An interesting academic analysis of Diamond Way

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An interesting academic analysis of Diamond Way

Postby Sherab Dorje » Fri Mar 09, 2012 7:12 pm

Whilst trying to track down the new book on the eighth Karmapa I mistakenly stumbled across the following academic research article:
Interpreting the Diamond Way: Contemporary Convert Buddhism in Transition
by Burkhard Scherer
Canterbury Christ Church University
Department of Theology and Religious Studies

It gives an interesting and well researched, though at times biased, analysis of the Diamond Way centres and of their founder/leader Ole Nydahl that I thought people might be interested in reading and discussing.
http://www.globalbuddhism.org/10/schere ... #_ednref14
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Re: An interesting academic analysis of Diamond Way

Postby spanda » Sat Mar 10, 2012 4:33 pm

Interesting. Thanks!
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Re: An interesting academic analysis of Diamond Way

Postby Kelwin » Sat Mar 10, 2012 9:52 pm

Interesting indeed, an excellent paper!
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Re: An interesting academic analysis of Diamond Way

Postby Shemmy » Sun Mar 11, 2012 9:03 pm

Yeah, thanks! One of the most interesting things I've read on the internet in awhile! I wasn't aware of his placement of the working yogi at the top of the meditation food chain. Very encouraging to us working stiffs.

When Lama Ole came to Bangkok last year, there seemed to be some amount of paranoia among the Vajrayana-Mahayana Buddhists here and very few of the regulars were in attendance though I'm sure most knew about it. I was curious why no one came out and I asked. The Shambhala people cited some vague Trungpa criticisms and warnings. I wonder if Trungpa wasn't worried about competition from Lama Ole. An organizer from another group cited Lama Ole's sexual permissiveness as an issue and they didn't want to lose their reputation in Thailand by coming to see him and thereby appear to endorse promiscuity. So, the crowd at the Bangkok one day lecture was mostly his own followers who happened to be on holiday in Thailand or following him on tour.

I didn't know what to expect but ended up feeling quite impressed by Lama Ole's warmth, approachability. I felt his followers were really open and genuinely friendly and I ended up more impressed by them than anything. He seems to allow people to relax and that may be one of the good points about a westernized style, is there seemed to be more openness and less formality among the gathering. He invited everyone to go out to a pub for a beer after the lecture and empowerment, which would have created further shock and disapproval among the Bangkok Vajrayanists I imagine. Sadly, Nydahl's aids who said they would email me and send texts used for the Karmapa 16 guru yoga practice never did get back to me. So, I never ended up practicing the meditation. At the talk Lama Ole with some urgency mentioned the need to establish a center in Bangkok but his aides seemed to not want anything to do with this. One said he has too many centers as it is, despite Lama Ole seeming to be very interested in getting one of the locals going on such a project. As of now such a center has yet to materialize.
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Re: An interesting academic analysis of Diamond Way

Postby AlexanderS » Tue Mar 13, 2012 6:59 am

I attended a Phowa Course by Ole Nydahl down at the europe center in southern germany in august. I was very impressed with the relatively low prices and the good organisation. Also I got a chance to meet thousands of people who practice in this linage. Overall very kind, self-confident and free-spirited people. I was also very grateful for lama Ole Nydahl to make such a profound teaching and method avaible to beginners like me. He was very good during the whole 7 days i was there.
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Re: An interesting academic analysis of Diamond Way

Postby Rafael Maurin » Fri Apr 27, 2012 12:48 am

Very Interesting...Thnx :smile:
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Re: An interesting academic analysis of Diamond Way

Postby Sherab Dorje » Fri Apr 27, 2012 11:47 am

Shemmy wrote:Sadly, Nydahl's aids who said they would email me and send texts used for the Karmapa 16 guru yoga practice never did get back to me. So, I never ended up practicing the meditation.
cf here http://www.abuddhistlibrary.com/Buddhis ... 20Diam.htm

I also have the Tibetan transliteration and translation but unfortunately (for you) it is in Greek. You could contact an English language Diamond Way centre http://www.diamondway-buddhism.org/defa ... enters.htm and get them to send it to you.
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Re: An interesting academic analysis of Diamond Way

