While some might argue that it is entirely too formal to create a formal shrine or practice area in one’s home, I suggest that the effect is entirely beneficial.

In a family situation, having a formal area reserved for practice… and going there from time to time… becomes a comfortable signal to other family members.  “This is something I do.”   Rather than “sneak in” your practice around the edges of your life, opening a shrine and creating a quasi-formal practice environment openly declares to yourself (and others) this is for real.

ThiYour prayers, ngöndro, visualisations and chants need not be just something you do under your breath.  And sitting down to meditate in a corner chair… while family traffic flows by or near you…  may feel like the only practice you can afford.  But often-enough such practice is  in danger of being eroded by intercessions from children, shopping list questions from one’s partner, and other matters (including ringing telephones) which seemingly must be responded to.  One’s practice becomes the first sacrifice you make to a busy life, and the last to be picked up again after interruption.

Creating a special area in your house or apartment for focussed practice is a gift to yourself, to your teacher and to your practice.  Erecting a small or formal shrine table… which you “open” by making offerings as part of your practice… becomes leverage for yet more benefits through attention, intention and action.

What the shrine exactly means is entirely in your own perception.  But in general it is a visual  and  tactile mini-environment containing all the reinforcing symbols which support wherever you are, in your path.  Perhaps you can create the formal shrine with a stupa and text symbolising the never-ending presence of Buddha energy & teachings.


Because we host Tibetan lamas here, our house shrine is fairly “traditional” and has a number of formal elements which need not appear in a typical household shrine.

Such a shrine may certainly also include a statue (rupa) of the yidam-presence you feel most attracted to, as your idealised means for self-realisation… whether the endless compassionate activities of Chenrezig/Avalokitesvara, the skillful lightning-like rising-to-the-moment of Green Tara, the discriminating cutting-through-the-dross perceptiveness of Manjusri, or the perserverance and unprejudiced open-mindedness of Sakyamuni Buddha himself… as examples.

And you may choose also to include images of favourite teachers, or other exemplars in your order or lineage of Buddhism, or of the invisible protectors whose practices may be part of your promise to yourself and your mentor/lama… your personal samaya.

The most important offering at your shrine, believe it or not, is yourself.

Your intention, your attention and your good heart are wonderful qualities.  There is a phrase in certain Drikung Kagyu texts saying, “I offer this torma.”  Torma is an energy being (or representation of such) and your present, fully-attentive self… no matter how limited you might feel sometimes… is a delightful and delighting offering.  Your attitude and your care become your offering as you prepare objects to put on your shrine such as water, fresh flowers, or a sample of good food.

The eight (or seven) shrine offerings have extensive meanings, and on many levels.  In my own tradition the 8 are: water to wash the face or cleanse the mouth; water to purify the body or wash the feet; flowers to please the eye (dried or, preferably, fresh);  incense;  “light” in the form of a candle or small lamp: scented water to please the nose; nourishment-food; and musical sound (symbolised by a small bell or string of bells, or a small replica instrument).

The symbolism is to focus your mind upon that which you can contribute… as a sign of gratefulness and humility.  So even the simplest offering… which would be 8 (or 7) bowls of clear water… can serve if you aren’t in a position to make up anything “fancy.”  Fancy-ness (or exotic-ness) is not the point.  Your clarity and gratitude are.

Offerings may be simple or complex, and can become a beacon of genuine appreciation which you engage with every day.

Offerings may be simple or complex, and can become a beacon of genuine appreciation which you engage with every day.

Whatever you offer – either just water in bowls, or a combination of elements including flowers and food – it is best if kept fresh.  Doing so can be a very meditative practice in itself… positioning the bowls, replacing the water, and keeping all surfaces clean and items dusted. Avoid “getting casual” about your actions with respect to the shrine – as the prelude to giving focussed attention to your studies and practice.

                        •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •

While much can be written about offerings, their context and their symbolism, that is outside the scope of this modest essay.  I offer a link to a very clear presentation put together by students of Khandro Rinpoche, along with a discussion by my own lama, Khenchen Könchog Gyaltshen Rinpoche (presently the Master Abbot for the Drikung Kagyu lineage). http://www.khandro.net/practice_shrine.htm

In a future discussion I will try to cover this in greater detail, but for now hopefully you will be inspired to make a shrine in your own household.  I also intend to again provide an illustrated guide to the “hand offerings” or mudras.

