Rick: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of interviews with spiritually awakening people. I’ve done many hundreds of them now and if this is new to you and you would like to see previous ones, please go to batgap.com, B-A-T-G-A-P, and look at the past interviews menu. This program is made possible by the support of appreciative listeners and viewers and is made freely available to anyone who wants to watch it. So if you appreciate it and would like to support it, there’s a PayPal button on every page of the site. My guest today is Lama Tsültrim Allione and each word in her name has a story behind it, which we’ll be getting into. She is an author, an internationally known Buddhist teacher, and the founder and resident Lama of Tara Mandala Retreat Center in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. She’s the author of “Women of Wisdom” and national bestseller “Feeding Your Demons, Ancient Wisdom for Resolving Inner Conflict,” which is now translated into 17 languages, and her upcoming book “Wisdom Rising, Journey into the Mandala of the Empowered Feminine.” She was born in New England to an academic and publishing family, she traveled to India in her late teens, which we’ll be talking about is quite an adventure, and in 1970 at the age of 22 was ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist nun by His Holiness the 16th Karmapa. After four years living as a nun in the Himalayan region, she returned her monastic vows, married, and raised a family of three children. She has a master’s degree in Buddhist studies, women’s studies, from Antioch University. Her writings and teachings come from her sublime Tibetan Lamas, as well as her experience as a Western woman and mother. She is known for her ability to translate the wisdom of the ancient Tibetan Buddhist tradition into clear teachings that are relatable and relevant to Western audiences. Lama Tsultrim continues to guide Theramandala as a resident Lama, as well as thousands of students around the world. She was named Buddhist Woman of the Year in dry to read a prepared bio, but it gives you an overview and I particularly like to do that for people who might be listening to this as an audio podcast and may not have had a chance to read the description on the website. So welcome Lama Tsultrim, thank you for doing this.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Thank you, nice to be with you.
Rick: Yeah, so let’s start at the beginning, so-called beginning. What caused you to end up traveling to India at such a young age?
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Well, my maternal grandmother had given me a book on Buddhism when I was 15 years old. She was quite extraordinary woman, the fifth woman to get a PhD from Harvard Radcliffe in philosophy, and so she was interested in Buddhist philosophy and so that was in a way a seed experience for me, that book, and I was always attracted to Asia, to Japan, to anything, but particularly to Tibet. And so when I went to college I met a friend in my freshman year, we were both a little stranger than most of the people at the school, and so we were interested in each other and her name is Victress Hitchcock. You might know her from the films that she made, “When the Iron Bird Flies.”
Rick: Any relation to Alfred Hitchcock?
Lama Tsültrim Allione: No, I don’t think so. But anyway, her father was the Consul General in Calcutta, that’s now Kolkata, and so I was invited to go with her to India, and it was in India that I saw my first Tibetan. We were actually working with Mother Teresa in the home for unwed mothers and abandoned babies, and we were on the street one day and a rickshaw went by with a woman in it and a child and she said, “That’s a Tibetan,” and there was something about it that just struck me, and I was Tibetan, just looking and it was kind of like a bell went off in my karmic history mind, and then we ended up going to Nepal where I actually met Tibetans and began to go to a Tibetan monastery every morning at dawn and just sit in the monastery, and then after I’d done that for about three weeks they started serving me tea with the monks. And that was the beginning, and then I left Nepal and sort of escaped from the embassy and hitchhiked across India, northern India, with a Japanese traveler, and we landed in Dharamsala. I mean we didn’t land there where we were going there, that’s why we were traveling. So that was my second immersion, I guess you could say, after Kathmandu.
Rick: And Dharamsala is where the Dalai Lama lives, in case people don’t know that.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah, and that was 1967, and so the Dalai Lama had been there less than ten years at that point because he escaped from the Chinese invasion in 1959, and so it was really just these shacks that were flattened kerosene cans and sort of stuck together with bamboo. That was Dharamsala, now it’s a thriving… have you been there?
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah, well it’s a definite town now with lots of hotels, big hotels and so on. But at that time it was really just a refugee community, and for me what really struck me was the horrific stories they would tell me about watching their whole family be murdered in front of them or their escape over the Himalayas and so on, like really incredible trauma, but they had such a joy in them, it just didn’t make sense considering what they’d been through. And so that joy I discovered came from the Dharma and their practice and their devotion to the Dalai Lama who was living there, of course. So those two experiences, first in Kathmandu and then in Dharamsala, were sort of the seed experiences for me.
Rick: And then you went back to the West, right?
Lama Tsültrim Allione: For a while, not so long, I came back overland from London, having met Trungpa Rinpoche in Scotland, before he came to the United States, and then at that time you could actually drive from London to Kathmandu through Iraq and Iran and Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Rick: Yeah, I interviewed this guy who’s the leader of the Hare Krishna movement, he actually hitchhiked that whole route and made it alive, which these days you wouldn’t.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah, it really was pretty safe at that time. We were in a VW bus and had to get two new engines on the way, but it’s sort of extraordinary to even think about that right now. But then when I got back to Kathmandu in December of 1969, I heard that His Holiness Karmapa was in Kathmandu, who’s sort of like you could say the second highest Lama under the Dalai Lama, and I had heard about him because of a sadhana that I had received from Trungpa Rinpoche, in which he’s mentioned a lot, but my friend Vicky, who had gone to India earlier, had told me that she’d met him in Sikkim, in Rumtuk, just a small Himalayan kingdom north of Darjeeling, Calcutta, and she said, “Oh, he’s really fat and he wears a gold watch,” and so that immediately put him out of the running for potential gurus in my mind. I don’t want a fat guru, and of course if he has a gold watch he couldn’t be spiritual, and so I was refusing to go see him and everyone else was going to see him and basically blown away by his presence. And so I eventually went, my friends convinced me, and I went into a crowd, a big Tibetan crowd at the top of this little mountain in the center of Kathmandu where there’s a stupa which is a sort of reliquary, big, it’s like maybe three stories high, with a white large white skirt coming out from it, and so he was there and he was giving what’s called the Black Hat Ceremony, which is a very ancient ceremony that he’s been doing for many lifetimes, and in it he goes into Samadhi and he does 108 recitations of the mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum” and sends compassion and blessings out while he’s holding this hat on his head with his hand because it’s said that the hat will fly away if he doesn’t hold it, because it was given to him by the Dakinis who are female embodiments of wisdom, in this case not embodied as humans but as kind of like Gandharvas or luminous beings. So what happened to me was…
Rick: Let me ask you a question, I remember you telling a story that in Buddhist legend the Buddha was born from his mother’s armpit because it was too impure to be born the usual way, and that made me think, well I guess you have to treat all these legends as myths, because obviously he wasn’t born from his mother’s armpit. So when you hear stories about all these different stories and legends and everything else, how literally do you take them?
Lama Tsültrim Allione: That’s a good question because there certainly are a lot of them. I do take many of them as legend or myth, but I’ve also happened to have witnessed in my own life actual miracles that I wouldn’t have thought could happen, and so I also am open to the magic or that mythic level of experience.