Postby Knotty Veneer » Fri Apr 27, 2012 7:43 pm

Shemmy wrote:
When Lama Ole came to Bangkok last year, there seemed to be some amount of paranoia among the Vajrayana-Mahayana Buddhists here and very few of the regulars were in attendance though I'm sure most knew about it. I was curious why no one came out and I asked. The Shambhala people cited some vague Trungpa criticisms and warnings. I wonder if Trungpa wasn't worried about competition from Lama Ole. An organizer from another group cited Lama Ole's sexual permissiveness as an issue and they didn't want to lose their reputation in Thailand by coming to see him and thereby appear to endorse promiscuity. So, the crowd at the Bangkok one day lecture was mostly his own followers who happened to be on holiday in Thailand or following him on tour.


I don't why you think those who didn't rush to sit at the feet of Ole are paranoid. Ole has cultivated the bad boy attitude asiduously for many years with the express purpose of keeping out the "spiritually uptight". Also some people are old fashioned enough simply to avoid those teachers whose behavior they think is destructive.
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Re: An interesting academic analysis of Diamond Way

Postby conebeckham » Fri Apr 27, 2012 7:51 pm

Knotty Veneer wrote:I don't why you think those who didn't rush to sit at the feet of Ole are paranoid. Ole has cultivated the bad boy attitude asiduously for many years with the express purpose of keeping out the "spiritually uptight". Also some people are old fashioned enough simply to avoid those teachers whose behavior they think is destructive.


I don't know if paranoia is the right word. Perhaps "caution" might be the more appropriate word. Some of those who don't attend or follow Ole, whether they're Trungpa's folks or not, may avoid him because they question his qualifications,not because of any "bad boy" image he may cultivate, or any sense of being "uptight." Unless, by "uptight," you mean "Traditional."
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Re: An interesting academic analysis of Diamond Way

Postby Knotty Veneer » Fri Apr 27, 2012 8:00 pm

conebeckham wrote:
Knotty Veneer wrote:I don't why you think those who didn't rush to sit at the feet of Ole are paranoid. Ole has cultivated the bad boy attitude asiduously for many years with the express purpose of keeping out the "spiritually uptight". Also some people are old fashioned enough simply to avoid those teachers whose behavior they think is destructive.


I don't know if paranoia is the right word. Perhaps "caution" might be the more appropriate word. Some of those who don't attend or follow Ole, whether they're Trungpa's folks or not, may avoid him because they question his qualifications, and not for any "bad boy" image he may cultivate.


I was being flippant. I agree that Ole should be approached with caution. What I was getting at though was the poor attendance his lecture was, according to Shemmy, due to the poor judgement of other Buddhists rather than Ole's bad reputation.
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Re: An interesting academic analysis of Diamond Way

Postby Knotty Veneer » Fri Apr 27, 2012 8:54 pm

I did read the article and it was very good. Tending more to a "hermeneutics of trust" than I would be inclined to but interesting nonetheless.

You may not like to see criticism of Ole here but I think it is a valid point that in his organisation - as Shemmy's post implies - criticism of Ole's behavior is cast as a failure of character on the part of the critic. Indeed one can see something similar in the article itself where it says:

Nydahl is apparently a charismatic figure, both personally and as a teacher. Nydahl's activities, however, have attracted criticism, rendering him a controversial figure in contemporary Buddhism. At this point, it is worth noting that Nydahl, both in his books and public lectures, is very open about controversial details in his biography and lifestyle, for example his drug dealing in the 1960s and his sexual promiscuity. In fairness, one should contrast this "lay/yogic" honesty to the rather frequent scandals due to the breaking of celibacy vows in both Tibetan and Western convert monastic contexts.(7) Nydahl's honesty is conducive to a hermeneutics of trust in which biographical elements and personality are interpreted against the background of Nydahl's own understanding of Buddhism. Still, Nydahl's reception (and lack thereof) in recent scholarship is driven by a primarily etic hermeneutics of suspicion. However, the considerable contribution Nydahl has made to the spread of Buddhism among converts in the West can also be analyzed with a hermeneutics of trust and by including the emic parameters of the Tibetan Karma bKa' brgyud tradition.