Important Note:  The shrine stand or table, by the way, need not be at all elaborate… and can even be a cardboard box with a piece of flat gypsum board on it.  In respect, make every effort to assure that the highest level of  your shrine and its rupa statue of a Buddha energy… is higher than the eye level of a person sitting down, either on a cushion or low chair.

May all beings be happy, and know the happiness which is beyond sorrow.  And may your practice be fruitful.


During my childhood I learned from a close elder who was born in Ireland (and was herself taught the “old ways”) that a person must be attentive to the presence of sentient, invisible energies.  All one’s bounty (I was told) is only attained with the collaboration of the “invisible beings” – the ageless sidhe.

Thankful acknowledgement along with alert observation of one’s actions in the natural environment (to be sure one is not being careless or rude to “the invisibles,” and to sense their response)… are taken for granted by people raised in the “Old Faith” of Ireland.  One must stay on one’s toes, and never be ungrateful or arrogant.

©2008 Michael Cerulli Billingsley

Offering “clooties” tied to trees by a County Tipperary sacred spring.

Ireland’s old creation stories make it clear that the earliest successful settlers made a pact with the sidhe.  They promised not only to thank and acknowledge such “invisible help” in creating and providing the natural bounty that the people receive from the land, the sea, the air.  The early Irish also promised to teach their children, grandchildren and all Ireland’s future generations to maintain the same responsive, grateful relationship with the “invisible ones.”

It was hence with enormous gratitute that I discovered, when first encountering Tibetan Buddhism in my mid-20’s, that the Tibetan people (and my teachers) were also in the habit of gratefully acknowledging “the earth, water and sky beings” of the countryside, rivers and mountains.  My heart-lama and first long-term teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche was an earth-healer; a master of the mo system of earth-divination; and had been instructed in the arts of rain and hail-making (by becoming self-identified with the sky beings and energies).  He also blessed farm animals and led seasonal observances of gratitude.

Trungpa Rinpoche proved to be personally fascinated with the comparable earth/sky/water-spirit practices of the Old Irish folks – people who understood intertwined-life as my grandmother did.  He respected and had plans to use my training in that work.  He involved me deeply (along with several others) in the design of his Maitri Buddha-family system of mind-healing and understanding of neurosis.  He also trained me to use my natural sensitivities in a more focussed way.  He made several visits during his lifetime to Ireland to investigate for himself.

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche chose unothodox methods in order to reach and engage Western students – diverse people, most of whom were preoccupied with competitive materialism even as hippies (us even acquisitively grasping at “spiritual attainment” like a merit badge, for rising in social hierarchy).  Nonetheless I have come to understand that he was firmly grounded in traditional Tibetan methods, principles and intended outcomes.  He was not an “out-lyer” but rather a risk-taking pioneer, hoping we would catch up to the importance of the invisible world… if we could approach it humbly and respectfully rather than as a source of personal power and “oh, wow” ego entertainment.

Certainly even His Holiness the Dalai Lama, when asked what he believed was the outcome for everyone attending a teaching he had given in NYC, replied, “for invisible or for visible beings?”

The Irish have their own time-honoured means to listen to, and show respect for, the beings of the invisible such as leaving out bits of food and milk; tied-cloth offerings (clooties);  thanking out loud those beings in one’s presence who have contributed to one’s well-being; or walking 3 times clockwise around the dwelling place of the person within (be she visible or invisible) while singing their praise… as a sign of respect.

Tibetan Buddhist practice encourages altar gifts (hopefully kept fresh and well-tended) as well as offering our prostrations; mudras made with one’s hands while offering to one or another invisible yidam (a perfected spiritual quality in cogent, sentient, timeless form); and torma.  All such actions focus us to thankfully acknowledge the invisible energies inspiring us, moving about the world of beings on everyone’s behalf, and certainly “set in motion” by our visualisations and intentions.

This is the magic of our relation with the naturally-balanced universe.

Offering torma, with lamp & water offerings

Offering torma, with lamp & water offerings

Torma barley flour & butter (or, silver/gold, plasticine) sculptures attempt to directly display the true form of such energy beings… utterly foreign to the usual I-Thou “visual” world as perceived with our physical senses.  Rather, these spinning discs and columns of “invisible” pure intention and energy are seamlessly interactive in the infinite fabric of all creation – what we call the Buddha (or as the Lakota suggest, Wakan-tanka… the endless presence which cannot be known or described with words).

