Blue Dakini wrote:
Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo nee Alyce Zeoli also known as Catharine Burroughs, started her career as a psychic, but eagerly adopted the status of tulku – also conferred upon her by Penor Rinpoche. Jetsunma was born in New York and is the subject of a book, The Buddha from Brooklyn, by former disciple Martha Sherrill. The book chronicles Sherrill's trajectory from dewy-eyed acolyte to disenchanted fugitive from Jetsunma's lavishly appointed headquarters in Maryland. Along the way Sherrill became aware of her teacher's ferocious temper which escalated into physical violence, how students seemed to be treated like slaves and how Jetsunma had a tax free income around $10,000 a month. In 1997 Jetsunma's excesses became public knowledge in America and she announced that she was moving permanently to Arizona. Little has been heard of her since then.
A collection of material from other sources posted online
Judge Slaps Jetsunma With a Restraining Order
Tibetan Altar Blogspot September 10, 2009
A Superior Court judge in California has slapped New Age "Jetsunma" Alyce Zeoli, also known as Akhon Lhamo Rinpoche, with a restraining order enforceable in all fifty states.
We are informed the order came in response to a cynical cyberstalking campaign -- cynical, because it at times masqueraded as an "anti-cyberstalking" effort to "protect women," but was in fact a systematic campaign of internet and other forms of harassment directed toward a woman: a Tibetan Buddhist nun formerly associated with the so-called Jetsunma Cult, Kunzang Palyul Choling (KPC).
In 2008, after privately conferring with senior Palyul lineage tulkus and khenpos, and with guidance from the late Penor Rinpoche himself, the nun decided to leave KPC and disassociate herself from any further contact with Zeoli. Reportedly, a senior Palyul lineage khenpo likened Zeoli to a "suicide bomber," and advised the nun to "let the truth be known" about the controversial organization. We are informed that the nun was explicitly advised to keep her distance from and no longer study or associate with Zeoli, based on substantial evidence that Zeoli was "behaving in an inappropriate fashion."
The campaign of vilification and harassment against the nun began in March 2008, and has continued unabated ever since. During the past month, the cyberstalking intensified, to include aerial photographs of the nun's residence posted on the internet, and numerous threats against her and her family. Law enforcement observers believe this intensified campaign was sparked by a revelation that the nun -- a former member of the board of directors of KPC -- had turned over incriminating documents to FBI and IRS investigators probing the cult leader's financial practices.
According to police sources, Montgomery County, Maryland sheriff's deputies served Zeoli with copies of the court order in the early morning hours of 09-09-09, and also attempted to confiscate a Glock semiautomatic pistol believed to be in her possession.
In addition to the typical content of restraining orders, the judge has additionally ordered Zeoli to dismantle the ten (10) hate-filled blog sites that she maintains, and to cease all further hostilities. Failure to do so could result in additional criminal charges being filed against Zeoli, and quite possibly others. However, even after being served with the court's order, one of Zeoli's sites posted a bizarre call for her followers to arm themselves with Glocks.
Federal, state, and local law enforcement officials in California, Arizona, and Maryland have closely watched this case since its inception -- taking careful note of Zeoli's attempts to "spin doctor" her own legal issues. Reportedly, she has attempted to shift blame to others -- both inside and outside her organization -- by means of anonymous complaints to police, and vilification campaigns directed against those she believes may be called to testify against her. Since April of this year, Zeoli's conduct has become more and more erratic, and reckless.
At one of the retaliatory blog sites, Zeoli regularly posted "poetry" and "comments" under a variety of pseudonyms. However, IP track and trace techniques of the sort available to law enforcement and network administrators can quickly reveal the locations where each post originates, and a substantial body of evidence can be collected. The content of these "poems" and posts is disturbing to say the least -- revealing (among other things) a mind consumed by racial prejudice against Asians, and obsessive anger, hatred, spite, and vengeance directed to those she calls "enemies of the dharma."
In other developments, we are informed process servers are seeking to serve subpoenas on current Palyul lineage head Karma Kuchen. Reportedly, he will be questioned, under oath, as to what is and is not appropriate conduct for Palyul lineage tulkus, and the extent to which the Palyul lineage ratifies Zeoli's increasingly bizarre behavior.
One person under authorship of 'concerned student' wrote on Elephant Journal, comment 14
Concerned Student says:
February 7, 2010 at 09:47
The hate-filled followers of "Jetsunma" (Alyce Zeoli) who attacked you on Twitter are currently being taught to replace the Six Syllable mantra, OM MAN PADME HUM, with the "New Age" mantra: OM JETSUNMA AHKON LHAMO HUNG. See the screen shot from Twitter, here: [friendofpadma.blogspot.com
If anybody needs evidence that this is nothing more than a cult… you don't need to look too much farther.
A bit about Jetsunma and her devotees in relation to a practicing Buddhist who has a
That spring I had suffered a silent heart attack. Over six months I went from a middle-aged man with perfect blood pressure and cholesterol, who had never smoked, rarely drank, walked an hour daily along the lakefront, and most important, because of a family history of sudden death, saw my internist every three months...to a senior citizen who couldn’t walk half a block unassisted.]
