Painfully perky (icarusancalion) wrote,
Painfully perky
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My way: by Michelle Grissom, formerly ani Dechen Drolma

I'm cleaning up my relationship with my teacher, Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo, and temple, Kunzang Palyul Choling.

In order to do so, I need to post my clean-up confession just as publicly as I once posted my criticism.

To some of you I've alluded to my past Buddhist associations. Maybe three of you I've told in detail. If you've been curious all these years, well ... here you go. Some of you might read this and go, "Wow, I want nothing to do with this person."

I'd be a liar if I said I wasn't worried about that. LJ and fandom have been a refuge from the rest of my life. But here goes.


Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

My real name is Michelle Grissom, formerly Ani Dechen Drolma. I wish that I could reach every person who has read or heard of The Buddha From Brooklyn, or who has heard the slander I've spread through blogs and as Longchenpa on Wikipedia -- now being helplessly replicated everywhere against my will -- because I lied.

Lies
The Truth: What was I defending?
A bad friend and broken vows
Turning to bad friends
Morphing the temple into a cult
War and broken samaya
Unable to connect with Dharma
The Buddha From Brooklyn
Unable to connect with Lamas
Letting anger dissipate
Bad friends, again
Lashing out at the Lama
Hook of compassion
The kindness of the Guru



Lies

There are liars who make things up out of whole cloth. Those lies are easily discovered, easily defended against.

Then there are liars who tell the truth selectively with a spin geared to the audience whom they get to know very well. They make a whole truth out of two half truths and weave an entirely new picture embedded with bits of the truth, like glittering bits of broken glass.

I am deliberately telling this in a compelling way so that you can see it in action. Are you seduced? Is it interesting? Do you want to hear more?

I am the second type of liar. A liar of this stripe has no sense of the truth. It is all simply fodder for the next story. Truth is multi-valent, isn't it? Multi-layered? Well, I've had no sense of the truth because because I've had no self-honesty. That's where the truth is. Truth is taking responsibility for ones own faults. Liars are cowards in their own minds. I've been too cowardly to face my faults because the well is so deep.

From my lack of self-honesty came self-deception -- all stemming from protecting my pride. From self-deception I could convey a genuine sense of sincerity and sweetness. Believability, because I believed my own story, too. For the moment. There was always another layer to it.

That's how I explained The Buddha From Brooklyn to myself. I didn't gloss over or leave anything out. There were merely ... other layers. Martha Sherrill caught me changing my story several times but she still didn't see it. She believed in my good intentions. As did I. A con artist has to con themselves first so they can mimic the right emotional facade to elicit the response they want, wrapping themselves around their audience like a snake.

It is almost impossible to defend against this kind of lie because it's salted with the truth. But many people have experienced it, from an ex-husband or ex-boyfriend during a divorce or bad break-up, where overnight they've been painted as a horrible monster. Just because someone wanted to leave and found a need to give themselves reasons.

I always reacted to Jetsunma with the childish knee-jerk response as if she were my mother, so that whenever I was angry with my mother I took it out on Jetsunma, the spiritual teacher. Just because Jetsunma's a woman and I wouldn't accept female authority.

So to defend my pride and my actions, I painted Jetsunma and Kunzang Palyul Choling as a cult, and the Palyul lineage as corrupt and supporting a cult. None of that is true.

I slandered my own spiritual teacher. I slandered good people at my temple. And I slandered an ancient lineage of Tibetan Buddhism.

H. H. Penor Rinpoche would not enthrone and make a cult leader a throne holder of the Nyingma lineage.


H. H. Penor Rinpoche

I said I didn't believe Jetsunma was Mandarava. And how would I know this, exactly? What is my expertise? Of course she's Mandarava.

And just who was fixated on Jetsunma's personality rather than the teachings, the distinction between a cult and the dharma? That was me. I was in a cult all by myself. I viewed her as a mom and authority figure, alternately adoring her and rebelling against her as my mood changed.



The truth: what was I defending?

Here's the truth: So long as I was pointing out the faults of other people I didn't have to look at my own.

I failed as a Buddhist nun, breaking my vows in 1992, and again in 1995/96, with my vows degenerating until I finally gave them back in 2002. I regret most of all that I've involved others in this.