• • • Hopefully my limited grasp successful portrays these qualities in a non-grasping way.  I dedicate my attempt to His Holiness Chetsang Rinpoche of the Drikung Kagyu.  May All Beings Be Truly Happy.

Offered by ngakpa k jigme tonpa – Michael Cerulli Billingsley, today in Brattleboro, VT, USA

When I began this intermittent blog, my first reference was to the interconnected web of actions and beneficence that accompanies us, including having food to eat during the day.  Using a photograph of tea-pickers, I wrote that no food or drink comes to our table without considerable and an equally-balancing sacrifice of energy and effort somewhere in the world.


Since that time and similarly to before I had first-publised this Mealtime Prayer, I have spoken it aloud at least once a day… wherever I happened to be.  And the consequence has been that I’ve slowly “fine-tuned” the prayer to reduce ambiguity and to ease “seeing” the words as a tangible, energetic tribute.

So now, many months later, I pass along this refined version of our Mealtime Prayer.  It echoes and contains all the elements of traditional Tibetan mealtime prayers.  This includes 3 repetitions of “Taking Refuge” at the beginning… something not intrinsically expected of non-Buddhists (who may want to recite the dedication in the centre section, without the other Buddhist elements).

• In the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha most excellent, I take Refuge until enlightment is reached.  Through the benefit of Generousity and the other Good Deeds, may I attain Buddhahood for the sake of all sentient beings.

In the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha most excellent, I take Refuge until enlightment is reached.  Through the benefit of Generousity and the other Good Deeds, may I attain Buddhahood for the sake of all sentient beings.

In the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha most excellent, I take Refuge until enlightment is reached.  Through the benefit of Generousity and the other Good Deeds, may I attain Buddhahood for the sake of all sentient beings.

May the energy, effort, blessings, sacrifice and good will which created this meal and brought it here for me to eat, be transformed through my actions, words and thoughts for the benefit of all I may encounter in the coming day… or may affect in any way.

May all the teachers, lamas and lineage leaders be equally well nourished and blessed.

This dedication of food and your own actions can become part of your own thoughtful “balancing” of the otherwise disproportionate wealth and nourishment we acquire at the unavoidable expense to others.  Most Buddhist practitioners in North America and Europe are significantly better cared-for and fed than the people who provide us with our food and many household “goods.”  The expenditure of their effort cannot be truly balanced by a few words, but our connection with them is inescapable and so knowing-that becomes part of a balance.

Our frequently-repeated conceptual evocation of this relationship (and our vow to transmute the food provided us into will and effort to benefit others) will absolutely keep all this in mind, and make “guilt” an un-useful outcome.  Guilt is a closed system of self-blame.  Dedication creates an open environment for beneficial intention… which consciously engages with outcomes for the entire connected world.

We can indeed use well the sustenance we have received… especially when such is how we truly intend the energy to be re-cycled and given to others.  Like many other Buddhist prayers (such as the Four Immeasurables), when such a recitation is “perfectly” conceptualised when spoken, it has an excellent chance of becoming true.  May it likewise be so for you.

A small collection of practice & meditation objects

A small collection of practice & meditation objects

During an extended trip last year to British Columbia and also on a recent research excursion to the DC region, I knew it would help me accomplish my goals if I maintained some kind of personal “centre.” I don’t travel well, and have an especially difficult pulling up stakes & heading out the door.

Occasionally and for very good reasons, I must “go.” So it has become important for me define and provide for some kind of sacred space, wherever I travel.

Typically a sacred space is dedicated with special attention and “made special” by objects which assist with focus, practice, meditation and quiet contemplation/reading of texts. Hopefully this space is also adequately lit and ventilated, free from distracting noises (especially intermittent ones) and provides a modicum of privacy.

A sacred space can be bare. It can be spare. Or it can be crowded in amongst the objects of the situation, many of which may belong to other people – as part of their lives. Or it could be in a hotel or lodging house, where the activities of others around you may be focussed upon entertainment or business.

Certainly it is your/my own attention and focus which contributes most to the “sacred-ness” of a specially-made place. I have found that if I attempt to create a small shrine with offerings and key objects, it serves to anchor the room and also provide me with a good focus for unruffled, quiet meditation.

