Modus Operandi for “Dharma Con”
We were pretty embarrassed at being taken in by this con man, William Cassidy! He claimed to be a “secretly recognized” American tulku (“Urgyen Tenpa Rinpoche”), and he claimed to be dying. He perpetrated his con using his own blog, commenting on the blog of one of our monks, and creating a presence of several participating “sock puppets” on a very popular (now defunct) forum for Buddhist practitioners. We took him in to take care of him in what we thought were his final days–and he took us for all that he could!
And this activity all predated Facebook and Twitter peak popularity. Imagine how these new social networking sites extend his reach! We now see very similar patterns within spiritually-minded Tweet Lists and Twitter traffic. So we are sharing our painful experience in an effort to help others who may come into contact with him to avoid falling for his confidence game. Here’s his modus operandi:
- Cassidy initiated contact via Internet posing as a revered lama with a title within the tradition of Varayana Buddhism. He was praising our work in Mongolia. He said that he had a partnership with Toyota and was putting together a caravan to bring services to remote areas of Mongolia. Later we found out it is a pattern for him to engage with various communities, befriend them, and infiltrate them to the core.
- Initially engaged us through cyber communication and very occasional phone contact. Gave many “logical” reasons for his privacy.
- Provided no photos – and claimed it was for reasons of humility as a “secret” Rinpoche (another term for reincarnate lama.)
- Claimed major medical issues before ever meeting with any member of our organization in person. During actual visits later – was very inconsistent about embodying “symptoms” of illness. (Claimed low energy but showed himself able of great physical exertion, etc.) Once when we thought he quite ill, he was very agitated when we called the paramedics. Their comment: if he hadn’t told them about his heart problem they would never have guessed it.
- Was very secretive about where and how to pick him up, telephone numbers, addresses, recognition. When he finally arrived–at our invitation – reluctant initially to be photographed, and wanted his vehicle driven by someone else and hidden off-street while in the town where we hosted him. He gave us instruction not to say where he was staying and if anybody came to the door say that he wasn’t there. His host had to put new locks on the house and keep the doors locked all the time. Before he came, the household didn’t even have a key for the front door. All to protect him from surveillance because he claimed to have worked deep covert positions establishing refuge for Tibetan-Indian commerce to USA.
- He told drivers what to do every turn, claiming that his ex-wife had hit men and lawyers after him, and he had to stay undercover or he’d get “whacked.”
- Gave us a false name (William Sanderson). Only discovered real name later when he sent us to pick up his personal effects.
- Soon after his arrival and observation of the respect our organization has achieved in the community, he organized a HUGE public event that our organization endorsed – which generated lucrative donations – and the day after this large event our donation box mysteriously got broken into. Using jargon about karmic ripenings, told us not to report the theft to the authorities.
- While hosted in a private home, and provided care for the “illness” he claimed to be undergoing, he blogged extensively and otherwise used internet a great deal. Claiming his high profile online, he insisted on overseeing a revamp of the household computer setup at host location so he could maintain his cyber obligations. He was paranoid about his privacy,and claimed that his host was looking into his room. When he insisted on a separate internet access, his host bought him a separate router. He took advantage of his host’s lack of expertise to leave the house network unsecured.
- He would be online hours at a time and come out charged and angry, as if fighting with someone online. He would not allow anyone to be in the room when he was online.
- When he was made COO, he requested a financial report from every area. All the financial information that he obtained was given freely. However, records that were not entrusted to his custody disappeared and later were published on his blog.
- Finally, in the personal interactions we witnessed, he maintains a very likeable and jovial demeano–in the beginning. He made up nicknames for most important and prominent figure in the organization, developed colloquial terminology and metaphors for those things considered important to the community. (For instance, he was a rabbit lover and had many rabbit-isms, if you will, to describe health, prosperity, etc.)
- Later, people around him witnessed his being “mean,” verbally attacking a member of the host’s household, then refusing to talk to her for days. He treated her in a very demeaning way, and played her against another member of the community who was also looking after him.
- Showed an interest and fascination with hocus pocus, “black arts,” and mind trickery. Moreover, all the statues he brought with him had their eyes closed, which in Vajrayana Buddhism signifies that they are sleeping or dead. Someone who picked one up and moved around reported that it felt as if it was filled with rocks.
