Saturday, July 11, 2009

Sonam Topgay Kazi, 1925-2009

Sikkimese linguist Sonam T. Kazi quietly passed away last month, reportedly from complications associated with Alzheimer's (although I have been unable to confirm this). He was a long-time political operative, who once served as the Dalai Lama's interpreter on behalf of the Government of India. His avocation was scholastic study of Dzogchen, and in this he became rather celebrated.

In the 1960s, a contractual relationship as a linguist with the U.S. government enabled Mr. Kazi to relocate to the United States. After traveling around a bit, he settled with his wife and daughter in New York City, and when his government contract dissolved, established himself as something of a teacher. Throughout the late 1960s and into the 1970s, he became known for taking on students who had been deemed unsuitable by lineage-holding masters, and developed a small following which regularly met in his apartment on the West Side, overlooking Central Park.

Some considerable controversy visited Kazi after a succession of female students accused him of pressuring them into sexual assignations. Amid allegations that he had infected a student with a sexually transmitted disease, his marriage faltered, and his wife and daughter took up separate residence elsewhere.

Tragically, this long-running scandal deeply scarred and overshadowed his accomplishments as an interpreter and translator, which were considerable. In a posting in a public forum, his longtime sponsor, Allan Ehrlich, explained that Mr. Kazi's students had requested Tulku Sang-ngag Rinpoche to organize a Vajrasattva Drupa, "to clear up, and clean any misunderstandings, and mistakes that occurred in this life."

I met Mr. Kazi in 1968, when he visited Tarthang Rinpoche in Berkeley, California, and saw him again in New York, in 1971. I can say from personal observation that he had a genuine love of the literature of Dzogchen.

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23 reader comments:

Anonymous said...

The late Mr. Kazi was my neighbor for more than ten years, up until his death. HOwever I only met him once in that time, where I was introduced by a mutual friend, a longtime student of Chatral Rinpoche visiting the U.S. for medical treatment. A few months before his death he flirted with my wife in the natural food store. She told me about this old man from Sikkhim -- it could only have been Kazi. At least he was nice about it.

For whatever it is worth, Mr. Kazi was not just a lover of Dzogchen literature. He completed three years' retreat with the aforementioned mutual friend.

I have seen a photos of the recently emerged, emaciated retreatants standing behind their seated retreat master, Kyabje Chatral Rinpoche, flanked by two other masters who taught in that retreat (in the late 60's or early 70's)-- Dodrubchen Rinpoche and the late Drubwang Penor Rinpoche. Mr. Kazi is clearly visible there, just right of center.

So Mr. Kazi was a practitioner of some dedication, whatever else he may have been.

Among his other credentials was publication the first (and somewhat less than comprehensive) post-Tibetan exile edition of the collected works of Mipham Rinpoche, distributed as part of the Library of Congress PL480 collection. While that edition was less than well-edited in places, it did the great service of keeping the study of Mipham Rinpoche's works from dwindling down to nothing.

If the late Mr. Kazi had been able to keep his dick under control, he might have benefitted the Dharma and sentient beings more than he did. Then again, he might not have. It is not for us to judge someone else's accomplishment, especially after they are dead and gone.

Even the greatest of sinners can be liberated in the bardo if they have pure samaya with their teacher and die without attachment or resentment. With that in mind, I hope the late Mr. Kazi will be remembered with equanimity (if not necessarily admiration) for the good things he accomplished.

Sean W. said...

BTW I think the date of Mr. Kazi's birth was probably a decade or so earlier than what you have here -- 1925. He was probably in his mid-nineties when he died.

And 'RI BONGS CAL 'DROGS' should be spelled with "'grogs" instead of "'drogs".

Kiernan said...

"With that in mind, I hope the late Mr. Kazi will be remembered with equanimity (if not necessarily admiration) for the good things he accomplished."