For myself, apart from my practice texts (which I keep off the direct floor) and a tiny gong I made for myself at age 26 from a brass incense-burner, I bring a few ritual objects (such as a dorje and bell set, a small damaru – hand drum, and perhaps my larger chöd drum) I also like to have reproductions of a couple of my favourite thangkas which have traveled with me since the ’70’s – one of Milarepa and one of Mahakali, as well as a photo of my key teaching lama. Lastly I always travel with a sweet little “sky metal” (meteoric iron) rupa… shrine statue… of Tara. Somehow this little black Tara has been a terrific focal point for my attention and motivation. Perhaps you have a similar shrine object.

A beautifully handcast Tara of meteoric iron, given to me by Ontul Rinpoche

A beautifully handcast Tara of meteoric iron, given to me by Ontul Rinpoche

My point is – make it easy for yourself to shift the energy of a borrowed space while in your temporary travel lodgings. Make it your own, and carefully pack everything which will help you focus and practice. You will have more energy and more balance for anything you might undertake.

May you succeed in finding the solution which works best for yourself.

The visualised dissolution of one’s own “stuff” (in the Mandala offering, for instance) can’t compare with the kind of yanking-away of the familiar which comes with prison or any other kind of involuntary confinement.

Having spent about a year and a half myself behind bars (for taking a strong stand on behalf of black guys whose lives were being treated as expendable… at a time when I myself didn’t have to do military service due to being blind in one eye), I can vouch for the shift of view which comes with imprisonment.

It is not terrible – but certainly in some regimes it can be made much worse if one is tortured or berated daily for one’s beliefs. I was mostly left alone in that regard, and actually formed a resolve there to adopt Buddhist practice.

I now have a personal friend in Tibetan China who is not, apparently, so fortunate. I’m not exactly sure how bad the situation has become for her, but my “sense of things” is that she is cut off from family, subjected to intense re-education, and quite probably physically removed from familiar surroundings. I am told by Tibetans familiar with the culture of subservience under Chinese masters that I should leave the situation alone. And that it will iron itself out.

That very well may be. My friend is strong, resilient, a devoted Buddhist practitioner and knows how to survive in adverse circumstances.

Yet I think it perhaps going a bit far to “leave it alone.” Besides doing my quiet best to discretely inquire about her well being, and send her good wishes and encouragement, I also do chöd on her behalf.

There are times I can fully believe that what I diminish in attachment toward myself adds, somehow, to the energetic nourishment of all other beings who struggle with conceptual and real boundaries to their freedom. May it be so.

I invite other practitioners to similarly offer their chöd outcomes on behalf of Tibetan Buddhists under watch or confinement by security forces inside China.

My gratitude for chöd training and drum from Khenchen Konchog Gyaltshen Rinpoche.

My gratitude for chöd training and drum from Khenchen Konchog Gyaltshen Rinpoche.

A tempest with many high waves has been washing back and forth over at blog Elephant Journal and to a lesser extent in BeliefNet. The storm has at times been a howler – bit.ly/10yNTB (and don’t skip the “Comments” or their Replies). I feel this pithy hurling of cream-pies and unearthing of old toxic material and semi-Buddhist repartée gives a little snapshot of our slightly ingrown dharma community, and can serve us in good stead, at least occasionally.

Olive Colon, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Karl Springer and Jeremy Hayward - Tail of the Tiger, Winter 1972-73

Olive Colon, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Karl Springer and Jeremy Hayward - Tail of the Tiger, Winter 1972-73

The topic was the private (or at least hidden from public-view) life of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and to some extent, his hand-picked protegé and successor, Thomas Rich.

Having read from top to bottom all the comments (and collapsed in helpless laughter once or twice) and reactions about Trungpa Rinpoche’s cocaine addition (or not) and sexual proclivities (or not), it felt like the welled-up anger expressed there probably is, I suspect, a very long-delayed anger… the kind no one can’t easily exhaust because it is rooted in deeply-held memory.

The distasteful early Vajradhatu events that the blog’s critic “Former Student” describes, in grim accuracy I’d guess, sound like they were likely experienced with the fist-clenched helplessness of not wanting to desert one’s sangha or denounce a loved teacher’s behaviour or cut ties with a sangha-mate who, until that time, had been a more reliable friend. We’re hearing the outcome, perhaps, of his having stayed a bit too long – and of several other folks perhaps staying silent while one’s tongue bled from biting it..