- At the beginning, he would say that he had been recognized and was going to be enthroned but had refused because he wanted to stay “low key.” He always refused to be photographed. When in our town, he was adamant about being referred to as a visitor from California.
- When he realized the kind of event we were able to put together, he proclaimed himself the “12th incarnation of Urgyen Tenpa Rinpoche” and was suddenly okay about getting his picture and name in the newspaper. This claim caused our spiritual leader to investigate his credentials more deeply within the school of Buddhism with which he claimed to be affiliated. Upon receiving word from the head of our lineage that our visitor was not the lama he claimed to be, that he was definitely an ordinary person, not a Tulku.
- Our spiritual leader instructed us to be kind, as he was ill and possibly dying, and care for him until the end. He, however, refused to stay, saying that our spiritual leader had betrayed him.
Watch for more information about this confidence man: and remember that “con” is the short form for “confidence.” He will attempt to build your confidence in him through flattery (ouch!), offering favors and connections, and lots of insider gossip. Don’t let him! Be “con”scious of fraud, and don’t be conned!
If you have encoutered William Cassidy aka Tenparinpoche or suspect that you may have had a teleconference with him, please view this video. You have a precious human rebirth. Don’t waste your time following a fake when there are pure teachers in the world.
May all sincere practitioners meet with a pure teacher and accomplish the path!
Here is a link to the video of Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo’s enthronement by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche in 1988.
And here is a transcript of the commentary.
Commentary at JAL Enthronement by HH Penor Rinpoche
Today we begin a special ceremony here in Washington, D.C. in the Dharma center of Ahkon Lhamo. This particular function is a religious function. It is not performed for any other reason. And the reason is because Ahkon Lhamo was the sister of the founder of our Palyul tradition, Kunzang Sherab and she was a genyanma, or also a very good practitioner and was blessed in this regard, and so His Holiness recognized her accordingly.
Now, prior to this, Ahkon Lhamo has not had the opportunity to really study the traditional Buddhist teachings and practices. However, because her nature is very steeped in the thought of benefiting and working for the welfare of others, these instructions have been given and so, the Dharma center and the practice going on here is very good.
There are a few people who think about benefiting others. Mostly we think about just a concern for ourselves. And so, the reason that His Holiness had thought to recognize her was based upon this particular condition. And so, the thought to be of benefit to others is the main foundation of the Dharma path to begin with and also because we have a special connection, an interdependent connection with Ahkon Lhamo and have a strong regard for one another. Based on these circumstances and conditions, His Holiness recognized her accordingly.
The ultimate goal of our path is the achievement of Buddhahood and when one is actually in the state of achieving a state of Buddhahood, this is the same as achieving a state of perfect omniscience, which is absolutely unobstructed or unblocked. Now, His Holiness says that he has not achieved this state and he is not a Buddha, because when the state of Buddhahood has been achieved, there is nothing that is not known. There is nothing that is not foreseen. There is nothing that cannot be manifested or actualized, and so these miraculous qualities are something that His Holiness does not claim to possess.
However, from the time of taking the vows of refuge until the ultimate goal of Buddhahood is achieved, there are five paths. There are 10 bodhisattva bhumis, or levels, and according to the strength of the individual practitioners, they will achieve various levels of realization as they ascend the higher stages on the path, not just by putting on robes or having some external appearance. So, from His Holiness’ point of view, he is an individual who is ascending the different levels on the path.
At this particular time, this is the time of the coming of Lord Buddha Shakyamuni into this world. And it is a time that only that particular Buddha was to come and came. However, there will be the coming of many other bodhisattvas. Guru Rinpoche is none other than the manifestation of all of the Buddhas of the three times, dwelling in a state of ageless eternal realization. Guru Rinpoche, or the Lopan Pema Junge, the Lotus Born Vajra Guru, as we refer to him, this is his name. His name is not Buddha.
So, therefore it should be understood that at a time when only one Buddha comes into the world, that is the Buddha that we recognize, and so we shouldn’t recognize – that is Buddha Shakyamuni – so we shouldn’t recognize His Holiness as the Buddha, because he is not the Buddha.
