Makes you proud to be an American...
On the morning of February fifteenth of this year (2011), federal officers came to the desert, and arrested me on the complaint of a person for whom I held up a mirror.
"When we hear only language that is foul and abusive,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us for wrongs we have done.
Till now we have said many things without thinking;
We have slandered and caused many friendships to end.
Hereafter, let's censure all thoughtless remarks.
--Dharmaraksita, The Wheel of Sharp Weapons
The complaint states that words attributed to my authorship -- some righteously so, some disingenuously so -- published on Digital Tibetan Buddhist Altar, and somehow associated with me on Twitter, caused Nameless Person such emotional distress that she sought the attention of a psychiatrist. Presumably, her search refers to what the late Thinley Norbu describes as, "...a state of mind sought through the methods of nihilist psychology and psychiatry, which are always limited because they only switch from one material state to another material state and never go beyond suffering."
Regardless, thus was I arrested for speech attributed to me, not for conduct attributed to me. Concurrent with my arrest, federal officers raided the residence of someone I have never met -- someone I simply do not know -- who, nevertheless, published statements on the Internet groundlessly attributed to me; or, in the alternative, were interpreted as being supportive of or sympathetic to me. Again, the complaint alleges mere words caused "emotional distress," and claims that Nameless Person became so depressed she could not leave the house for one year.
"Depressed and forlorn, when we feel mental anguish,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we have said many things without thinking;
Hereafter, le's take on this suffering ourselves."
---Dharmaraksita, The Wheel of Sharp Weapons
I was taken hence from California and flown across the country to Baltimore, Maryland -- a city I have never visited -- where I was held in the custody of the U.S. Marshal. On the second day there, I became quite ill, and was admitted to Mercy Hospital, and later, Bon Secours Hospital, for subsequent tests and surgeries. This was followed by a difficult period of recovery. Truth be told, I still don't feel tip-top.
In April 2011, following a heaing, the U.S. Magistrate ruled that I was releasable from custody, but would have to remain on the East Coast. Since I had no place to go, I decided to remain in prison. It is ironic that, despite there being no Detention Order against me, I was held in maximum security on Maryland's old Death Row. The size of the cell does not matter. What is the size of mind?
Writing words that cause emotional distress -- not threats, mind you -- is not what my case is really all about. My case is about whether or not the government, in the person of its special agents, has the right or the ability to unilaterally decide what is or is not acceptable speech in the context of Vajrayana Buddhism.
"'Naropa,' [Tilopa] said another day. 'I need a lot of money. Go and steal me some.' So Naropa went off to steal money from a rich man, but was caught in the act. He was seized, beaten, and again left for dead. Several days passed before Tilopa arrived and asked him, 'Are you in pain?'"
--- Patrul Rinpoche, Kuzang Lam'I Shelung
If Marpa were around today, could he be prosecuted for causing Milarepa emotional distress? We want to remember that Milarepa was driven to the brink of suicide. If Tilopa were alive today, could he be charged with conspiracy for inciting Naropa? If one asks to look into the spiritual master's mirror, and is dissatisfied with the reflection, does one have the right to call the FBI and beg them to come smash the mirror? Putting labels on emptiness is dangerous enough: it is why we suffer. Putting limits on liberative technique renders every lama liable to law enforcemnt. Do you like that?
Tethered in Baltimore, my case proceeded on vigorous Constitutional grounds, while I spent time in timelessness. People commonly say that prisoners "do time;" but, since I am my own prisoner, I say "spend." This was the first case of its kind in U.S. history, so it seemed a reasonable, if not worthy, expense.
"Neither contempt, abusive speech, nor disgrace harms the body. Why then, mind, do you become angry?"
--- Santideva, Bodhicaryavatara.
All around the world, there are prisoners of conscience who, inspired by our Constitution and the principles it represents, spend time challenging their own environments. They may or may not completely realize that our freedoms are not static; rather,our freedoms demand continual testing and maintenance.
In Tibet, for example, many lamas -- thousands, really -- have died or been imprisoned for expressing the ideals of free speech and freedom of religion. Others have made the arduous journey across mountains and rivers to live as refugees, looking to us as a place where oppression ends.
To them, and to all sentient beings, I dedicate my incarceration.
"Even if someone denigrates you in various ways, spreading slander throughout the three-thousandfold universe, to extoll her qualities with a loving mind is the practice of a bodhisattva."
--- Gyalse Tokme, Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva.
I freely admit that I have a somewhat unusual view of these matters, but I do not knowingly conduct myself lawlessly for the sake of lawlessness. Through counsel, on October 4, 2011, I argued a motion to dismiss the entire criminal indictment. I am pleased to say that the prestigious Electronic Frontier Foundation also filed an amicus brief on my behalf. The matter was taken under submission, and on December 15, 2011, U.S. District Court Judge Roger W. Titus issued a twenty-seven page Memorandum of Opinion in favor of my view, and dismissed the entire case. He wrote:
"The First Ammendment protects speech even when the subject or manner of expression is uncomfortable and challenges conventional religious beliefs, political attitudes, or standards of good taste...