When I saw that initial rather-awful Wikipedia posting about a month ago… supposed truth about Trungpa Rinpoche… I was tempted to a least question it in print (“Huh, what’s up with that? Sounds like hearsay). To report what “you heard” isn’t the usual Wikipedia fare and fails the substantiation test. I didn’t care much for the content either, if only because it seemed chosen to be both titillating and gossip-mongering at its most extreme. There are better chosen words, certainly, to say the same thing.

Lots of people writing in eventually got upset and/or engaged about this issue, and pronouncements have been flying including the expected “gentle Buddist-y admonitions” and as seem to be the norm, also quoted words from the teacher himself.

While I’ve been (I hope) careful to read everything from the even the most starry-eyed newer students; and certainly the measured tones of those “senior students” who want to protect ‘the memory of the teacher” from ill-repute (especially if undeserved); the folks I am most interested to hear fully, and to be SURE we’ve heard… are the people who were personally witness to some aspect of icky stuff… who either experienced or witnessed very unpleasant things and still feel badly about it. NOT because of its voyeuristic spicy-ness… but because this seems to be exposure of some important unresolved hurt and anger.

We shouldn’t forget that if these men and women feel that they’ve seen abuse… well then folks… I think we always have to hear out that possibility. We should get it, that at the very least, they have suffered terribly through *not* reporting or intervening in what they felt to be abuse. These include harms perpetrated either by the momentum of the system, by individuals in the system, by a conspicuous silence, by the suppression of dissent, by a possibly-distorted “consensus of shared reality” and/or by the active threats and attempts to shut them up.

There are some people in the discussion who *did* leave the scene, obviously. I did – resigning in 1975 as director of a Vajradhatua dharma study group. Living at Tail of the Tiger regularly for pretty much two continuous years near the beginning, I also “got in a lot of trouble” for not going always with the programme. I saw what I saw, and most of the human-to-human indecency I observed was between “senior students.”

But by that time in my life I’d already been a year and a half in jail, had visited a lot of communes going wrong from group-think, and had it up to my eyeballs in code-talk of any kind… and TotT had plenty. As a clinical therapist-in-training my bullshit meter was off the scale some of the time… except when I was talking with Rinpoche. And nothing starry-eyed here… he just didn’t talk bullshit.

But I think between (at one extreme) the “know-nothings” who still extoll “go with the flow, man” and allow(ed) themselves to be “accepting” of every kind of abusive or bad form under the sun; and those who are/were by choice blissfully naive and in total-blind-awe (and insist still that every action, no matter how whacked, was “enlightened); …and (at the other extreme) those who *knew* certain actions were unacceptable, but were either scared (truly) or so nervous about the social repercussions with sangha-mates that they stayed silent about that about which they screamed silently, inside… and we’re obviously hearing from them today… I know there has always been at least one middle ground.

And I should pretty quickly that I doubt that the term “crazy wisdom” has any place in this discussion. First of all, Westerners have no idea what it is. And secondly, any attempt to mimic it by Westerners have been demonstrated to be entirely self-serving attempts at ego-gratification. And I will happily take any flack that comes with saying this.

When in doubt about a middle ground I submit that one can always have a point of reference when lacking inspiration – at least those of use who have taken Refuge and the Bodhisattva Vow. Try identifying with Shantideva’s Guide ot a Bodhissatva’s Way of Life (or Gampopa’s The Jewel Ornament of Liberation, as Rinpoche recommended to me). Try applying the paramitas. Try taking a stab at living entirely within a personally-defined ground called “impeccable.” (Don’t be fussy about it – don’t hang a placard on yourself – just quietly DO it.)

Having standards of ethics is not a betrayal of one’s community or one’s sangha.

There is value in saying, “I’m sorry for interrupting the party, but I’m not going to put up with this silently – I think this behaviour is harmful.” Looking back and saying “I believe what I observed was harmful – and I regret not having spoken out openly against it” (if true) is valid to do now, is it not? Some of the anger may have been about feeling compelled to say nothing.

The Vidyadhara’s actions, his teachings/empowerments and his personal outcomes are not each the same thing. One can talk about the merits of one and the harmful outcomes from another, and love him unreservedly as a teacher, friend and guide.

No one “embodies” enlightenment. Whatever life and body we’re handed to live through at this birth becomes a second-by-second gamble with fun, distasteful, indifferent, tricky and, rarely and sometimes, “enlightening” outcomes… if we are paying very close attention to life as it passes, as few of us are. That is perhaps why one of the nicknames for the Kagyu is the “mishap lineage,” is it not?

