Sorry to disappoint you if you are reading this. No confessions. But before I proceed to strip our Gurus of all the hypocrisy witnessed in plain sight, I ask for the reader’s forgiveness for my transgressions. I am a devout Buddhist and my intention is not to upset anyone or to appear audacious.
Last weekend when I visited an old family friend, who lives just above the Chorten, I had an epiphany. While supper was being readied we were all sitting around the bukhari: my host, the sapient Ap Dago all of a sudden folded his hand facing the TV and prayed earnestly- in solemn reverence to a High Lama making an appearance on BBS (Television); I even heard a faint sigh as he brought his hands down and slowly opened his eyes. Then comes along the delightful presence of Ap Dago’s most luminous granddaughter, barely two years old, but already standing and with a slight struggle to balance makes her way to the TV. As the chanting of monks’ from the BBS could be heard, the little girl bent down, got on her knees and started to prostrate. That’s when I had my epiphany. From grandfather to the two-year-old girl, with the mere sighting of a Rinpoche on TV, though two generations apart, yet both had the same instinctive reaction. I felt all mushy from the inside- a warm and unimaginable sense of pride overwhelmed me. Then for the rest of the evening we had our bellies fill. Ana’s homemade food never fails to live up to its mark- that night was no different.
The conversation that occupied dinner was uncannily the best digestive. I could feel my stomach frenzy as the rest of the night was slowly drowned by erratic conversations bouncing from: corruption to nepotism, from scams to shams, from politics to religion. To everyone but me, the topics of discussion seemed like a mundane, ritualistic affair that takes place every night. Metaphorically: a digestive to the grumbling soul. But every one seemed happy, happy to talk about other peoples problems and occasionally their own. Ata was expressing his concern over the Rupee shortage widely covered by all the news agencies- as well as how unsafe Thimphu has become for his children. He was recounting the manner in which his apartment was burgled while he was in Phuentsholing for the Wang (Blessing). At the same time, almost appearing to purge himself of the loss, Ata started narrating how he made a modest offering of Ngultrum 9,000 to Rinpoche.
That night I stayed awake pressing down on my pillow going over and over again the conversation we had over dinner. Every bit of the conversation, each topic discussed or even local gossip was shrouded with cynicism and discord. It was chillingly negative. Nevertheless: glittering remarks were endless whenever the topic was on Trulkus. High priests, Lamas and Rinpoche’s have always had an exalted position in our society. People see them as being the embodiment of God, celestial or bodhisattvas (enlightened beings…), here to help us with this life as well as the next.
At this point, I would like to pay homage to all the great teachers and philosophers, who walk amongst us, pledging their entire existence to serve humanity, praying for a better world- their contribution is immeasurable because they make a difference in our lives. And here is my bias being exposed because while I have immense reverence towards some Lamas, I have an instinctive aversion towards many who misuse their status, who are manipulative and self-absorbed, and who are drowning in greed and vice.
I ask my self: What are they doing for our society? Do they give us as much as they take? Do they practice what they preach? After all they are without a doubt skilful raconteurs but is our belief well placed? Can we look up to them? Are they in a position to help, give advice and instruct? People believe in them; people look up to them; people will listen to them; people pray to them.
In some quarters, one can hear the occasional expression, “Dollar Rinpoche.” This is because most Lamas including the Rinpoches’ jealously guard their rich patrons and aggressively seduce potential donors. This does not leave time for them to attend to the needs of loyal devotees who have nothing to offer except reverence and faith. Most people attribute the steep rise in real-estate prices to the Rinpoches who convince their foreign donors to support the livelihoods of simple monks when in fact the money is spent either buying private homes or making personal investments. Access to these funds supports their upmarket lifestyle.
Young Rinpoches are often seen in clubs dancing, drinking and frolicking with women. When they are criticized, they justify their joyful escapades as an experience being used to understand life beyond the confines of sacred monasteries, an essential part of their training, a prerequisite to being a good teacher. Many are satisfied with such explanations. I would be convinced with what I believe to be flimsy rhetoric, if only the Rinpoches were seen travelling across the country, mingling with so called ordinary families, the poor or distressed youth.
In recent years, the country has experienced a number of natural disasters such as earthquakes, windstorms, floods and fire. That’s when people were in complete despair. To my understanding a true Buddhist is always compassionate, generous and righteous. But where were the Rinpoches? I have never seen nor heard stories about Rinpoches helping people. In spite of all their wealth- they are not charitable. Isn’t it ironic? What would Lord Buddha have done?
The Rinpoches are too busy building cults, competing amongst themselves or travelling around the world raising funds, making movies, building empires, promoting themselves or establishing centres in Europe. And the less known are desperately trying to emulate the success of others by attempting to launch themselves: but too often they are shackled by tradition- if not they lack business acumen or exposure. Either way they are far removed from peoples lives or they lack interest in making a difference, for if at all, there are little gains to be made. I never thought that religious leaders would take to capitalism.
This is the reason why I’ve decided to title my blog “The confessions of a Trulku’s Mistress.” In my view, we believers are no different from being their mistresses. The Rinpoches’ are possessive over their flock; fidelity is greatly valued, yet they gravitate elsewhere. Like a mistress we wait patiently, their presence greatly anticipated. When they re-emerge we are won-over with a mere smile, a touch or acknowledgement. A mistress never wants to hear the truth. Too often a Mistress is heard saying, it’s all circumstances… he’s a good man and I’m happy! Heart of heart a Mistress always sees the truth: she knows he’s got his family back at home; his future is elsewhere; his lies so winning yet they are fallacies’ of the heart; his touch so fleeting yet so real… But the truth is: He is a shameless man committing a selfish act. And as for the Mistress, she is yearning for love, salvation and purpose; her devotion removes reason, clouds her judgement and love leads her to denial – though she sees through the follies’ of her lover she remains silent and always hopeful. As a devout Buddhist – with all the hypocrisy shrouding the lives of our Rinpoches’ I am their Mistress.
By Karma Bhutan