Thoughts. Experiences. Inspiration.

Mount Shasta and our first Dorje Shugden post

February 21, 2020 4


Tsem Rinpoche taking a break in Mount Shasta, California.

So we went public with our Dorje Shugden practice in 2014 but how did it come to be? Except for a small handful of people with Rinpoche at the time, most do not know. Here’s that story…

We were in the US at the time and our team had been split over a few states, with each person given some individual assignments to accomplish. So I was away from California when I got the milestone phone call. It was around 10pm when my phone rang.

Who could that be? Oh, no Caller ID? Ah, okay.

It could only be one person. I answered immediately and sure enough, it was Pastor Seng Piow on the other end.

Rinpoche wants to talk to you. Hold on.

Not a heartbeat later, Rinpoche was on the phone.

Jean Ai, can you hear me?

“Yes Rinpoche.”

Is the line clear?

“Yes Rinpoche.”

Are you sitting down?

“Yes Rinpoche.” (Uh oh, what could it be?)

Okay Jean Ai, I just wanted you to hear this news from me because you work very hard so I felt you deserved to know this. You’re one of the first people to know this.

“Yes Rinpoche.” (Oh no, is it bad news?)

“I just wanted you to know that we have received permission to be open with our Dorje Shugden practice.”

Instantly, I burst into tears.

Rinpoche then asked me not to tell anyone else yet. Being such a sensitive matter, it had to be announced the correct way and Rinpoche had a few more people he wanted to speak to first. I acknowledged what Rinpoche said and then, through my sobbing and heaving, apologised for my manners and losing my composure.

Rinpoche very kindly said,

“It’s okay, I know you’re very happy. Don’t worry. You’re crying because this is something you’ve wanted for a long time. It’s very emotional for me too, don’t be embarrassed. Okay Jean Ai, I’m going to hang up now. I just wanted you to hear this from me. Be happy, okay?”

“Yes Rinpoche *sob* thank you Rinpoche.”

After Rinpoche hung up, I sat there on the edge of my bed for a full 10 minutes, unable to stop crying. Each time I thought about what it meant for us to be open about our practice, I started crying all over again. At the very least, it meant something as simple as being able to say “Dorje Shugden” without having to look over our shoulders to see who might be listening in.

Anyway, when I had finally calmed down enough, I texted Rinpoche to apologise (again!) and to thank Rinpoche for thinking to tell me such precious news.

A couple of days later, I was on a flight back to California. Rinpoche wanted me to meet him and a few of the Ladrang team but Rinpoche himself was travelling. So as soon as I landed in LAX, I met up with Pastor David and we hopped on the next flight to Medford, Oregon.

Mount Shasta in the distance

Mount Shasta in the distance

Rinpoche was travelling with another group in North California and South Oregon looking for potential retreat homes. One of the places of interest was Mount Shasta. An active volcano in North California, Mount Shasta is considered a powerful spiritual vortex by many and there are countless legends about the area. Some say it is home to a sacred spring, or to beings who have transcended the physical plane. Others say the mountain contains a crystal city full of ancient foes of Atlantis; another legend says that it is a portal to an underground city as part of the Hollow Earth Theory and from time to time, beings can be seen exiting the side of the mountain in spaceships.

Whatever it may be, Mount Shasta was a place Rinpoche had always wanted to visit and being in the area, we did.

The next step was identifying a hotel we could use as a base while we were still looking for potential retreat homes. During our search for such a base, we happened upon a Buddhist retreat listed on Airbnb and after taking a look, it quickly became our first choice of accommodation. Clean, quiet and with the promise of having the whole place to ourselves, we checked in that night itself.

It definitely helped that the central image on their altar in the gompa (prayer hall) was a large Manjushri statue! In fact, Rinpoche said it felt like an auspicious sign as there is no way we could have planned to connect with such a large Manjushri statue in the middle of North California. That was part of reason why Rinpoche felt it was the right time to start gently associating ourselves with the practice of Dorje Shugden, who is a wrathful emanation of Manjushri.

It was not a decision to be taken lightly. This statement was going to, amongst other things, end years of speculation about whether Tsem Tulku Rinpoche was still practising Dorje Shugden or not. It would, in effect, prevent Rinpoche from ever being able to return to his home in Gaden Monastery, South India because Rinpoche would become a target for the Tibetan anti-Shugden community.