This lets Ole off very lightly and puts his poor reception in academia and elsewhere down to a "hermeneutics of suspicion" (which I think you could gloss here as "paranoia") on the part of the establishment. Nowhere in the article does it entertain the possibility that Ole's behavior may be harmful. Indeed, it seeks to excuse him - after a fashion - by saying yes he sleeps around but at least he's not a hypocrite! The article does not seem to want to venture into the territory of examining the power structures that can exist in groups like Ole's between the teacher and "consort". Sexual permissiveness is normative in Ole's philosophy and he seems to be free of any judgement from the lineage at large. I would have liked to seen some more discussion of that.
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Re: An interesting academic analysis of Diamond Way

Postby Sherab Dorje » Fri Apr 27, 2012 9:26 pm

Hate to be the one that breaks this to you but sexual permisiveness is normative everywhere in Europe nowadays, especially in Oles homeland of Denmark. Actually sexual permisiveness is not frowned upon in Buddhism per se anyway. It is not included under any of the categories of unwholesome sexual behaviour so where is the problem with sexual permisiveness? Tibetans are also pretty good with the old sexual permisiveness. ;)

As for his credentials, well, okay...

But his low standing in academia? So what? :shrug:

I agree that trying to fob off all critique as a "hermeneutic of suspicion" is a little too overarching. I did warn people that the article was "at times biased".

And the issue of power relationships between students and teachers is one that I personally have raised in other threads too.

The thing is that I want people to reply to the article and its portrayal of Diamond Way, I don't want this thread to devolve into yet another "put the boot into Ole" thread. That's just too boring.
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Re: An interesting academic analysis of Diamond Way

Postby Knotty Veneer » Fri Apr 27, 2012 10:45 pm

gregkavarnos wrote:Hate to be the one that breaks this to you but sexual permisiveness is normative everywhere in Europe nowadays, especially in Oles homeland of Denmark. Actually sexual permisiveness is not frowned upon in Buddhism per se anyway. It is not included under any of the categories of unwholesome sexual behaviour so where is the problem with sexual permisiveness? Tibetans are also pretty good with the old sexual permisiveness. ;)

As for his credentials, well, okay...

But his low standing in academia? So what? :shrug:

I agree that trying to fob off all critique as a "hermeneutic of suspicion" is a little too overarching. I did warn people that the article was "at times biased".

And the issue of power relationships between students and teachers is one that I personally have raised in other threads too.

The thing is that I want people to reply to the article and its portrayal of Diamond Way, I don't want this thread to devolve into yet another "put the boot into Ole" thread. That's just too boring.
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I always knew I was missing out on the sexual revolution!

What I meant of course is that Ole's org seems to sell the rock 'n' roll lifestyle more than most other Dharma groups. Call me old-fashioned but the idea of man in his seventies flirting with girls young enough to be his grand-daughter is not one I think even the Danes consider edifying.

I suspect (hermeneutically of course) that the article is trying to be a PR piece that pleads for Diamondway to be taken seriously. Few academics or journalists want to be seen as apologists for Diamondway, understandably.
Ole, as the British say, is marmite - people either love or hate him. Very few are indifferent to him. So I think your hope of avoiding 'Ole bashing' is wishful thinking.

What I did find interesting was the final section of the article which wondered what would become of Diamondway after Ole's demise. Will it survive? Will it collapse as lieutenants fight to become the top dog? Will Shamarpa and Thaye Dorje step in and run the show? Will an Ole tulku be found?

I think yes it will survive but without Ole travelling the world and charming the faithful it will shrink dramatically.

Yes, I think that it will undergo internal power struggles. That's natural in an organization built largely on a cult of personality. If one considers what happened in Vajradhatu (a group with some similarities to Diamondway - although very different in other ways) immediately after Trungpa's death. It had a very rocky (even tragic) period but managed to right itself (with some judicious intervention from lineage figures).

Whether a figure like Shamarpa or Thaye Dorje will take over Diamondway more directly is a more open question. While Ole has always used the lineage to legitimize his role, he has kept it at judicious distance too. Diamondway is very "Western" in character and I think perhaps current members like that and would find a more traditionally "Tibetan" style unpalatable. However, Diamondway members constitute a significant cohort of support for the Shamarpa/Thaye Dorje wing of the Karma Kagyu (perhaps, by some accounts, outnumbering the students of all the other teachers in this wing). I don't think the main lineage figures would leave it to go it's own way.