I personally feel that Rinpoche was a bit disappointed in us. We could have given him more of a fight.

He told me once that he wasn’t interested in having students just do everything he suggested. More often than not, I suspect, he was just playing with ideas and never expected people to take them very seriously… but he learned awful things about us when we did anyway. A problem with a certain sense of humour gone wrong with the wrong audience, perhaps.

I think he would have enjoyed a little bit more resistance, a considerable more testing back… and not so much willingness to be little donkeys bouncing after carrots dangled near noses.

Kalu Rinpoche made the observation (quite angrily, it was reported to me, by someone who was there at the time and shared this story) to someone who was dissing Trungpa Rinpoche as “not a good teacher” because of his womanising, smoking, drinking, etc. He tartly said that “Trungpa was willing to constantly adapt himself to whatever level he needed to go, in order to reach the students he chose to burden himself with… and he became one of you in order to teach you skillfully.”

It was helpful for me to hear that another Tibetan senior teacher did not reject my own much-loved heart-guru. I have encountered lamas fresh from Tibet who were hit with awe that I had Trungpa Rinpoche as a personal teacher. That does not (to me) absolve us from any day-to-day intuition – for responses that any one person of us might have felt we should make… to call him up short or to call OURSELVES up short, if and when things got dicey. I applaud Waylon’s mother for holding her boundaries… and perhaps also, so too, did Rinpoche.

Not everyone (back then at Tail of the Tiger) seemed to appreciate that self-differentiation is an essential part of being human… that melding with the group or with the master is not enlightment when it’s simply group-think or hedonism. And in-group hedonism, pure and simple, is just another way to have a good time (which Rinpoche definitely knew how to do) and not some sign that one was closer to godliness.

Holding one’s boundaries and developing one’s ethics are all part of figuring out where to put oneself in this human universe… making use of this precious lifetime. We all mess up as we muddle along, to be sure. It’s quite another thing to make elaborate excuses for messing up, or to remake history when having the power to do so.

It does take us all time to learn the glaringly-obvious “stuff.” The blunt hammer of experience… often bad experiences… helps make that abundantly clear. True – some people will do anything and ignore anything to become an “insider” (and once there, to stay there)… on top of Mt. Meru with all the rest of the special boys and girls. It wears thin if, as some people have been quoted to say, one begins to believe one’s shit tastes better than chocolate. Learning in such a rarified atmosphere may be tricky.

Michael Billingsley (K. Jigme Tonpa) - TotT Summer '73

Michael Billingsley (K. Jigme Tonpa) - TotT Summer '73

Some in those in the discussion in Elephant Journal tried to hold Trungpa Rinpoche responsible for the behaviour of his one-time Regent Thomas Rich, aka Ösel Tendzin.

Lest we forget, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche fathered at least one child while in robes and long before he came to the West, so he was hardly the one to have been telling Thomas Rich to keep his penis inside his pants.

I have no personal love for Thomas Rich and sometimes got into dreadful fights with him. From day one (and not as a result of his “office” going to his head) he was a cracker-jack public speaker, a voracious learner and was able to seemingly charm himself out of any kind of trouble, and mostly have his way. But I also feel continued sadness for the pain that must have swirled around him and became attached to those who cared about him, and for whatever confusion that must have awakened in him.

Chögyam Trungpa’s sangha (us) had a responsibility to keep track of our own bodies as well. The people having consensual unprotected sex with Thomas Rich were responsible for their own actions unless they were raped (as has been reputed recently) – in which case I hope such persons come forward and say so.

If Rich lied to himself or to others about what it meant to have AIDS or believed some idiocy that he could not possibly transmit it to others (and here I can only rely upon hearsay) then he is responsible for his own additional misdeeds in that regard. Causing death to another human being, I understand, has some fairly stiff repercussions (some of which are still apparently being felt by members of his family).

Whoever was in contact with Trungpa Rinpoche and Thomas Rich had to decide for himself or herself… when presented with a questionable situation… what labels and ultimately what rationalisation would make their own participation possible. It is our own participation (or not) for which we have to take ownership… at that time, and ever since. We can speak directly to that also.

Further references: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chögyam_Trungpa


News Deconstruct:

Source Article:  Boy chosen by Dalai Lama turns back on Buddhist order





As a toddler, he was put on a throne and worshipped by monks who treated him like a god. But the boy chosen by the Dalai Lama as a reincarnation of a spiritual leader has caused consternation – and some embarrassment – for Tibetan Buddhists by turning his back on the order that had such high hopes for him.