Rick: Yeah, that’s a good answer. I mean we’ve all read “Autobiography of a Yogi” and you know I kind of like feel that a lot of that stuff, if not all of it, is possible, but I have a little bit of a skeptical attitude. Like just today somebody emailed me and said something about, you know, practice of yoga is going to make you immortal, you know, and I thought, okay great, show me some provable examples, you know, so this is sort of blend of skepticism and credibility.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah, openness, yeah, I think that’s important and yet it’s also important to be open to the possibility of things that we in the West think couldn’t happen happening.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Because I think if we don’t hold that openness we probably won’t encounter them.
Rick: Yeah, and not only we in the West but maybe we in this age, you know, maybe this age has gotten a little crude and it’s not as conducive to these sorts of things happening as a more ancient age might have been.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yes, although I’ve witnessed them in my lifetime.
Rick: So tell us some of these things you’ve witnessed, that was kind of a tantalizing little hint there, what sort of things you’re referring to.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Well, I saw a lama put his hand, imprint his hand into a rock like it was butter, and I actually have the rock. And I had given him the rock.
Rick: So you knew it didn’t have a handprint?
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah, no, no, it didn’t. And the interesting thing about it was when I had given it to him, he was here at Taramandala, and I had heard that he did this and I thought it would be a blessing to have a relic like that at Taramandala. And so I had given a rock to his sister who’s a nun, he’s a monk, and said, you know, “Would Rinpoche possibly imprint this as a blessing for our temple?” She took it, didn’t say anything, and days went by and then there’s a certain day he was here for maybe three weeks, and there’s a certain day where I was coming back from doing this practice in this hidden meadow at Taramandala where we were doing a certain fairly secret practice, and I thought that rock I gave was too small because it was only about that big, but it had this frame around it and I thought that would be perfect for like a thumbprint or something, and then I thought, “Oh, but if I gave him a bigger rock he would do his whole hand, and I should really, you know, I should get a bigger rock.” And so I stopped and picked one up by the side of the road, and then when I got there I gave it to his sister and she said, “No, it’s not auspicious to change it now, you already requested it with this rock,” so I let it go. And then, shall I tell the story about how this happened?
Rick: Yeah, why not? I mean everybody’s going to be like frustrated if you don’t continue now.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Okay, so we had lunch and he was in a very altered state. At that time we didn’t have any buildings at Taramandala, we were just in tents, and so we were sitting outside the tent after lunch with all the dirty dishes on the table and so on, and he was in this kind of altered state where he was singing Dzogchen poetry, Dzogchen is the highest nature of mind teachings in the Tibetan tradition, but it was all rhyming and I was kind of like, “How is he doing this?” You know, it was going on for like a half hour, and then I noticed he had the rock in his hand and then he said, “Go and get people with faith,” and so I ran up to our outdoor kitchen and tried to figure out who had faith, told them to come, and so maybe about 20 people came and then he had it in his hand and he was kind of like moving it back and forth and then all of a sudden he just went “Pet,” which is a seed syllable sound, and then he looked at the rock and sure enough that his thumb had gone into it maybe about a quarter of an inch, and then he looked at the back and you could see, you know, like in the back where he would have held it with this finger, it was kind of seared, like it looked like the rock had been seared, it was lighter in color, but it hadn’t gone in very far, and then he said, “Oh, there was someone here without faith,” because if everyone had had faith it would have gone in on both sides, and I thought that was really interesting because it showed me the maker or the container for this to happen in required faith, and that’s kind of what we were talking about before, like to have that openness to the possibility of something unusual happening, and the other thing that was interesting about that was he showed it to me and he showed it to everybody there and blessed them with it, and then he said, “I want to keep it for a few days and put the blessings into it,” and that was another interesting thing for me because I thought, “Well, isn’t it already blessed? Isn’t that enough?” But my understanding of blessings is it’s almost like a substance that can be put into an object and then that object has blessing power, and so he did keep it for a few days and I still have it, and so that’s an example.
Rick: Okay, that’s interesting. Do you have any idea what the mechanics of something like that would be? I mean, on the level of physics it would be hard to explain, but you know.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah, that’s an interesting question because my son was a scientist at that time on a PhD track in microbiology and not interested really in the Dharma, and he came to visit me right after this happened and I showed it to him and he knew scientifically what would have had to happen for that to happen, and it just blew his mind that knowing what would be required scientifically, and in that moment his mind turned to the Dharma, and now he’s done four years of solitary retreat, he’s on a PhD track in Buddhist philosophy now and has an MA already, and otherwise he would have been a scientist. And so, yeah, it’s an interesting question, how could that happen? And the other thing is it doesn’t look like force, it looks kind of like if you stuck your thumbprint into butter, like you can see the whorls of the thumb in it.
Rick: You can actually see the thumbprint?
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah.
Rick: Oh, interesting. Wow, well you know that comment I made a few minutes ago about maybe in past ages this sort of thing was more likely. Some people say that the ambient level of consciousness in the world kind of suppresses the possibilities that might otherwise be lively, and that in a world in which a higher level of consciousness was prevailed, most people, or many people would be capable of these kinds of things and they would just be part of human ability and we would take them rather matter-of-factly and not make a fuss about them. They would just kind of be, you know, we have all kinds of abilities that would just sort of be normal because they were common.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: I think that we do live, we live in a field of, of course, the field of nature and our environment, but also we live in the field of each other’s thoughts and each other’s minds, and you know we certainly see this in a relationship with anybody that the relationship with them and at what level you can communicate really depends so much on the field of both of those people. And so it kind of reminds me of the title of your program, “The Buddha at the Gas Pump,” you know, like would you recognize the Buddha at the gas pump if you met him there and would he be able to communicate with you his wisdom if you weren’t open to that level of being?
Rick: Yeah, that’s all sort of implied in the title, you know, it’s just sort of extraordinary people in ordinary circumstances becoming more and more common in today’s world, at least hopefully, and the implications that might have for the world. Yeah, okay, so let’s get back to your story. So there you were, coming overland in a VW bus. I’m sure it’s not something that you and I would want to do at our age, but it’s the kind of thing we did when we were that age, but you ended up back in India and then what happened? L Well, I did go to see the Karmapa I was telling you and experienced this black hat ceremony and then went sort of in the wave of humanity that was squishing their way to the front to get a blessing with him and you sort of funneled into this doorway, single doorway, and so it ended up being one by one, but there was lots of pushing and jostling and being with the Tibetans and their big, you know, wool chubas and so on. Anyway, so I ended up in front of him and looked up and he smiled this amazing smile, just like the biggest smile I’ve ever seen in my life, still now, I haven’t seen another smile like that, and then he said something to this Bhutanese doctor who was his translator, didn’t say anything to me, and then I went on, you know, with the crowd and then a few days later I started having this feeling that there was something I was supposed to do and it was to find my guru, but I was sure it wasn’t him because he was fat and he had a gold watch, that disqualified him. But anyway, then I decided it was this yogi who was up at the mountain where the Karmapa was and so he took me to his room and you know I was sort of asking him to be my teacher and then he took a picture of Karmapa from the shrine and he said, “No, it’s him, this is Karmapa’s guru,” and so I thought, yeah, maybe I’m just being kind of limited in the way that I’ve dismissed him, and so then I opened, as we were just talking about, to that possibility of him being my teacher and eventually decided that I would request ordination as a nun, and so I went to him one morning and made that request and he looked at me with this long silent look and I was looking back at him and it was like he was reading my whole karmic history, and then he nodded and he said, “Yes, I will ordain you, but not here, I want to ordain you in Bodhgaya, under the Bodhi tree.”
