Archive for the 'Tibet' Category

The Divine Madman: “My friend …”

(excerpted from “The Divine Madman: The Sublime Life and Songs of Drukpa Kunley “, translated by Geshey Chapu, Sonam Paljor & Keith Dowman).Drukpa Kunley - My friend with a good voice.One day Drukpa Kunley visited the monastery of Drepung. Sitting with the monks he thought he should play a joke on the Moral Guard.

‘I would like to become a novice,’ he told them.
‘Where do you come from?’ he was asked.
‘I am a Drukpa,’ he said.
‘Do the Drukpas have good voices?’
‘I don’t have such a good voice,’ he told them innocently, but I have a friend who is an excellent chanter.’
‘Bring your friend with you tomorrow,’ they told him. The next day when the monks had assembled, the Lama brought a donkey by the ear, covered him with a red robe and sat him down at the end of the line of monks.
‘What is this!’ exclaimed the Moral Guard in wrath.
‘This is my friend with the good voice,’ Kunley told them, kicking the donkey to make it bray. The Guard chased him away with sticks, with the Lama shouting over his shoulder to them, ‘You people care more about chanting than meditation!’
While returning to Lhasa, two monks from the assembly caught up with him and asked him where he was bound.
‘Drukpa Kunley has no home and no destination,’ he replied. ‘I have no place at Drepung and no place in hell.’
‘What crime did you commit that hell wasn’t deep enough for you?’ they asked, laughing.
‘In this human world,’ said the Lama, ‘I did whatever came into my mind, but I came into conflict with other men’s desires, so I thought that I should spend a couple of days in hell. But the road was blocked by monks from Sera Monastery.’ Then I returned and decided to become a monk at Drepung, but the monastery was filled with Jealousy, Lust, and Anger, and I could find no place.’ And so saying, he returned to Lhasa.


Mary Finnigan on the Tibetan Buddhist Diaspora.

My interest in Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism started when David Bowie introduced me to Chime Youngdon Rinpoche in 1969. The initial driver was curiosity about an exotic oriental way of life, cloaked in mystery, myth and stoned hippie legend.

After a year of the Beckenham Arts Lab, which peaked with a Free Festival in a local park, which has itself now become a legend, I took myself off to Samye Ling in Scotland. My fantasy about what to expect from the first Tibetan meditation centre in the developed world revolved around monks and nuns in maroon robes,chanting at dawn and meditating all day.

David Bowie 1969.What I found was a clique of upper class dropouts, including one or two recognisable celebs, basically enjoying a holiday in the romantic surroundings of a shrine n’dine in a former Victorian hunting lodge. There was only one Tibetan in residence — he sported a Jimi Hendrix hairstyle and slouched around the place in velvet bell bottoms and an Afghan jacket, bored out of his skull and waiting for the day when his brother the abbot returned from a trip to India and he could be off back to sex n’ drugs n’ rock’n roll in London.

Actually there was lots of sex and some drugs at Samye Ling in those days. It was more like a rest home for burned out hippies than a religious institution. But there was frisson of excitement for me in the Samye Ling shrine room. Gazing at the thangka paintings of deities, some serene and full of light and others ferociously dark, triggered a yearning — as if I was re-encountering something familiar. This was how my love affair with all things Tibetan began.

Chenrezig Mahakala.It took me to India several times and to Nepal. It took me back to Samye Ling many times. I helped Sogyal Rinpoche set himself up as a meditation teacher in London. The more I mined for information and experience, the more the fascination grew and developed. Then I met my root guru, Choegyal Namkhai Norbu and the pieces of the jigsaw that were still missing fell into place.

I’d had a few interesting moments on the cushion, but nothing  to compare with Norbu Rinpoche’s capacity to make contemplative practice accessible. It was roughly three years later when the first shadows started to appear on my Tibetan horizon. A young man from Sogyal’s group phoned me with a saga of concerns about Sogyal’s sex life. This was worrying, but it didn’t jolt me out of the Shangri-La bubble. For some time I didn’t want to believe there was a dark side to pre-Chinese Tibet.

Then, knowing that I am a journalist, a succession of very sad and disturbed women told me horror stories about  their sexual encounters with Sogyal and other Tibetan lamas. As the internet came into our lives, I researched the reality of Tibet — the dark side — the very dark side, that had arrived in equal measure to the light with the exiles who realised that Vajrayana Buddhism was their greatest asset and could be marketed to naive westerners.

It was very difficult to hang onto my Buddhist mojo while all this was going on. More than once I was on the point of walking away and never coming back. But thanks to the genius of Namkhai Norbu that never quite happened. Instead I launched into a one-woman campaign to shed light on the darkness, to talk about the corruption and the greed — the sexual exploitation and the political skullduggery. And I write about it.

Choegyal Namkhai Norbu.In so doing, I hope to extend awareness of how and where the magnificent tradition of Tibetan Buddhism has been bent out of shape. I have lost friends as a result, because I broke the law of omerta that forms the bedrock of religious cultism.  I saw many Tibetan Buddhist groups adopting cultish attitudes and behaviour — in most instances encouraged by their Tibetan gurus.