I was a student of Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo at Kunzang Palyul Choling for twelve years until 1996. I was perpetually in trouble during that time, defensive, angry, and uncomprehending when corrected for my total irresponsibility, not understanding the steady flow of negative karma I was creating. I didn't watch my mind, I did things like fall behind on rent leaving an elderly nun on a fixed income to pick up the tab, regularly blew off cleaning the monastery for more "important" tasks, woke exhausted nuns when I was late for temple responsibilities, constantly disturbing the monastic community with obnoxious self-absorption and inconsiderate actions.

Rather than change, I blamed my mother for my own poor qualities. I had an excuse rather than a desire to improve, never mind get enlightened. I wanted to feel safe and the robes were my blankie.

I was finally asked to leave the monastery in 1991 but it didn't sink in that this was my fault, my responsibility, the result of my actions. The monks and nuns were patient with me, but I wasn't getting it. I thought of the robes as a safety net, and didn't get that the karma I created was magnified because I was supposedly a nun.


The Ven. Gyaltrul Rinpoche

When I broke my vows in 1992, I was given a second chance. But even after advice from Gyaltrul Rinpoche that the breakage was the result of my overweening pride, that I should now watch my mind, I didn't listen. I didn't believe that my pride and therefore incapacity to admit I had faults which needed correcting was the cause of the breakage. I couldn't see how. I thought it was just an aberration. I wasn't getting the seriousness of my actions. I didn't understand karma.



A bad friend and broken vows

In 1996, after eight years of this, a monk named Lama Jinpa Zangpo came to KPC.

He had left his second three-year retreat mid-way due to a scandal at his retreat place. I was $800 behind on rent again, refused to get a job or clean my room, and the nuns had had it with me. I clung to Jinpa who told me how smart I was, that the monks and nuns shouldn't work and so forth. He poured out all his doubts about Lamas to me. I poured out all my doubts about KPC and the temple to him.

We mutually destroyed each other's view. I destroyed his hope that KPC might be a home for him. He tore down my shaken faith in Jetsunma. Of course we had nothing left but each other after that.

With him I broke my vows for a second time and hid it.

When it was found out, I guess I just expected to be forgiven again. Jetsunma gathered the monks and nuns together and confronted us, told me I was "shitting on those robes," which was true. She struck me with her palm, missing once, and lightly a second time, which I later blew up into the word "beating." She took the robes, my blankie, away, and had all the monks and nuns tell me exactly what I had been doing those last eight years.

I didn't hear a word of it. I thought I was special to receive a wrathful blessing from the Guru. There are many stories about in Tibet of Lamas healing grievous illnesses and so forth with a wrathful display. Wasn't I lucky? But I grew disheartened and changed my mind about it being a blessing when months later, at Jetsunma's instructions, no one cut me any slack this time. I expected to get my blankie back. I was being good after all. I still thought of the guru, Jetsunma, as that mother-authority instead of someone who could teach me how to awaken Bodhicitta, to wake up.

I might have changed. I might have gotten it. I was starting to respect the ordained and consider cleaning the temple a real practice. I was starting to at least try to be respectful and quiet as I cleaned, watching my actions.



Turning to bad friends

After only a few months I grew tired. I looked for sympathetic voices outside the temple, from people who'd left Jetsunma, who'd tell me what I wanted to hear: that I was a good person and Jetsunma was just being cruel.

This was a horrible mistake. The teachings say that one should not associate with samaya breakers and bad friends. I now know that we poisoned each other.

I called the monk I’d broken my vows with, Jinpa Zangpo, who soothed my ego with compliments. I called my friends Rick and his wife who welcomed me warmly, who praised me with a balm of gentle words. I called Michael and Richard who reassured me that their dharma practice was going very well.

I called a nun who'd left, Ani Sonam, who was a better friend and urged me to not engage in negative talk about KPC, "It bums people out." To just appreciate the fact that I was lucky enough to be a nun this life. This was the one piece of good advice I received, and at least when I went to dharma centers thereafter, I followed it.

