What is the Aro controversy?
As far as I can tell, there isn’t one, really. Instead, there was a group of about ten people who said negative things about the Aro tradition on the web. Mostly that happened only on one forum, e-Sangha, which was controlled by members of the group. The forum is now defunct.
So what did they say?
Two main things. One is that an Aro Lama, Ngak’chang Rinpoche, is not authorized to teach. The other is that the Aro teachings are based on a “fake terma.”
Is Ngak’chang Rinpoche authorized to teach?
Yes. Several Tibetan lamas have explicitly said so, verbally and in writing.
So why did some people say he wasn’t?
It is hard to know. One reason is that, back in the 1980s, one of his former teachers said that Ngak’chang Rinpoche was not authorized. That was not true. Even if it had been, it is no longer relevant. That teacher died in the early 1990s. Ngak’chang Rinpoche’s teaching has been explicitly approved by several prominent Tibetan lamas since then.
Is the Aro gTér a fake terma?
According to Nyingma doctrine, termas can be “authentic” or “fake.” There is a specific, highly-technical meaning for these terms, in Nyingma theory. A terma being “authentic” or “fake” has nothing to do with the objective truth of what it says, and nothing to do with the objective history of how it came into being. It has to do with its magical history: whether or not the revelation came from non-physical Buddhas.
Unfortunately, according to Nyingma doctrine, there is no useful way to find out whether any terma is “authentic” in this sense. No ordinary evidence is relevant. The only way to know is to be an omniscient Buddha.
So, we cannot know whether or not the Aro gTér is “fake” in the traditional sense.. However, anyone who says that it is definitely fake shows that they don’t know very much about Tibetan Buddhism. (Or that they think they are an omniscient Buddha.)
Does the Aro gTér contradict other Tibetan Buddhist teachings?
What was the e-Sangha Aro policy about?
At one time, e-Sangha allowed its members to say only negative things about the Aro tradition. (Most of these statements were not true). Neutral and positive postings were removed, and the posters were banned from the forum. After I and others objected to this policy, e-Sangha disallowed all discussion of the lineage (but retained most of the old negative postings).
OK, I don’t get it. If there is no problem, why the e-Sangha policy? Why was there so much anti-Aro stuff there?
I don’t know.
The e-Sangha forum was generally contentious. It owners had a specific, perhaps narrow view on Buddhism. The Aro lineage was not the only group they condemned. Among others, they banned Soto Zen (which is the largest Zen tradition) and the Tibetan Bön tradition. It was perhaps something of an honor to be banned in their company.
Almost none of the negativity was actually directed at the Aro lineage. It was almost all about Ngak’chang Rinpoche, an Aro Lama. In my experience, he a kind and decent person, and an excellent teacher.
The anti-Aro clique was mainly composed of former students of former teachers of Ngak’chang Rinpoche. Some of them seem to have been be motivated by jealousy, because their teachers authorized him to teach and not them. Others just plain didn’t like him. Either way, their criticisms concerned personality conflicts from twenty-plus years ago. Probably now everyone involved can let go of that.
It is flattering, in a way, that almost all of the “ controversy” was about the teacher rather than the teachings. It is only when opponents have nothing substantive to criticize that they resort to attacking you personally.
How can I find out more?
If you have a question those don’t answer, feel free to ask in a comment, or email me.