As regards Ole's tulku. Well we can only wait and see. While I'm sure Thaye Dorje will be asked to find him (and you can bet it will be a him), it remains to see whether he does or not. I wonder if he will be Tibetan? :D
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Re: An interesting academic analysis of Diamond Way

Postby Sherab Dorje » Fri Apr 27, 2012 10:52 pm

Knotty Veneer wrote:Diamondway is very "Western" in character and I think perhaps current members like that and would find a more traditionally "Tibetan" style unpalatable.
What do you mean by Western? Because the practices are almost exclusively run-of-the-mill standard Karma Kagyu and normally done in Tibetan.
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Re: An interesting academic analysis of Diamond Way

Postby Knotty Veneer » Fri Apr 27, 2012 11:10 pm

gregkavarnos wrote:
Knotty Veneer wrote:Diamondway is very "Western" in character and I think perhaps current members like that and would find a more traditionally "Tibetan" style unpalatable.
What do you mean by Western? Because the practices are almost exclusively run-of-the-mill standard Karma Kagyu and normally done in Tibetan.


I may be wrong but aren't the dieties etc. all referred to by English names ("Loving Eyes" for Chenresig, "Black Coat" for Bernagchen etc.). I was under the impression too that prayers were chanted in the vernacular - although I am open to correction on that. And of course Ole is firmly against Westerners becoming monastics. I suppose what I mean perhaps is a lay organization that is more interested in trying to adapt traditional teachings to the West rather than preserving the teachings in their traditional forms unlike, say, Gendun Rinpoche's centre in France.

It is for this reason I made the comparison with Vajradhatu (although it is more heterogenous and does have ordained members - Pema Chodron for example).
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Re: An interesting academic analysis of Diamond Way

Postby conebeckham » Fri Apr 27, 2012 11:36 pm

My (limited; one-time only) experience with Diamond Way--a bunch of young people get together in a living room, sit down, and play a cassette tape of Ole speaking in English, "leading" what's called, by their centers, the "Three Lights Meditation "-it's actually a Guru Yoga based on, and composed by, 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpai Dorje, (A Shower of Ambrosia Generating the Shoot of the four Kayas, is the actual name: bla.ma'i.rnal.'byor.sku.bzhi'i.myu.gu.skyed.byed.bdud.rtsi'i.char.rgyun.ces.bya.ba.'zhugs.so). It was presented somewhat like a guided meditation. Say some "Karmapa Khyenno" mantras, a couple minutes of silent meditation, and you're done. Everyone gets up, but a few of the guys pass around a page in Tibetan, which they proceed to chant, quickly, standing up (turns out it's what we call the "Ma Dag Ma," a short Solkha to Karma Kagyu Protectors). Lots of laughter when it's finished, then it was social hour. A card table in the living room, with Ole's books on display for purchase.

Comparing it to any other Tibetan Dharma center, including even Vajradhatu/Shambhala centers, it was like apples and oranges. But hey, it was just one visit....can't say it was the typical experience.
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Re: An interesting academic analysis of Diamond Way

Postby Kelwin » Sat Apr 28, 2012 7:59 am

conebeckham wrote:My (limited; one-time only) experience with Diamond Way--a bunch of young people get together in a living room, sit down, and play a cassette tape of Ole speaking in English, "leading" what's called, by their centers, the "Three Lights Meditation "-it's actually a Guru Yoga based on, and composed by, 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpai Dorje, (A Shower of Ambrosia Generating the Shoot of the four Kayas, is the actual name: bla.ma'i.rnal.'byor.sku.bzhi'i.myu.gu.skyed.byed.bdud.rtsi'i.char.rgyun.ces.bya.ba.'zhugs.so). It was presented somewhat like a guided meditation. Say some "Karmapa Khyenno" mantras, a couple minutes of silent meditation, and you're done. Everyone gets up, but a few of the guys pass around a page in Tibetan, which they proceed to chant, quickly, standing up (turns out it's what we call the "Ma Dag Ma," a short Solkha to Karma Kagyu Protectors). Lots of laughter when it's finished, then it was social hour. A card table in the living room, with Ole's books on display for purchase.