Yes, let us forget that he coerced women, even married women, who trusted him with their spiritual wellbeing, to have sex with him, giving them STD's terrorizing them with threats of hell for "samaya breakage" if they refuse. But hey, since he REALLY worshiped his guru, there's a place for him in heaven anyway! lets praise a man that reverted to the guru business when his other gigs failed. all hail the snake-oil salesmen of the world. gotta love religion.

love,
an ex-sycophantic follower of the Kazi family, professional parasites.

Rohan said...

I've had occasion to query the relationship between the American disciples and the family of which you speak, too.

We as students are also responsible for our choices, more especially when contemplating damtsig.

Though I saw at first hand the slavishness of devotion and obviously hierarchical arrangement within the sangha, that does not excuse me from the 'beginner's headrush' I once felt.

Though the Teachers - and the students - may be fallible, I do not hate them.

They all arose in just that way according to karma.

The bond between myself and my own family, and the family of which you speak, has not been a cause to doubt the inexorability of cause and fruition.

They are gone and we don't see them any more. The practices and empowerments received, also my two youngest children's Dharma names, those are ours to keep.

Very few of us who became students really took to heart the caveat that to enter this modality of practice will likely demand everything we have and everything we are.

I distinctly remember that I was asked whether I would truthfully offer everything, my wife and my whole family too, to the Guru.

If your understanding is that this should mean surrendering yourself body mind and speech to the particular form of the Teacher you will definitely do like that.

If your understanding is that this should mean offering yourself body mind speech, blood viscera lymph meat bone and brain, wheels winds and essence to the ultimate Guru, then you will have a different experience.

To become students of an old-school Ngagpa or Ngagma might sound wildly romantic, even ideal, to people who already have a little trouble and would like to find a way to end their trouble.

According to the traditional model, we'd have been serfs on their land: "high, high, high and low, low, low".

Though I do not want to trivialize your suffering, you could as easily - every bit as easily - have experienced sexual misconduct and contracted VD at that time yet never received the Dharma at all.

We didn't like the modality. Some of the Teachers may have been every bit as crazy as we were.

However, no matter how deep the suffering we did receive the remedy. Hatred of the Teachers and hatred of self, such as terming oneself a 'former sycophant', only worsens the affliction.

If you want the results of hatred practice hatred, if you want the Dharma then practice the Dharma. It was always up to you.

TENPA said...

Interesting response.

Anonymous said...

Rohan said...
"We as students are also responsible for our choices, more especially when contemplating damtsig." that's true.

"Though I saw at first hand the slavishness of devotion and obviously hierarchical arrangement within the sangha, that does not excuse me from the 'beginner's headrush' I once felt." no, but it also doesn't excuse the behavior of those who set up a family business based on "slavish devotion and hierarchical arrangement." not sure how much contact you've had with this family, but i've had years worth. I’ve seen the people rotting away in crappy rooms, donating most of their income to a family of "buddhas" who gave them no more profound instructions than to continue "counting." years and years of counting mantras and doing errands. But hey, maybe I just don't have pure enough vision...

"Though the Teachers - and the students - may be fallible, I do not hate them" I don't hate them either, but I certainly don't like them. They are parasites.

"They all arose in just that way according to karma" classic Tibetan Buddhist gloss to put over any situation. Meaningless statement. This is the part where you shut off your thinking mind.

"The bond between myself and my own family, and the family of which you speak, has not been a cause to doubt the inexorability of cause and fruition" the bond is in your mind, nowhere else.

"They are gone and we don't see them anymore. The practices and empowerments received, also my two youngest children's Dharma names, those are ours to keep" "dharma names" come a dime a dozen. Go to a large empowerment and watch the bloated, lazy priest pick from a pile of cards, one male stack, one female stack, and watch the western students become filled with glee at their "dharma names." what a sham. As for "empowerments," even according to standard doctrinal definitions, the Kazi family gave out nothing more than blessings, no empowerments in the real sense of the word. But few, if any of their students are educated enough in the teachings to know this, and the kazis make sure it stays that way. Doesn’t stop them from falsely threatening them with "vajra hell," telling students Jetsun Rinpoche is their "Root Guru" (she isn't), etc.

