Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds
[Editor: Mr. L. Steven Sieden seems to have run up against the more cult-like aspects of Nalandabodhi, under the authority of Dzogchen Ponlop. Although I don’t know what transpired between this member and the sangha, this report feels very much like the kind of secretive, authoritarian and cult-like aspects of Nalandabodhi that I experienced during my one year of association with the sangha, ironically in the same year, 2015.
Nalandabodhi’s cult-like behaviour is not a ‘religious’cult about forcing people to accept certain beliefs or practices, but a kind of ‘corporate’ cult of protecting the brand image and brand leader (Dzogchen Ponlop) from anything that would diminish its corporate brand power and market share. Nalandabodhi functions more like a corporation marketing a particular kind of intellectual property. Dzogchen Ponlop once joked that he was expected to act like the sangha’s CEO.]
An individual I now consider to be the Nalandabodhi Terminator has summarily terminated me from the Nalandabodhi Seattle Sangha. Why I received the voice message below on July 15 is something I am left to ponder, but more important to me is the issue of how an organization can allow a single individual’s opinion to become its policies.
Here is a transcript of the voice message I received on my phone:
“This is Kris Shaw with Nalandabodhi. I just wanted to call and make official what presumptively was unofficial, which is to say that your membership with Nalandabodhi would be terminated at this point. We do appreciate, and I do personally appreciate, all your contributions and wish you the best in your spiritual and personal endeavors. Of course, if you have any questions, feel free to call me. I’ll notify the other directors. I’ll notify Rinpoche (i.e. Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche who accepted me as a student in 2008 and has not communicated any such termination or anything else with me), and I’ll notify your practice instructor as well so that everyone is on notice with regard to that. I just wanted to provide that notice to you first. So thank you again. If you have any questions, I’m happy to talk to you. Take care. I wish you the best.”
Now this is a man who purports to be acting on behalf of an organization that has the following mission statement:
• Provide a complete curriculum of study, meditation, and mindful activity, based on an authentic lineage of Buddhist teachings, that is accessible and relevant to everyday life.
• Offer a supportive environment for exploring and applying these teachings, with people who understand the challenges of creating a meaningful life in the 21st century.
I don’t see anything that is supportive for exploration and applying teachings (which often focus on compassion for all sentient beings) in summarily terminating a member without consulting the founder and leader of that organization, much less informing the person being terminated of the reasons for such action. Then there’s the part claiming to be “people who understand the challenges of creating a meaningful life.” My termination did not seem to come from someone who understood much of anything about life, much less about creating a meaningful life for anyone but himself.
If after informing me of his decision, Mr. Shaw was (as he said) planning to tell other managers of Nalandabodhi as well as our teacher Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, he clearly did not consult with them prior to making his decision. And he certainly made a major assumption that I knew why he had made that decision.
Granted Mr. Shaw had summarily made me a “provisional member” (something he made up on the spot during a meeting I had with him) under his scrutiny a couple years ago. He essentially put me on probation for as long as he felt necessary without any clear guidelines other than I was not to speak or write about anything related to Nalandabodhi or Nalanda West. At that time, Mr. Shaw claimed that all Nalandabodhi members kept this same vow of secrecy and silence.
He also made it extremely clear that he had “drunk the kool aid” (a direct quote) and would do whatever was necessary to “protect” the institution and Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche from anything Mr. Shaw might judge as potentially harmful. In other words, as far as I can tell, Mr. Shaw (who is a Director of the Seattle Nalandabodhi Sangha and a practicing attorney) believes that he is the sole creator and arbitrator of Nalandabodhi policy.
Perhaps that is true. Perhaps Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche has designated Mr. Shaw as his policy maker and terminator. I don’t really know, and all those involved also seem to have taken a vow of silence and adherence to whatever Mr. Shaw decides.
Whatever the reality of the situation, such action is certainly not the type of Buddhist (or considerate, kind and compassionate) behavior, I’ve come to understand is a key element in being a genuine practicing Buddhist. Mr. Shaw may claim to be a Buddhist representing Nalandabodhi, but I see no wisdom or compassion in his actions. Hopefully, making this type of behavior public will keep others from falling into such a cult trap and help them in finding genuine spiritual teachers to guide them on their path.
May all people be free of the suffering and pain created by secret societies and cult organizations.