Comparing it to any other Tibetan Dharma center, including even Vajradhatu/Shambhala centers, it was like apples and oranges. But hey, it was just one visit....can't say it was the typical experience.

Not completely untypical I'd say, although I disagree with your implication that people don't seem to know what they're doing. Every member of DW knows the 16th Karmapa meditation, knows the meaning of value of Guru Yoga, and takes the practice to heart. The meditation is usually led by one of the senior group members. The group repeats the Karmapa Chenno mantra together. The 'silent meditation' you mention is of course the completion phase of the meditation, and the guiding text explains it as well if not better than other Sadhanas.

The invocation of Mahakala is done after every group practice, and most people use it to finish their own meditation session at home as well. Beginner members of the groups often don't know the meaning so well, but those with more experience certainly do. Translations of the text are available. The empowerment for Mahakala has been given a few times by Karmapa Thaye Dorje. Ole often explains it's power, in connecting the DW centres to the lineage, and keeping the protection of that lineage in daily life. It is done sitting, not standing. Those who know the meaning will usually do more than just chant, but actually visualize the practice, and if you received the empowerment, finish with some mantra's and completion.

The group practices are indeed very short. These 'open evenings' are an introduction to meditation, and indeed a social gathering. That makes it easy for new-comers to join, try the practice, connect to people, ask questions in an informal way. And it's just fun! I don't see anything wrong there. Please don't believe that the students don't practice more than this. Everyone has his own personal practice. Usually ngondro followed by the 8th Karmapa Guru Yoga (Tunshi Lamai Naljor). I have not seen any other sangha in which such a great number of people practiced and completed the ngondro.

Besides the Ngondro, Guru yoga of 8th Karmapa, and Mahakala, there is a few other practices:

First of all Chenrezig, which is not practiced a lot in groups anymore, but mostly individually. I'd guess that Ole has told more than 50% of his long-time students at some point to do this practice. Often 100.000 mantras. And if you tell him you finished, another 1.000.000 :) (and so on, I'd guess, until the result is there)

Clear light, which is a practice involving yogini, given by the 15th Karmapa, to remain in awareness during sleep. It's very concise (in fact a super stripped down version of one of the yogas), and works wonders.

Phowa, which is given in big courses by lama Ole. The practice of conscious dying. Very powerful. No matter what your believes about Ole and the DW are, he is a real master of this practice, and has benefited countless people by teaching this practice, and helping them live and die in positive ways. To paraphrase Ole, 'death to a yogi, is like waking up a little'.

Some side practices, which are not done all that much, like Tsepame, Sangye Menla, etc. Indeed deities are often referred to in their English names, 'Buddha of Long Life', 'Medicine Buddha', etc. Ole often gives a simple practice for Medicine Buddha, where people not only learn to practice it themselves, but also learn how to invoke it for others who are ill.

Finally, Ole sometimes gives a practice at big courses, which I won't mention here. Think of it as a combination of great blessing, and a pointing out instruction. That's to find out for those who go in a little deeper, this would not be the place to discuss it.

So yes my friends, the practices in the DW centres are very simple. You can learn it all, without ever having to make tormas, do mudras, buy a dorje, bell, serkhym etc. Just the essence. People practice hard, and get results. Indeed you might say that the knowledge of the tradition is limited within DW groups. But it's certainly an authentic part of the tradition. Again, no matter what you think of Ole as a person, I think he created a beautiful concise format for practicing the essence of Vajrayana in a modern style.

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(Full disclosure: I've been a DW student from 2002-2007, but now follow Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche in search of more depth and the connection to certain teachings. To his credit, Ole supported me in making that step. I still visit his centers every now and then. Any questions about this matter, public or private, are welcome)
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Re: An interesting academic analysis of Diamond Way

Postby Knotty Veneer » Sun Apr 29, 2012 1:03 pm

Although I have no time for Ole, Diamondway is an interesting phenomenon. Like Vajradhatu, it's an attempt to envisage a lay Western Vajrayana Buddhist movement. Unfortunately, its leadership appears dysfunctional and Ole is not really the person who is going to actually make something like this work. Other groups who've tried this sort of thing like the Triratna Community or Vajradhatu/Shambhala tend to end up with a rather ragbag set of practices drawn from a variety of sources which does not reflect a single source tradition (that is not to say they are ineffective). Other groups like the New Kadampa are not really lay communities in the same sense even though they chant in the vernacular etc. and of course they are lead by a Tibetan monk. Maybe something like the Aro gTer group might be a better example - although it seems to draw a lot of criticism around the authenticity of its teachings (something I am not in a position to comment on).

