THE BUDDHA FROM BROOKLYN: THE GREAT BLESSING
by Martha Sherrill
copyright 2000 by Martha Sherrill
You have to see through the luster of all the
things you play with. You have to take the inner posture of
leaving the party.
-- Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo
Dechen borrowed her mother's white minivan the next
morning and drove to the town house in Darnestown where the Monk
was living with five other monks. She parked on the street and
went inside. "I'm going to see Khenpo," she told the Monk, "and I
think you should come, too."
On the drive together there were long periods of
silence. When directly confronted on the phone, Dechen had told
Alana about the affair. And when Dechen insisted that she had not
"broken her vows"--meaning her root vows--Alana had accused her of
obnoxious hairsplitting. "You were together alone on a bed in a
hotel, and you say you didn't break your vows?" There were several
rounds of this until Alana simply said, "I can't talk to you
anymore," and hung up. Dechen then called the Monk and told him
"You told Alana?" he said, in horror.
But later that night Alana called again to say that
a meeting with Khenpo Tsewang Gyatso had been scheduled for noon
the following day and that Jetsunma would see her in the evening.
Nobody had suggested that Dechen bring the Monk along. That was
The drive to the temple seemed very long, and
dreadful. Now she saw that it was a mistake not to have confessed.
This was the worst possible outcome -- to be found out by Alana
and dragged before Khenpo, the venerable Tibetan scholar. She had
memories of India, of having gone before the very same man once
before with news like this. The irony staggered her.
Dechen and the Monk walked inside the temple
together and found Khenpo upstairs, in a suite of rooms he always
used when visiting. He ushered them inside and sat down on a
purple sofa in his bedroom. Khenpo was a short man with a small
mustache and a perfectly round head. He was younger than most
Tibetan scholars -- still in his fifties -- and while he seemed
easygoing and simple, he was also known for having one of the best
minds in the Nyingma school. There didn't seem to be an esoteric
point that he couldn't elucidate or a question he didn't have an
answer for. More than anyone, the Monk had been awestruck by
Khenpo's intellect and wisdom, by his subtlety and clarity. The
Monk had hoped to stay by Khenpo's side and keep working on
translations with the scholar. As a teacher he was revered in both
the United States and India, where he ran the monastery in
Bylakuppe and the large university as well. For the last couple of
years he'd been coming with greater frequency to Poolesville to
give teachings and instruction. For a while now the Monk had
suspected that Khenpo's trips to KPC were designed to keep Penor
Rinpoche informed of the students' progress there, and--in light
of some of the New Age overtones to Jetsunma's teachings--make
sure that her students were also offered something more
Dechen sat at Khenpo's feet. The Monk sat farther
behind, in a display of great humility and modesty. Khenpo seemed
to want no further details--he'd already heard enough from either
Jetsunma or Alana--and launched immediately into an angry
diatribe. His face looked pained.
"How could you do this?" he said to the Monk.
"You've been a monk for twelve years! . . . You may have some
realization, but without moral discipline you have nothing."
"And you!" he said to Dechen. "You knew! You knew
you needed to confess!" She looked back at the Monk. He said
Khenpo explained that it was true: their root vows
had not been broken. They had broken a branch vow, which would now
remain forever broken. But he was clearly appalled. "The hiding!
The secrecy!" If they had come forward and confessed, the negative
karma could have been purified. But because they didn't come
forward and were found out after a confrontation, the vow would
forever be broken, and forever unpurified.
Dechen listened very hard for instructions and
advice from Khenpo during the twenty-minute meeting. "Do
Vajrasattva practices," he finally said, but he didn't suggest an
amount. They could try to purify the karma, but, basically,
"Nothing can be done at this point."
Driving home, Dechen said, "I won't say I told you
"Good, " said the Monk. They said nothing else.
Dechen didn't mention the meeting she had scheduled
that evening with Jetsunma. She assumed it would be one on one,
and assumed she'd be reamed out. The Monk came from another school
of Tibetan Buddhism, and it wasn't really Jetsunma's place to
reprimand him. He had already pondered this himself. Technically,
Khenpo was the only person in Poolesville--besides perhaps
Alana-who should ever know what had happened between the Monk and
Dechen. When vows were broken it was a private matter. If it
became public it would be an insult to Khenpo, suggesting that his
advice alone wasn't enough--and showing a lack of respect for his
ability to handle the situation properly.