Instead of leading a monastic life, Osel Hita Torres now sports baggy trousers and long hair, and is more likely to quote Jimi Hendrix than Buddha.

Yesterday he bemoaned the misery of a youth deprived of television, football and girls. Movies were also forbidden – except for a sanctioned screening of The Golden Child starring Eddie Murphy, about a kidnapped child lama with magical powers. “I never felt like that boy,” he said.

He is now studying film in Madrid and has denounced the Buddhist order that elevated him to guru status. “They took me away from my family and stuck me in a medieval situation in which I suffered a great deal,” said Torres, 24, describing how he was whisked from obscurity in Granada to a monastery in southern India. “It was like living a lie,” he told the Spanish newspaper El Mundo. Despite his rebelliousness, he is still known as Lama Tenzin Osel Rinpoche and revered by the Buddhist community. A prayer for his “long life” still adorns the website of the Foundation to Preserve the Mahayana Tradition, which has 130 centres around the world. The website features a biography of the renegade guru that gushes about his peaceful, meditative countenance as a baby. In Tibetan Buddhism, a lama is one of a lineage of reincarnated spiritual leaders, the most famous of which is the Dalai Lama.

According to the foundation biography, another leader suspected Torres was the reincarnation of the recently deceased Lama Yeshe when he was only five months old. In 1986, at 14 months, his parents took him to see the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India. The toddler was chosen out of nine other candidates and eventually “enthroned”.

At six, he was allowed to socialise only with other reincarnated souls – though for a time he said he lived next to the actor Richard Gere’s cabin.

By 18, he had never seen couples kiss. His first disco experience was a shock. “I was amazed to watch everyone dance. What were all those people doing, bouncing, stuck to one another, enclosed in a box full of smoke?”

— end source ©2009 The Guardian Newspaper Group 

My Thoughts:


First – Correction, His Holiness the Dalai Lama did not choose the boy – I believe Lama Yeshe’s helpers did and the boy’s over-eager parents enthusiastically signed on board (or vice-versa).  It looked that way in the film, anyway.  I always felt a tad sympathetic for the child, whose fate could easily match that of a Marjoe.


His Holiness just endorsed the choice – and that endorsement may have been subject to considerations (ie. as a way to settle internal semi-politicalized divisions between sects and/or after focussed contributions… the sort of the unheralded backroom dealings that grease the wheels of ages-old Tibetan Buddhism).  Dunno.   Anyway – one bad apple doesn’t spoil the oranges and other euphemistically optimistic aphorisms that flies can’t stick on him.


Correction #2 – if the boy paid attention during his lessons he would have heard that we’re all reincarnated souls, so Richard Gere would not likely have been an exception.  Socialising with the supermarket check-out girl would have been equally valid as an opportunity to get close to another reincarnative being.  It all works, young Buddhists are told.  I think perhaps it was the reporter who didn’t pay sufficient attention.


Nothing to debate particularly (debate having different meaning outside the Gelugpa-based FPMT; inside of which skillful debate can become one’s life blood).   But usually debate about anything but gossip… even if potential loss of a tulku is likely a juicy topic for someone’s buzz.   I think basically this is just causing a lot of consternation and sadness.  Maybe there will be a nice surprise at the end of it.


All in all a badly-written article from The Guardian, which should know better.  The writer apparently neglected to put much time into research, and seems to project disdain for certain aspects of Vajrayana Buddhism.  Too bad for a major international paper.


All water under the tusch.


Michael –  Nkagpa K. Jigme Tonpa

p.s. how, I ask, in Buddhism is a boy put on a throne to be “worshipped by monks who treated him like a god.”?   How does that go, exactly?  Which god (in a world absent of them)? Monkey King?  White Bone Demon?  Zoroaster?  Kali?  Ed Murphy?….. eeech.


And Jimi Hendrix was no slouch… a few Buddhists would do well to quote him.



There seems to be a small matter of conscience – that is missing conscience – afoot in social interactions today.

We are deluged with stories of people stealing gasoline and other people’s social security checks, pilfering company profits, looting retirement accounts, misstating their income, hiding relationships from primary partners, defrauding customers, selling bad loans, hiding defects in automobiles and houses… right down to pirating software and every new movie that somebody next door has a copy of.  It’s not hard to see why people in the fragile occupations are looking over their shoulders.


