Echoes from the 1988 Seminary

September 23, 2008 by     Print This Post Print This Post

I realized recently that it has been twenty years since the 1988 Seminary. This was a surprise to me. Wow. And almost twenty years since the parinirvana of the Vajra Regent. And coming soon will be the twenty year anniversary for His Holiness Jamgon Kongtrul. 

There have been so many changes in my life during the last twenty years. I was a terribly devoted student of the Regent, in love and in horror of the Los Angeles sangha at the time. For some reason I distrusted any urge to seek out the Vidyadhara. I think his writings struck me too personally. I remember feeling that he was quite literally talking to me when reading “Cutting Through” and “The Myth of Freedom” for the first time. Also, I suppose the sangha members who displayed the most realization were rather circumspect about the Vidyadhara’s state and his willingness to communicate, so it seemed like I was better off to focus on more accessible situations. 

Connecting with the Los Angeles Dharmadhatu and the overall Vajradhatu mandala was really great for me. I was of two minds, though. On the one side, I sensed a wonderful fearlessness and vitality within many practitioners. These were people who had been liberated from a sense of continual apology for themselves, while still their kleshas were not hidden, nor was their devotion to the Vidyadhara hidden. Simultaneously, though, I felt that many people were missing some very basic truth. They still sought a kind of idealization of their path or being, which seemed to be a horribly grotesque form of spiritual materialism. It is hard to find the words to describe this, but it was a kind of unnecessary concretization or attribution of their wisdom, an automatic rationalization or credentialling process which was the seed for all sorts of lies and deceptions. 

Now I sometimes reminisce over such a spontaneous sense of revulsion. But, of course, what we are attracted to and repelled by mostly relfects our own psychology, and some of that has changed over twenty years. I guess the revulsion hasn’t passed, but I am now much less in denial regarding my enmeshment in samsara, that web of interdependent and endlessly rehearsed dysfunction. 

Twenty years ago I believed that the Regent acknowledged both my wisdom and my confusion, without any fear or sense of project. It was very inspiring, and seemingly very real. But I had an overwhelming sense of failure, which manifested as guilt and regret that I didn’t “live up” to the sense of awake I felt was the core of buddhadharma and the Regent’s way of being. Sadly, this feeling was my constant companion for many years, and it came to largely embody the Regent’s presence in my life. Finally, a few years ago I visited the Satdharma sangha in Ojai and had a short interview with Patrick Sweeney. He remarked quite simply, “there is no reason for regret.” Since then, I think of the Regent less; it seems that my obsession was just another symptom of not being enlightened. 

What strikes me after these years is a recurring sense of “Man, how could I have been such an idiot!” and “Why was I so stuck on that?” Did the Buddha look back and marvel at his ignorance? Did he see all the unintended consequences of his actions? Could he laugh and cry over these things? 

One question that is often asked in the various sangha forums is, “How are the senior students going to carry this on?” etc. etc. You have heard the refrain. Well, the short answer is: they won’t. Sure, there will be many good deeds accomplished by the vast and wonderful sangha. There might be a few exceptionally eloquent and erudite teachers and scholars. This is surely nothing to speak against, but it is more like brewing and selling yogurt, rather than being a vidyadhara.

It seems that many of these discussions of the future of the Vidyadhara’s legacy fail to acknowledge the outrageous narcissism of our buddhist practice. We actually believe that we have direct access to the truth. So we spend years and years in meditation to uncover this so-called truth; meditating on our intentionally created forms, meditating on our karmas, meditating on our post-meditation, meditating on so-called space. All of this for the benefit of others. This is what is taught, no? But also the Buddha, the mahasiddhas and so forth taught about letting go. Nonattachment. Really letting go. And then letting go again. 

I think the message will continue as it always has, when the desperate person forms a relationship with the realized person. Whether you happen to be the desperate or the realized person, the possibility of communication is what exists. This is how the lineage will continue. Was it any different for Naropa and Tilopa? Was it any different for you and your teacher? As much as I might secretly want God to exist in the form of the Buddha ministering to my homunculus, I must acknowledge that the situation really is nontheistic. It is much more spontaneous. How can we possibly compete with the Vidyadhara? We can’t. 

Twenty years post-seminary, I have to ask: what has it all done for me? What has it done for you? I am much more pragmatic and less principled. I have failed, deeply, in so many ways. I have accumulated debts and responsibilities, liabilities and contingencies. Looking at my mind, all I can say is that it is quite vivid. Is this apparent mind any better or worse, any duller or sharper? Not really, with the possible exception of brain damage caused by alcohol use. Or is that just the natural process of aging? I have not escaped from impermanence or death. 

What use is it then? Well, I understand things better. There is the notion of insight, “Oh! I see.” And there is always more to see; profundity and vastness are the two qualities of the dharma taught by the Buddha. There is more ignorance to uncover; there is more subtlety to discover; and there are endless possibilities of encouragement and growth. 

So these are my thoughts, some twenty years post-seminary.