Still, the Monk had a bad feeling about this vow
breakage. He had a feeling it wasn't going to remain a private
matter. Jetsunma didn't seem to care about doing things in a
traditional way. And Poolesville wasn't like the other Dharma
centers; it didn't feel like the other Dharma centers. It was the
kind of place where anything could happen.
After she dropped the Monk at the town house,
Dechen began the drive back to her mother's. She felt small behind
the wheel of the lumbering minivan, and the burgundy robes felt
heavy on her skin, a demanding weight that engulfed her small
body. She drove on Quince Orchard Road and began thinking about
whether she should remain in Poolesville. But she worried. If she
couldn't make it as a nun at Kunzang Palyul Choling, the largest
concentration of Tibetan Buddhist nuns in America, where could
The sky was dark, the color of fresh wet concrete.
It was about two o'clock on the afternoon of February 9, 1996. She
made the left-hand turn onto Longdraft Road and never noticed the
small beige car in the oncoming lane. It was going fifty miles per
hour. When the two vehicles collided, the minivan was totaled. So
was the other car -- its front end was flattened up to the
Dechen was dizzy when she squeezed out of the
minivan, and she brushed the broken glass off her robes. She
stepped over to the small beige car. "Are you okay? Are you okay?"
she asked. The driver was a middle-aged blond woman in a business
suit. She looked dazed. "I can't really feel my leg," the driver
said. Dechen stood next to the car and worried--until other cars
began to stop and their drivers told Dechen to get back into the
minivan. Her face was covered in blood. When the paramedics came,
they put her in a neck brace and carried her to the ambulance,
where the driver of the other car was already stretched out.
Together they were taken to Shady Grove Hospital in Gaithersburg.
The driver of the car had a sprained leg and a bruise on her
shoulder. Dechen had lacerations of the face and head from the
broken windshield glass--she had forgotten to wear a seat
belt--and after receiving fourteen stitches and being given
Vicodin for pain, she was told that she was still in shock and
needed to rest.
Sherab and Dawa arrived at the hospital--they'd
driven by Quince Orchard Road and recognized the crushed white
minivan as Ayla Meurer's. At first the two nuns assumed that Ayla
had been in an accident, but once they realized that it was Dechen
who'd been driving -- and that she was going to be okay -- both
nuns turned critical. "How could you get in a car accident?" they
asked her. It was more evidence of the negative karma that Dechen
had been accumulating lately. They immediately called Alana from
Dawa's cell phone. Dawa spoke with Alana for a moment, then handed
the phone to Dechen.
Alana's voice was cold and stern. "Don't think that
this means you can get out of tonight's meeting," she said
quickly. "Jetsunma says you aren't hurt that badly."
By the time Ayla arrived at the hospital, her
daughter was being released. As they drove, Dechen felt her shame
and despair drifting into numbness. Scattered around her face and
short, dark hair were shaved marks and cuts, and the thread of the
stitches. " I already heard that you're fine," Ayla said, "so I
can say that I'm really mad at you. How could you break your
Ayla handed Dechen a folded bundle of yellow robes
-- the robes the ordained wore for ceremonial and special
occasions. She'd been called by Alana and instructed to get her
daughter out of the hospital, give her the yellow robes, and take
her directly to Ani Estates. There was going to be a meeting. In
the car with her mother, Dechen stared straight ahead at the road.
A meeting. She felt nothing. She never got hysterical when
unexpected things happened like this. Her reaction was always
delayed. And, anyway, the last thing she was going to do was cry.
"You know," Ayla said as she dropped Dechen off,
"you're in serious trouble."
It was about four-thirty when Dechen arrived at Ani
Estates, the large, beige stucco-and-wood tract house on Spates
Hill Road where five nuns--Dawa, Dara, Aileen, Alana, and Dorje--lived.
