Shane Michael Manieri is a poet. He has blogged for Tricycle: A Buddhist Review magazine, and the New York Press. He received his BA in creative writing and psychology from New School University in New York City. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, he currently lives with his two cats in Manhattan. You can follow Shane on Twitter.

A video flashes sepia-colored photos of Sikkim and Buddhist monasteries in Northern India, while a voiceover explains that Dzogchen Ponlop, author of Rebel Buddha, was once an attendant to the great lama, the 16th Karmapa, who was largely responsible for bringing Tibetan Buddhism to America. Then the narration quickly turns our attention to a young, Generation Xer who graduated at the top of his Buddhist Studies debate program (with two degrees, equivalent to an MA and a Doctor of Divinity).

Segue to bright colors of Elton John in silly costumes, Polaroids of Bob Dylan playing acoustic guitar, and luminous fireworks from Rolling Stones concerts exploding onto the screen, depicting Western culture. I can’t help but think, “Where is this going?”

It soon becomes clear that the video biograpnhy is not only telling us of a young prodigy who grew interested in Western culture and its behaviors—especially its music and technologies—but also of a passionate Buddhist teacher who is questioning and rebelling against outdated ways of teaching and bringing the authentic Buddhist philosophies to Westerners.

When Dzogchen Ponlop finally enters the stage he jokes that, from early youth he was treated as “a young Avatar in training,” alluding to the popular Hollywood film. Then he humorously suggests that he is really “simply a CEO, in a chain of CEOs of a monastery.” He is referring to being recognized as a tulku, a reincarnate lama, but more importantly, he says, “a basic human being with a sense of rebelliousness.”

All of the above, Dzogchen Ponlop states, while eliciting laughter from the audience at the opening of the Rebel Buddha Book tour at Cooper Union’s Great Hall in New York City, “naturally brought me to a deeper investigation of this path I’m on.”

Dzogchen Ponlop, an avid Twitterer, artist and poet, goes on to explain that “expressions of intelligence and love” show the true heart of a “rebel,” and that “the true attribute of rebellion has the quality of openness—a sense of freedom for awakening,” and that we must get to know our minds very well to do that.

He ends by saying, “Rebel buddha is not a person. It’s the innate genuine heart of compassion and wisdom—the wonderful spark in our own hearts—so let’s be rebels!”

The second half of the day was a provocative Q & A with author Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche and leading Buddhist scholars, Shastri Ethan Nichtern (panel moderator) of the Interdependence Project, Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara of NYC’s Village Zendo, and Nalandabodhi’s Mitra Mark Power.

Ethan Nichtern started things off with the question, “Where is Western Buddhism?” and Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara confidently answered, “It’s right here. And the question will continue until we drop the ‘Western’ and simply ask, ‘Where are we now?’”

But the afternoon’s Q & A took many twist and turns. Discussions ranged from titles and form, idolatry and support, marketing and motivation, to the heated topic of the “R” word: “Is Buddhism a religion?”  To which Mitra Mark Power responded, “What is the definition of religion anyway?”

The day was packed with much to consider—about Rebel Buddha, the true meaning of freedom, and the future of American Buddhism. About the latter, Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara said: “A hundred years from now I’d like to see the words Zen or Buddhism drop away, but the practice still be there.  I’d like to see our children being taught to look at their minds, to moderate their emotions from an early age.  That would be just fine by me.”

The next stops on the Rebel Buddha Tour are Halifax, Nova Scotia Nov 18, Toronto, Ontario Nov 20, Boulder Nov 27 and Seattle Dec 5.


  1. avatar Robert J. Bullock says:

    Excellent write up, Shane, for a truly memorable event. I was blown away by the Rinpoche’s talk as well as the panel discussion. Of the four panelists, Rinpoche was the only one I ‘knew’, but Ethan, Roshi and Mitra Mark really gave me some great new perspectives. And they all exuded warmth, good humor and wisdom.

    Plus, so many great conversations happening everywhere during breaks… Just awesome. Wish I could attend every launch event! 😉

  2. Thanks, Shane! I can’t wait til the Boulder event on the 27th!!

  3. avatar Maureen Bourne says:

    Hey Shane,
    Your written perception of this event made me feel i was there whilst at the same time made me wish i had been there and ultimately has stirred up enough curiosity in me to want to learn more and become a part of this wonderful ‘attitude’ to life.
    Thanks for writing this wonderful article and putting it out there.

  4. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Nalanda West and Rebel Buddha, Dzogchen Ponlop R.. Dzogchen Ponlop R. said: Rebel Buddha NYC http://bit.ly/aWf0gw […]

  5. avatar Shane Michael Manieri says:

    It was a great day everyone. Very moving. Inspiring. And thought-provoking. I am excited for the other cities on the book tour; can’t wait to hear their reports.

  6. Thank you very much for sharing this!

  7. avatar John Tischer says:

    I appreciate the whole rebel Buddha approach.

    From what people are saying here and elsewhere,
    and from my own opinion, until mind training
    in the West is included in the educational
    system itself, the bias of the intellect, ungrounded in mindfulness/awareness, will
    always be liable to distortion. Yes! The notion of
    Buddhism as a religion, as a cultural phenomena, has to go.