Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sedona, the Succubus, and the Stupa

This is fundamentally a story about a stupa in Sedona, Arizona, built on shaky ground. However, as it develops, our story blossoms into a larger, cautionary tale about neurotic obsessions and fringe dharma organizations in the United States.

As you read this story, it is important to remember that the people involved firmly believe they are doing the proverbial "right thing." They believe that they are crafting the future of Vajrayana Buddhism in America.

To be fair, I think it is equally important to remember that herein you will find one person's opinion.

As it happens, I came to know these people, but I did not come to appreciate their belief in themselves. To the contrary, I developed the opinion that they present an obstacle to the future of Vajrayana Buddhism in America. I have been exploring their actions and worldview in a series of posts here at Digital Tibetan Buddhist Altar, of which this is close to the last I will present on the subject.

Then we will move along to other matters.

As regular readers of DTBA already know, there is a former hairdresser from Brooklyn, New York, Alyce Zeoli by name, who is believed by herself and a small number of others to be an emanation of Mandarava. She is also a formally recognized tulku of the Palyul faction of Tibetan Buddhism. That she is a reincarnated entity having some connection to Tibetan Buddhism -- albeit currently unschooled and unconventional -- is, I think, really without question. To be unschooled and unconventional isn't very important. Whether she is an emanation of Mandarava is a matter for further consideration.

I came to know Zeoli when she telephoned me, and introduced herself. This came on the heels of a long exchange of emails and telephone calls with several of her students, who believed I might be able to help snap her out of a depression. We traveled to meet one another at her ranch in Young, Arizona, and spent just under a month together, before separating for the holidays. One month later, she invited me back, to her center in Sedona, Arizona, and ultimately, asked if I would serve as the Chief Operating Officer of her entire organization. I accepted, but the matter ended badly, when I discovered serious financial and other irregularities, and turned over the entire dossier to federal law enforcement.

The rest, as they say, is history and all too predictable. Where before, they used to send me love letters, her followers now stand on street corners, shouting their hatred to the stars, singing that Tenpa is not a tulku. That is perfectly fine. They only know what they have been told: they do not have the minds to see for themselves. They are only doing what they have been taught to do, and that is to hate the people who their teacher teaches them to hate. Here is what I teach: if it helps you to believe that I am not a tulku, then I am not a tulku. If it helps you to believe that I am a tulku, then I am a tulku. What I might believe is germane only to me. One moon, you know?

The Succubus

In October 2007, Zeoli's closest attendant contacted me, and told me that Zeoli was pacing the floor over her obsession with a "succubus" in Sedona, Arizona.

Note that the individuals mentioned are reliably reported as Zeoli's former romantic interests.

Strange as it may seem, I hear things like this all the time -- usually from rather unattractive, post-menopausal women who have lost a boyfriend or husband to someone younger. At the time, it seemed to me that Zeoli was suffering the disintegration of yet another interpersonal relationship, and the "succubus" was nothing more that the neurotic projection of her own mind.

In January, 2008, Zeoli wrote to me following a telephone call in which she discussed the "succubus." You will note her suggestion that "a couple of your wives" might be somehow involved. You will also note her following question:
"You wanna slay this bitch? I'm serious. Thing is once you start we gotta get them all or things get real spooky."
Indeed they do... indeed they do.

I asked her if she wanted her husband back, and she replied that she did not. However, she went on to describe her "succubus" in some detail. I invite you to read her description, and all the while I would like you to keep in mind that she (and her followers) believe that not only is she an emanation of Mandarava, but she quite literally is Mandarava. They entirely miss the point that Mandarava emanates without cessation, in countless forms. Having read her description, I want you to ask yourself: is this one of those countless forms?

Note the paranoia in Zeoli's letter, above, coupled with delusions of grandeur ("we are dharma"). When you put personal stress together with paranoia and unbridled aggression ("ya wanna slay this bitch?") you get a bad, bad cocktail.