Dechen walked into the house alone and saw that activity had
already begun. Several nuns were in the kitchen washing large
offering bowls. Atara was standing in the middle of the living
room, repeating Jetsunma's instructions. "Jetsunma says there
should be chairs lined up in here, like this," she was saying.
"And Jetsunma says there should be an offering out for the
ordained" -- so pretzels and chips and other refreshments were to
be set out. The table in the dining room was to be removed, "and
under here," where the dining room table was, "Jetsunma says there
should be two chairs."
Dechen had been inside the house many times, for
all kinds of reasons. She'd come frequently to borrow movies there
from Aileen's video library. She'd exercised on the Health Rider.
She'd helped with some Tibetan translations there. She'd even
lived there for a week once, when she had no other place to
live--and she had cleaned the house to make money. When Jetsunma
and Sangye got together, their Consort Engagement Party had been
there. And over the summer Dechen had attended the meeting of the
ordained at Ani Estates where everyone was asked to sign a paper
relieving the temple of any responsibility for taking care of
them. But never had Dechen--one of the mousiest of the nuns --
been the center of any attention like this. She sat on the floor
in the corner and watched the preparations. She watched Atara
stage- direct and everybody follow her orders. She noticed that
the vertical blinds were drawn.
The house grew darker as night fell. As the monks
and nuns began to trickle in, it was clear most of them had very
little idea of why they had been called to Ani Estates. The
meeting was mandatory for all ordained. Only Sangye Dorje--later
admitting that he had a sense of what might transpire--quickly
volunteered to take the prayer shift and remain at the temple. As
the rest of the nuns and monks arrived, they saw a table of food
and began picking at the snacks. Dechen had moved to a spot on the
carpeted stairs that overlooked the room and tried to keep her
head down. She was feeling a bit woozy. She kept touching the
stitches on the top of her head, and it was weird that they didn't
hurt. One cut on the left side of her face kept tickling her. She
overheard whispers among the monks--they were always the most
clueless. "What's going on? Do you know?"
The Monk was among the last to arrive. He came with
Konchog and was told to sit away from Dechen until the meeting
began and not to speak with her. He sat on the floor in the front
hallway and furtively looked up to the stairs, trying to catch
Dechen's eye. She only looked away.
Then Atara led them to the dining room and told
them to sit on the chairs under the lights. Dechen found herself
looking around the room, and at the monks and nuns in the chairs
lined up facing her. One by one she looked at their faces. She had
known many of them a decade, since she was seventeen. She had sat
beside them, prayed beside them, learned to prostrate beside them,
been ordained beside them. It felt like they'd been through the
wars together. They'd followed the voice of Jeremiah, made the
move to Poolesville, enthroned their lama, watched Michael's
leaving, built the stupa garden, and seen Jetsunma marry Karl.
They'd done all-night prayer rounders together, floated through
the exquisitely beautiful White Tara retreat and the amazing
Rinchen Ter Dzod, and sat together through last summer's Nam Chu
empowerments. They'd kept a twenty-four-hour prayer vigil going,
without a break, since it started in the dark basement of the
little brick house in Kensington ten years before.
Here was the largest collection of Tibetan Buddhist
monks and nuns in America. They were kind people, good people.
Dechen admired so many of them, for wanting to dedicate their
lives to something good, for building such a beautiful Dharma
center. For trying to live by their ideals.
A broken vow wasn't a small matter. The results
would be profound and long-lasting. The bad karma would spill
inevitably into the path of everyone in Poolesville and create
obstacles. It would cause ripples that would produce more
suffering. Dechen and the Monk had not just betrayed themselves
and their own Buddha nature but defied the guru and hurt the
entire sangha. Why hadn't Dechen been able to see that all along?
Why hadn't she come forward months ago?
Most of the lights in the house were dimmed. And
the lights in the living room were shut off. Only the lights over
Dechen and the Monk were kept brightly lit. Alana was wearing
burgundy robes and stood in the dining room before her fellow
"There has been a vow breakage," she said.
The room became utterly quiet. "Nobody is ever to
speak of what happens here tonight. And remember, everything you
see is compassionate activity." Alana looked squarely at the Monk.