"Very few of us who became students really took to heart the caveat that to enter this modality of practice will likely demand everything we have and everything we are." oh but there are many that did, and there are many that gave everything, and only had everything taken in return. Talk to some Florida members and ask them where their bank accounts went, and what was given to them in return such as "what are you counting? When are we going to buy that other piece of land? When will you be donating more money? What? Only $1,000? Say om vajrsattva hung!"

"I distinctly remember that I was asked whether I would truthfully offer everything, my wife and my whole family too, to the Guru." I’m sure you were asked that.

"If your understanding is that this should mean surrendering yourself body mind and speech to the particular form of the Teacher you will definitely do like that" yes, and get treated like a cash cow, a piece of chattel, like all the other members. and if you had no money, you can become a sycophantic go-for and errand boy/girl. and if you had no time to do that, you were ignored.

"If your understanding is that this should mean offering yourself body mind speech, blood viscera lymph meat bone and brain, wheels winds and essence to the ultimate Guru, then you will have a different experience" very poetic. (cont.)

Anonymous said...

"To become students of an old-school Ngagpa or Ngagma might sound wildly romantic, even ideal, to people who already have a little trouble and would like to find a way to end their trouble" and the family is more than happy to capitalize on such wishful thinking while they mock you behind your back. they laugh at their students.

"According to the traditional model, we'd have been serfs on their land: "high, high, high and low, low, low"." and they don't think that traditional model should be up for revision anytime soon.

"Though I do not want to trivialize your suffering, you could as easily - every bit as easily - have experienced sexual misconduct and contracted VD at that time yet never received the Dharma at all." sure could have.

"We didn't like the modality. Some of the Teachers may have been every bit as crazy as we were" the "modality?" I’m guessing some kind of karmic or "emptiness" hyperbole is coming up next, let me read on...

"However, no matter how deep the suffering we did receive the remedy." What kind of masochism is this? "we received the remedy?" enough of the platitudes, a "holy person" and a "holy family" used their position for their own gain. spare me the "it's all a part of the vajrayana cosmic plan" bullshit.

"Hatred of the Teachers and hatred of self, such as terming oneself a 'former sycophant', only worsens the affliction" I’m telling the truth. have you been to their centers? (cont.)

"If you want the results of hatred practice hatred, if you want the Dharma then practice the Dharma. It was always up to you" it's called "telling the truth." I was a sycophant. I threw away a large portion of my adult life. was it my fault? yes. do they play a role and share the blame? of course they do, and no sugar coated romantic milarepaesque emptiness rhetoric will shift their responsibility for shamelessly setting up a guru business and preying on idealistic or weak people. I was a kid when I found that group, doe-eyed and eager to learn. I devoted my life to a family that gave nothing in return but the equivalent of "say 1000 hail Mary’s." but hey, I’m just a samaya breaker filled with "hate." you can safely ignore me

Rohan said...

this dharma is no refuge for angry eternalists.

Rohan said...

this dharma is no refuge for angry eternalists.

TENPA said...

The dharma is a refuge for any sentient being in the six realms.

Rohan said...

where, dechen dzong? of course. else would not be posting.

instead of anger, apply the antidote.

sounds like another 111,000 long VS to me, so start counting and stop sneering :)

Anonymous said...

"sounds like another 111,000 long VS to me, so start counting and stop sneering :)" you count, i'll think.

Lhun-gyi Grub-pa said...

Aren't these people students of "Tantra"? Doesn't one offer, as the central "Vajrayana" practice, one's own body, voice, and mind?

It becomes difficult to (as the person who popularized her(?) complaints against him asked us to) judge someone else based solely upon a third party's complaints; but aren't most people very willing? They they go on to give their oh, so "compassionate" and "wise" condolences; what tripe.

