For reasons that are largely mysterious, the defunct e-Sangha Buddhist forum included “Aro Ter/Flaming Jewel Sangha” in their list of “banned” groups.
This page is about the slash ( / ) between “Aro Ter” and “Flaming Jewel.” The slash implied that the two are equivalent. It implied that there is only one sangha that both names refer to. I will explain why this is not true, and why it matters.
One thing is not another
- The Aro lineage is based on the Aro gTér, a Tibetan Buddhist terma. The Aro gTer is sometimes misspelled Aro Ter or Aroter.
- The Aro lineage is headed by Ngak’chang Rinpoche and his wife Khandro Déchen. Ngak’chang Rinpoche is also called Ngakpa Chögyam.
- Ngak’chang Rinpoche and Khandro Déchen are students of Kyabjé Künzang Dorje Rinpoche and Jomo Sam’phel, Tibetan Lamas who live in Kathmandu.
- There are six Aro Lamas in all. They teach in several parts of the United States and Europe.
- The Aro Ter is concerned almost exclusively with Dzogchen.
On the other hand:
- “Flaming Jewel” refers to the sangha of Traktung Rinpoche. He was born Stuart Kirkpatrick.
- Traktung Rinpoche teaches the Tsogyel Nyingthig terma. As far as I know, he is the only Lama in that lineage. As far as I know, he does not teach the Aro Ter. The Aro Lamas do not teach the Tsogyel Nyingthig.
- Traktung Rinpoche is a student of Kyabjé Thinley Norbu Rinpoche, one of the most revered Nyingma Lamas.
- The Flaming Jewel Dharma Center is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
- I am told that Traktung Rinpoche’s teaching concerns mainly Mahayoga. In my slight experience, his style of teaching is very different from that of the Aro Lamas. Both are excellent—but not at all alike.
The Aro Ter and Flaming Jewel sanghas are less similar to each other than they each are to other Nyingma lineages. The only obvious thing they have in common is that they are headed by white people. Maybe someone thinks white people shouldn’t head Tibetan Buddhist lineages?
In 2002, Traktung Rinpoche was invited to teach at Aro retreats, and Ngak’chang Rinpoche to teach at the Flaming Jewel Dharma Center. That might explain why some people mix up the two—except that both have had ethnically Tibetan Lamas as visiting teachers since then.
The e-Sangha clique that trash-talked both sanghas liked to lump them together. That let them imply that anything negative they said about one applied equally to the other.
In the “controversy” section of this web site, I am debunking the negative gossip about the Aro Ter.
I cannot do the same for the Flaming Jewel sangha. I am not a student there, and I know very little about it. Because I know that the gossip about the Aro Ter was almost all untrue, I expect that most or all of what the same people said against Flaming Jewel is also untrue. But I have no knowledge.
So, if you read about “Aro Ter/Flaming Jewel Sangha,” please keep in mind that these are two entirely separate things. If something negative actually were true about one, it would not be particularly likely to be true of the other.