"You are not to speak--either of you--or defend yourselves in any
Some headlights flashed behind the windowpane in
the front door. Dechen saw that Jetsunma had arrived. The front
door flew open, and the room of ordained rose to their feet.
Jetsunma quickly pulled off her black overcoat in the foyer and
tossed it to Atara. Underneath she was dressed entirely in black,
too-black wool and black leather.
"You fool!" she shouted at the Monk, as she ran
toward him, then struck him hard on the head with her open hand.
The Monk lost his footing and staggered momentarily. When his
balance was regained, he realized that his wire-rimmed glasses had
been knocked to the floor and he couldn't see.
Jetsunma studied him briefly. With his glasses off
the Monk looked like a mole-soft and blind. "Sit down!" she
yelled. The Monk and Dechen began to drop onto the seats of their
chairs, and Jetsunma yelled again. "No! Sit on the floor! You
don't deserve to sit on the same level as these other ordained!"
Dechen sat on her knees. The Monk sat cross-legged
on the ground, with the large lights swinging overhead. "I brought
you into our hearts!" Jetsunma yelled at him, then bent down to
punch the Monk again hard on the side of the face. "We took you
into our homes! And this is how you repay our kindness? I should
throw you through that sliding glass door but you don't have the
The ordained were quiet, barely moving in their
chairs. Dechen looked out into the living room; in the shadows she
could see the outlines of a few nuns who were holding their
stomachs. One monk had his hand over his mouth.
"This is a stain on all of us--and has harmed all
ordained forever." Jetsunma yelled, continuing to punctuate her
comments with blows to the Monk's head. "This has shortened my
life, the lives of our sangha, and made it harder for all future
ordained to keep their vows. And it's shortened their lives as
well. They worked so hard to keep their vows purely, and now
you've made it so hard!"
Dechen looked up again and heard Tashi sobbing.
Jetsunma turned to face the little nun. Dechen
stared up at her. "And you!" she yelled. She struck Dechen across
the side of her head with the heel of her hand, not far from a few
stitches. "I've taken you into my heart! I've done everything I
could for you!" She slapped her again on the forehead." There are
words for women like you, but I won't use them!" she yelled. "It
disgusts me to see you in those robes. It disgusts me to see your
Dechen looked up into Jetsunma's face and never
broke her gaze. Jetsunma had a look that Dechen never remembered
seeing before. She was almost. . . smiling. But it wasn't a smirk
as much as a leer. "What you said happened to you in India before,
what you told me," Jetsunma shouted, "that isn't what really
happened, is it? You lied to me." She backhanded Dechen again.
Jetsunma began listing instructions for Dechen to
follow. The young nun felt herself focusing on all of Jetsunma 's
words, all her advice and instructions, hoping to remember every
moment. Dechen was never to look at or speak to the Monk again.
She was to put her yellow robes on her altar and prostrate to them
every day. She needed to get a job and payoff all of her debts.
She had to stop "leaning on" the other ordained. She needed to do
one hundred thousand Vajrasattva practices, but Jetsunma wasn't
sure that was enough. As a punishment, she and the Monk were going
to clean the temple every day--the bathrooms, the floors, the
kitchen. And every moment that Dechen wasn't either cleaning or
working to pay off her debts, she was to be practicing. As for
reading or TV or any other "enjoyments," there were to be no more
than four hours per week. She talked about how little remorse
Dechen had. "You have never done a single thing that I have ever
told you to do," Jetsunma yelled angrily, "so I have no confidence
that you'll do it now."
Dechen followed her lama's eyes. She soaked up her
lama's words. These were blessings, she told herself. Each word
was a great blessing. Each slap and slug, a great, great blessing.
Dechen tried to be as submissive as she could be and tried to find
a posture of accepting all the blessings as they came her way.
This wrathful display--as it was called--would only help to purify
any negative karma that had been created by her contact with the
The Monk had been very still, but he turned
slightly to see if Dechen was okay. She was cowering. She was
humiliating herself: He wanted to yell at her, "Get up! Get up!"