Rinpoche asked us to consider if we were ready to risk physical harm, to be relentlessly attacked online, to lose sponsors, to have people scrutinise every aspect of our lives, for rumours to be circulated about our lama and everyone near and dear to us. Rinpoche asked us to think carefully because standing up for our Dorje Shugden practice would create a tidal wave that would be impossible to recall. Trying to ‘go back in the closet’, so to speak, would be like attempting to separate milk from water once mixed.

We went to the mountain itself to do a puja. While the offerings were being set up, Rinpoche asked for updates and anecdotes about my time away from the Ladrang.

We went to the mountain itself to do a puja. While the offerings were being set up, Rinpoche asked for updates and anecdotes about my time away from the Ladrang.

Being that there were many personal and organisational ramifications in publishing such a post, Rinpoche explained there was a need for such careful consideration since we would for sure receive a great deal of backlash. A discussion ensued and we concluded that if we were being given permission to be public about our practice, then no harm would ultimately come from following that advice and only benefit would arise if we followed instructions.

Situations like this often happened around Rinpoche. Although Rinpoche, with his clairvoyance, already knew what would be the most beneficial decision to make, there would normally be a discussion beforehand. This happened for a few reasons:

  1. Rinpoche wanted us to learn to be responsible for our decisions. If things went wrong, we could not say, “I didn’t know about that” or “I didn’t know that was going to happen”. Conversely, if things went well, it was because the decision had been well-thought out.
  2. There would come a time when Rinpoche would no longer be around and we had to be somehow trained in making decisions in a manner that benefits the most sentient beings. In observing our discussions, Rinpoche would be able to guide us, ask certain questions to get us thinking in a different way, throw a spanner in the works to make us think harder and so on.
  3. Rinpoche never wanted us to jump into anything blindly. We had to fully understand the consequences of our actions, and how it would affect everyone on a micro and macro level. The same applied to our Dharma practice; Rinpoche did not believe in people engaging in practices they did not understand or had little knowledge of. In the tradition of Je Tsongkhapa, Rinpoche believed that spirituality should be based on logic and knowledge, and not blind faith.
  4. The discussion would give Rinpoche an opportunity to see how our minds worked, what we focused on, what we valued, whether we thought about every angle and so on. Over the years, Rinpoche would then be able to observe how a person’s mind developed and what direction it was developing in. This would give Rinpoche the opportunity to adapt and tailor the training accordingly.

These discussions were, in effect, like a monastery debate where monks will debate a topic from every angle until there is a ‘victor’. In this way, Rinpoche trained us to be analytical, discerning and not to take everything on face value.

Anyway, at the end of our discussion at Mount Shasta, Rinpoche agreed with our logic and so gathered at the dining table, Rinpoche started to dictate the content for a post on the blog. I transcribed and worked on the HTML, while Pastors David and Seng Piow helped to look for images that would eventually be uploaded to the blog. Then, some light editing later and we were done. Rinpoche closed his eyes and, with a lot of devotion, recited dedication verses, praying that the post would be of benefit to others, that it would shine light on the Dorje Shugden situation and help to lift the ban. With that, Rinpoche hit ‘publish’.

And that is how I pray to what I want to came to be published on December 3, 2014. What you are seeing in the topmost photo of this post is the team taking a break after publishing our very first post on our religious freedom to practise whatever we want, Dorje Shugden included. Rinpoche joking with Pastor David, Pastor Seng Piow trying to get comfortable and JP away from the table preparing snacks for everyone.

Thanks to Rinpoche’s kindness, Mount Shasta will forever hold special memories for the group of us that were there, fortunate enough to play a small part in this milestone in Kechara’s history.

To my Lama, who is one with Heruka, we look forward to welcoming you home soon.

Life in Kechara: Behind The Scenes

4 Comments → “Mount Shasta and our first Dorje Shugden post”

  1. Grace Leu 4 years ago   Reply

    Thanks for sharing this special moments.This walk us through how the 1st DS post was delivered.Thanks for Rinpoche to make connection DS with us.

    • Pastor Elena K. Jean Ai 4 years ago   Reply

      Hi Grace, thank you for taking the time to read this post and to comment! 🙂

  2. Amy 4 years ago   Reply

    Hi PJA,
    Thank you for sharing your memories of Rinpoche with is. I always get a little teary eyed when I read your post, especially the last paragraph.
    With much appreciation,

    • Pastor Elena K. Jean Ai 4 years ago   Reply

      Hi Amy,

      It is my privilege to be able to share some of the experiences we were fortunate enough to have with our Guru. In sharing, I hope that it will bring others closer to the bodhisattva that Rinpoche is, and to remember and rejoice in his great deeds, and encourage support for the similarly beneficial works that his reincarnation will surely engage in.

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