Rick: Is that where the Buddha got enlightened?
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yes. Yeah, and he was going there next. I don’t know why, maybe he thought that would be more blessings there, but he was doing ordinations in Kathmandu, but in any case, or maybe he just wanted to see if I really wanted to do it enough to actually go there and so on, but anyway, I was ordained there on January full moon of four main reincarnate lamas connected to him, very intimate ceremony, very powerful, and then when I went out from the ceremony that Bhutanese doctor congratulated me and there I was, no hair, kind of wondering what I had done, and then he said, “You know, when His Holiness first saw you there, Shwayambhu, he predicted this, he told me that you were going to be ordained and that you had been his disciple in many lifetimes,” and so that was interesting because it was certainly not in my mind at that time, but he could see it and he said, “And you will benefit the Dharma, he predicted you’ll benefit the Dharma in your life,” which seems like very remote possibility, but it didn’t seem possible at that time.
Rick: Yeah, and so you did years of rather intense practices I understand it, including like long silent retreats in Himalayan caves and stuff like that. Give us just a sort of an overview of what you’ve been through in terms of that kind of sadhana.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Well, I lived in India, Nepal for about three, three, four years, and I practiced in holy places and sacred places, so sometimes it was in isolation in caves in the Himalayas. I was up at a cave at one point that was about 16,000 feet high. It’s there for six weeks and I never really acclimated, but it was incredible place near Mount Everest. So places like that and then a lot of times in huts, like little stone hut in the Himalayas. I also practiced in Bodh Gaya and Sarnath and some of those sacred places, and my practice was a combination of the traditional Tibetan preparatory practices called Nundro, which means that which goes before that which are quite rigorous to do, involving for example a hundred thousand full-length prostrations and going pretty fast, it takes 20 minutes to do a hundred, and so you can imagine how long that takes.
Rick: You do a hundred, you couldn’t possibly do a hundred thousand consecutively.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: No, no, no.
Rick: Over a period of a month or something.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah.
Rick: It must be get in great shape physically.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: I could do about a thousand a day after I got going. Some people can do more than that, but I decided just to do a thousand a day. So my practice was that and also Samantha practice. I was trained by a mountain yogi in a progressive form of Samantha practice which begins with quite simple practice of being with the breath and then gradually goes more toward nature of mind, mind looking at mind.
Rick: So it’s more meditative, inward kind of thing.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah.
Rick: Do you feel that those physical things such as the thousand prostrations or a hundred thousand over the course of weeks, and you sometimes see these people going on pilgrimages where they prostrate their way all the way up to Mount Kailash or something, you know, over hundreds of miles. Do you feel that those are really meritorious? I mean, in retrospect, over the course of your whole life now, looking at all the things you’ve done, all the things you’ve seen, do you feel like people really derive a lot of spiritual benefit from those?
Lama Tsültrim Allione: I still do prostrations every day. I like it. I mean, I’m not doing a thousand a day, more like a hundred or, you know, sometimes less than that depending on my time, but what I experience with prostrations in particular is because you go all the way down it’s almost like a massage of your subtle body as you go down and up, and it is very strengthening, physically strengthening, plus it’s tied to meditation, and I haven’t done that kind of practice, you know, and Bodhgaya have done it around the Bodhi tree of full prostrations, you know, on the ground, but I think the people I’ve seen that are doing it are just glowing. I met people in Mount Kailash who were doing it and I think it’s very purifying, it’s strengthening, and the devotion and so on that is required is meritorious.
Rick: Yeah, it must, I mean, it takes tremendous determination and dedication to even do such a thing. It also seems to be symbolically that you’re, I don’t know to whom or what you’re prostrating, but it seems like it must attenuate the ego somehow and culture humility.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Exactly, it’s a thing that works with pride, and it’s quite a complex visualization that you’re doing, you’re not just throwing yourself on the ground.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: No, so there’s a whole mind yoga with it as well.
Rick: So it might be something good for Donald Trump to take up and do every morning instead of watching Fox News.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: If only, right?
Rick: Okay, so I want to keep going with your story but I don’t want to devote all our time to that because your book is very interesting and we want to talk about the points that it brings out in that. So, you know, given the amount of time we have and the overview that you must have in mind of the things you consider most important, let’s budget our time and, you know, kind of touch upon the most important aspects of your life story, but also save plenty of time for the things you bring out in your book. So how shall we proceed with that in mind?
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Well, maybe I could talk or you could ask me a little more questions about my life and the salient points that relate to what has become this current book, or what parts of my life you know something about it now you think would be interesting and useful to your listeners.
Rick: Well, people might be wondering why you disrobed and how you ended up having children and all that stuff, and as I understand it disrobing is not that big a deal in the Tibetan tradition, it’s not like you’re sort of cursed and fallen, it’s sort of like, okay, you did your time in that and maybe it’s time for a new phase.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah, I mean they do call you a fallen nun, but that was an interesting thing for me, was how would they approach me when I went to give my vows back. So I’ll just give a little background of why I decided to do that. I did actually love being a nun and I was very happy, but I felt like if I did that my whole life I would start to be repressing aspects of myself like my sexuality and that that wouldn’t necessarily be healthy for me, and you know I’m not saying it’s not for everybody, I think some people are very suited to that, but I wasn’t really like someone who always wanted to be a nun. I just kind of ended up as a nun with that Karmapa.
Rick: It’s kind of a spur-of-the-moment decision really.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Very, yes, I wasn’t a Buddhist at the time, but anyway, so that was an aspect. And the other thing was I came back to the West as a nun and I was literally the only Tibetan Buddhist nun in the entire country, Tibetan or Western, was the only one, and so that was very lonely because monasticism is really a group practice, you know, you have the support of the other monks and nuns and so on, and I had no support. And you know I’d go into the supermarket and they’d ask me if I’d had brain surgery, was I Hare Krishna, you know, I just stood out in a way that maybe I didn’t really want to. It wasn’t like that in Asia, but when I got back here it was like that. And so it wasn’t an easy decision, it really wasn’t. It took me about six months to make the decision, but then I finally did and I returned my vows to Khamtrul Rinpoche, who was a great lama, who was also a monk in Tashijung, which is in the Kangra Valley in India, not far from Dharamsala, and he said, “Dedicate the merit of your time as a nun to benefit all beings, to the benefit of all beings.” Instead of saying, “You’re a bad girl, you know, you broke your vows,” it was like, “No, take all that positive energy, generate it, offer it out, and then go on.” And my actual teacher at that time, who’s not a monk, so he couldn’t receive the vows back, but he said, you know, of Guru Rinpoche’s 25 disciples, and Guru Rinpoche was the being who brought Buddhism to Tibet, of his 25 disciples, there were only a couple of monastics, and they impacted Tibet as practitioners, until now, and so don’t feel like you can’t follow your path as a lay person. And so I did some practices, some purification practices, because I did break my vows, and then sometimes I say I got pregnant five minutes after. It wasn’t quite that quick, but it was pretty fast, and I was pretty young and innocent in a way, in terms of relationship and all that. And so anyway, within a year of having given back my vows I was a mother, and then within 17 months of that I was a mother again, and then eventually I also had twins, and so my life completely shifted from having infinite amount of time for meditation to basically having no time for myself at all, never mind meditation, you know, hardly time to brush my teeth.
