Twisted Words, Teachings and Conmen
William Cassidy, aka Tenpa Rinpoche, is very interested in proving what a learned and wise lama he is, or rather pretends to be. In this example, posted on his blog, Digital Tibetan Buddhist Altar, on Saga Dawa Duchen (May 27, 2010), he alleges to give a teaching on compassion. What it ends up being, however, is yet another example of how Cassidy can twist what is a rather straightforward concept, compassion, into yet another treatise on self-aggrandizement with a garnish of anti-Buddhist propaganda.
He presents this “teaching” as a traditional Tibetan style teaching with the “root” verses followed by various species of commentaries. However, the form is only a sham. If examined, there is little here that resembles a traditional teaching.
Generally when a lama (an authentic one) gives such a teaching, he quotes verses from a text. That is very true. The difference is that the verses quoted are not verses written by the lama himself (or herself). They may be verses from a sutra or a tantra or some great work of Tibetan Buddhism, such as Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life. In this case, however, both the verses and the commentary are written by the same person, Bill Cassidy.
Such teachings traditionally begin with giving homage to the lineage and the root guru. You will find nothing like that here. Of course, one must actually have a lineage and a root guru to give homage to in order to do so.
Next the student would be encouraged to generate bodhicitta (the union of wisdom and compassion) for all sentient beings. This is always a part of any teaching, traditional or otherwise. Cassidy actually makes a stab at this with the words,
With this practice, we articulate the intention to help beings; we perform the action of helping beings; we are satisfied with the action we have performed; we dedicate the results of the action to others.”
Aside from the convoluted way of saying something that is not at all complicated, note that the words “compassion” and “merit” are not even mentioned. This also would never be done in an actual teaching. Note also that this dedication is made after the verses. This is not the form of a traditional teaching. In fact, he does not even call it a dedication but an “abbreviated commentary,” whatever that is. Basically bullet points of what he is going to cover in the following commentaries it would seem. So really there is no proper invocation of bodhicitta at all.
The so-called commentaries are written in Cassidy’s usual style of pretending to be deep when he is actually saying nothing. He does this by using non-sequiters and convoluted sentence structure to make it look as if he knows what he is talking about. He also says things in such a way that the reader has no idea of what he is trying to say, which makes him seem mysterious and profound. The reader is left scratching his or her head and thinking, “Wow, he really must know what he’s talking about because I have no idea what he just said.” What it is in reality is just the con man’s old game of shuck and jive. You wow them with a blast of total nonsense that appears to make sense but in reality doesn’t.
Take the very first line of the “line-by-line commentary”. He says, “AH This arises and is defined primordially.” Sounds pretty deep, but what exactly does it mean? What specifically does “defined primordially” mean? Nothing, of course. Just hot air.
The verses themselves are more examples of the same thing. He says that compassion arises naturally and effortlessly if we can just free ourselves, and then all the little furry animals will be happy and free from fear. Oh, would that it were so! Unfortunately it doesn’t really work that way. The karma of the animal realm is one of constant fear. The main characteristic of that unfortunate realm is that animals do not have the intelligence to understand what is happening to them, so they are constantly fearful for their lives – and with good reason. The world is a dangerous place. There are very few animals that do not have natural predators, and even those that do not still live in fear, of man, if nothing else.
The verses also make it seem as if arousing compassion for the creatures of this planet is easy. Just be free and let it happen! The truth is that we as humans don’t come by compassion easily. We have to work at it. We are not naturally compassionate. Mostly we are self-serving and ego-clinging and have to learn to care about what happens to anyone or anything else, unless we’re in love with someone maybe. Even then, there are limits! So this whole passage tends to give a false idea of compassion. While it is true that if we could give up our ego-clinging and self-cherishing, compassion would arise naturally, that does not happen overnight. It takes practice. Lots of practice. We don’t have the option to just say, “OK, I’m going to stop ego-clinging and self-cherishing now. I’m going to rest in emptiness, and then compassion will ooze out of my pores.” It just isn’t that easy.
In short, the verses are intended to make the author look profound and knowing rather than to impart something of use to the student. The same can be said for the “commentaries” which are just more of the same.
As he begins the “extended commentary,” we see a flagrant example of his anti-Buddhist, anti-Tibetan propaganda that he almost always slips into anything he writes on his blog. He says that Westerners often use the excuse that remembering their parents does not work for arousing compassion because they often do not hold good feelings towards their parents. He goes on to say that this is not necessarily a Western situation, that Tibetan children often experienced similar feelings when they were “wrenched” away from their parents at a young age to be put in a monastery and never allowed to see them again. This is pure fabrication, the sort of lie that is often found in Communist Chinese anti-Buddhist propaganda. In reality Tibetan families, including the children, thought it was the highest honor to have the chance to enter the monastery at a young age. Kids weren’t “wrenched” away from their families.
Asians have a very different worldview than Westerners do. Asian societies are not so individualistic. Children are brought up from birth to understand that they have a role to play in the greater family circle, and that one’s own desires and interests often have to give way to the welfare of the family unit. This is not considered a burden in Asia the way it might in the West. The child sees it as his or her filial duty to subsume him or herself to the family, not the other way around as it is often in the West.
By the time we get to the Question & Answers section Cassidy is referring to himself as “Rinpoche.” This term, which means “precious one” is reserved exclusively for lamas and tulkus (recognized reincarnate lamas). That he uses it to refer to himself shows the magnitude of his ego. It is a term that a real lama or tulku would never use in reference to him or herself.
While it is beneficial to release animals that are condemned to die, such as worms and crickets that would otherwise be used as bait, it is much more important to say mantra for them as you release them than to say a prayer to oneself when performing this action, as Cassidy suggests. This seems like a very selfish thing to do. Much better to say the OM MANI mantra for any animals one encounters as this is said to guarantee an auspicious human birth for them.
He ends the piece by giving a couple of examples of brief practices that one can do for the benefit of animals. Most authentic teachings end with a dedication of the merit.
Reading Cassidy’s post is rather like eating an undercooked chicken; some parts are done just right, others are raw and indigestible, and some are burnt. In other words, it is just a mélange of different things that Cassidy has picked up or dreamt up in his never-ending attempt to recruit new marks to use, steal from, or further his efforts to appear legitimate. While there are bits scattered here and there that resemble actual Buddhist teachings on compassion, for someone who has not received these teachings they would be hard to differentiate from the claptrap. More importantly, there is no heart to this “teaching.” When one hears pure Dharma from the mouth of a true teacher, it stirs your mind from the depths. This is just a collection of words and catch phrases. Don’t let it fool you.