 

Morphing KPC into a cult

But going from bad to worse, I couldn't allow myself to admit I was wimping out. So I convinced myself that Jetsunma had no compassion for me or else she would not have taken the robes away, and without compassion she was no Lama, and so forth. I could point to Paltrul Rinpoche's The Words of My Perfect Teacher to prove my point.

Compassion here defined as giving me what I wanted, of course. What I thought I needed to feel safe, using the robes to avoid watching my step.

Next my friends gave me books on cults. Rick and his wife gave me the The Guru Papers and an early copy of Perfect Conduct and so had every right to ignore Jetsunma’s instructions and put the robes back on. My landlady gave me a book by Marc Galanter and I drew parallels the cults described in the book and KPC wherever I could find them.

Thus not only could I feel good about leaving, take my robes back, I could cloak my guilt in a veneer of saving the other students. Afraid that my teachers would slander me I engaged in preemptive slander of my supposed opponents. They'd never done anything like that before, but I'd been reading a lot of books and the monk I'd broken my monastic vows with had a great deal to say about the negative actions of teachers and I was convinced.

I went to war with my own teachers. I would save my friends at KPC from Jetsunma.

All because I couldn't humbly admit I couldn't hack it at KPC.

 

War and broken samaya

I filed assault charges against Jetsunma seven months after the fact (the police wondered why I waited so long).

Rick was floored at my decision (said I’d bitten off an awful lot) though he and his wife were supportive, he later begged me to “put down the sword” after I frightened his children with with an explosion of anger at their house. Jinpa Zangpo was alarmed and tried to persuade me to stop. Michael got involved in arbitration between me and the lineage, expressed glee at my actions, playing both sides of the fence.

I got everyone spoke with to agree with me that my temple was a cult. Even though I wasn't upset about Jetsunma striking me, I just wanted my robes back -- I used it.

My mother, also a student of Jetsunma's, was very upset by all this so I stopped short of going through with the court case for her sake. I thought I was changing and not for the better, and keeping in mind Rick’s words “put down the sword,” I did.

 

Unable to connect with dharma

The court case over, I moved across country to Seattle, dreaming that I'd be a practitioner now. Instead of being the ani I thought I'd be, I moved in with a man with whom I had a platonic relationship working around the root vows as if that were okay.

Once in Seattle I couldn't set foot in a Dharma center without crying. For 13 years I couldn't practice. I would attempt a retreat or practice in non-Nyingma lineage and I could do it, but I couldn't seem to stay with any teacher.

Deep down I knew the problem was my broken vows and broken vows to my teachers. I felt poisoned. I developed ongoing phlegm and allergies I'd never had before.
 


The Buddha From Brooklyn

I thought it was an emotional obstacle and in 1998 I talked to Will Blythe for his article in Mirabella Magazine slamming Jetsunma, and then to Martha Sherrill for her book The Buddha From Brooklyn, hoping to just purge the past out of my system.

Instead I increased it by playing the innocent (if childish) victim and not being honest with myself or with Martha Sherrill. I was convincing because I had lied to myself first and I stuck with partial truths rather than all-out fabrications, giving the story a spin that I thought she would accept, all hiding under the ego-veneer of "helping" young people like myself. I stewed in my anger at the lamas and the lineage for over a decade.

I doubted everything in Buddhism and where I once practiced guru yoga, instead I wondered why my teachers had lied to me about Jetsunma's recognitions. And I was too proud to admit it to anyone or seek help.



Unable to connect to Lamas


Khenpo Tsultrim Gyatso

I met Khenpo Tsultrim Gyatso and sobbed through his songs, overwhelmed by his view. I felt he was the real thing. But I'd developed this aversion and fear of lamas in my mind on top of everything else, and I couldn't stay with him.

I went to Nitartha Institute in 2001 to try to find another means to connect with Dharma, to study the teachings. Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche had me contact Gyaltrul Rinpoche and H. H. Penor Rinpoche and told me to give back the monastic vows I still had but wasn't keeping. I sort of did what he said, but not exactly, giving the robes back to Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche and then in a panic immediately taking them back again. No understanding of what the vows were about at all, for all the teachings I'd received. I wrote to H. H. Penor Rinpoche but didn't give him a return address. I made a gesture of an attempt to reach Gyaltrul Rinpoche.