Rick: Yeah, there’s a new movie out with Charlize Theron, I think it’s called “Pully,” it’s about what a burnout it is to be a mother. So you really went into the thick of it. Yeah, I remember hearing you say that there were times when you thought, “Oh my God, what have I done? What have I taken on here? This is too much,” and you had some regrets almost.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah, I don’t think I ever regretted being a mother, and I don’t think any parent does, at least none that I’ve known, but it certainly is much more than anyone thinks it’s going to be, and then having so many so soon, so quickly, that was very intense, but it was really important for me as a practitioner actually, because I had to bring the Buddha to the gas pump, but more like bring the Buddha to the kitchen sink or the diaper table or the middle of the night no sleep experience. Seven years, I figured, seven years I didn’t have a full night’s sleep, and so that was an amazing kind of training ground for patience and generosity and all the paramitas in a way that had I stayed in a nun and lived in caves and so on, I wouldn’t have had that. I would have had something else, you know, that would have been equally valuable, but I really feel like that helped me to understand others and have more compassion for others. Going through that, it’s very humbling.
Rick: So without skipping anything really important, I want to be sure to get to have plenty of time to talk about the themes in your book. Is there anything else in the, I mean here it is decades later of course, and you’ve raised the kids, one of your children died tragically. Well, let’s just divert into that for a second. One of them died from sudden instant death syndrome and how did that, I mean it’s kind of trivial. I’ve tried to ask how it affected you.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Well, I mean it is important because it led me to write my first book. Her death caused me to go into a kind of descent in which I really, everything that I had sort of held on to seemed to not be a support and I felt I needed the stories of women, Buddhist women, and how did they deal with this kind of thing. And at that time there were no stories of Buddhist women. You know there’s a story of Milarepa or of course the story of the Buddha who left his children, his child, and went out the window in the middle of the night. He didn’t stay.
Rick: Deadbeat dad.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah, probably didn’t even pay child support.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: But anyway, so Chiara’s death made me seek the stories of women, the biographies of women, and that became my first book and also became the way that I got interested in the stories of women and then women in general. I never even thought about it as a subject, but to write the book I had to do research and so I found out about the history of women in Buddhism and more about just the history of women religion and it raised my awareness, my consciousness as we say, about women and gave me a tremendous appreciation of women and the feminine principle. And so in a way that experience which you brought up was really seminal in terms of this current book and also a lot of what I’ve done in my life in terms of women and the feminine.
Rick: Yeah, you told this story about how when you were a nun you had to, you and the other nuns had to sort of sit behind all the male monks and even little five-year-olds who were all fidgety and not paying attention to what was going on, but you had to sit behind them and then all the lay people had sat behind you and they weren’t really into what was going on, they were all chit-chatting and having a party. It seems so sexist in terms of the things that were waking up.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah, it is sexist and it is one of the vows of the nuns to sit behind the monks always.
Rick: Yeah, there’s a cool story about how you were riding in a car with a Buddhist teacher, you’ll know his name, and you were haranguing him as you were going along about this inequity between men and women and Buddhism and his sister in the back seat was like, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, but that really set the ball rolling in terms of some significant change taking place.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah, it was interesting because he went back to Tibet and this is the same lama that imprinted his hand into the rock by the way, and he made changes in Tibet and came back the next year and very happily reported to me that he had created a college for women so that they could get the same level of degree that the male monk could get and it made a lot of similar changes.
Rick: That’s great. I mean, my impression is that there’s a lot of valuable stuff in the ancient traditions, but if we just accept it all blindly we are going to perpetuate a lot of stuff that is not valuable and so we really have to sort of pick and choose and reevaluate our assumptions and analyze these things and see if they really hold up, you know, because a lot of the stuff just might have been a bunch of crusty old men imposing their misogynist attitudes and establishing some tradition which has no spiritual merit to it whatsoever.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah, that could be crusty young men too.
Rick: Crusty young men, yeah, struggling and straining against that to which they were attracted.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yes, and making the women the problem.
Rick: Yeah, yeah, very good point. Yeah, I mean, yeah, there’s so many stories of monks being tempted by women and then blaming the women, like you know, the women are the big temptress, so how about their self-discipline and discrimination?
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah, and I don’t know if you remember the beginning of my book but I talked about the split between spirit and matter and traditions that emphasize transcendence and the disembodied spiritual have traditionally associated women and nature with the non-spiritual. And so
Rick: actually I love that part of your book and as soon as I started reading it I thought, “Oh boy, this is great.” I had no idea what your book was going to be about, but I love that topic and I think I’d like to talk with you about it for a little while because I think it’s extremely important and relevant to the very continuation of the human race, actually.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yes, yes, I feel that way too.
Rick: Yeah, let’s get into it.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah.
Rick: So, yeah, so spell it out for us, I could elaborate but you can do it better and it’s your book, so kind of lay out the whole premise there.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Well, historically women and nature have been treated in a similar way. So when women have been respected, nature has been respected and vice versa. And so in our patriarchal religions, which is pretty much every world religion that we have today, generally women and nature have been considered an obstacle to the divine, to the transcendent experience, which is disembodied. And women and nature have been considered obstacles on that path to that transcendent divine experience and therefore denigrated and considered to be lesser than in the religion. And so the result of that is that women and nature have been considered something that men should control and use and abuse if they want to. And so what this has led us to is the ecological situation that we’re in today as well as the situation of violence and harassment and abuse of women. And is it okay if I talk about Trump?
Rick: Of course, I mean I’ll get some flack for it but I don’t care.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Okay, well, I mean he’s just such a good example of this, I can’t resist, because his attitude toward nature and his attitude toward women is the same. It’s true. You see him pulling out of the Paris Treaty, we see him, you know, yeah, I don’t even have to enumerate what he’s doing to the ecological situation in the earth, and then what he’s doing to women. And so, you know, I’m not speaking politically, I’m speaking as an example of what I’m talking about. Whereas in historically in religions like in some of the Native American tribes, women and nature were considered sacred and esteemed, and it was the women, the grandmothers actually, who made the main decisions in the tribe, and then nature was always treated with great respect and called the mother. And so that’s a different experience, and within that experience both I see this in two traditions I’m fairly familiar with, which is the Native American tradition and also the Boon traditions, which are pre-Buddhist Tibetan traditions. There’s a deep recognition of the reciprocal relationship between nature and human beings, and the need to treat them as sacred, and women as well. And I talked about that in my book with that story of Bertha Grove.