This seemed to me to be the polar opposite of the freedom of mind, body and spirit inherent in the Buddha’s realisation. Nico Morrison assembled this anthology for The Flower Raj of my writings for The Guardian Comment is Free. They emerged from my desire to make a small contribution to correcting the swing of the pendulum towards spiritual materialism in diaspora Tibetan Buddhism. I do it because I cannot think of a better way to help it survive.

From “The Guardian – Comment is free” (in order of publication):

Tibet's 17th Karmapa, Urgyen Trinley Dorje,.No role for the Karmapa“The Dalai Lama has acted shrewdly in giving up his political position and removing the need for a regency”.


Tibetan Buddhist nun prostrates. Lama sex abuse claims call Buddhist taboos into question“Allegations against Sogyal Rinpoche highlight the dangers of Buddhist injunctions against gossip and insistence on loyalty”.


Buddhist monks attend an alms offering ceremony. Mingyur Rinpoche, the millionaire monk who renounced it all“The Buddhist teacher’s decision to leave his monastery suggests a revival of the principles laid down by the Buddha”.


Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje attracted 2,000 people, paying $200 each, to hear him speak at an event.The Buddhist organisations that are thriving during the debt crisis“In times of financial hardship, meditators are still willing to pay large fees to hear the teachings of high-profile Buddhists”.


Young Tibetan Buddhist monks in Bodh Gaya, India.The YouTube confessional sending shockwaves through the Buddhist world“Young Kalu Rinpoche’s traumatic revelations highlight the dissonance between Tibetan tradition and 21st-century life”.


The Dalai Lama has warned against being seduced into Tibetan Buddhism by its exotic tantric aura.'The lamas who give Tibetan Buddhism a bad name“Don’t be taken in by the Shangri La factor. If seeking guidance in Buddhism, choose your teacher carefully”.



Mary Finniganby Mary Finnigan
Mary Finnigan Journalism and PR.
© 2013 Mary Finnigan & Guardian Newspapers.


Robert Beer – Outsider In.

A one hour radio interview with Robert Beer broadcast on London’s Resonance 104.4fm at 10pm on Wednesday 2nd May 2012. James Tregaskis invited Robert to talk about himself, his life & his work.

The result is a moving & illuminating foray into the mind, heart & soul of one of the pre-eminent researchers of our day in the matters of life & death & what happens after we die.

audio player – press arrow to start listening:


Robert Beer has studied and practised Tibetan Art for the past forty years. He is now recognized as one of the foremost scholars in this field.

Author and illustrator of the Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs, and the Handbook of Tibetan Buddhist Symbols. He has illustrated Indian Mahasiddhas in the book Buddhist Masters of Enchantment.

Over the past fifteen years Robert has been working closely with the most talented thangka painters of the Kathmandu Valley, the Newar artists of Nepal.

He is now curating an exhibition of his work & theirs, currently running at the October Gallery in Old Gloucester Street, until 26th May 2012.

In this interview Robert recounts his life story; he discusses his pivotal experiences including an lsd ‘kundalini crisis’, the death of his little sister &, much later, the death of his beloved elder daughter.

About out of body experiences, near death experiences and lucid dreaming; about his experiences of past lives & the life between those lives, the spirit home.

During the exhibition Robert will be giving four talks, on the 5th, 8th, 18th & 26th of May 2012; details here at October Gallery Events. Entry £Free (donations welcome).

Visit the exhibition, essential viewing; go & listen to Robert’s talks.


Tsurphu Norbu Drabje

The making of the third appliqué at Tsurphu monastery, Tibet.

The companion piece for the Giant Mahakala appliqué (ceremonial piece). This drabje is used in conjunction with all wraithful deity ceremonies in Tsurphu’s main assembly hall.

Terris Temple is the first Westerner to learn the art of Thangka painting. He studied in Nepal 1966-75 with various traditional Masters. He has been involved with the Karma Kagyu order of Tibetan Buddhism since his initial meeting with the 16th Karmapa in 1969. Terris also does “flower and bird painting”. Along with his wife Leslie Nguyen Temple they are the artists to HH the 17th Karmapa, and working on the making of Tsechur Drabje again for Tsurphu, replacing lost heritage. With its completion Tsurphu’s treasures lost during the Cultural Revolution will be replaced and actively used once again for the benefit of all sentient beings. Besides this project they are presently making a feature documentary film about Tibetan Art with His Holiness the Karmapa.

Terris is the executive director of Liberation Arts, a non profit organization using art to create, preserve, and educate about culture, the arts and environment.

HH Karmapa is the spiritual adviser of the organization.



In June 1968, I had been in India for one year.  I do remember seeing a few Tibetans who were selling knitwear in the streets of old Delhi.   I did not have time to get to know them like my friend Arthur Mandelbaum who was teaching English to refugee’s in India at that time. Among these people were monks that were educated in the Tibetan traditions probably far beyond our mere university level, but they were studying English.  As we know, later that exercise became important for those of us who were fortunate to receive Buddhist teachings that were spoken in English by former students of Arthur.

Dalai Lama / Dudjom RinpocheI did have the opportunity in 1974 to hear His Holiness the Dalai Lama, when he spoke to a small audience at the TROEPEN MUSEUM in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.  His talk was ecumenical and to me much like a visit with a friend, needless to say, I was very impressed.  A year later after returning to New York City thanks to my friend Loren, I followed his suggestion to take refuge as a Buddhist from a Tibetan lama named Kalu Rinpoche. Continue reading ‘Tibetans’