The second year at Nitartha Institute in 2002, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche managed to pry the robes out of my clutches. I finally did give them back. But I was too embarrassed to admit to Ponlop Rinpoche that I'd only made a half-hearted attempt to contact Gyaltrul Rinpoche and that H. H. Penor Rinpoche had no way to contact me. Encouraged by his close student Steve Seely to whom I had poured out all my KPC-related grievances (normally I followed Ani Sonam's advice and kept my trap shut at dharma centers), I asked Ponlop Rinpoche if he would be my teacher.

Ponlop Rinpoche sighed and said, "I'll try." Then told me not to run away.


Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

I left within eight weeks.



Letting the anger dissipate

So I tried the academic route through college, working on an English and Asian Studies degree at the University of Washington.

I replaced fighting KPC and my teachers with writing fanfiction just to give my mind something else -- anything else -- to do. My anger at KPC and my teachers naturally died down. I retreated to an ordinary life, taking Buddhist college courses and attempting to learn Sanskrit.

Even with Sanskrit, I had obstacles every time I attempted to take it ... a death in the family, a layoff ... and was never able to complete a full year no matter how hard or how often I tried. My broken samaya cut me off from the Dharma at every pass.
 


Bad friends, again

Then via Rick and Christine, I got in touch with an old friend who’d left KPC, Julie. I was delighted she’d left, still hanging on to my excuse that KPC was a cult. Julie had become involved with someone named Bill C. relying on him as a teacher much as I had turned to Jinpa. Bill had KPC financial records.

I helped. I found KPC documents that Bill C. had uploaded to his digital tibetan altar that had been cached. Though I warned her that all my attempts to defeat KPC had been ineffectual and, well, do what she had to do to save everyone, but she would be better off getting on with her life.

She was at war, determined to take KPC down. Still insisting KPC was a cult, I supported her intention but felt she was wasting her time.

She and Bill have financial documents, paperwork to prove KPC to prove KPC’s corrupt.

Yeah. I had paperwork too. An arrest warrant. Yet what really happened was not an assault. I was never afraid of her, not for a second.



Lashing out

Stirred up again, after a difficult conversation with my mother, I lashed out at Jetsunma on Wikipedia. I blamed Jetsunma for my strained relationship with my mother, even though I was the one who had left and never called mom. I'd always reacted towards Jetsunma as if she were a surrogate mother. I posted under the name Longchenpa, first in a small petty way, then spiraling rapidly out of control, fighting with KPC members online and growing increasingly angry.

Martha Sherrill's book was at least fair and I wouldn't give my opinion about Jetsunma one way or another.

On Wikipedia I fought dirty, cherry-picking through books and articles to smear Jetsunma in any way I could, determined to keep people away from the temple. I was slippery, proud of how smart and experienced I was in online communities, and had no ethics at all. What started out as a petty snipe became a daily game, a competition, a hunt. I was cruel to a KPC member who went by the name ZuluPapa, hateful towards Jetsunma, and I enjoyed it. I manipulated Wiki's cliqueishness and respect for academics, exaggerating my honor's thesis (a class I was dropping) to make them think I was a master's student. I encouraged them to think I was male so that I'd have more authority. I worked on other Wiki articles to develop credibility.

Julie figured out it was me and we encouraged each other.

Finally, with some advice from my boyfriend, I couldn't live with the internet road rage and stopped. Frankly, by then Konchog Norbu had entered the fray and I wasn't going to win in an online fight with him.

I created three outside blogs slamming KPC and Jetsunma based on the cherry-picking I'd done through Marc Galanter's book about cults twelve years ago. I abandoned them on the internet with no thought to karma and forgot about them. I regretted participating in The Buddha From Brooklyn, but there were good things in the book. Nothing that I did on Jetsunma's Wikipedia page was motivated by anything other than hatred.



The hook of compassion

I went to the University of Virginia for a nine-week Tibetan intensive. There Gen Tseten-la, Gen Trinley-la, and Gen Dekyi-la and the students helped me tremendously, particularly a student of Lama Padma Karma Rinpoche, Brian Noell, who took me in hand and put me in touch with his teacher.


