Tuesday, December 07, 2010

A Gesture of Respect

Following the death of the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa, in Zion, Illinois, on November 5, 1981, at 8:30 in the evening, his body was taken to a mortuary, in order to be prepared for the flight back to Sikkim. 

During that tearful night, a young Chicago, Illinois dharma student named William Schwartz -- seen in the photograph above -- reckoned that it wasn't right for the Karmapa's body to remain at the mortuary all alone. Early the next morning, accompanied by a friend, he arrived at the mortuary and asked to remain present for whatever might happen. Thus it is that he came to be the last American witness, as the Karmapa's body was crated for transportation. 

"I did not know what to do," he remembers, "so I just tried to see everything as emptiness, and stay stable. But, every time they hammered a nail in the shipping container, it was like they hammered a nail into my heart."

Mr. Schwartz then accompanied the body to the airfield, and watched as it was loaded on the plane.

I am thankful that at least one of our own was on duty that day. On the other end, on November 9th, it was of course a different story:

So, that was just shy of thirty years ago, and of course some things have changed. Today, Mr. Schwartz is a popular contributor to the online forum elephantjournal, and is himself struggling with advanced stage congestive heart failure.

In his online journalist's capacity as a commentator on Buddhism in America, Mr. Schwartz has recently come into confrontation with what he calls a Buddhist "franchise:" in this case, the infamous cult surrounding a certain former "new age channel," rather controversially claimed by her followers as "...on the same level as Padmasambhava, Guru Rinpoche, himself.  There is no one higher in the world today."

Yes, that is a direct quotation.  

We can also add that these same followers have replaced the "Vajra Guru" element of the Vajra Guru mantra with their teacher's name, and presumably believe that Kool-Aid is good for you.

Nevertheless, what I find striking is that none of the people who now confront Mr. Schwartz had any connection to -- or indeed interest in -- Buddhism on any level, at the time the Sixteenth Karmapa's body was being loaded on the aircraft. The majority of them appear to have been rather too young, or in the alternative, rather too submerged in various addictions. I could also add that there wasn't any money in it, back in the day, but perhaps that is being less than charitable. 

So, what seems interesting is the unflattering sidelight this all throws on the aging of Tibetan Buddhism in America. 

What can we expect? Many of the misguided generation really never had the blessings that accompanied contact with the real deal. They content themselves with Milli-Vanilli Mahayana, and behave accordingly.

For example -- we see the followers of "none higher in the world" openly taunting Mr. Schwartz with his medical challenge, alternately threatening him with eternal damnation, or making sport of his illness: "Ha, ha... you're gonna' die!"

We also encounter them engaged in on-line thuggery of the lowest possible stripe, as well as an unpleasant censorship technique borrowed from the fascist playbook -- "SLAPP," or "strategic lawsuit against public participation," wherein they have threatened elephantjournal with legal action should anything they don't like be published about them.

This, together with like and similar conduct, has earned them the online nickname of "Slander Sangha."

Mr. Schwartz has a slightly different take on the matter:
"There's an out of control franchise operating -- they've lost control of the brand and the brand is being damaged beyond recognition."
Indeed, it seems precisely so.

As a gesture of respect to an American practitioner who himself offered a gesture of respect, I would suggest that this wickedness not go unnoticed. I would also like to read what Mr. Schwartz has to say about Buddhist "franchises," in the iDharma era of johnny-come-lately revisionism sold in unsatisfying pieces by the Slander Sangha.

Someday, we are all going to be on the plane.

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3 reader comments:

Marianne said...

Thank you so much for this post, I've been watching some of this unfold from the distance of New Zealand - understanding very little about the players or politics but nonetheless convinced (based even on the little I know of him through his writing on Elephant Journal) that Mr Schwartz was being attacked unfairly and wishing there were more I could do to support him than simply write the occasional supportive comment or tweet. I'm so grateful that you, understanding so much more than I do, have made the effort to show this respect to Bill.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I think we all know who you are talking about, and I think it is important to remember that these idiots do NOT represent Buddhism as Buddhism is intended. What they DO represent is an enormous disappointment and loss of face for Penor Rinpoche. I have been watching them cyberbully and cyberstalk anybody who questions them for over a year now, and if they think they are fooling anybody with their doubletalk, they are only fooling themselves. Congratulations to Bill Schwartz for standing up to them and explaining that they are a franchise -- a franchise with dirty floors, overflowing toilets, and greasy food.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this. I've been watching it unfold on Twitter for a year and found it disturbing a sanga, KPC would engage people on Twitter the way they have been doing, acting like they are in Junior High. It appears some of their monks and nuns spend HUGE amounts of time monteriing Twitter and what is said about KPC. Their website talks about "cyber bullying" and lists names of Twitter accounts to beware of.
Not that it matters but I think the correct behavior for the KPC leader would have been to stop engaging people in their attacks and just focus on the teachings on Twitter( which is the reason she says she is on twitter) A buddhist sanga no matter if it's in the USA or some other country shouldn't have to care what people say about them in a blog, or go get a lawyer over it. Just my opinion thanks for reading.