From Michelle Grissom
Jetsunma suggested I write this and I’m glad she did because it’s been on my mind.
She and the KPC students have totally ruined my personal melodrama.
I’ve written already about my past mistakes, how I was a member of KPC, then blasted Jetsunma and the temple for thirteen years. I filed charges against her, participated first in an article, and then a book, and then attacked her online, and finally my mindset about KPC and Jetsunma shifted these past few months as I took a hard look at my own responsibility for my actions, how I had caused most of the problems I criticized and then distorted everything from a very egocentric point of view, using a palette of “facts” to my own ends. I lied, first to myself and then to others. Speaking to my spiritual teachers, I had to make amends.
You can only imagine what I expected when I returned to KPC to make amends. I dreaded it. My imagined return-to-KPC scenario requires a bass drum from a slave galley and perhaps the theme music from Conan the Barbarian playing in the background. I thought it was going to be really hard. I pictured kind of a Milarepa scenario (yes, with me in the starring Milarepa role, stop laughing). I’d go to the temple to purify my broken samaya, following my last directions from Jetsunma. I’d scrub floors and empty trash cans for a year (at least) before I got any signal from Jetsunma. The students would brush by me, busy with their lives. I’d be ignored by the new members who didn’t know me (no one notices the cleaning lady); openly disdained by everyone else.
With a dry throat, I expected some tense moments with sangha members. Possible confrontations about the book. Then, after a year of hard labor I figured that — from a haughty distance — Jetsunma would frown at my meager efforts, sigh, and send me a stern note laden with sadness and disappointment. She’d send me away to Lama Padma Karma Rinpoche, relieved to see the back of me. I was scared. It would be hard row to hoe. But I needed to do it. Instead, Jetsunma answered my first letter within about a week of receiving it. She was so gracious, when I arrived here I kicked back the first day, hung out with mom. I wasn’t too surprised at her kindness, come to think of it.
I went to the temple ready to face the music.
All the students without exception were genuinely kind, happy to see me. Ani Samla (whose daughter left a few years ago) was overjoyed. “Oh, anything’s possible, anything!” she said. Michael Brunk said that that was the nice thing about Buddhism, no matter what, there’s nothing that couldn’t be purified. People that I remembered hurting remembered things completely differently. Ani Palchen brought up a time we both repeated incomprehensible Tibetan just from sounding it out. (I remembered owing Palchen $800.) Maura Daly remembered our doing tsogs together. (I remembered leaving her high and dry and needing to replace me as a roommate.) Our experiences don’t line up at all.
I was so relieved, I let myself slack off for a day or two. And got a pretty tough response from Jetsunma, like I’d originally expected: while I’d had permission before, suddenly I wasn’t allowed to set foot on temple grounds. Now that was more like it. We were back on board with my “Milarepa scenario” (stop laughing). Ani Dolma, one of her Tres Anis, seemed appropriately stern.
To my surprise, I was given instructions as to what to do to begin to purify my broken samaya. Which was more than I expected.
I’d meant to go it alone. And Jetsunma offered that, provided I renounced all my prior activities to the best of my ability, if my heart had truly changed, as a throneholder of the lineage she could clear my samaya.
It’s hard for me to understand how severe broken samaya is, that no one can go it alone, especially not with a breakage this serious. I can’t just do a few Vajrasattva mantras, empty some trash cans and all will be well. I don’t really get it, though I have a clue from how I’ve been constantly sick for the last thirteen years, coughing up phlegm like a life-long smoker coughs up a lung.
I was in constant contact with Jetsunma through her Tres Anis. When I wrote my public confession, I asked and was given permission to go clean the temple again. Bit by bit, as I made progress I was allowed to do prayer shifts again, to attend tsog. New KPC students I’d never met read my confession and approached me, equally kind, offering to help in any way they could. Howie for example urged me to attend more tsogs, very concerned.
I still don’t understand it. I confessed to some pretty awful things. The students at KPC are a credit to Jetsunma. They must really practice her teachings on compassion because I blasted KPC for 13 years and any ordinary group would at least have some resentment. A little. It should at least be a struggle for them. There has been none. Not a trace.
Jetsunma responded to the second confession letter I’d sent from Charlottesville and she wrote back, warm and encouraging. “This confession stuff is hard!” and “keep going” and “it will eventually purify.”
The hardest part has been my own self-flagellation and backpedaling pride. Cringing moments of “yes, yes, but I meant well” and “but– but mostly I exaggerated!” I hate to say that I lied. Yet I want it to be tough in order to punish myself, and then ratchet to the opposite extreme, rebelling, slacking off in watching my mind. Thinking of it as punishment makes it difficult.
She and the sangha have completely spoiled my martyred melodrama.
It’s hard to give up my game plan of martyrdom. But that’s not how this works. It’s practical. Jetsunma helps you, tells you what you need to do to purify your broken samaya, and then you do it.
I’ve had to work but it’s been effortless. Obstacles have just fallen away, as easily as Dorje Phagmo waves her drigug in chod practice. I was supposed to go to Seattle but my ex-fiance decided to just send me my things here. When I needed work but didn’t have a car, sangha members approached me with things I could do from home — before I even asked. There has been support from everyone. People want this to succeed.
The best part has been the hope this has given the KPC students though. That’s the best. When I saw Ani Samla light up, I thought, “That alone makes it worth it.”
I’m told that a lot of the students were feeling tired this summer, like they wanted to give up. My mother, for one. After losing me for thirteen years, and losing friends and family, she felt hopeless. Mom’s so delighted to have me back I don’t think there’s a word for it in English (maybe in Tibetan — dzomkyid perhaps? Gathering of all happiness?). Her health is even doing better. She’s energized in her practice. “This is a miraculous path,” she says. “It’s difficult, but truly miraculous.” She can tell you more.
It’s so easy to return, I’m almost disappointed.