Lama Padma Karma Rinpoche

Lama Padma Karma Rinpoche pointed out that my teachers were great Lamas and that I should thank them for what they taught me. I resisted, not because I disagreed, I was beginning to see the truth that I'd only resisted seeing my own faults -- in an extreme way -- but I'd become afraid of the teachers.

I met with Rick and Christine for lunch midway through the intensive. They were suffering so much it was frightening. They spoke constantly of negative beings coming into their house, and strange psychic occurrences such as complete strangers looking at their daughter Eleanor with hatred and distaste. It was like they were haunted. I cared about them and it hurt that I was creeped out and wanted to get away from them as fast as possible. I tried not to talk about KPC, but they were gleeful about Bill C. getting out of prison and attacking KPC.



The kindness of the spiritual teacher

At Lama Padma Karma's advice, I wrote to Jetsunma. Two lines of apology and then the rest asking for help with a personal matter. After all I'd done she got back to me through my mother within a week. While she was on retreat.

And she just helped. Without a trace of withholding.

Even after all I'd done. Even after I battled her for thirteen years. Even after all the damage I'd done to her reputation and the growth of the temple and the questions I'd put in the minds of people, there was not a trace of resentment from her. Or the students.

I thought it would be a year before I heard from her, if that.

Yet when I was a teenager, Jetsunma met with me, treating me gently and with respect, which teenagers don't usually get. Instead of fueling my habit of exhausting myself, she taught me how to take care of my health and taught me to rest, which I never understood also meant meditation.

I was disappointed that her advice seemed all ordinary, even though there was nothing ordinary about someone being able to see the state of my channels at a glance. She gave me a home with a sangha family because my family was such that I could never rest. I ran from meditation, emptiness, and later accused her of not teaching it.

In my next meeting with her, she said I was an adult now, and encouraged me to develop friendships.

That seemed so ordinary to me. I wanted her advice to be about fancy practices. I didn't realize that I isolated myself when I was in trouble and that relying on good friends would have helped me both with my debilitating pride, and my struggles to understand what I was doing wrong. I didn't realize my immaturity was within my control, something I could change and I was wrecking my relationships with people.

I always did "big important Dharma projects" and never realized that the "ordinary" is Dharma. But she taught me this all along. Not directly. But she taught me to do things that would have, if I had done them, changed me and I would have been happier.

When I rebelled against our head nun Alana's insistence that I stop wearing ugly sneakers, Jetsunma cut it. She took me to the store and bought me shoes herself. I never took her example of humility, of being kind instead of sticking to my guns. She was so gentle, so skillful.  

When I broke my vows in India, she had always been so close, I didn't think twice about calling her immediately for help.

She found a way for me to do a Vajrasattva retreat, learn I wasn't as good a practitioner as I thought I was, and resolve the problems with my mom.

During the Vajrasattva retreat, as I went around the stupa and begged for a way to purify this horrible karma of breaking my celebacy vows, I heard her voice gently lead me through a deeper way to do the practice. I wasn't sure if I was nuts or not, but it seemed to work. I hoped it was right. Then when I got out of retreat, I found out from mom that she had given exactly that teaching to the rest of her students. Other students here have teachings from her in their dreams. There is nothing ordinary about her.

And she's always been kind.

I never did what she said. Never. I thought I had a better idea. This is where I ended up. This is what I've done, searching for people who will support me in doing it my way.

I hope this note serves the dharma, the sangha, the Buddha, helps clean up my relationship with Jetsunma, and acts as a cause for Buddhahood.

I've been a fool. How stupid to have everything, all this help and the kindness of the spiritual teacher, and to turn away from the moment I met her, to do it my way.

I screwed up so badly, but it's also a teaching. When I approached something pure with an impure motivation, it ... splattered. What I saw instead was the content of my mind.

That's not a problem. That's to be expected. But when I held onto that, stopped right there, and blamed her for what I saw, when I stopped looking at my mind (I occasionally did check in with it) and looked instead on fixing everyone else -- that's when I lost the path, that's when I wasn't Buddhist, even if I was sitting on a prayer cushion at the time.

A few of you have noticed over the years (maybe more than a few on Fandom Wank) that I've been a pretty angry and arrogant person in the LJ community and fandom. Hanging on to this stuff has been a large part of why. I hope I can treat you guys all a little better now.