Now, however, concerning the various knowledge or qualities of the enlightened mind, he doesn’t claim to have a very vast or extensive understanding, but he does know some small points. There are those who say that His Holiness is the incarnation of Panchen Vimalamitra. His Holiness says that he has the blessing or the prayer, the aspiration of Vimalamitra, but he doesn’t claim to absolutely be the incarnation of Vimalamitra. But people will still say that he is Vimalamitra, but he’s not, because definitely the connection will be there and the blessings will be there.
In the snow land of Tibet, there are six major traditions for the earlier translation school, known as the Nyingmapa and one of them is the Palyul tradition and the Palyul is one of the six major lineages and the six mother monasteries. So, His Holiness is absolutely the head of the Palyul tradition and mother monastery.
This Palyul monastery is not a small monastery. It is very great, very large. The monastery had only been in existence for 400 years, not for a very long time. From the time of Rigzen Kunzang Sherab, the founder of the monastery and tradition and on through the succession of the 10 to 11 – which His Holiness is the 11th throneholders to follow. There have been until this time 11 throneholders of the Palyul tradition. And there, until that time, until now, there is said that there is some 1,000 branch monasteries which are Palyul branch monasteries to the mother monastery. However, in His Holiness’ time in Tibet, he knew of about 300.
And so, because His Holiness is the supreme head of the entire tradition, he also was in charge of every single one of these branch monasteries as well, because he is the supreme head of the tradition that all of them were following, and so he was selected and appointed accordingly.
So, for all these monasteries, His Holiness had the absolute authority of all the administrative duties, rules and regulations and for all the recognition of the incarnates and all of the appointments and so forth for the spiritual enthronements of the different practitioners.
And so, based on that position of authority, it is from that point of view that His Holiness has recognized Ahkon Lhamo to be the genyanma, Ahkon Lhamo, sister of Rigzen Kunzang Sherab.
And in giving her this name, His Holiness – giving her the same name, His Holiness had the thought that this would be able to give her a great blessing, which would enter her. And so, in having given her the name, now this is the time for the enthronement. She doesn’t have any duties or responsibilities in worldly type of administration or political concerns. What is her responsibility at this point, as a tulku, is that she is responsible for propagating the Dharma and for being of benefit to sentient beings, and she has no other responsibility but that.
And so, therefore today we have all gathered together as a Dharma assembly and also with His Holiness’ monks from the Namdroling monastery and all of the sangha members from this particular group and other places who have come together to make this very auspicious connection and occasion.
And also many of you have come here on this day to be part of the ceremony and to observe it and also to make a connection here and so, for all of you, His Holiness offers you his warmest greetings and the traditional “Tashi delek”.
And also there are a lot of cameras here, cameramen, photographers and camerawomen. Actually, in this type of a ceremony, traditionally, photography is not allowed, and yet, because His Holiness was aware that the center and everyone really felt it would be good to have some publicity for the occasion, he has allowed to happen. But we should also know that this usually is not allowed in this type of a ceremony.
And also, it’s been allowed so that the connection can be made. There may be an attitude that because this is happening here in America, that naturally we would like to let the news be spread out. But usually for this type of an enthronement, it is not something that is propagated in a broader sense. The enthronement is done in order to make the auspicious link from a religious point of view but not for publicity. However, we are in America, the United States, and publicity is an important thing and we may think it is strange not to have publicity, but there is also the point that up until now, many students have sort of complained or have felt why is it that there are not any American tulkus. Why is it there are not any female tulkus. And so, not only just to His Holiness Penor Rinpoche have these complaints come in, but to many of the Tibetan lamas. And so, now that there is not only an American tulku, but a woman tulku, those of you who were complaining should be feeling very happy.
Generally, when a tulku, or intentional reincarnation comes into the world, it is only into a place where there is some purpose. Otherwise, there is no point to be there. There has to be a purpose for sentient beings.
Bodhisattvas send manifestations into innumerable types of bodies, amongst animals, anywhere. Anyone could be a bodhisattva, so this is uncertain. We cannot say for sure who is going to be a bodhisattva, like what the form will appear to be. We cannot determine exactly, because the bodhisattvas have the freedom to incarnate in the form that they need to take on in order to help.
