AHBO - Confronting the Dali Lama

In the mid 1990s, Kelly and another dozen American Buddhist teachers were invited to visit the Dalai Lama in India.

“You’re going to India?” Sandra asked him, amazed. “To meet the Dalai Lama, personally?”

Kelly looked at the invitation in his hands. “Well, guess it’s time to go and see dad,” he said with a grin. “Find out if we’ve been bad boys and girls, or good ones.”

The fourteenth Dalai Lama was acknowledged by just about every serious practitioner of Buddhism as having penetrating insight into the true nature of mind. His insight was not in question, but some Americans thought his cultural programming from Tibet did, in fact, strongly color and influence his beliefs, and not always in the most insightful ways, especially around topics like homosexuality, oral sex, the role of women, and masturbation, where the Dalai Lama could sound strikingly like a Roman Catholic bishop.

The Dalai Lama was hosting the conference to answer questions that were arising with the first generation of American teachers of Buddhism, and to see if he could impart any wisdom or clarity where Western cultural confusion might be creating problems in their understanding of the dharma, of teachings.

A dozen Western Buddhist masters, from many different backgrounds, were brought to India to participate in the conference. They sat in an audience, with His Holiness on stage taking their questions. Kelly was near the front, and he listened as one of the American teachers brought up a troubling question: A high ranking Tibetan teacher had gotten into trouble for sleeping with some of his female students, and had been sued and forced into a kind of hiding from the uproar he had caused.

This problem, it should be noted, has been a long-standing one in spiritual communities. For some, like Osho (also known as Rajneesh) and Papa Free John (also known as Adi Da), they dealt with this by having “free love” communities, where sex was encouraged as part of a spiritual practice, to take away the taboo surrounding it. Many other spiritual teachers had been accused of sexual misconduct, from Kelly’s own teacher Eido Shimano Roshi to Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche to the Indian yogi Pattabhi Jois. And it wasn’t just non-Christians, either — in another decade, the dam would break on the Catholic Church, exposing an epidemic of sexual misconduct within its ranks. Clearly, sex was problematic for all of us, including our spiritual teachers.

“How do you explain his behavior, your Holiness,” the questioner asked, perhaps hoping for a psychological explanation. The Dalai Lama, smiling, leaned forward.

“The problem,” he said, gently, “is that their insight is not deep enough. When the insight of your true nature is deep enough, it transforms all parts of us, so that Basic Goodness and compassion naturally and effortlessly arise. This prevents the kind of deluded behavior we see with him.” He sat back.

Kelly, incredulous, waited for someone to challenge the statement. He raised his own hand and the Dalai Lama pointed to him.

“Your Holiness,” Kelly offered, “may I use a word here?”

“Please,” came the answer.

Bullshit,” Kelly dropped, and a collective gasp went up from the audience. Father Geiger would have been proud to know Kelly was still making his philosophical arguments much the same way he had forty years before.

The Dalai Lama chuckled.

“I know this man we’re speaking of,” Kelly continued. “He took three three-year cave retreats where he saw only his master and lived in the wilderness with no power, no heat, no bed. That’s nine years of the most intensive monastic training. He trained with you, your Holiness, for a decade. And he spent another decade training in the States. This man trained for thirty years, and you’re telling me his insight isn’t deep enough? I’ve met him, I’ve talked to him, I’ve practiced with him, and I’m telling you, that explanation is, with all due respect, bullshit, your Holiness.”

Kelly sat back, smiling. The Dalai Lama nodded his head and chuckled again, his eyes shimmering behind the thick lenses of his glasses.

“That is because your insight isn’t deep enough,” he said with a kind-hearted smile.

Kelly’s mouth popped open. As the Dalai Lama waited patiently for Kelly to respond, he couldn’t think of a single thing to say.

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