Jetsunma turned to him again. "You may keep your
robes but not wear them," she said, "and if you were in better
health, I'd make you clean every toilet at the temple eighteen
times a day with a toothbrush." She pointed to the crowd in the
chairs. "Their toilets!"
Dechen was to clean toilets, too, she said. "I
can't tell you not to come to teachings, but if you do, sit behind
an umbrella or something. I don't want to see your face. . . . And
I've talked to Khenpo Tsewang Gyatso about this--you may not keep
At this Jetsunma walked out. The room remained
perfectly still. Alana returned to center stage. She announced
that Jetsunma wanted the ordained to tell Dechen and the Monk how
this evening had made them feel--sharing their anger and outrage
would help Dechen and the Monk "with their remorse."
Ani Rene spoke first and addressed her comments to
the Monk, with whom she had studied. "Driving in the car with you
one time," she said, "you criticized some lamas and poisoned my
mind with gossip!" she said, shaking with rage. "I felt sick for
an hour, and I could have just ripped you apart. " Tashi was so
overcome with emotion that he could barely get the words out. He
was horrified by what had happened, particularly by the fact that
Jetsunma's life would now be shortened. Then came Konchog, the
young monk who did press relations for the temple and who was a
scholar. He also addressed his remarks to his friend, his
housemate, his fellow monk. "I had so much faith in you, " he
said, fighting back tears. "You kept your vows for so long. And
you talked about how the Dharma texts were more important than
Jetsunma, and you almost turned my mind away from my teacher."
The nuns of Ani Farms each spoke to Dechen. Palchen
said that Dechen needed to face her total irresponsibility and
lack of thought for anyone but herself. Alexandra mentioned
Dechen's thoughtlessness. She had never contemplated how her
breakages would affect anybody but herself. Sherab was the
angriest. "You're always rebellious, and everything has to be
Dechen's way!" she yelled. Another nun talked about how she'd
helped Dechen out when she broke her vows last time, how
supportive she'd felt. This was different. "Countless sentient
beings," she said, "will be hurt because of this."
But most of the comments were directed at the Monk,
and they continued for forty-five minutes after Jetsunma's
departure. In the following ten days there were two more
meetings--where Dechen and the Monk were required to confess the
details of their affair to the entire ordained sangha. At one
point, as Dechen tried to give an account of exactly what had
transpired between them sexually, the Monk began shouting; "Shut
up! Shut up! It's none of their fucking business!" And it was this
attitude, his indignation and pride, which seemed to fuel the
anger of his peers. One by one in all three meetings, the ordained
told the Monk how they really felt about him, how egotistical he
was, how deluded, how he lorded his knowledge of Tibetan and all
his studies and retreats and expertise in Tibetan Buddhism over
everybody and made them feel bad, how he'd tried, with all his
talk of tradition and other teachers and other Dharma centers, to
turn them against their lama. He had taken many empowerments, but
he'd somehow missed the boat.
The Monk didn't know these people well--he had been
in Poolesville only eight months--and it shocked him that they
would have such intense hatred for him. It also surprised him that
Jetsunma should feel so strongly--to scream at him, and slug him,
to threaten to throw him through the sliding glass door. He had
refused to give her instruction in some high teachings, and he'd
ignored what he felt had been her romantic advances: was that the
explanation for her rage? But what had he done to the rest of
these people to make them so angry? The attacks on his character
were personal, and brutal. This is like something out of the
Spanish Inquisition, he was thinking. He knew what Jetsunma would
say, of course, that to strike a student was to give him a great
blessing. There was a long tradition of teachers hitting students
in Tibetan Buddhism. He had heard that in Tibet students were
sometimes beaten unconscious with logs and clubs. Penor Rinpoche
himself, the legend went, had cured one of his students of cancer
by beating him to a bloody pulp--then collapsed outside on the
grass and sobbed. But hitting a student in this country, wasn't
that a great risk? Was this monastery life in Tibetan Buddhist
In the following weeks Dechen went overboard to
live by Jetsunma's edicts and purify herself. She spent two or
three hours a day cleaning the bathrooms or floors or whatever
Rinchen told her to do. She did her Vajrasattva. She went to the
bank, consolidated her debt. With credit cards, back-tithing. and
what she owed Palchen in rent, the total came to four thousand
dollars. She found a job right away, as a secretary in a
publishing house. And since Jetsunma didn't want to see Dechen's
face, she listened to her lama's teachings on Wednesday nights
while scrubbing the solarium floor. She was largely shunned by the
sangha but felt soothed by her mother.
