wonder whether this PBS film could be found somewhere. Warm wishes! Gerd