Rick: I don’t remember that one, and people listening won’t have heard it, so go ahead.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah, so when we moved to Colorado, the 700 acres of land where I live now, I wanted to make contact with the Native American people whose land it really was. And I had really synchronistically met a woman at a gathering in Texas a couple of months before we moved here, and her name is Bertha Grove, and she’s a plant spirit healer and a medicine woman in the Ute tribe. And so when I got here I contacted her, and she came over to Tara Mandala, and we started doing sweat lodges and praying for, you know, I asked her, “I want permission to do what we’re doing. I want to be in accord with the spirits of this land,” and so on. And I started studying with her, and she taught me about this because I was studying herbal medicine with her. And when we go out to harvest herbs, she would say, you know, if you pick an herb, you take something, you have to take some hair out of your head and offer it back to the earth, partly in exchange, but also because when you pull that out of your head you feel it, and the earth feels it when you take something from her body. And then she said something else which was also very significant in terms of what we’re talking about. She said, “When you harvest medicine, you always ask permission, and then you don’t take the best plant, you don’t take the biggest flower or herb or whatever, you take the medium-sized ones that are healthy, but you leave the biggest ones because that’s going to strengthen the future.” And so she talked about this reciprocal respectful relationship with nature which if we had that we would not be in the situation that we’re in which is, as you know, really frightening what’s happening and becoming more and more irreversible. So I say all that in terms of what we started talking about of women and nature and these different kinds of spirituality, one which is transcendent and one in which the Divine is immanent, meaning in the body or in our life in nature. And whenever there’s a feminine presence in religion historically the sacred is immanent, which is interesting, it’s in the body, in the earth.
Rick: Yeah, I don’t think Christianity can be blamed exclusively, but you know Western society is largely built on a Christian tradition, Christian background, and you know Christianity was responsible for the burning of maybe a hundred thousand women at the stake accused of witchcraft because they happened to be herbalists or this or that, and of course many others of all genders, of both genders considered heretics or something, were tortured and burned and killed. But you know in our modern materialistic society in which the predominant scientific paradigm is one of materialism in which the physical world is thought to be dead, inert matter, it’s very much a continuation of that sort of mindset I believe, and as you say if it’s dead we can do whatever we want to it. We have dominion over the earth and so on and so forth and it’s there for our pleasure, for our sustenance, for whatever. But actually I always like to say this, I’ll make this brief, that science has also, aside from its despite its materialistic attitude, revealed that there’s, if you look at it this way, infinite intelligence lively in every single particle of creation, a marvel of laws of nature performing in the function of every atom, every molecule, every cell and everything. And so you know if you think about what that intelligence really is you can see, even through the window of science, that the Divine is immanent in creation, you know that it’s all this display of Divine intelligence, so there it is. And obviously if you are abusing and misusing that, you are abusing the Divine. So I mean this understanding is a little bit new to me, but a lot of people say, “What do you mean by the Divine feminine?” A few interviews back somebody, it really hit home and I thought, “Well obviously the Divine feminine is this sort of this omnipresence of intelligence in all of creation,” and if that were appreciated then the kind of respectfulness that you were just referring to with that Native American herbalist could filter into all of our different sciences and economic endeavors and so on, and we could really transform the world. That’s the end of my little riff.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Well said.
Rick: Get off my soapbox.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: That’s a beautiful image of the inherent aliveness and miraculousness of the phenomenal world. In Tibetan Buddhism we talk about the phenomenal world as the radiance of the ground of being or the expression of the ground of being. The ground of being is the Great Mother which is pure potentiality, without form, pure potentiality, and then as the ground expresses itself it becomes radiance and that radiance is our world and the world, not only this earth but the entire universe is the display of the Great Mother which is the ground of being which is pure potentiality, which is emptiness. And so to me that’s a beautiful way to see our world. Maybe all of you who are listening now are looking on, could just look around where you are and experience what you’re seeing as the play of your own mind or the display of luminosity that is effulging from the ground of being, and that that’s such a different experience than there’s me and then there’s other, and me and that, and even if that is alive it’s still that to me. And so the experience of non-duality and the display of the radiance of being gives such a different feeling to material world that in many traditions would be considered not spirit.
Rick: Yeah, it gives you a sort of a sense of a gentle compassionate approach to everything, like you would no sooner harm something that is ordinarily considered to be external to yourself than you would harm your own arm because the environment, the world, is no longer considered external to yourself.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah, and even that word “environment” it’s like it’s saying that you’re the main thing and then there’s your environment when actually you’re not the main thing, you’re a tiny fragment of the main thing.
Rick: I don’t know if you remember that old margarine commercial where somebody you know was eating something and they thought it was butter, “mmm butter” and no it was Mother Nature, she was offered this thing some butter and then they said, “No this isn’t butter, it’s margarine,” and then she gets really mad, she says, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature,” and then she throws a lightning bolt or something. But you remember that?
Lama Tsültrim Allione: No.
Rick: It was back in the 60s probably, but in any case, if everything is the Divine, if it’s all Divine intelligence, if that which some consider to be dumb matter is really Divine, then how much tolerance does the Divine have? I mean a mother is tolerant to a certain extent of her children and that at a certain point she has to discipline them, so what do you see as the sort of potential or even current disciplinary action that the Divine, feminine Mother Divine, it may take or may be already taking with those of us who are abusing her?
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Well, she’s already doing it with climate change, with hurricanes, winds that we’ve never seen before, and so on. It’s not her kind of retribution, but it’s a natural attempt to balance and trying to keep balance within an imbalanced world and certainly no one’s immune to it, you know, even rich people are not going to be able to get away with it.
Rick: Yeah, their little private islands are going to get inundated.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah, already are. So you know that kind of brings us to the theme of my book about fierce compassion and the fierce feminine, which I speak about in the book and I think that’s part of what this is, is fierce compassion of the natural world which is this natural display of the grounded being. So what inspired me greatly was the Women’s March in 2016, was it?
Rick: Yeah, it was the day after the inauguration.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah, and seeing how five million women and their allies, male allies and all kinds of gender allies, rising up and being fierce in a way that I haven’t seen for a long time, and yet what I loved about what I saw, I mean I’m in a very remote part of Colorado so I wasn’t in the marches, but what I saw was a lot of humor and happiness in those women who were also being fierce and non-violence and non-aggression. So this idea that you can be fierce and hold your ground, stop complaining and do something about it, and yet be embodying the feminine was beautiful to me and incredible to see so many women standing up to that and yet having humor with the pink pussy hats. Yeah, and that came out, it was a kind of slap back to Trump, you know, what he had said and so on.