The "devotee" in question should have checked his-or-her motivation before offering, and then reneging in misplaced blame. Why aren't they afraid of the well known threat of hell for creating a schism in the sangha, and for speaking divisively about their Guru?

Rowboat, Ro, Mr Bunt said...

Approaching from the side of ignorance, students may either neurotically romanticize the guru as some sort of idealized parent figure (whom s/he is not!), and/or simply fail to comprehend what damtsig means at all.

One supposes it would be easy enough to catalogue the alleged flaws and failings of any and all vajra gurus, though to do so is to miss the point entirely.

Tomorrow (Sat Nov. 20th) = Full moon day, tenth Dharma month.

Anonymous said...

"The "devotee" in question should have checked his-or-her motivation before offering, and then reneging in misplaced blame."

yeah, it was the woman's fault. the "guru" is blameless and craps amrita right?

"Why aren't they afraid of the well known threat of hell for creating a schism in the sangha, and for speaking divisively about their Guru?"
maybe because the people in question aren't children or brainwashed sheep. funny, Kazi threatened hell for the "samaya breakage" of telling others about what he was doing to them. by the way, the kazis didn't even give full initiations, just "blessings" so even by the book, there was no samaya there that could cast one into hell, were there to be such a place.

Rowboat, Ro, Mr Bunt said...

the unrestrained bitchery of this thread is by the protagonist's account, at least, several years too late.

go ahead and hate your teachers. that is your affair, though it is unclear how one witch-hunt or another really changes the essential complexion of the matter under discussion.

some people do not like, and find great fault, with the relationship between teacher and student.

some people are at ease with this relationship and do not find fault.

regardless of the alleged downfalls of either the teacher or the student, it is still up to each of us to maintain whatever damtsig we have undertaken, to maintain the view and the practice, and to clean the karma.

nobody offered a free ride to liberation.

Anonymous said...

With the editing you have done on "my comment" and the nature of your remarks, I am wondering why this is called "Tibetan alter" and why you have even place an image of the late Mr. Kazi here.

As for your "questions"; nobody I know literally shits gold, I'm sure whoever did would have many "unswervingly devoted followers" though, don't you think? With very few of them complaining about thier own choice to follow these people for thier "gold." My thought is more of the traditionally listed "musk deer."

My point is (knowing the only party taking any blame here; Mr. Kazi. And, since no one divulges who the woman involve [by all means not "the woman in question" horrors! Impossible right?) whatever the actual circumstances who in their right mind would believe she didn't make her own choices in the matter, and was later disgruntled?

TENPA said...

This is becoming the "Star Wars Bar" of this blog... the place where strange people meet to engage in strange arguments.

For the record -- in Blogger, there is no way to edit comments. I either run them or I don't.

And... where it comes to this particular subject, comments are now closed.

Rowboat, Ro, Mr Bunt said...

Oh, nice editorial touch there, Tenpa.

TENPA said...

Domo arigato, Mr. Novato

Allan Ehrlich said...

A post was made that I had asked H.E. Tulku Sang-ngag
Rinpoche to lead a Vajrasattva Drupchen to "clear up and clean up any misunderstandings that occurred in this life."
This is incorrect. There was never a request for a Drupchen, nor was there a Drupchen.
What I did request was that H.E. Tulku Sang-ngag Rinpoche say some prayers for a swift rebirth for
Mr. Kazi. That was the extent of my request.
Allan Ehrlich

Editor said...

No doubt your grief at the loss of someone so close to you sharpens your memory of events. So, then, has Mr. Kazi been reborn lo, so swiftly in the six years hence?

Joaquin Tirado said...

on nov. 1, 1968, thomas merton journaled in dharamsala, shortly before his death. he recorded that upon returning from a trek into the himalayan foothills, "i met a man, sonam kazi, who translated for Desjardins. . . . We went to the Tourist Hotel to drink tea and talk." (shortened.)

to read that, then this, perspectivizes, helps to sift subjective chaff.