They stayed up late at night, talking about how
Dechen had come to veer off her intended path, how she felt dried
up spiritually--and did not trust the words of her lama. Ayla
Meurer spent hours with her daughter after the night at Ani
Estates. going over every detail of the evening, and every word
Jetsunma had spoken. Ayla admitted that she'd had difficult times
at KPC over the years, too. Michael Burroughs had said and done
many things to hurt her. She'd sometimes felt rejected and ignored
by the inner circle. But to her Jetsunma was like Jesus Christ, a
miraculous savior of the entire planet. And over the years she had
felt great blessings flow from Jetsunma and she'd been able to
find her own path, her own way of studying Tibetan Buddhism. She
encouraged Dechen to find her way, too.
Dechen spoke a great deal with Ani Catharine
Anastasia, her assigned mentor in the ordained community.
Catharine Anastasia helped her see that the Monk was not her
friend and had never truly cared about her; he'd only planted
poison in her mind. He'd come into her life and turned her against
the guru, turned her against Poolesville. In a moment of guilt and
renunciate fervor, Dechen threw out all the robes that she wore
while she had been with him, and she returned all the Tibetan
texts and manuscripts he had given her.
The loss of her robes was too much even to
consider. If Dechen wasn't an ani anymore, who was she? As
Jetsunma instructed, she put the folded robes on her altar and
prostrated to them not just three times a day, as Jetsunma had
instructed, but nine. She continued to keep her vows assiduously,
even after Alana made a point of reminding her several times that
she was no longer a nun, and Sherab left an angry voice mail for
her when she wore burgundy jeans and a burgundy T-shirt to clean
the temple. "How dare you wear burgundy!" Sherab said. "You aren't
a nun anymore. " But Dechen was determined to earn her robes back,
and Ayla encouraged her. She told her daughter that anything was
possible, if she paid back her debts, lived responsibly, practiced
Vajrasattva, and kept practicing and practicing. In every spare
moment of the day, Dechen did. "I was very remorseful and sad,"
she said later, "but I was trying to get myself together."
When Chris Finney called her one day in late
February, Dechen was surprised to hear her cheerful voice. It
seemed like a long time since anybody from the temple had called
her--and sounded friendly. Chris had a small business making
prayer beads that were sold in the temple gift shop, and she was
calling to offer Dechen her supplies. She could make some decent
money stringing the malas, and Chris said she knew that Dechen
probably needed it.
"You're not making malas anymore?" Dechen asked.
"I'm not coming to Poolesville anymore," said
"You aren't?' Dechen asked. This seemed
unimaginable. Chris was one of the founding members--one of the
"No, " Chris said, and then she mentioned something
about seeing a lama in Frederick, Maryland, now. "We're just going
on with our life in another direction."
Dechen didn't inquire further and, frankly, didn't
want to know any more. The repercussions of Chris's departure were
too horrible to think about. Dechen would rather break her vows a
hundred more times than break samaya.
Chris didn't offer any explanations, either. She
just made plans to give Dechen all her beads and wire and wire
cutters. The truth was, through the Dharma grapevine she had heard
about the night at Ani Estates and was wondering how Dechen was
holding up. News can travel fast in a temple when something
unusual happens. But when Chris asked Dechen how she was doing,
she said, "Great! I'm doing great."
And that was truly how Dechen felt. Her mother was
being kind and helpful. Dechen was paying off her debts. She liked
her new job at the publishing house. Her boss, a woman, was
supportive. "You don't know what you're worth, do you?" she said.
And Dechen was already looking at the classified ads--to see if
she could afford a studio apartment in Gaithersburg.