Rick: Yeah, a friend of mine sent me a photo of the march in Berkeley, I believe it was, and a picture of a dog and it had this sign on its back that said, “Pussy grab protection dog.”
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah.
Rick: I’m sorry I interrupted you, you were saying something about Trump.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah, well I was just saying, you know, that he called Hillary a nasty woman.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: And then women flipped it. That phrase was embraced, yeah. And turned it into an empowerment slogan, like never underestimate the power of a nasty woman. And so the dakinis in the Tibetan tradition, which is what I write about in the book, are embodiments of that, the fierce feminine, and they are dancing and they’re considered, the wisdom dakinis are considered equal to the Buddhas in Vajrayana, and yet they’re female and they’re dancing and they hold a hook knife and they’re raised right hand and so on.
Rick: And they’re usually stomping on some prostate man on the ground, you know, prostate lying there.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Well, it’s not a man, it’s a symbol of ego. Ego, okay. Yeah, it’s trampling on the ego, which could be either male or female. But anyway, it’s an archetype, if you will, that has been disallowed, and you were talking about the witches, there’s such a fear of the feminine that let’s burn her, because those are mostly independent women or women that didn’t do what their husbands wanted them to do, and so then they were like, “She’s a witch.” And there was a lot of repressed sexuality at that time too, a lot, and so there was all that kind of twisted into that experience. But in any case, so in my book I teach about the mandala of the five dakinis, each of whom have different characteristics and are embodiments of different kinds of wisdom, and so I wanted to just talk for a minute about the mandala, if that’s okay?
Rick: Yeah, please.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Because that’s something really I think is a very important idea that is known to some extent, but in some ways not deeply enough known, which is why I wrote the book to begin with. The mandala is a template of wholeness, and normally I think we think of, like here, this is a mandala, and that’s a Tibetan mandala, but nowadays pretty much anything that’s a circle with a center is a mandala, mandala coloring books and so on. But the mandala within the Tibetan tradition is actually a structure, it’s three-dimensional, and the practitioner, the meditator, places themselves within that template that is a circle with four quadrants and the center is also a place in the mandala, it’s not just a dot in the center, it’s a whole place in the center. And so if we place our minds within the mandala as we do in a mandala meditation, the fragmented parts of ourselves, of our minds, are drawn in and then placed into that template of wholeness and transformed by that because of the symbolic power and meaning of each of those directions which the practitioner learns and knows. And so it’s different than mindfulness which is bringing yourself in the present moment, very important and a base for this kind of practice, but it’s imbued with symbolic meaning, you know, the East has a certain color and meaning and element and so on all the way around the mandala. And so that experience of pulling in, reigning in our wild minds and then placing them within the mandala, this three-dimensional experience in which you are the Dakini and then the white Dakini in the middle, the white Dakini symbolizing space and all pervading awareness, and then in the East is another one in South and so on. So when you are her, it’s not just like you’re in this symbolic structure, you’re there as this fierce embodiment of wisdom and feminine power. And so when I saw the march I thought, “Wow, what if all those women had the resource, had the inner resource of a mandala practice of the five Dakinis?” They would then have that to draw on for their activism, for the changes that they’re trying to make. And this was sort of brought home to me because there was a woman there who spoke up and just recently I learned her name because it was 150 women and at the time I didn’t know her name but I told the story and then have found out who she was. And in any case she said she complained about politics her whole life and she’d been very depressed and her marriage had been bad and she had come to Kripaluwara, taught this a year before and had been doing placing her mind in the mandala for a year and she said her entire life had changed, her marriage had changed in a good sense, she wasn’t depressed anymore and she felt so empowered that she was running for Congress.
Rick: Oh yeah, cool. You also mentioned someone named Virginia on a retreat in Bali who fell off a ladder and injured herself rather badly or something and she practiced this Dakini Mandala.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Ingrid.
Rick: Oh, was it Ingrid?
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yes, yes, yes. And then after this woman spoke other women stood up and said, “I have to give a testimonial too,” and there was a woman who said she was an activist. I guess some people are professional activists, but she had been feeling so drained and just lost all her energy for it in this climate, but then she did the Dakini Mandala practice and she said she felt like she had this huge well to draw on for the energy of her activism. And then I’ll just tell you one more because these are different and significant. There was another woman there who said that she had been born into an abusive family and had been sexually abused as a girl pretty severely and she said, “I honestly can say that I have been miserable most of my life and by doing this practice is the first time that I felt that I can accept and love my female body and feel empowered in it and actually feel happy to be a woman.” And she said, “This is extraordinary,” and she wasn’t young, you know, she was maybe 45 or something and she’d never had this experience before. So now the book is going out to many people, you know, this has been something I’ve taught, I’ve been teaching it, but not exactly privately, but it’s not like a book that goes out and then many people have this tool which I’m very excited about offering. And the daikinis and the mandala and so on is really part of this Vajrayana tradition which is quite secret and very precious and so on. So I really thought about it a lot before, you know, publicizing the daikinis, but I feel like these are urgent times, like we have to pull out the stops and offer what we can to help the situation and to change the situation in the world and the daikinis are activists and they get things done. And so it’s exciting for me the thought of now that it’s in the book form and it’ll be in an audio book too, that it will be able to reach and help not only women but also men to make the change that we need to see.
Rick: Two questions, one is I interviewed a woman a few months ago named Kavita Chayan who’s a cardiologist and she also wrote a book about daikinis more from the Hindu tradition and I got the impression from her and from you that they aren’t just mythological figures but are actual conscious beings who have some kind of authority, some kind of actual existence and who have a function in the universe and who have a powerful and profound influence. So answer that part before I ask the second one.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Do the daikinis have an ontological existence?
Rick: Do they exist as much as you and I exist or as much as you know, anything.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Right, yeah and of course
Rick: but on a subtle level obviously because we don’t see them walking around anyplace.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yes, well I did think in the beginning my practice that they didn’t really exist, that the daikinis and all these deities in the Tibetan pantheon are more or less like archetypes, you know, mythical archetypes, but then I’ve had some experiences in my life which has shifted that where I have had experiences with them which have led me to believe that they do have an ontological or beyond my own beliefs existence, so I would say yes. And I don’t think you have to believe that to be benefited by them. If you simply see them as an aspect of your own enlightened mind, an archetype that you can identify with and draw forth your own qualities, that’s fine, but if you ask me personally I would say yes.
Rick: Yeah, the way I like to think of it is, you know, if you find that to be a bit of a stretch then take it as a hypothesis, take everything as a hypothesis that can be explored and maybe verified, maybe not, but don’t just say no, such a thing couldn’t exist because you’re not being scientific for one and you’re not being open-minded, but you know my understanding of things is that there’s a whole, we could say vertical dimension to life and the things that we ordinarily see are just the crust on the surface or the tip of the iceberg and that there are all sorts of subtle realms with all sorts of impulses of intelligence, if you want to call them that, who are very instrumental in the whole process of creation.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah, and as I said, I think it’s not only to take them as a possible hypothesis but even if you take them merely as an archetype or as symbolic beings that you would identify with to cultivate a certain aspect of your consciousness and of your being, then that’s fine.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: You don’t need to believe in the Dakinis, that’s really not necessary.
