From Penthouse to Nomad~
Tom Fry, also known as the Venerable Konchog Norbu has been looking for a home since mid-2009, wandering from East Coast to West Coast, back to East Coast when he packed his bags and left his Spiritual Friend of more than 20 years. His most recent attempt was to land on the sacred lily pad of Palyul, in New York and the Palyul Ling Retreat Center. When told no, that he needed to make amends with his Root Teacher and then it would be considered, he promptly packed his bags yet again, and fled to Vermont to take care of his aging mother, which is a virtuous thing to do, however, we here at Protecting Nyingma question the motivation and intention behind the virtuous act. Unfortunately, it happens in Buddhism just like in other religions of sentient beings performing seemingly kind acts with poor motivation, or ulterior motive.
Don’t be surprised if the ego centric monk shows up at your Dharma Center looking for bed and breakfast. He may present the idea that he is a scholar and that for a nice place to sleep, and food to eat, he is happy to talk to anyone who will listen to his stories of Mongolia and perhaps Bozeman, Montana where he went “under cover” as a Bitterroot Badger. At first, you may think, “oh, this monk knows a few things about Dharma.” And, all seems keen. However, remember this is the same monk who turned his back on his Spiritual Guide, Friend and Teacher. Konchog Norbu has been a Vajrayana Buddhist Practitioner for practically two decades, so one would think that he understands that the Guru-Disciple Relationship is the very heart of Vajrayana Buddhism.
Why did Konchog pack his bags and leave his Teacher?
Given that this is an investigative reporting blog, specifically for Buddhists, we like to present more facts, and less opinion. One of our investigators stumbled upon Konchog’s connection to the Buddhist community under the Spiritual direction of Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo known as Kunzang Palyul Choling (KPC). This is the same Buddhist organization that William Cassidy infiltrated and took advantage of in 2007, and then defamed, harassed and threatened until his arrest earlier this year by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and transported to the state of Maryland by US Marshalls, where the US Government obtained an indictment by a Grand Jury to prosecute Mr. Cassidy with a federal criminal charge of cyber stalking. Jetsunma is the victim in the federal criminal case. https://protectingnyingma2.wordpress.com/2011/06/17/united-states-v-william-cassidy-811-cr-00091/
In 2007, Konchog befriended Mr. Cassidy over the course of a few months, corresponding primarily through blogs. Konchog soon reverend Mr. Cassidy, who was portraying himself as a Buddhist Master (https://protectingnyingma2.wordpress.com/2009/12/11/the-tulku-not/) called Tenpa Rinpoche. Konchog, being a close student of Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo repeatedly requested that his teacher meet with “Tenpa.” Late in 2007, Jetsunma was going on retreat in Arizona and agreed to meet Mr. Cassidy. This was the beginning of a long and harrowing experience so we are told. Essentially, it was Konchog who made the connection between Mr. Cassidy and Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo. We are also told that Konchog developed a close relationship with Mr. Cassidy. Perhaps Cassidy promised Konchog something in return for his devotion?
How did Konchog find “Tenpa?” Essentially, the Blogosphere. In 2007, both Konchog and Cassidy were devout Bloggers, spreading what they perceived as wisdom. We have another word for it but will refrain as it is not really necessary to say.
“There are glorious traditions with unbroken lineages to which we owe our opportunities for freedom, and those who break their vows to these lineages in order to fabricate something new should not seek to inveigle others with fraudulent home grown doctrines of sanitized teachings.” ~Rigdzin Dorje, Dangerous Friend.
It seems as if Konchog believing that Mr. Cassidy was this Tenpa Rinpoche, might have been enamored by him, as they share similar qualities, such as gloating and being prideful, thinking you are someone of authority, when you’re not. It seems that both of them miss the boat in understanding that Vajrayana is really only accessible through promise, and not just another process. “The Lama, the vajra master, is central to Vajrayana and without the vajra master to abuse our fixation with duality we are merely the slaves of dualistic rationale.” (Dorje, pg. 76).