So, we will begin the ceremony today. Usually the ceremony is inserted at this particular point in the bestowing of the Rinchen Terzod empowerment, so it is actually part of the empowerment ceremony. So, those who are part of the empowerments are the ones who really should be here, but many others have come as well, and so, once again, although it is a bit untraditional, we will all partake of the ceremony together. Please make very auspicious prayers.
His Holiness is always teaching on a regular basis that in order to actually experience the Dharma and engage in the mainstream of a spiritual practice, it has to happen with one’s mind. It doesn’t happen outside of ourselves. So, the blessings will come through a lineage which is unbroken and which is purely upholding the pure words of honor, which have never been decreased or defiled. And so, based on that potency, which His Holiness possess and based on the prayers that you must make, then an interdependent connection is made. It is through that interdependent connection that the blessings will actually be transmitted to you. And that happens within your own mind.
So, therefore, you should give rise to the awakened mind, which is the thought to always work for the benefit of others, the bodhicitta mind and you should take the vow or make the promise to actually follow through with that aspiration in your activities and in your daily works.
You shouldn’t have attachment. You shouldn’t have aversion or delusion towards sentient beings. You should be totally impartial by considering that the number of sentient beings is as limitless as the limitless boundaries of space and all of those beings are suffering intensely in the round of cyclic existence. And so, with this type of thought to try to be of benefit to them, it should be done with a mind of the equality, with an equal feeling toward all of them.
Criminal William L. Cassidy Masquerades as “Tulku Urgyen Tenpa Rinpoche”
“Tulku Urgyen Tenpa Rinpoche,” is the name under which William L. Cassidy, a convicted felon, writes a blog called “Digital Tibetan Buddhist Altar.” How do we know? He told us! (See story below.) The titles he uses are self-conferred. How do we know? We sent inquiries to the Nyingma teacher who Cassidy claimed “secretly” recognized him. (He is claiming recognition by a different teacher now, conveniently dead.) We also had inquiries made throughout the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, in which he claims a place. (See story below.) As if that isn’t enough, Mr. Cassidy is notorious in the world of Las Vegas politics and crime as a double dealer. (See these links.)
How We Came to Know Him
In September 2007 someone made contact with one of our monks, who had a blog called “Dreaming of Danzin Ravjaa,” and drew attention to his own blog, “Digital Tibetan Buddhist Altar,” on which he had praised our teacher and KPC Spiritual Director, Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo. Of course we were pleased! But we could find little information about the writer, who claimed to be a secretly recognized American tulku in the Nyingma school (the same school of Tibetan Buddhist of which KPC is a part). He called himself “Tulku Urgyen Tenpa.”
Correspondence ensued throughout the next month. We were led to believe that this person was in ill health, and on the verge of death. Because spiritual care at the time of death is one of the hallmarks of our teacher’s mission (Christians might call that “ministry,” but it’s not exactly the same thing), we invited him to our retreat center in the mountains of Arizona to be of assistance to him. Our teacher went out to meet him.
Eventually, this person, whose American name we knew then as William Sanderson, was invited to Sedona specifically so that members of the ordained community could care for him in what we thought to be his final days. In the process of retrieving his personal effects for him from his residence in Lucerne Valley, California, we discovered that his real name was William Cassidy. When confronted, he did admit to that name, but had an explanation.
Details of His Scam
During his sojourn among the KPC sangha in Sedona, Cassidy pretended to be a doctor of Tibetan Medicine, and actually conducted consultations. Under that guise, he proposed a joint practice with one of the KPC nuns, who had given up her chiropractic practice because of illness. Meaning to take advantage of her very real Arizona license, he made every effort to convince her that she was well enough to take up her profession again.
Things came to a head in February of 2008 when the so-called “tulku” proposed an event at the Amitabha Stupa in Sedona, a monument prominent in the sacred practice of the group there and well-known in the community. Although he did NOT announce in advance that he would participate, he did in fact do so, conducting a “ritual” and offering “blessings.” The crowd of about 500 apparently made significant donations to the outdoor donation box that KPC maintains at the stupa. For the only time in the five-year history of that stupa, the donation box was robbed that night. Cassidy’s advice was NOT to contact the police.