In my private interview the day before I had asked for Rinpoche’s final instructions and blessings; though feeling at death’s door I insisted over his protestations on doing my three prostrations and sitting on the floor. Old-school Karma Kagyu to the bitter end, no way was I about to take a seat higher than my Vajra master.
Even if it killed me!
At the end of the audience, I blurted out my question, “I can’t help but think of Rinpoche as anything but perfect. But do you ever feel like you aren’t good enough?” The translator was from Taiwan and wasn’t familiar with the idiom. “You know, disappointed in yourself, like you don’t measure up to expectations.” Before the translation of my question was complete, Rinpoche was smiling and laughing.
“All the time,” he responded. “I’ve lived in the West over 30 years, don’t speak English, don’t get the culture of my students”…and the list of complaints he had about himself went on (to the delight of the audience). For whatever reason, I’ve always been able to ask difficult, pointed questions of the most venerated teachers of the lineage without a second thought.
In our tradition here in Chicago, that is the purpose of our afternoon session. We don’t do the lineage supplication [request of teachings] beforehand or dedicate the merit [to all sentient beings] afterward. According to Rinpoche, “The questions have improved over the years, but they aren’t Dharma.” Obviously, this is simply an opportunity for people in the audience to ask whatever is on their minds.
On Twitter, the other week, I asked Jetsunma Akhon Lhamo (Alyce Louise Zeoli) of the Palyul lineage of the Nyingma tradition a question. She’s on Twitter constantly, tweeting under @AkhonLhamo about animal rescue mostly and promoting the prayer vigils she presides over at her center in Poolesville, Maryland. Not my cup of tea, but she asked me to follow her, and with proper Twitter etiquette, I did so.
I had just finished reading Tyler Dewar’s (@tylerdewar on Twitter) recent interview in Bodhi Magazine with the 17th Karmapa. There was a graph in which His Holiness discussed the importance of sangha [community] as a harmonious coming together. Nalanda West, Seattle, Washington (@NalandaWest), had tweeted a link to the interview, and I re-tweeted it to share with the people who follow my Twitter stream.
Then I asked the question, “What does His Holiness mean?” and people began to chime in to discuss what they thought. Much to my surprise Jetsuma chimed in with “Consistency.” I tweeted back “What do you mean?”…
…and the sh*t storm began. Maybe I missed something, but she called me an asshole and made a snide remark about my heart, which gave her devoted Kunzang Palyul Ling followers the green light to begin attacking me.
I laughed it off and mentioned it in my last Elephant Journal article—“I’m an asshole, but that’s beside the point”—and returned to my daily routine of practice and tweeting Dharma quotes and music during session breaks without giving it a second thought.
I had no idea of the Twitter hell I was about to catch.
From the point of my initial exchange with Jetsuma, the attacks escalated from strangers ridiculing the fact that I’m dying of congestive heart failure to a personal threat—“I know people in Chicago”—from one of her devoted followers.
I’ve always known that the Nyingma have had issues surrounding Penor Rinpoche recognizing the “actor” Steven Seagal as a tulku, but I had no idea what a pile of sh*t I had stepped into.
Thankfully, Twitter isn’t a message board, and I can block Jetsuma’s followers from seeing my Twitter stream. I’ve had to block only one person who created a shell account to spam my @Replies (Twitter inbox) with threatening messages.
Why would a Dharma teacher on Twitter allow her or his followers to behave in such a shameful manner? Perhaps she didn’t know. I haven’t a clue.
Ending on a positive note…Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche (@ponlop) has followed me back; he wasn’t following anyone on Twitter when I wrote my last article. We’ve been exchanging direct messages (private tweets); he enjoyed “Bite Me, Boulder Buddhists” and mentoring me through the process of dying.
Also, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche (@yongeymingyurrinpoche) is on Twitter now, but has yet to tweet.
What about Twitter hell? My bad; it ended in a tweet. “Founding member Chicago KTC, well regarded over 28 years, will not hesitate to take legal action against anyone stating otherwise here.” And so while we can “drive all blames into ourselves,” as the Lojong slogan goes—and while I remember to be grateful to my “enemies,” who are my greatest teacher—well, Twitter hell turned out to be for those deluded enough to think they could push Bill Schwartz around. Later.
In the comments that ensued some wrote
Heard Him Say It says:
February 9, 2010 at 08:28
That's the syllogism isn't it? It goes like this: (1) Penor Rinpoche was a Living Buddha, (2) Penor Rinpoche recognized Alyce Zeoli as the tulku of Ahkon Lhamo, (3) Since a Living Buddha doesn't make mistakes, anything goes where Alyce Zeoli is concerned.
Except it didn't and it doesn't work that way. An unrealized and out of control tulku is a devil in disguise, and Penor Rinpoche eventually came to explicitly warn people against his creation.