Rick: Yeah, in fact I would say that with any really valid spiritual practice you don’t need to believe in anything, in fact Buddha was famous for saying, you know, don’t believe something just because I said it, just test it in the light of your own experience and your own understanding and it should really be an experiential investigation not a matter of just blind faith. Second part of my question was
Lama Tsültrim Allione: What was your second question?
Rick: Yeah, it’s actually a second question which is, can you learn this Dakini mandala thing from your book or do you have to come and take a course someplace?
Lama Tsültrim Allione: No, it’s in the book.
Rick: Okay, which I didn’t finish.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: That was another… It’s at the end.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: There’s practice of the mandala of the five Dakinis and that was another decision I made. I do say in the book that really in the Tibetan tradition you should have the empowerment, the oral transmission, and then the explanation of a full mandala, but this is an introduction. It’s an experiential introduction that you can do from the book. There’s also audio downloads of the practice and there will be an online course that will be ready in the end of June. And so there’s different ways that you can access this, but there’s also practices in the book with something that you might enjoy, integration with the elements. The Dakinis are considered to be wisdom manifestation of the elements and so I talk about a practice, for example, of sitting with water. Where do you live?
Rick: Iowa. We have water.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: You have water and lakes I imagine and rivers.
Rick: Ponds and lakes and rivers.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: So let’s say you go and sit by a river and it’s a little bit like Siddhartha did in Herman Hesse’s book. I imagine you read in high school or something. Anyway, and you look at the water and you listen to the sound of the water and then you integrate with the water, meaning that there’s no separation between yourself and the river. There’s no journey between yourself and the river. You go into a state of oneness with the water. And so that’s an example of an integration of the elements practices also with fire and so on. All of the elements in the chapters of the five Dakinis at the end I offer those element meditations which are not the Dakinis. You’re not believing in anything, you’re not visualizing anything, you’re simply being with what is, with the lake, the wind or the fire.
Rick: And I presume these practices are as much for men as for women, right? They’re not just for women.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah, they’re definitely, I mean in Tibet the Dakini Manda was definitely equally or if not more practiced by men than women. I brought it out as a tool for women because of seeing the women’s marches and the feeling that women needed an inner sort of a seat of wholeness from which to operate, from which to gain strength, but it’s equally, all of these practices are equally powerful and transformative for men and women.
Rick: Let me ask you a question that came in from a listener, Mark Peters in Santa Clara, California, and I’ll add a little bit to his question. He said, “What do you do to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the pace of environmental degradation? If you could point listeners to one or two daily practices that might deepen the connection with the Great Mother, what would they be?” And the part I want to add on is, let’s say you’re very busy as you were when you were raising your young children, you don’t have a lot of time, what kind of practice, well keep Mark’s question in mind, but what kind of practice would you advocate that people are actually going to be able to do if they only have 15, 20 minutes, 30 at the most a day to do some kind of practice that will be gratifying enough and easy enough to actually stick with it?
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah, well his question was connected to the degradation of the environment and those sort of devastation of that experience and the grief that we all feel and in some ways the powerlessness that we all experience. And I would say to Mark, you can do the Dakini Mandala practice in 10 minutes. It doesn’t need to be long, it can be longer than that, but it’s certain seed syllables and so on that once you learn them you can do that and what that will do is it will give you this inner power. I like the word empowerment, I-N, empowerment, so that we can have empowerment outside. And the other thing about the Dakinis is they are activators, you could say they’re activists, and so I think that would give him a resource to draw from for activism and it’s really easy to fall into a feeling of helplessness and depression and what can we do. But another just quick story I’ll tell about Tibet, when the Chinese were coming into Tibet there’s a lama named Tungchuk Dorje and it was obvious what was going to happen and he kept building stupas. Stupas are big, huge, maybe higher, but he was building about that size stupa and people said to him, “Why are you doing that? They’re just going to come in and tear it all down.” And he said, “It doesn’t matter, I have to keep making progress in the good and the merit of that and the effort of that is going to have a positive effect no matter what happens once it’s done.” So I think that’s something to think about when we get depressed and feel like it doesn’t matter what I do, it’s still happening, is we still have to make progress in the good to make those actions, take those steps, even if they’re small steps and not get depressed and feel helpless, but to do something because the benefit and the merit of that will remain even if it doesn’t have a long-lasting life like those stupas.
Rick: Yeah, I remember reading a list of points from Mother Teresa or somebody about how if you do this, this and this, people are going to just knock it down but do it anyway, you know, and it’s just the doing of it that benefits you even if it isn’t appreciated or it doesn’t last in the material realm.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: And it does have an effect, you know, it does benefit others as well.
Rick: It does, yeah. Do you need to wrap it up or you have time for a few more questions? Some questions have come in.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: I can do a few more.
Rick: Okay, so we’ll jump around a little bit because these questions are not tightly related, but I’d just like to ask a few. So this is Marie from Colorado, maybe you even know Marie. She said, “I appreciate the conversation about the importance of taking care of the natural world and it seems like Taoism is one spiritual path that honors this deeply, though I’m trying to reconcile this with a non-dual view in which there are just the arising and dissolving of phenomena within the ground of pure awareness, like waves arising and dissolving back into the ocean. Can you please comment?”
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah, so I would comment that you have to separate absolute truth and relative truth. So at an absolute level from a Buddhist point of view everything’s empty, you know, there’s no fundamental reality once you really start to unpack anything, ourselves, me, or any kind of material things, so that’s the absolute truth. But at the relative level, for example, I have a body and I need to take care of my body, I try to keep it healthy in order to be a benefit, and our world does exist at a relative level, and so it’s sort of like the difference between, let’s say you’re coming toward a red light and you’re driving, if you stayed in the absolute point of view you would just like, “Oh that’s empty, that’s just that’s this luminous red light and this empty pole that it’s standing on, I’ll just keep going.”
Rick: Yeah, smash.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: So it’s important, I think absolute truth is also really important, and to be able to hold those two truths. This, Mudra, I don’t know if you can see it.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Can you see that?
Rick: Uh-huh. Yeah. Hold your hands up a little higher, like in front of your face.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah.
Rick: There we go. Okay, now we see it. It’s almost like the yin-yang symbol.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah, so this one’s coming across like this and this one’s coming up, and that would normally be held at your heart, and it’s the Mudra of the two wheels of the Dharma, it’s called the Dharma Chakra Mudra, and the top one is absolute truth and the bottom one is relative truth, and they’re there together to symbolize that we need to hold those two truths. Marie, that’s a good question.