Meanwhile, he offered to help us with various financial and legal challenges we were faced with. We were so grateful (and, alas, so unsuspecting!) that we invited him to take on the job of Chief Operating Officer. He held this position only for about a week, but during that time, made every effort to gather information about the organization. Later, files of financial documents that went missing from a house in which he was staying appeared as a zip file on his blog. (He claimed the documents were “incriminating”; actually, they were nothing of the kind. They did, however, contain sensitive data about donors, the kinds of records all charitable organizations keep.)
How We Discovered His True Identity
Meanwhile, our teacher, concerned about his penchant for offering spiritual advice to the sangha, had consulted with the senior lamas of our lineage about his recognition and authorization to teach. Such authorization is extremely important in Tibetan Buddhism. She was told by her own teacher, His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, the head of the lineage and former Supreme Head of the Nyingma School, that he could find no indication that a Nyingma lama had ever recognized such a person. He advised us to be kind and continue to care for him, which we did.
Two weeks after the event at the Amitabha Stupa, our teacher, Jetsunma, wrote to William Cassidy informing him of His Holiness’s message. Almost immediately, Cassidy left the household in which he was being cared for.
Soon after these events, Cassidy began posting defamatory information about Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo and KPC. This information included the financial records he had taken. We began to look for ways of defending ourselves, and in researching his past, discovered to our shock that he was a convicted felon.
Inadvertently, but happily, we supplied the impetus for local authorities to arrest him: it turned out that he was in violation of probation, and was subsequently re-imprisoned in Nevada to serve out his sentence for assault and arson. We were dismayed to realize that the person on whom we had lavished care and spent about $10,000 of our personal resources was a felon who was taking advantage of us.
Cassidy’s Campaign of Defamation and Slander
Once he was released in January 2009, he resumed his blog campaign of defamation and slander. So alarmed did we become that we sought and obtained an injunction against “workforce harassment” by him, issued by Judge Dorothy Little, Gila County Justice Court, in Payson, Arizona.
Cassidy’s internet harassment continued on multiple blogs, with more intense defamatory efforts, against our Palyul Lineage, our teacher (Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo), KPC as an organization, and even individual sangha members, with names and pictures.
Eventually, individual students in the sangha developed blogs in an effort to expose the lies, misrepresentations, and slander in which Cassidy was indulging. Those blogs contain a great deal of information about his record and activities.
In August 2009, Mr. Cassidy participated with a woman with whom he was living, in using California law to harass Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo. On completely baseless grounds, Jetsunma was served with a “Temporary Restraining Order,” which was subsequently thrown out of court. (California law makes it extremely easy to obtain such a temporary order so that abused women can be protected while they seek legal redress.) Of course, KPC again incurred needless expenses to respond in court.
Since losing in that case, Mr. Cassidy has removed names from his blog but has let his slanderous messages stand.
Don’t Let Him Make a Twit of You!
And now, again in the guise of “Tulku Tenpa Rinpoche,” Mr. Cassidy is using twitter in his campaign. Do you still want to “follow” him? Don’t say you weren’t warned!
So William Cassidy, who calls himself Tulku Tenpa, or Tenpa Rinpoche, or whatever. . . was a smoker. He showed up with COPD, having had a heart attack, and claiming to have lung cancer. And he’s still blowing smoke and breathing heavy. Oh, and writing treatises that take the unsuspecting follower around, down, and through — through what, you ask? His con artist mind that is a deception of smoke and mirrors.
Now the smokey trail is about Lineage. In Tibetan Buddhism, pure Lineage is one of the greatest gifts offered to the sincere practitioner. Without the guidance of a pure, strong Lineage of Accomplishment, a practitioner is easily lost. Pure lineage provides a much needed refuge, a wellspring of virtue and guidance that one can and must rely on in order to safely progress on the path to Enlightenment.
But to Cassidy, who has none of the above, Lineage is easily dispensed of, like flicking a cigarette. So casual. A parlor game. And the innocent seeker, looking for true spiritual food, is left looking in a smokey mirror, holding a cold empty ashtray.
Breathing Pure Air
Another comment received that we’d like to share:
In reading the blog entries by William Cassidy regarding recognition, lineage and Guru Yoga I find his statements lack any foundation. He puts a spin on the truth that could easily confuse someone if they did not check the source and investigate these statements beyond face value.