A short poem 

namo gurubuddhaya       


Don’t look near. Don’t look far.

Your gaze cannot manifest the Buddha. 

Don’t be a fake. 


Whether it is real 

or unreal 

It is a complete unknown, 

and it has not particular consequences 

in any case. 


Ed, you sought a guru. 

You found the Regent. 

You studied and practiced. 

But you must admit the sensation 

of subjectivity has not disappeared, 

the thought of a self is more vivid. 


Or is it, really? 

A little introspection goes a long way, 

especially in this day and age. 


There actually was no thought 

of a self. It was 

just a thought. 

Not a self. 

That has neither come nor gone, 

Made bigger or smaller. 


But there is lots of reactivity and 


Fear of penetration. Fear of 


Killing and giving birth, 

or contributing the sperm, in 

any case.


Getting hung up — 

it is my lifestyle. 


I love the Regent 

and I miss him so. 


First thought best thought 

Is this only for friends? 

It is just a phrase. 

Don’t get hung up on it. 

Let it be. 



Tingdzin Nyima 

Sherap Dashon 


4 Responses to “Echoes from the 1988 Seminary”

  1. rita ashworth on October 6th, 2008 8:49 am

    I was at the 86 seminary. I remember attending the ceremony for Regent that celebrated his ten years as the Regent there. I was impressed by the Regents knowledge of the dharma and his easy going manner which reached everyone in the audience…………but of course there were also rumours even then about his health and his behaviour. Some people thought of him highly but when the Regent gave a talk after he had been drinking I had slight doubts about his abilities and his judgement -perhaps even then he was trying too much to be like CTR.

    When the whole TCS thing blew I felt betrayed but I tried to investigate my emotions and even read Foucaults book on the History of Sexuality to get some insight on what had happened. I also talked with some senior teachers David Rome and John Roper when I was in Halifax about what had happened ………….seems to me from all my investigations that people did not stand up to the Regent when he was off ……….even senior teachers did not do that.

    However, as time has passed despite what has happened I can begin to see the Regent and the times he lived in with more gentleness – he was a good teacher and brought people to the teachings even tho he strayed from the mahayana. I think from hearing Patrick Sweeney over the internet that he also made a good choice in his selection of Patrick as a lineage holder.

    I do hope that SI will have more public discussions with Satdharma as we promised in 2006 (see the Shambhala news site for this info) so that things can go forward much more quickly than they are doing at present.

    Would be interesting to hear other peoples views on this subject


    Rita Ashworth

  2. Gregg Eller on October 24th, 2008 12:15 pm


    What was the “TCS thing”? I’m not familiar with the situation,


  3. anne ashworth on October 24th, 2008 1:33 pm

    TCS – stood for the ‘the current situation’ a kind of shorthand for what was happening with the Regent and the sangha at the time.

    I remember at the time – it was hard to get thorough information on what had occured. Letters were flowing back and forward into my letter box from one side or the other – the Regent himself, the Vajradhatu Board and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche…… can see these letters on the Chronicle Project website.

    Basically ………..I think I questioned the situation as much as I could because I thought people in authority and the sangha were not going to look into the details of what had occured – there was no mechanism for dealing with such a situation in place, – no way of coming to understand a little of what had happened. To some extent this is still the case with the present Sakyong arrangement – reading stuff on the SI website you make a criticism of the Sakyong through the office of the President and the President conducts the investigation – in my everso heepish opinion this is still not a good way of governing things. How do you really keep in track your rulers?! In British politics you get the elder statesmen going to someone like Thatcher and saying they will not support her – so she goes.
    In a religious organisation when your heart and soul is invested in the whole thing it is more difficult to be open and critical. From my brief study
    of religious philosphy at college, particularly Wittengenstein, you view your world through the picture of a religious environment . You cant sometimes step out it like a secular person – this is the same for all religions besides Buddhism…………thats why till this day there are many views on what happened with the Regent depending on who you are.

    But I still believe the Vajradhatu Board at the time should have been more forthright in their dealings with the Regent……….that is my own opinion but I do not know the full ins and outs of their relationship with the Regent so it is only an opinion. In addition at the time there was supposed to be a meeting at Karme Cho Ling to discuss what had happened with the Regent but this was called off. Everybody in the sangha was to be allowed to go – I was even prepared to go from the UK – but it did not happen – still dont know why.

    Somewhat mellowed in my opinion of what happened with the Regent through the years – at my own particular seminary there was a lot of drink flowing – seminary was three months then – so much energy. The Regent himself was in this particular energy all the time perhaps I can see now why he flipped at times………….but now of course there should be more civil ways of proceeding in these matters – its still difficult tho power even in a religious situation can be abused.

    Dunno cant say more on the ol TCS -wonder who invented that phrase? Hope this clears up some of your queries.


    Rita Ashworth

  4. Gregg Eller on October 24th, 2008 3:32 pm

    Oh, gotcha. I have seen a lot of that correspondence.