"My mother has travelled a lot, following various gurus around ...he liked to encourage drunk driving, which didn’t turn out well for him. He thought drunk driving was very good for you, to sharpen the awareness."
"My mother has travelled a lot, following
> various gurus around ...he liked to encourage
> drunk driving, which didn’t turn out well for
> him. He thought drunk driving was very good for
> you, to sharpen the awareness."
Some of the observations and critiques offered were very bold, fearlessly honest, and insightful. One such was the critique of Al-Anon workers being unnecessarily condescending and haughty toward Nancy at some point. She insisted on being real, and relentlessly refused to treat her husband as a disposable person, and yet she also learned to take care of herself and not sacrifice herself to the whims of alcoholic/addicts.
She describes how she learned to develop and enforce boundaries to protect herself and her children against her husband's continued misbehavior, but also let him back in after compelling him to realize she was not going to enable his misbehavior anymore. These processes and her rationale is explained clearly.
One such incident is when she goes to pick him up from a rehab center in Sebastopol, and scolds him for trying to manipulate her. They also detail how they both eventually deplore the excesses of the Tibetan lama & guru, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and Nancy explains how a support and survivors group forms in Boulder, Colorado, which continues to offer support and perspective, and the excesses are compared to the Catholic priesthood scandals, which seems an apt parallel.
This is one gem of a story, in fact, several stories. In flipbook-style, this book by John Steinbeck 1V, the famous author's son, and his wife, Nancy, deftly walks the line between memoir and expose.
From growing up in an alcoholic home to growing up as adults inside a cult guru's enlightenment racket, the authors' dual recollections provide a number of deflating revelations, about the famous Steinbeck as well as the famous guru.
I found especially interesting the dynamics between the Tibetan lama, Trungpa Rinpoche, and his American students, all brimming with devotion and lacking in personal authority, and the parallel with dysfunctional family systems.
Trungpa Rinpoche appears as a drunken, crazy surrogate for the dysfunctional families of the authors. The ploys used to keep the power differential operating in the community of Rinpoche's followers mimic the betrayal and required secrets in the alcoholic family.
At the time of the Steinbecks' involvement, the American zeitgeist was ripe with Eastern gurus telling psychologically vulnerable hippies, then yuppies what to do and how to live their lives. To the authors' credit, they eventually wake up to the pretense of waking up and embark on their own journey of deconditioning from familial ghosts and spiritual authoritarianism, but not before they hit bottom multiple times, wounded by alcoholism, codependence, and post-traumatic stress, and suffering the ostracism of their guru-adulating peers.
The stories of emotional, physical, and spiritual recovery are compelling enough to maintain the reader's interest and stimulate consciousness. Well worth the read!
Some students, replaying dynamics from their alcoholic families, responded to Trungpa Rinpoche by denying and enabling his addictive drinking and sexual activity. “I served Rinpoche big glasses of gin first thing in the morning, if you want to talk about enabling,” said one woman, who had watched her own father die of alcoholism.
Others resolved their cognitive dissonance by believing that their teacher had transcended the limitations of a human body. “Trungpa Rinpoche said that because he had Vajra nature [a yogically transformed and stabilized psychophysiology], he was immune to the normal physiological effects of alcohol,” said one student. “We bought the story that it was a way of putting ‘earth’ into his system, so that he could ... relate to us. It never occurred to anyone I knew that he was possibly an alcoholic, since that was a disease that could only happen to an ordinary mortal. And many of us were ignorant–we thought of an alcoholic only as the classic bum in the street “
An atmosphere of denial permeated the community in the 1970s and early 1980s, and other Vajradhatu students became heavy drinkers. “I found myself a nice little nest where I could keep on drinking,” said one long-time Vajradhatu Buddhist. who was among a handful of Vajradhatu members who joined Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in the early 1980s. Their recovery seemed to threaten others. The first woman to get sober was asked to quit the hoard of a home care organization found by Vajradhatu members. “I felt such contempt for someone who had to quit drinking, and I treated her like a mental case.” said the woman who got rid of her–a woman who has since joined AA herself.
When Trungpa Rinpoche lay dying in 1986 at the age of 47, only an inner circle knew the symptoms of his final illness. Few could bear to acknowledge that their beloved and brilliant teacher was dying of terminal alcoholism. even when he lay incontinent in his bedroom, belly distended and skin discolored, hallucinating and suffering from varicose veins, gastritis and esophageal varices, a swelling of veins in the esophagus caused almost exclusively by cirrhosis of the liver.
“Rinpoche was certainly not an ordinary Joe, but he sure died like every alcoholic I’ve ever seen who drank uninterruptedly.” said Victoria Fitch, a member of his household staff with years of experience as a nursing attendant. “The denial was bone-deep.” she continued. “I watched his alcoholic dementia explained as his being in the realm of the daikinis (guardians of the teachings, visualized in female form). When he requested alcohol, no one could bring themselves not to bring it to him, although they tried to water his beer or bring him a little less. In that final time of his life... he could no longer walk independently. At the same time then was a power about hint and an equanimity to his presence that was phenomenal, that I don’t know how to explain.”
Some students now feel that the Regent Osel Tendzin suffered from a similar denial of human limitation, as well as ignorance of addictive behavior.
“Many students who are outraged by the Regent’s behavior seem to think he arose out of nowhere,” one student said. “They’re not using their Buddhist training about cause and effect. I think the Regent has emulated in a more extreme and deadly fashion a pattern of denial and ignorance exemplified by Trungpa Rinpoche’s own attitude to alcohol.”
By the time the crisis broke, a small but significant minority of Vajrtdhatu students had begun to deal with wounds fell by family alcoholism and incest. By the mid-1980s, about 250 Vajradhatu members around the country–mostly wives of alcoholic husbands –had joined Al-Anon, an organization modeled after AA for the Families of alcoholics, and more than a score of sangha members had joined AA. Soft drinks were also served at Vajradhatu ceremonies, and the atmosphere of excessive drinking diminished.
Those in the 12-Step movement were a minority, however, and certain stubbornness persisted. For example, the Regent himself sought to suppress any public discussion of the sexual scandal and crisis, creating an atmosphere reminiscent of an alcoholic family’s defensive secrecy.
When editor Rick Fields prepared a short article for the Vajradhatu Sun describing the bare bones of the crisis, he was forbidden to print it. “There have been ongoing discussions, both within community meetings and among many individuals, about the underlying issues that permitted the current situation to occur,” read the banned article. "Those issues include the abuse of power and the betrayal of trust, the proper relationship between teachers with spiritual authority and students, particularly in the West, and the relationship between devotion and critical intelligence on the spiritual path.”
In the article’s place, Fields printed a mute drawing of the Vajradhatu logo–a knot of eternity–stretched to the breaking point over a broken heart. In March, Fields again attempted to run his article and was fired by the Regent. When the board of directors refused to support him, he formally resigned, saying that Buddhist teaching in the West “would best served in the long run by openness and honesty, painful as that may be.”
The suppression of public discussion echoed both the Asian tradition of face-saving as well as the dynamics of alcoholic families. “There’s a sense of family secrets, things you don’t talk about, especially with outsiders,” said Levinson. “Shortly after the news came out I wrote to the Regent and said, 'If the rumors are true, then [those actions] don’t seem to be in accord with the dharma, but it doesn’t make you a devil. The most important thing is what we do now. I would really like you to come talk to us openly, in small groups, at least in Boulder and Halifax, as your health permits. If you can do that we ... may be able to re-establish some trust.' My biggest heartbreak is that he hasn’t done that."