You won't hear much about it, out of sectarian sensitivity and the P.R. machine that Zeoli herself uses to keep it under wraps. Hers is a lifestyle very much dependent on other peoples' money, she is 60 years old now, set in her ways, and incapable of change. When you questioned her, you threatened that lifestyle, so she set her machine to work on you. That is her history… along with burning ex-husbands in effigy (and demanding that her "students" join in), or making a career out of defaming ex-lovers with Internet hate sites and Twitter campaigns.
Is this Buddhism in the West?
Well, it is in the West, but I sure wouldn't call it Buddhism.
If you are interested in the Nyingma School in general, or the Palyul Lineage in particular, there are a number of credible teachers without all the baggage who aren't all that difficult to find. If you want to practice Dharma in the context of that lineage, I imagine there are ways to do so without responding to a Nixonian "Enemies List" and engaging in threats and libel. These are cult behaviors, and should be recognized as such.
Thankfully, Ahkon Lhamo is fading away. Her "Twitterverse" is her last gasp. The cult she fostered will not survive her death, and is already shrinking to a handful of aging faithful, now facing the golden years with empty pockets and a growing sense of no road left to travel. They report that they will feel "lucky" to die in her orbit, because she has the power to send them immediately to the Pure Land.
In the interim, like Sicilian Catholics between confessions, anything goes.
Just to be on the safe side, Bill, I'd get a stout lock on the back door
Bill Schwartz says:
February 9, 2010 at 09:46
I have no problem with Jetsuma and KPC as a dharma practitioner. Only when they started using Twitter to attack people I enjoyed following in the name of "Protecting Nyingma" did I become concerned. I zero-tolerance for cyber-bullying regardless of provocation.
No doubt, there was provocation. There's no shortage of people with horror stories about their experience with the sangha. Shit happens. We all have people that would like to see us fail. As Tibetan Buddhists though, we have practices, like Vajrasattva to address such issues.
Going through the public records of people you don't like isn't "Protecting Nyingma" to me; Dharma protection is best left to dharma protectors; for example, Vajrakilaya, protector of the Nyingma. To have KPC monks going after each other like 14 year-old girls on Twitter, even with their teacher's permission, is beneath them.
Then they started checking to see who was "following" their enemies on Twitter and going after them. Finally, someone had to shut them done and the task fell to me. I provoked a response from Jetsuma in a manner which allowed me to appear to be a victim of her devoted followers.
I let them go where they should no better than to go, in the heat of the moment; like my congestive heart failure, and my chops as a dharma practitioner. Finally, one member threatened "I know people in Chicago" which constituted grounds for filing a restraining order in Cook County.
I let the individuals involved know that I intended to take legal action in a major media market with the assistance of a prominent local trial lawyer who is on the board of Chicago KTC, and that was that. No name calling, nor disrespectful conduct was required. Just life in the big city.
I haven't heard a peep from Jetsuma and KPC since I might add. To quote Roshi Tatsugami “A tiger catches a mouse with his whole strength'” No hard feelings, Twitter is about listening to each other and learning from the experience. It isn't always pretty, but it works.
As apt as your description of Jetsuma as a dog may be, you only make her students feel obligated to defend her as the first Western woman recognized as a Tulku, which is their strength. She continues to enjoy the support of the Payul lineage apparently.Such an approach can only result in a flame war I'm afraid.
In the end they will move along, as all bullies do when someone stands up to them, so although it made for an amusing topic for an artiicle, it really isn't something we have to worry about as Tibetan Buddhism. Given the shit storm Penor Rinpoche let loose when he recognized Alyce Louise Zeoli and the actor Steven Seagal as Tulkus of the Palyul lineage we won't be seeing anything like that again in this country.
Keeping Score says:
February 9, 2010 at 12:28
Not just you. When a very senior tulku associated with the Palyul lineage pointed out, on Twitter, that the admittedly unusual person you enjoyed following was indeed a recognized tulku, even HE was subjected to days of abuse by this crew. Maybe this is because of a bad love story between two Western tulkus? I don't know whether to laugh or cry. What is that old James Taylor number? "This used to be her town…. this used to be your town too…"
Bill Schwartz says:
February 9, 2010 at 19:47
When my wife edited my final draft Sunday evening after the Super Bowl she told me it wasn't my best effort. She's a book editor for a major publisher. Was prepared to trash it but since I promised Waylon I would have something for him I left the decision to publish it to him.
It's a delicate subject for Tibetan Buddhists. Most important, as a Karma Kagyu it isn't any of my business how Nyingmapas run their shop.
The issue is cyber-bullying and the importance of making sure we keep it off Twitter which we have been able to do prior to Jetsuma and her students brought it to the fore by threatening their enemies using our beloved medium.
This isn't about Jetsuma or KPC but transparency, a fight I have been waging for 28 years as a Tibetan Buddhist. The use of dummy accounts and coordinated attacks against individuals in the name of the dharma will not be allowed to stand.
State who you are, where you can be found, and be prepared to answer for what you say about someone before updating your status because you will be held accountable not just by Yama but in court if need be.
As distasteful as this article may be, the personal messages I have received from Nyingmapas clearly indicate that this matter has been brought to their attention, and hopefully will be resolved on their end.