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A Review of Stephen T. Butterfield- The Double Mirror

The Double Mirror: A Skeptical Journey into Buddhist Tantra

Link to Amazon comThe Double Mirror: A Skeptical Journey into Buddhist Tantra
: Stephen T. Butterfield

The following material was sent to me by a friend. I have decided to reproduced it as is. This seems to be a very important book in yunderstanding the phenomenon of the abusive and ambigious intermediate zone gurus Butterrfield was a follower of Trungpa, and was ostracised by the community because of this book - MAK.


I just now finished reading a book by Stephen Butterfield, entitled Link to Amazon com The Double Mirror. Butterfield published it in the mid-1990s, about six years after Tendzin's AIDS diagnosis was revealed. It should be on any reading list for those researching Trungpa--and his legacy. I am sorry to report that Butterfield is no longer here. He died young, and on in the Amazon.com review of the book, Butterfield's brother reported that Trungpa's organization refused to send anyone to officiate at Stephen's funeral--and SB had reached a high rank before he left the organization--which he did soon after they learned that Tenzin had AIDS and had infected others. Tenzin alleged that Trungpa had told him that his Buddhist practice would neutralize the virus. But even if one takes the position that Tenzin lied, this still left devotees with the grim truth that Trungpa had appointed this man to be his successor, which demonstrated that a guru could indeed make mistakes. Devotees have been pretezling their minds around this one ever since.

Butterfield was a committed practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism, studied for years under both Trungpa and Osel Tentzin and was initiated to do the higher tantra practices. He literally put his body on the line by doing years of prostration practice--despite having reduced lung capacity due to sarcoidosis. The practices benefited him greatly. But he decided in the end that the whole system of Tibetan practice, whether transmitted through Trungpa or someone else, no matter how virtuous--the whole system is a catch-22 It is supposed to liberate us from desire, yet the ranking system and the hidden secrets foster hankering at another level--for magic. And a lot of this stuff works. It cant be written off as phony.

This is not your usual cult survivor memoir. Butterfield was deeply appreciative of Buddhadharma. He saw how it benefitted him, both physically and emotionally. And he did some background research and came to the conclusion that Trungpa did indeed teach authentic Tibetan Buddhism. It is his gratitude, along with his capacity for doubt (which he partially suppressed by his years of practice and then reclaimed)--it is Butterfields gratitude that makes this such painful reading. Trungpa, according to Butterfield, warned that loving your guru is an unrequited love affair.

It appears to have been the case for Trungpa's students.

It is Butterfields loyalty and compassion that make his descriptions so disturbing to read. He described how for him and others, Tibetan practice promised relief from craving and then subtly inculcated craving at another level by fostering the very spiritual materialism that Trungpa had described and promised to remedy. For the Tibetan system, whether taught by Trungpa or by others, is hierarchical, runs on rank, and you cant help but look up to your guru--and to those who have been given the green light to practice the powerful stuff--tantra. Indeed the physical settings force you to look up--the guru or teacher is up on a throne and the celebrity teachers are often guarded by entourages--gaining access to them is a prize--and causes yet more craving.

What gave me the chills was Butterfield's description of the way Trungpa created an elitist society. He gave people pins marking their grades in rank--just like Scout badges. And....Trungpa became a rather snobbish Anglophile. He not only had married an aristocratic English girl, he required his American students to take elocution lessons and try to acquire an upper class English accent.

The students initiated to do tantra were like the prefects or head boys at an old style public school. They even strutted in a particular manner and showed similar condescension when talking to those of lower grade. And, though Butterfield does not use this terminology, he does describes what others would call a fagging system: the lower ranking students doing the entry level practices waited on and did the housework for the high ranking tantric practitioners.

Butterfield mentioned Trungpa's disdain for democracy. The guru once stormed out of a meeting when a student suggested taking a majority vote to see if the others approved of the way Trungpa kept them up all night at meetings. Trungpa did that a lot. You'd be kept up all night only to find that the lecture was cancelled. All this was supposed to break down a student's assumptions. That Trungpa was rude, ungrateful or merely sleeping off an alcoholic binge--only a perverted dharma destroyer would think in such a manner. People with that viewpoint go to hell.

Oh--if you took tantric initiation, you were told that if you gave up the practice, you'd go to hell. Butterfield does not say so, but Trungpa's disdain for democracy demonstrates a lack of political awareness--and a lack of gratitude. For it was American democratic institutions, and generous immigration policies (thirty years ago that is) and its tax exempt status for religions that permitted Trungpa to reside here and rapidly accumulate wealth by being free from taxation that secular institutions and private citizens did have to pay.

Butterfield is loyal to this tradition but saw its dangers. As he put it, when you see everything nondually and that the guru is always right, you have no way to step outside the system and ask if it is meeting its stated goal. The invocations, visualizations and prostrations have genuine benefit for physical and inner health. They are profoundly emancipatory in many, many ways. But our author also concluded that these left the practitioner vulnerable to indoctrination.

You were supposed to eradicate doubt. Butterfield became convinced that you needed to include doubt in your practice in order to stay sane and decent -- and to ensure that this was genuine practice.

He asks the vital question: why was it important to follow the Buddhist ethical guidelines in the early stages of practice and how then did these suddenly become irrelevant as soon as you were practicing at tantra level? Butterfield also mentioned something that was news to me: that Trungpa made a distinction between his followers versus 'heretics' and preferred that his students avoid consorting with 'heretics.'

Butterfield refused to follow this guideline--he found more support in his friendships with those outside Trungpa's system because they saw him as a person not as an embodiment of Trungpa's system. He could not help but notice the peer pressure in this organization, that certain questions were off limits and that laughter tended to be at other people's expense. Butterfield describes how often he clammed up and failed to ask questions for fear of being laughed at. The thing that really stuck in my craw were Butterfield's disclosures about Trungpa's liking for English upper class lifestyle at its snobbish worst. I'd known for years that the man had problems with sex and alcohol, but his demand that students take elocution lessons to acquire more refine accents--that was just too much.

Butterfield quotes Trungpa as saying 'Do what you are good at.' But, according to Butterfield, one thing Trungpa happened to be quite good at was being a trickster. To me, tricksters tend to treat people as objects.

Anyone who finds that kind of thing fun is IMO seriously deficient in humanity.

In the end, Butterfield opted for human kindness and human doubt--and he roots for science, for art, and for the dignity of human labor. One thing he disapproved of was the way servant-students (aka fags) were accused of deficient guru devotion if they did not perform the task in a pleasing manner.

As Butterfield put it, this put all the blame on the underling. It failed to take into account that a hard working student may well have desired to please, but might have been tired or distracted--with no trace of disloyalty.




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