What would it be like if everyone just did the right thing?


It is not like there is a lot of room for error now.  Our transgressions seem to be catching up with us pretty quickly.   I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that the world’s intention of going to “hell in a handbasket” seems to be picking up speed.   And we really can’t expect anything to change – if we don’t work on our own behaviour first.


Someone asked me to cut corners yesterday… because “nobody would know about it.”   It reminded me of this story.

hand and zucchini
hand and zucchini

Once there was a teacher of school children in a Buddhist country who was considered very practical.
Like all schoolteachers there, he was expected to give the children a complete education.  


One day he gathered all the children closely around him, and said in a quiet voice – “We are going to learn today a little bit about what is ‘o.k.’ stealing, and what is ‘not o.k.’ stealing.    And the children gathered even closer, and one of the girls asked… because she was certainly confused… “What is ‘o.k.’ stealing?”


And the schoolteacher replied, “That is stealing when nobody sees.”


So the next day, as they began to sit down for their lessons, the teacher said, “Before we begin our lessons, we are going to go back out into the village to see if we can put into practice what we talked about yesterday – about stealing.   Do you remember what I said about ‘o.k.’ stealing and ‘not o.k.’ stealing?”  And all the schoolchildren said, “Yes.”
“So,” the schoolteacher said, “We will walk to the village and stop in the market.  Do not take anything large.  Even a grain of rice is enough.  But be sure it is only ‘o.k.’ stealing… when no one sees.  So be sure of that, before you do it.  And then come back to me.”


The children went nervously out to the market, and eventually… after an hour had passed… all of them except one had returned to the schoolteacher. They showed him a little bit of rice, a pencil, a grain of corn, even one boy had a piece of fruit.  The schoolteacher said nothing one way or the other.  Still there was one boy who did not appear.
Finally the schoolteacher told the children to return to the classroom and went hunting for the missing boy.  He located him wandering among the stalls with a very sad expression on his face.
“You have a problem?” asked the schoolteacher.  “Yes,” said the boy.
“Well,” said the teacher, “Come back to the classroom and tell us about it.”


When they had returned, the schoolteacher asked the boy, “Did you find anything to steal at the market?”


“No,” said the boy.  “Why is that?” asked the teacher.


“Well,” the boy replied, “You said ‘o.k.’ stealing is when nobody can see, and everywhere I went, I could see.”

tiny tea set


It’s just a gentle cup of tea.

It’s not easy to keep track… nowadays… of all the places, people, animals, environments and situations affected by every item of food and drink we take into our bodies.  

Isn’t that true?

tea picking - Rwanda

tea picking - Rwanda

I thought about this more a few years back, after I saw a stunning close-up Sebastião Salgado photograph of the hands of a Rwandan tea-picker.   A tea-picker… who undoubtedly was the second or third, maybe even the fourth generation in his or her family to have been stripped of land, and forced to labour for the contractors of absentee owners – now living in some distant European, Asian or American country.  

Looking closer, you see that the hands extended towards the camera were bloodied with numerous small cuts, almost like the paper-cuts we encounter occasionally in our offices… cuts made by the jagged edges of the leaves.   For tea… for the tea used in our benign and genteel Buddhist ceremonies of “no harm” and gracious hospitality.

So what does this all mean, exactly, then – to dedicate fully one’s drink or one’s meal?  

I guessed there could be a way to at least partially acknowledge everything that and everyone who transpired (and perhaps expired) before the fork-full or gulp hits our mouths.  So looking at a bunch of Tibetan meal-time prayers, and getting the gist of what I was hoping to do, in 2004 I came up with a prayer of my own.

Here it is:


This wealth of nourishment before me has been blessed, created, energized and transported to me by many beings.  

Those beings and energies grew, ripened, grew tired and grew older, and were compromised to bring sustenance to my table and my mouth.

May I be mindful of these blessings, and be thankful to those beings and resources who have been worked and been taken from to contribute to my life.

May all that I take into myself be joyfully transformed by my thoughts, my words and my actions for the benefit of all sentient beings.

May my teachers be equally or better nourished, be protected from harm, and be surrounded by attentive and caring students.


That should do it.   For a little more about tea-picking, see here.

salgado_teapickershands Salgado – “Tea Picker’s Hands”

February 2023

My Professional Work and History

View Michael Cerulli Billingsley's profile on LinkedIn

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 4 other subscribers