Rick: It is a good question. It’s important one, it comes up a lot actually. I mean there are a lot of people who sort of in some way, I don’t know if it’s intellectually or actually experientially, I think often intellectually, take refuge in the absolute truth and then just sort of become very detached from or dismissive of the relative. I heard a story about a guy in India, American over there, who developed an infection on his leg and kept ignoring it because obviously the leg is an illusion and almost got to the point where he had to have the leg amputated before he received medical treatment, you know, and he could have died. So you really have to sort of render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and take care of each thing on its own level. So maybe this will be the last question. This is from Marcus from Philadelphia. How did you feel about being recognized as a tulku? And you’re going to have to tell us what a tulku is. Did the recognition cause Tibetans to treat you differently as a Westerner and a teacher?
Lama Tsültrim Allione: So tulku is a reincarnation and this happened to me quite late in my life in 2007 when I was in Tibet and I had been guided to go to Tibet at that time through a vision that I’d had in 2006 of Machik Lopton, who was an 11th century woman teacher, and she had told me I needed to, I’d been teaching her teachings for many years, but this was actually a visionary experience. She said you have to find my lineage and preserve it and it’s urgent. And so I practically left retreat. Just the urgency of it was so intense. But my husband convinced me that it wasn’t a good idea and that we should plan this and so on. So I went the next spring to Tibet. I was recognized there at the seat of Machik Lopton by the lama there as an emanation of her. And when it happened he made me sit on her throne and I was like, “No, I’m not going to sit there,” and he was like, “You have to.” And then he later said he’d had a dream about me three days before I arrived with my group to visit this place of a white Dakini coming from the West, sounding the dhamma, there’s a drum that we use in her practice, loudly. And so anyway I was recognized by him. And then the same trip without this other lama knowing what had happened in Tibet, another lama in Nepal, and we returned from this whole experience in Tibet, in which gave me her relics by the way, that lama, and told me to bring them here. And I said, “No, this should be in Tibet,” and he said, “I’ve seen so much thrown into that river, this is a river below, by the Chinese, please take them.” But in any case, another lama also recognized me, he’d had a dream also and he wrote a recognition letter and then His Holiness Karmapa, the 17th Karmapa, gave me the Machig Laptang empowerment. So I think I treated it maybe a little bit differently. I think some people believe it, some lamas believe it, some maybe don’t. The way that I experienced it or the value of it for me has been, it’s a funny thing to say but to know what I know, and this was my immediate feeling when it happened, I was like, “Oh, all those things that I knew but I didn’t allow myself to know, of memories that I had and knowledge of these practices that she taught.”
Rick: You mean kind of past life memories and knowledge? L Yeah.
Rick: Yeah, ancient stuff kicking around in there.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah, and I would just find myself teaching these things and like how did I know that, you know, and dismissing it, you know, and so it allowed me to let those things in in a different way and to know what I knew. So it wasn’t like anything different but it was some
Rick: Gave you a little bit more confidence in that.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah, it was interesting because I was pretty old already when this happened. I think Karmapa recognized me at an early age, you know, when he ordained me, but he never said who I was exactly. And to me it’s not like, “Oh, I’m so great, I’m not so flippant,” something like that. It’s really not like that. It’s more like I have a very serious job, which is the restoration of her lineage, which has been sort of fragmented and so on and was an independent lineage. So that’s my job. It’s actually always been my job because that’s what I was doing for probably 20 years before I was recognized. So I’m working for her, that’s how I see it, like I’m working for her.
Rick: Yeah, well if one believes in reincarnation then it’s not too much of a stretch to think that that whole recognition might be true. Even the way you were drawn like a moth to the flame initially, you know, when you first went to Nepal, it’s like there definitely was some kind of resonance there which didn’t come from your Western education or anything, you know, it was just like your destiny.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah, and I basically never done anything else in my life, I never became a Hindu for a while. It’s just been that and also very specific with this particular lineage for a long time. But in a way it doesn’t matter also, I mean this is again that sort of absolute and level like who cares, you know, like doesn’t matter. But anyway that’s my answer to that question.
Rick: Yeah, it was a good question. And I mean I have the opinion that the Divine expresses itself and I mean just look at nature, again there’s such a proliferation and an abundance of diversity and creativity, all the animals and the plants and everything, it’s just huge variety in the way nature expresses and I don’t see any reason why spirituality shouldn’t be similar and that you know there’s a great variety of different expressions of that which are equally legitimate and are relevant or appropriate to those who resonate with them, you know, which is kind of the premise of this show I’m doing, just talking to all these different people every week and each one has an orientation and a story to tell and they all seem fine to me. I mean and you can’t necessarily be a dilettante and try them all because there’s not enough time in life, but you know it’s a smorgasbord, you pick out the things that really seem to taste good and go for it.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah, and things that you have an affinity for, you know, just as I have this Tibetan affinity, everyone does have certain karmic affinities and can kind of build on past life development and you know do our best in this life.
Rick: Yeah, well you’re doing a good job in this one as far as I can see. I really appreciate what you’re doing. So you’re about to embark on a book tour and you’re heading off to Kripalu, I think it’s Kripalu in Massachusetts, to present your book, “Wisdom Rising Journey into the Mandala of the Empowered Feminine,” and we’re speaking in May of years from now, but they can come to your website which is what? What’s your website?
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Tara Mandala, T-A-R-A-M-A-N-D-A-L-A.org.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: There’s also a page for the book which is wisdomrisingbook.com, that is the landing page for the book and it has the trailer about the book and then other materials that connected to it. And then I’ll also be in New York City, I don’t know if you have listeners there, I’ll be in Boston area, in Washington, Key West, Florida, and in LA and Seattle, in the West Coast, in Europe in the fall.
Rick: Well let me just mention that there’s a page on batgap.com and we’ll send your assistant information on how to register with us, but if people go there, I think it’s under the resources menu, if you go there and you type in your location, let’s say you’re in New York, you put that in, say New York, then automatically you’ll see listed any events by people that I have interviewed that are close to you and the events actually are listed by distance. So first you’ll see New York, then you might see Connecticut, and then you might see Massachusetts or whatever, just radiating outward from whatever zip code or location you put in. So I’ll send that info to your assistant and maybe she can fill all that in.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah, it’s wonderful what you’re doing, you know, I think you’re able to reach so many people this way and offer, you know, not saying that any of the people that you interview have the ultimate truth, but offering all these different points of view that are hopefully authentic in themselves.
Rick: Yeah, well we’re all doing what we can as the Beatles sang and this is something I seem to be able to do that I enjoy.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Yeah.
Rick: So thanks so much for your time and good luck with your book tour and I’ll be putting up a page on batgap.com with links to your website and your books and a bunch of information about you, and so if people forget what you just said about your website and all that stuff, they can just come there and then they can just follow those links. And as you said during this interview, there is information on how to do the practices in the book and there will also be some online courses and then you’re also going around and doing things in person so people can pick and choose whatever works for them.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Okay, wonderful.
Rick: Well thank you so much Lama Tsultrim. Did I pronounce it right? Tsultrim. We didn’t get into the Alione part but that had to do with an Italian husband. You like the name.
Lama Tsültrim Allione: Thank you.
Rick: Good luck and thanks for all you’re doing.