A few nights later Dechen was dusting the Guru
Rinpoche altar in the prayer room when the sangha gathered in the
Dharma room for a teaching from Jetsunma. Dechen had moved into
the solarium to begin cleaning tables when she heard Jetsunma's
voice. "If you could sample Your teacher's mindstream," she said,
"if you could sample the nectar of what your teacher actually has
to give you . . . it is contained within this teaching."
Dechen could hear Jetsunma 's voice almost too
clearly, coming from a loudspeaker in the kitchen. "I hope that
all my students who intend to remain my students are here
tonight," she said, "and those who are not here, I'm afraid I'm
sorry to say that it may be due to causes having been created that
make it not possible or not easy for you to receive what comes
directly from the mind and the intention of your teacher."
She began to read a poem she'd written to the
sangha, which she explained had been inspired by the activities of
two of her students. It was called "War Cry:"
I have seen you.
I have heard your voice.
I have smelt your smell.
I have lived
And died with you.
I know your name. . .
Whatever garment you wear
I will know you.
Your smile is no seduction
I know you.
You will appear
In lovely forms,
Seductive, caressing, singing songs
Filled with promises.
It is then I will appear
Far more beautiful than you
Adorned with garments
Of pure aspiration
Resplendent with gold and gems
Of pure bliss.
From my mouth will come
The ambrosia of Dharma
And from your
I will steal my children away,
Like a thief
In the night. . .
And lead them to
Dechen felt herself sinking to the floor. She put
her hands over her face. She felt her breath stop. More than the
night at Ani Estates, more than anything, this poem hurt her, like
a knife in her stomach.
Whore-mother of suffering,
I am coming.
I am relentless!
Not one of my children
Will I abandon to you.
I will meet you on
Every hill and mountain.
In every ocean, in every country.
In the sky, in the six realms,
In form and formless lands,
No hell or heaven will
Hide you from me.
I will never stop.
Like a tigress
I will come,
Mouth dripping with blood,
I will come and slay you,
I will rip you apart
Cut up, shredded,
Sliced and diced,
No one will know
Which part to call Samsara.
I will finish you.
You will not enslave my children.
Then I will shed tears
To heal you.
I will scoop you up
In my arms,
Tenderly I will hold
My eyes will shine
Wisdom and compassion upon you.
My body will be your home.
My speech will sing lullabies
Of pure virtue.
Then you will remember
You are my child too.
Yes, you too.
Then, beloved child
Who is never separate from me,
We will depart together.
We will be in Paradise.
Jetsunma began explaining the poem, line by line.
Of course, it wasn't literally about two students, it was about
the entire sangha, and it was about samsara. "Whore indicates an
awareness that samsara is completely unwholesome," she said. "Samsara
is just simply filled with degradation and unwholesomeness, with
shit and garbage. There is nothing here but garbage, and so whore
is a word that indicates the complete unwholesomeness of it."
She kept reading.
From my mouth will come
The ambrosia of Dharma
And from your
I will steal my children away;
Like a thief
In the night
"Skillful means are indicated here," Jetsunma said.
"The bodhisattva will come like a thief in the night. And I'll
tell you that there have been many times that I have stretched the
truth, quite a bit, in order to hook sentient beings, that I have
elaborated in order to hook sentient beings, that I have put on my
chicken suit and danced in order to hook sentient beings, and I
know that if I have done that, my humble self, then I know that
the great bodhisattvas have done it much more. Whatever means are
necessary! . . . When bodhisattvas meet with their students,
whatever skillful means are necessary are legal!"
Dechen stayed on the floor, unable to get up. She
felt a bit light- headed and confused. How long would this
punishment go on? "There are many, many stories of great
bodhisattvas who did not even follow the norms and traditions of
the society in which they were born," Jetsunma said, "or the
society in which they practiced. They threw all that out the
window. And they did so because skillful means were necessary to
overcome such a terrible demoness as this whore samsara."
Dechen slipped into a back room of the temple until
the teaching was over and then found a ride home with Bob
Colacurcio. She mentioned nothing to him about the poem. A few
days later she got up the courage to talk to Catharine Anastasia
about "War Cry."
"That poem--was it about me?" she asked over the
"I was sure you were going to think that--you're so
self-centered," Catharine Anastasia said. "It's not about you.
It's about Wib and Jane."