Unfortunately there was a lot of negative posts and commentary toward Jetsunma and her organization on William Cassidy’s blog, Digital Tibetan Buddhist Alter, throughout 2008, even while he served time in a state prison in Nevada (https://protectingnyingma2.wordpress.com/2010/12/08/william-l-cassidy-a-conpendium/). Meanwhile, Konchog returned to Mongolia to deal with the issue that someone had stolen a Palyul throne that he had facilitated in getting built and was holding it ransom. Turns out that somehow the Mongolian mafia acquired the throne while Konchog had been in the United States, and he needed to return and resolve those issues. Once back in Mongolia, he got very sick with a respiratory condition and went to Australia to convalesce. He returned to Mongolia for a short period as he lost his penthouse and had no lily pad to jump to. He returned to Maryland in the Fall of 2008, and was granted permission to stay in the Buddhist Temple of which he belong (KPC). He did return to Mongolia a few months later to oversee the completion of translation of dharma texts, and to engage in a few political endeavors. However, he languished there with little to do, and in 2009, Jetsunma being his Spiritual Teacher and Buddhist master, asked him to return home. Her community was in the thick of being “attacked” by Cassidy, and she as well as the community needed his help. Sources tell us he was very upset and distressed upon returning.
One would think that since he had been the original connection, he would be eager to return home and help his Teacher and sangha. Sources tell us that he did return, but reluctantly and with argument. OK…we sentient beings can definitely throw our fits, and it’s the Guru’s job to upset the lily pads in our pond. Seems like a reasonable to request to us.
What was the Mongolian project anyway?
Apparently in the late 1990’s, the wife of the Mongolian ambassador and her husband visited Kunzang Palyul Choling (KPC) and were impressed by its size and beauty and the quality of the teachings that were being presented there. One thing led to another, and in the end the Mongolians invited KPC to help them restore what they had lost in Mongolia.
At the time, Mongolia was emerging from a 65 year-long nightmare of Communist oppression and suppression in which all traces Buddhism had been systematically purged. Monasteries, temples and temple lands had all, except for a few showplaces, been destroyed, thousands of monks had been murdered, sent to labor camps in Siberia (from which few returned) or forced to drop their robes and marry. Tulkus and lamas were not exempt, and many were also murdered. In the bloodless revolution of 1990 (officially known as “The Peaceful Democratic Revolution in Mongolia”), however, Communism was replaced by a democratic constitutional government and a market economy.
Post-revolution it was discovered that the Mongolians had not forgotten their rich Buddhist past, despite the sustained efforts of the Communists to erase the religion. In fact, a poll taken shortly after the revolution revealed that fully 95% of Mongolians self-identified as Buddhist. But the method of Buddhism had been greatly crippled by 65 years of brutal suppression. Only a very few individuals survived who recalled how things were before the Communists cracked down on Buddhism in the 1930s. Therefore they were reaching out to other nations where Vajrayana Buddhism was established for assistance in rebuilding their heritage.
The irony of an old Buddhist culture like Mongolia turning to a Western country in which Buddhism was still a novelty and still in the process of becoming established is evident. But the invitation was accepted, and in 2005 Konchog Norbu left for Mongolia to see how to best assist the Mongolians. He joined the efforts of various Tibetan lamas and the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition, Lama Zopa’s organization, who were already on the ground in Mongolia. The latter organization proved to be particularly generous and helpful to KPC’s efforts.
A mutually beneficial relationship was struck between Konchog and the abbot of a monastery, Dush Lama, and the Takhilch or caretaker of Danzan Ravjaa’s legacy, Altangerel. The position of Takhilch is a hereditary one identified by a singular birthmark and is responsible for guarding the legacy of Danzan Ravjaa, which included hiding his treasures from the Communists when they came to destroy the monastery in the 1930s. It was soon determined that the best way Konchog could help the Mongolians was to sponsor their young men and women to go to India to become fully trained monks and nuns at Namdroling Monastery, the seat of His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, then the Supreme Head of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, and also to supply the essential texts of the Nyingma School to the Mongolians.
Konchog made a few trips back and forth between Mongolia and the US, and soon this became known as the “Mongolian Buddhist Revival Project.” (MBRP)
By 2007, MBRP was firmly established with Konchog Norbu living full-time in Mongolia. Konchog remained active in supporting young men and women who were being sent to India to become fully trained monks and nuns as well as providing the Nyingma canon to various monasteries and temples throughout the country. He also provided a running commentary on his blog, Dreaming of Danzan Ravjaa. ( http://danzanravjaa.typepad.com/). It was through this blog that Cassidy first contacted him.