The Stupa

When I took the reins of Zeoli's organization, the stupa which she maintains in Sedona was USD $54,000 in arrears, with a USD $700,000 balloon payment due by November 2008.

Zeoli was unwilling to commit any funds to bring the stupa current. Instead, she allocated her resources to the purchase a USD $1 million personal residence in rural Maryland, and at a time when her organization was crying poor to the stupa's note holder, she took a USD $300,000 windfall profit from the sale of a "donated" home in Arizona, and put it in her purse.

Beginning in March 2008, her organization came under intense scrutiny by the I.R.S. Criminal Division, with particular emphasis on dealings in the State of Arizona. Zeoli's reaction to this was to order all of her followers to abandon Sedona and rally around her in Poolesville, Maryland. She also took the unprecedented step of basically putting the stupa up for sale. To justify uprooting her Arizona followers, Zeoli claimed that there was a "black cloud of negativity" hanging over Sedona, and yes... you guessed it... the "succubus" was on the rampage again.

I am almost entirely certain that this is not what the many people who donated money to build this stupa had in mind. It is also a very sleazy real estate deal. For around $700,000 you can buy the note and own the whole thing. What they want you to do is to (1) pay off their note, (2) give them a $600,000 profit, which they can then use to pay off Zeoli's personal residence, and (3) leave them ownership of the stupa. Also, they do not disclose that you will also almost certainly be buying your way into an audit. This is right livelihood?

Why Bother?

So, why bother with this? I could be very wrong, but I think it is important to closely examine what becomes of Buddhism when it contacts American crazy.

If this sort of thing were confined to Zeoli and her little band, we could easily dismiss the entire matter as a one-shot aberration. But, there are shades of this happening, in greater or lesser degrees, in many places around the world. Sedona is not the only "stupa real estate development" known to this writer, nor is Zeoli the only "queen for a day" launching branded products to support grandiose schemes.

I want to ask you... is this the future of Vajrayana Buddhism in the West?

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4 reader comments:

bev.thornton@live.com said...

Speed bumps.

Kunzang Lhamo said...

I respect you very much for the courage you have shown in confronting these people head on, particularly in the face of vicious and hateful attacks they have launched against you. That is what they do and that is who they are and you have laid them bare for all the world to see. These people at KPC are not a Buddhist sangha but a sick reflection of Alyce Zeoli's twisted mind. If it weren't for the hush money they send to India every month and the corruption it supports, they would've been exposed a long time ago. To answer your question, no, these people are not the future anybody wants for Buddhism in the West, they only "might" be if we are not vigilant. They are only a very small minority (no more than 50 or 60 misguided souls at most) with a very big mouth. Let them shout themselves hoarse. Let them turn into dust.

Anonymous said...


Nothing new here. I have my own story with Alyce/Jetsunma and entourage, slight though it may be, and yes the succubus was alive and well. So present that I became quite ill upon seeing her. The demon was her.

Sick, I slept under a picnic table in a nearby park that night, like a dog shivering, waiting for dawn and to beat it the hell out of there.

But you engaged the swan which is interesting in itself.

I went over the hill to Garchen, like a home for me and let it pass glad for protection from the succubus. [the story did not end there but it is not germane]

OK, I got entangled once, similar enough to your story, though the Dharma characters are different. The future of Dharma in the west hinged upon shared visions. They turned out to be fleeting fantasy. None of us really know how it will turn out.

Anyway wrote this poem:

Like a swan I glide
floating in wonder
in a beatific world of dreams
on a sky lake mirror

and there you glide
exquisite lady
across my vision
a black swan of my heart

a black swan
you disappear
as you moved into shadows
of this fleeting dream

a fool chases
their darkness there
mistaking you for light
to find ignorance lurking

hiding under passion
a cloak so familiar
where a black swan
and ignorance dance

the promise held
for a short while,
white and black swan
Gliding on mirror lake

Anonymous said...

After reading this I realized just how big a kook this phony "Mandarava" really is.


Get real.

Here is some free advice: don't waste a moment of your time on this bunch of crazies. Let them fall down all on their own.