I think a lay Vajryana tradition in the West would be really interesting but it really require a Westerner who is high learned in the chosen tradition and very spiritually advanced. Of the few Westerners who may lay claim to those qualities none some yet interested in starting such a community. Whether such a thing could ever work at this time in history is debatable. Maybe we need more time.
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Re: An interesting academic analysis of Diamond Way

Postby Sherab Dorje » Sun Apr 29, 2012 2:33 pm

Knotty Veneer wrote:its leadership appears dysfunctional and Ole is not really the person who is going to actually make something like this work.
Hate to be the one to inform you, but it is already working, there are more than 600 Diamond Way centres worldwide.
Other groups who've tried this sort of thing like the Triratna Community or Vajradhatu/Shambhala tend to end up with a rather ragbag set of practices drawn from a variety of sources which does not reflect a single source tradition (that is not to say they are ineffective).
that's not the case with DW though, since it draws all its practices from the Karma Kagyu tradition and, from my personal experience, here in Greece and in France they are practiced in Tibetan.
Maybe something like the Aro gTer group might be a better example - although it seems to draw a lot of criticism around the authenticity of its teachings (something I am not in a position to comment on).
Aro people have no legitimacy because they do not belong to any tradition (cf above comment) so, except for the fact that they are both lay organisations, they are not really comparable.

My take on the DW issue: Ole Nydhal seems to lack official credentials as a lama (official by strict Karma Kagyu standards), that is 100% for sure. As a positive DW has the backing and support of an official lineage. Now, of course, some may deny this since it is (currently) affiliated to the 17th Karmapa Thaye Trinley Dorje, BUT it was set up under the auspices of the 16th Karmapa AND it has the backing of the Sharmapa who was officially recognised by the 16th Karmapa (and the Tibetan government in exile). This puts it in a completely different league to Triratna, Aro and NKT. It puts it closer to, though not in the same category as, the original Shambala (with the major difference that Chogyam Trungpa was, undoubtably, an officially recognised teacher).

From what I have seen, the organisation does not operate like a cult. Students are encouraged to receive teachings and transmissions from recognised masters, there is none of the paranoia and secrecy of other cult groups BUT there is a great deal of adoration for Ole Nydahl. He is, unfortunately, the type of person you either love or hate.

I find that most of the criticism of the group comes from an American Protestant puritanist mind set (this is kind of humorous for us here in Europe when you take into account the humanistic (and lay) nature of European Protestantism) and does not really have any basis in the teachings of Buddhist sexual ethics. Many times I also discern a certain "jealousy" in the critiques of the, currently, highly sucessful nature of the organisation.

Another invalid basis for many critiques is the fact that the organisation actively supports the 17th Karmapa Thaye Trinley. I imagine that if DW supported, and was guided by, the 17th Karmpa Urgyen Trinley then the criticism from the US (where UT is more "popular") would lessen and the criticism from Europe (where TT is more "popular") would grow. Mind you, there are a fair number of critics of DW from within the mandala of Thaye Trinley too. Most of the time I find this criticism comes from qualified European lama that don't have the charisma to develop their "schools" to the level that DW has grown.

It will be interesting to see what will happen to DW when Ole Nydahl dies (long life to him). You can be sure though that whatever happens will be 99% politics and 1% Dharma!
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Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
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Re: An interesting academic analysis of Diamond Way

Postby honestdboy » Sun Apr 29, 2012 3:12 pm

Lama Ole does seem to be a teacher that people love or strongly dislike. Unfortunately, I have a hard time seeing any teacher as perfect. Thus, I am in the minority of folks having mixed feelings about him, but I think he does much more good than bad, since he has greatly spread interest in the Kagyu lineage as he travels tirelessly worldwide. I also prefer to listen to teachers who say what they really think. He is an inspiring teacher for certain types of people. :anjali:
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