In early 2008, Konchog was plugging Cassidy’s writings, such as his “Prayer for all the world’s deserts” and his book, High Desert, saying about it, “I’m stunned by it: it’s one of the most exquisite expressions of the sublime dharma I’ve ever read in English or any other language…”
Disappointed about his move back to Maryland after such intense involvement in Mongolia, sources tell us that Konchog had grown resentful. He didn’t return to his Buddhist community very much, and eventually left landing in Montana, calling himself a Bitterroot Badger, and seemingly cut all ties to Jetsunma, his Root Teacher. Ironically, this was also during the time that Twitter exploded with tweets from an avatar called “crystalsally” who immediately began defaming and threatening Jetsunma, as well as other members of Jetsunma’s Buddhist community. “Crystalsally” eventually morphed into “Vajragurl,” and both interestingly disappeared from the planet when Cassidy was arrested by the FBI earlier this year. Perhaps Konchog’s departure was strategic.
The Buddha taught that time is not linear but cyclic. Traditionally it is said that the world goes through four cycles in an age, or kalpa. During the time of the Buddha’s life the world was in a different cycle than it is now. It was easy to practice, and many attained enlightenment in one lifetime just by contemplating the Buddha’s teachings and practicing meditation. That situation no longer exists. Now we are in the age known as Kaliyuga, a time when karma is very condensed and ripens quickly.
As Jamgon Mipham, a famous Nyingma master of the Nineteenth Century describes it:
The Buddhist tradition calls our time the Kaliyuga, an era of increasing darkness, heaviness, disorder and friction. In symbolic terms it is said that eons ago, beings had bodies of light, but over time, their embodiment grew more material and more dense. In psychological terms, people feel more constrained on all sides by limitations, obstacles and obligations. Individual lives grow more painful and complicated; the sense of personal integrity weakens, and even simple honesty becomes a difficult practice. Manipulation and aggression rule the day, and society is beset with rules that attempt to restrain the increasingly selfish orientation of its members.
If you have lived any length of time and have been paying any attention at all, this is not news to you. You no doubt have seen the quality of life degrade in many ways during just your own brief lifetime. But as time is considered cyclic, there will come a day when the cycle will begin anew, and better times will arrive.
The good news about Kaliyuga is that it is a particularly good time to practice the Dharma. Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo describes it this way:
“This time of Kaliyuga is extremely contracted. Karma is thick. It isn’t spread out and dispersed over a great, long field. Rather, it is drawn in. It is a time of contraction, and karma ripens much more quickly than it used to ripen…Under these conditions, Vajrayana can actually do the most good…we can see cause and effect relationships more readily. We are suffering, and we are suffering just enough to help us be convinced that suffering is a reality. Therefore we are willing to practice. We realize the benefit of practice because we truly do wish to attain enlightenment.”
The down side of Kaliyuga, however, is that the Buddha prophesied that the Dharma would disappear from the earth during these times. True Buddhist masters would be ridiculed and attacked, while false teachers would abound. Confusion and chaos would increase throughout the world, resulting in even more wars and natural disasters. Sentient beings would remain lost in cyclic existence, wandering from one life to the next in the six realms of cyclic existence, hell, hungry ghost (preta), animal, human, jealous god and god realms, until the next Buddha, Maitreya, appears in the world to teach the Dharma once again.
Unfortunately, the incident with Cassidy is not an isolated event. Other manifestations of Kaliyuga have also occurred that intertwine with the Cassidy story that make the whole sad event even more painful and damaging to the Dharma.
When Cassidy was released from prison for his violation of probation, he made it a priority to bring down not only Jetsunma and KPC, but the whole of Palyul as well. He spread vicious gossip about His Holiness Penor Rinpoche and other Palyul lamas, all of which was outright lies and distortions. Cassidy found a golden opportunity when he found Tulku Ogyen, a young Palyul lama who was trying to establish himself in the United States. When Tulku Ogyen was visiting a small Palyul center in Alhambra, California, to give several empowerments, the students at the center introduced him to Cassidy, who was dressed in his best fake tulku robes, and asked Rinpoche if he would please write a long life prayer for him as he was very ill. Unfortunately Tulku Ogyen fell for the scam and wrote a prayer for him.