ETA: If you would like to help -- PLEASE DO LINK TO THIS POST.

There are people who are using my past words and my RL name to continue to lambast Jetsunma. If this post is linked to and has hits, it will show up in the search and mitigate what I've done.

She's taken flack no male teacher would receive, just because she's a woman.

This is a mostly female community. She's a rare woman Lama and deserves our support.

sharp_tongue put it best: "Jetsunma sounds like a woman of profound compassion."

chris_smith_atr has done so here: http://c-smith-author.livejournal.com/40016.html
sharp_tongue has done so here: http://sharp-tongue.livejournal.com/43103.html
rellan has done so here: http://rellan.livejournal.com/60186.html and http://rellan.dreamwidth.org/1035.html
kijikun has done so here: http://kijikun.livejournal.com/947614.html
nova_bright has done so here: http://ix-tab.livejournal.com/320965.html
violetknights has done so here: http://violetknights.livejournal.com/29145.html
undinae has done so here: http://undinae.livejournal.com/7630.html
rabidfan has done so here: http://rabidfan.livejournal.com/59623.html
bella_the_dark has done so here: http://bella-the-dark.livejournal.com/49779.html
kirby_crow has done so here: http://kirby-crow.livejournal.com/301205.html
laney_cairo has done so here: http://laney-cairo.livejournal.com/24214.html
wildebeth has done so here: http://wildebeth.livejournal.com/346799.html
wadjet_theperv has done so here: http://wadjet-theperv.livejournal.com/336397.html
severedscythe has done so here: http://severedscythe.livejournal.com/669820.html
lexstar29 has done so here: http://lexstar29.livejournal.com/46509.html
tekalynn has done so here: http://tekalynn.livejournal.com/250456.html
lavvyan has done so here: http://lavvyan.livejournal.com/361663.html
tafkarfanfic has done so here: http://tafkarfanfic.livejournal.com/268330.html
skinscript has done so here: http://skinscript.livejournal.com/15666.html
angiepen has done so here: http://angiepen.livejournal.com/102820.html
amalthia has done so here: http://amalthia.dreamwidth.org/574095.html
elfwreck has done so here: http://spiritual-woo.dreamwidth.org/5550.html
wanelda has done so here: http://wenelda.livejournal.com/1025859.html
xiphias has done so here: http://xiphias.livejournal.com/531944.html
oakthorne has done so here: http://oakthorne.livejournal.com/274043.html
tylik has done so here: http://tylik.livejournal.com/775820.html
Vajrakilaya has done so here: http://protectingnyingma.wordpress.com/2009/08/16/it-takes-courage-to-face-your-poisons/
sable_twilight has done so here: http://sable-twilight.livejournal.com/352293.html
ldybastet has done so here: http://ldybastet.livejournal.com/466136.html
nehalenia has done so here: http://nehalenia.livejournal.com/86184.html
thnidu has done so here: http://thnidu.livejournal.com/489543.html
wildebeth has done so here: http://wildebeth.livejournal.com/346799.html
nufaciel has done so here: http://nufaciel.livejournal.com/264264.html
seticat has done so here: http://seticat.livejournal.com/190432.html
Nicocoer has done so here: http://nicocoer.tumblr.com/post/163742786/my-way-by-michelle-grissom-formerly-ani-dechen-drolma
harveywallbang has done so here: http://harveywallbang.livejournal.com/93294.html



You guys are amazing friends, as you've proven again and again. Thank you all.

ETA 2: abydosangel has a really good point here. Yeah. I would have turned off comments if I weren't asking people to link to this post to make it as public as my prior criticism. This is only a start. The book was by Random House and there were between 50,000 and 100,000 copies. Wikipedia isn't exactly a small traffic area. (Aargh. She's right. I should have turned off comments.)

But it's urgent that this be done now. There are number of former students who, like me, weren't content to just leave. They are actively attacking Jetsunma -- right now. And they're using my words.
Tags: ani dechen drolma, bill c, christine, cult allegations, jetsunma ahkon lhamo, jinpa, julie g, kpc, kunzang palyul choling, nydia, rick, the buddha from brooklyn
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