‘”Buddha-gate” Scandal and Cover-up at Naropa Revealed’ (1979)

Written by Rob Hogendoorn

2 minutes

Robert Woods, a pseudonym of Tom Clark, published his account “Buddha-gate” Scandal and Cover-up at Naropa Revealed in the March 29 – April 11, 1979 issue of the underground magazine Berkeley Barb, available through this link.

Woods/Clark’s account of the assault on American poet William S. Merwin and his partner Dana Naone during a retreat in 1975, includes a discussion of the immediate aftermath of the scandal that ensued:

“Rumors of secret orgies and behind‐the-scenes para-military activities were meanwhile deflected and. diffused before ever making their way in to print. When in the summer of 1977 poet-investigator Ed Sanders conducted a course in poetic detective work at the Poetics School of Naropa, his students chose these rumors as the subject of their research, and under his direction compiled a report on a much-gossiped-about 1975 incident involving the harassment, humiliation and stripping-naked of a National Book-Award-winning poet and his girlfriend during a Halloween party at a Trungpa seminary.

But the Sanders report, titled The Party, remained unknown except among a few curious poets, who slowly circulated it in xerox obscurity around the country. Without the existence of a publicly available edition of the Sanders ‘material, the adverse reactions of a few offended poets could easily be passed off by Trungpa’s followers as mere backbiting and sour-grapes gossip. As far as most of Boulder’s non-Buddhists were concerned, the Trungpa organization was as harmless as Lord Fauntleroy. Then the Jonestown tragedy hit the headlines and the rumors about dark secrets at Naropa were given added credence.”

About the previously published March 1979 issue of the Boulder Monthly, which included excerpts from the investigative report The Party by Ed Sanders and a team of Naropa students, Woods/Clark says:

“According to one news dealer, the March Boulder Monthly sold faster in Boulder than any single magazine issue in recent memory. ‘A lot of Buddhists are coming in and buying it,’ the dealer said. ‘Some of them buy up to five at a time. You’d almost think they were trying to clean off the racks.’

What about the reaction to the issue in Boulder?

In some ways the reaction confirms suspicions that all was not as it appeared on that scene—the fashionable Buddhist scene,’ Monthly editor Sam Maddox says. ‘But in some ways there hasn’t been any reaction at all, at least not physically. But the issue has created a lot of buzzing and talking in intellectual circles. I know that a lotof people were affected by it. A lot of people who’ve picked it up have been absolutely flabbergasted to see what went on in that Buddhist scene. We have lost some advertisers, such as the Boulder Bookstore, which is a fairly large economic presence and is owned by Buddhists.’ In addition to the operation at its Boulder headquarters, Trungpa’s organization ha considerable property and real estate in Colorado and other states of the Union.

The 800 members of ‘the Community,’ as his paying supporters call themselves, are not Trungpa’s only followers. He has hundreds of other supporters, admirers and students in Boulder and thousands more across the country, making up a sect that has considerable importance in the life of this town. The Buddhist community of Boulder publishes its own business-and-services directory. Chogyam Trungpa encourages his followers to be active in business, and indeed they represent a powerful and influential element in the financial structure of Boulder, controlling large amounts of commercial property.”

Curiously, Woods’ article was almost immediately reprinted in Tibetan Review (14 (7) July 1979 pp. 17-18, 21), a magazine that is widely read by exiled Tibetans in India and abroad.

For a discussion of the Dalai Lama’s response to the scandal at Naropa Institute, read this article by Stuart Lachs and Rob Hogendoorn: ‘Not The Tibetan Way’: The Dalai Lama’s Realpolitik Concerning Abusive Teachers.

Woods - Buddha-gate Scandal and Cover-up at Naropa Revealed (Tibetan Review 14 (7) July 1979 pp. 17-18, 21) REDUX

About the author

Rob Hogendoorn

Investigative reporter and academic researcher Rob Hogendoorn (b. 1964) began researching the reception of Buddhism in Western society and culture in the early 1990s. His modus operandi remained the same ever since: independent, inquisitive and provocative.