Cassidy had claimed on his blog that he had personally translated two of the texts used by Tulku Ogyen in one of the empowerments. When asked about this, Tulku Ogyen denied any knowledge of Cassidy translating any of the texts he used in the empowerments and said he had never met or heard of him before that day.
Not long thereafter, in January, 2010, Cassidy somehow managed to con Tulku Ogyen into visiting his residence in Lucerne Valley and bless the property. He then shamelessly touted the event on his blog, suggesting that this somehow validated his claim to be a tulku and indicated that he had promised to will his compound to Tulku Ogyen following his supposedly imminent death. Not long thereafter he showed up as the webmaster for Tulku Ogyen’s blog, even placing a link to his own blog there. A number of identical posts were placed on both blogs, indicating he had total control of what went on Tulku Ogyen’s blog. He also began making suggestions on Twitter that Tulku Ogyen was preparing to formally recognize and enthrone him as a tulku. A bogus tweet on Twitter, which pretended to be from Tulku Ogyen, claimed that Cassidy had been recognized by none other than His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche. Of course, at the time Cassidy was tweeting on Tulku Ogyen’s Twitter account (Tulku Ogyen speaks very limited English).
Cassidy’s specious promise to give him the compound at Lucerne Valley following his death (which he promised would be soon due to his advanced cancer) must have been particularly enticing to a young lama unfamiliar with the scams and schemers that abound in the West. You can read more here: (https://protectingnyingma2.wordpress.com/?s=Tulku+Ogyen). It has been confirmed by Tulku Ogyen that he did in fact visit Cassidy’s property with a Palyul monk as his attendant. The monk has confirmed to Protecting Nyingma investigators as well. Tulku Ogyen continued to allow Cassidy to run his blog until Cassidy’s arrest by the FBI. Tulku Ogyen’s reaction to Cassidy’s arrest are unknown.
“If one cannot be free to give up the sovereignty of one’s narcissistic rational, Vajrayana becomes meaningless. If we fail to recognize the compassionate nature of vajra relationship as the heart of Vajrayana, then we are left merely with a prosaic esoteric pastime.” (Dorje, pg.77)
Konchog Norbu fled from the West coast to the Palyul New York retreat center looking for a new lily pad, and was told to make amends with his Root Teacher. This story tells you something about the kind of monk he once was (or maybe it was all a façade?) and the kindness of his Teacher. It’s a story that tells the reader about how karma can ripen for any of us, at any moment, which is why the Guru / student relationship in Vajrayana is so critical. We, as sentient beings, cannot possibly know our karma, or how it will ripen, therefore we must rely upon our Teachers, in particular our Root Teacher. All the masters of Vajrayana Buddhism have spoken about the critical nature of this relationship, and why a Spiritual Guide is so important. Our karma can knock us off our tracks, perhaps for a long time…maybe for countless lifetimes.
“Our perception can certainly become poisoned by narcissism, and the result of indulgence in such a self-centered rationale can certainly lead to hellish mind states in which one tortures oneself with one’s own self-aggrandizing concepts. To be unable to trust and have confidence in a lama who has shown us nothing but kindness, who exhibits endless patience and energy in helping others, and who has invested significant time and effort in our spiritual welfare, is clearly an unfortunate psychological state. To regard something as valuable and important, to take the major step of committing oneself to a teacher, and then to come to despise that the teacher is its own unique form of personal psychological hell. If we continue to prioritize our narcissism, we may start to see negative motivation in the lama’s actions, and begin judging everything about the lama by the unreliable, dualistic yardstick of our deluded rational. Our whole experience of the relationship will become diseased, poisoned, and hellish if we view it through the lens of our own self-interest.
We will also do severe damage to ourselves as practitioners, not only of Vajrayana but of any spiritual path. It would be extremely difficult ever again to trust anything apart from our own self-serving perception, and therefore difficult or impossible to make any kind of wholehearted commitment to a teacher or practice in the future. Once we have gone back on our vows, it would be extremely difficult to be able ever to take them again with the same sincerity and enthusiasm. It would require a dramatic shift in perception, and this shift would be as great or greater than the shift we were unable to make that caused the breakage of vows in the first place. Vajrayana practice is not possible without vajra commitment, and so one would lose access to Vajrayana completely. “ (Dorje, pg.43).
Good luck, Konchog Norbu. May your next lily pad be one of return.