As a Dharma student, I have been taught by my Guru to always question the source and only rely on advice given by a qualified teacher. I cannot rely only on someone saying he was recognized and move blindly forward. This is an important decision. I want to be of benefit to beings and follow a teacher that I know will show me the way. As a student with an ordinary mind, I rely on lineage to guide me.
So how do you know if someone is qualified? In our tradition, we look at the qualities of the teacher and we look at their teacher and so on. My teacher and my teacher’s teacher and so on can trace our lineage back to the Buddha. So, to dispel doubts we ask questions and we verify lineage. In Mr. Cassidy’s case, how in heck can you do this? Okay, he claims Dudjom Rinpoche recognized him but there is no trail to follow due to modesty, secrecy, or whatever. When I ask others about him, they say Mr. Cassidy told them he was recognized by Dudjom Rinpoche (who has passed away). Pause…hmmm, this does not allow for a full investigation which is needed to make an informed decision.
Okay, setting that aside for a moment…Where are his students? How did they check out his qualities and lineage? Or are there any students?
As I move forward with the inquiries, I am greeted with a barrage of reasons why the information is not presented. Well, for me that is the answer. If the questions cannot be answered or will not be answered then that is the end. I will not gamble on something as precious as spiritual development. I hope that others will look at the full equation here and not naively trust this person because he can talk a good game.
We received the following comment, and want to share it as a post on its own.
What is different about the Vajrayana Buddhist path from other Buddhist and non-buddhist spiritual traditions? It is lineage, actually, and the methods that are passed down through lineage, from teacher to student in a live transmission, that enables one to work directly with his mind. This means, the conditions that cause more “continuum,” or more of the same, over and over, can be changed by the methods of Vajrayana. One need not ask for the intervention of another; just find a qualified teacher, learn the methods, practice them, and the result will be enlightenment.
Lineage is where one goes to learn the methods, not Amazon. The Vajrayana practitioner is following the methods that are only available through a lineage. These practices were protected in Tibet for centuries and were passed down only by Vajrayana master practitioners. I think that because of the dispersion of lineage masters throughout the world after China invaded Tibet in 1959, and with the advent of the digital and virtual world, many of the practices that once were secret and passed only by qualified master to qualified student now can be found on line.
Is someone who picks up these methods somehow other than through a lineage capable or qualified to teach, or guide students in, these methods? No, it is not possible. There is no substitute for the blessing of lineage that potentizes these methods. Blessing is the ignition of sorts. Without it, you may have the car, you may hold the car keys, but you are not going to go anywhere without the factor of ignition. You can sit behind the wheel and visualize where you would go; you might even be able to convince yourself that you somehow could transport yourself there and back. (Wow, wouldn’t that something?) Still the car would be cold and the ignition unaffected by all the effort you put into describing, imagining, visualizing, and other blah blah blah.
So why am I on my soapbox today? I’ve known for a couple of years about a person without lineage who claims to be an enlightened Vajrayana Teacher, or Rinpoche. His name is William Cassidy and he is a felon. He tried in 2007 to bilk my spiritual community of money and actually was working to take over our organization. Come to find out, when Cassidy was doing all of this, he was on the lam from the Department of Corrections in Nevada. Here is his incarceration record: http://www.doc.nv.gov/notis/detail.php?offender_id=1018752. Because of his attempt to take over our community I ended up having personal experience with Cassidy and can say that I believe he is BAD news. He presents himself on the internet and in Buddhist sites as TenpaRinpoche (Twitter) and Tulku Urgyen Tenpa or Tenpa Rinpoche (on his blog site) and some combination of those names in other places. He won’t use William Cassidy, however.
If you are interested in Buddhism and charge around the net looking for interesting commentary and teaching, please beware of William Cassidy’s siren’s call. The jail record, my experience with him as well and what he tried to do in my organization leads me to say with certainty that he is a fake and your would be better off leaving him alone. He really can’t help you with what Buddhism can: taming your mind, generating compassion and reaching enlightenment.
I was hoping that Cassidy was in the process of retiring from the fake Buddhist Teacher job he assigned for himself, but alas it seems he has given himself a promotion instead. He now refers to himself at “His Eminence” Tulku Urgyen Tenpa Rinpoche.” No one else does, however.