"Indeed, the Supreme Court has consistently classified emotionally distressing or outrageous speech as protected, especially where that speech touches on matters of political, religious, or public concern."
In such fashion did our humble Digital Tibetan Buddhist Altar establish historic precedent, and make case law that will exist far into the future. In such fashion did your now-withered Tenpa Rinpoche stumble into the sunlight on December 22, 2011.
Standing up to Nameless Person's relentless bullying, and the grinding machinations of government officials she deceived with cries of "Wolf!" made certain demands upon time, energy, and resource. Meeting the legal challenges took some real lawyering. I was so very fortunate to be represented by Ebise Bayisa, Esq., Lauren Case, Esq., Sean Gordon, and Michelle Williams; to be assisted by Holland & Knight LLP of Washington, D.C., Charles D. Tobin, Esq., and Drew Shankman, Esq; to be supported by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Matthew Zimmerman, Esq., Marcia Hofmann, Esq., and Hanni Fakhoury, Esq. I was fortunate, too, to have loving students, sponsors, and friends who did not fold when the going got rough. Special thanks to J. Crow, Chokyi Dorje, Malcolm Smith, Laura Angel, and Alastair Gager. Thanks also to the hundreds of people who wrote in to express support. Please note: If you experience harassment from a certain quarter after being named herein, please let me know.
These days I am feeling the effects of close custody, illness, and trauma. I am not whining, or saying, "poor me." Some people set out to throw some mischief my way, so I am just giving them the satisfaction of hearing the mischief landed. Of course, if the following really does bring satisfaction, maybe you should reconsider your practice, and your motivation.
I lost fifty pounds, had four surgeries, and gained a palette of eight new "lifetime" medicines. I lost my beloved rabbits. I lost all of my teeth, all of my income, my insurance, and the FJ Cruiser. I lost my motorcycle and my quad. I am now on foot in the desert, six miles to the library and six miles back. I lost all of my computers, cameras, and cell phones. I have no food, no communications, no money whatsoever, and I am about to run out of medication. My close retinue dissolved in sorrow. My former personal attendant is ill, out of work, thoroughly distressed, and to use her words, "broke and broken," having endured my arrest, the death of her father, the impending death of her mother, and relentless abuse from Nameless Person's "sangha." In some ways it is manageable, in others it is troublesome. For the first time in my life, I have been forced to ask for help.
Friends of mine has set up a relief fund. They are trying to obtain another four-wheel drive for me, and are taking steps to assist with other matters noted above. If you feel like you want to help, contact jcrow[at]jcrow[dot]com.
I am alone out here, and not really in the best of circumstances. Close custody is stressful, I am over sixty, and it takes a while to process no matter who you are. If you would like to visit me, I would welcome you. I need some help getting the place in shape, the puja room opened up, and some help with the stupas. There is also a chance I will be arrested again -- in connection with some sort of revenge or appeal -- so I want to hear from any potential new attendants, to whom I can entrust logistic support and general caretaking. It takes a devout practitioner, a sense of humor, and a full-time social worker's skills. Just write to rinpoche2006[at]gmail[dot]com and tell me what you have in mind.
Sounds needy and greedy doesn't it? Bear in mind, I am not making any specific requests of anyone. I am just giving you the parameters of the problem by way of a situation report. I hesitated to do this, but then I asked myself, "... if it happened to somebody else, would you report it?" Since the answer was "yes," I decided to lift the curtain on the yurt.
People have asked if I am bitter. People have suggested that I sue, or extract some sort of legal revenge. People have suggested that I wave the newly minted legal opinion aloft, and really blister Nameless Person.
If I had not met my precious teachers, I might think that way. If I had not been introduced to the nature of my mind by one who is identical to Padmasambhava himself, I might be tempted. If I let myself become preoccupied with the eight worldly dharmas, there might be some room to roam.
But, so fortunately, I had the greatest teachers of the twentieth century. Oh, so fortunately did they grant me instruction over time, until instruction granted itself spontaneously, in everything I see, everything I hear... effortlessly perfect instruction, always abiding.
This is about all I have to write. If Marpa shows up, he can say what he pleases. If Tilopa comes around, he can do whatever is necessary to tame those beings who need to be tamed. I know many of you will either scratch your heads and say "What?" or toss this aside and say, "Why?" But, if you are patient, the day will come when you will see the gift I have given you. It will emerge in the sky like a garuda flying out of dense fog into primordial clarity.
Well, I hitchhiked into town to send this out, and I guess it is time to head back. The Constitution is not as dusty as it was ten months ago, and I want to go watch the hills. Many, many blessings to you, no matter who you are or what mischief you've been up to. Perfectly purified hatred is the state of mirror-like primordial awareness, so give yourself a chance to do better.