Throughout 2500 years of Buddhist history monks and nuns have traditionally sought solitary retreat with two modern day exceptions. The first and most famous being His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama whose efforts and travels towards world peace are well documented. The other being the English born Kadampa Monk, Kelsang Pawo. His inspiration is to be found in the plight and sufferings of children around the world. 1
Kelsang Pawo spent 25 years in the Himalayas sitting with over forty meditation Masters. He has been inaugurated personally by his root teacher Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and received an audience with HH the Dalai Lama on three separate occasions. Following the lifestyle of Patrul Rinpoche, Pawo decided to live outside of the monastic institutions to spend his life in service to the vulnerable. When his work as a wandering monk is complete he will retreat to a meditative existence in order to continue his practice in solitude.2
A ‘monk’ ordained by the Dalai Lama, the New Kadampa Tradition, Dilgo Khyentse or in the Kagyu Tradition?
Kelsang Pawo, Barry Grivell, claims to have been ordained “30 years ago by the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s head of state, and given his name which means most fortunate of Englishmen.”3 The EDP 24 news article which states this was written in 2008, hence Barry Grivell (Kelsang Pawo) should have received ordination by HH the Dalai Lama around the year 1978. However, other posts by Barry Grivell (or his supporters) claim that he was ordained ‘nearly two decades ago’ in 2007 and also ‘in 1989’ by HH the Dalai Lama.4
There are many signs that indicate that Kelsang Pawo (Barry Grivell) is a charlatan, deceiving the public.
In the EDP 24 news article he is claiming that he received his name Kelsang from the Dalai Lama. But those who are ordained by the Dalai Lama (like the author of this post) receive the last name of the preceptor, which would be Tenzin, because the monk name of the Dalai Lama is Tenzin Gyatso.5 Hence if Pawo / Barry was ordained by the Dalai Lama and if he had received a monk’s name from him he should have a name like Tenzin Pawo or Tenzin [other name] but not Kelsang Pawo. Most Western monks with the name Kelsang [other name] were “ordained” within the New Kadampa Tradition (“Kadampa Buddhism”) and are not even members of the Buddhist order because they only have an inferior ordination which is even lower than a novice (tib. Getsul) ordination.6 The name Kelsang therefore rather indicates that Pawo was ordained by the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) / Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.
An email request to the NKT office about Kelsang Pawo led to the answer: “Thank you for the information we are aware of Pawo and will look into [it] your concerns, which are much appreciated.” In a second email the NKT office wrote “I don’t anything about his ordination, he has no connection with the NKT.”7 In the first half of July 2012 I sent an email to Kelsang Pawo / Barry Grivell via his Gesar website (using the form and email addresses given there) asking him if it were true that he was ordained by the Dalai Lama. I asked him to send me his ordination date, time and place (which a monk must know and should say if being asked). However, Barry didn’t reply. Some people tried to ask him personally about this but he skilfully escaped the questions, and now claims he was ordained by HH Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche in 1989 in Bhutan. But such a claim is necessarily untrue because Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche was not a monk and therefore could not and did not confer ordination. He married before the exodus from Tibet. Only a Sangha of at least five fully ordained monks (tib. Gelong, skt. Bhikshu) can confer full ordination. Novice ordination (tib. Getsul, skt. Sramanera) might be conferred in the Tibetan tradition by one fully ordained Buddhist monk.
One person who tried to clarify details about his ordination wrote in an email* to me:
He is very difficult to ‘pin down’ when you talk to him. He won’t give any information whatsoever to me (and I went to talk to him as a member of the public perhaps a future student) about when or where he studied, where he ordained, etc. Nothing. He just quoted the names of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and Dudjom Rinpoche to me!!! … People are going to his talks and they know nothing about how to check him out. He is a very friendly man who ‘appears’ to be a little bit wise as he quotes Dharma sayings and listens well. There is nothing on his website about where he studied etc. Perhaps you have had a look. Also I asked him about his projects, to see if I could work on any and there actually don’t appear to be any!!!!
His website used to have the Animal Sanctuary on it. Now it says he is an ‘independent charity’. I also asked him about the Gesar Foundation and his only reply was that ‘It’s the Gesar Foundation!!!’ as if I should have known about it already.
Pawo told people in the past in Brighton that he had been ordained by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso (NKT). Pawo has also claimed to be a Kagyu monk. When asked, Pawo does not state when and where he studied Dharma except to say that it was ‘in Bhutan’. He is presently giving weekly Tibetan Buddhist meditation classes in Brighton for which he charges a small sum. The announcement states:
The Gesar Meditation Centre
Offers Meditation and Dharma practice
The Art of Happiness
Regular meditation talks by resident teacher
and founder of the Gesar Foundation, Kelsang Pawo
The Gesar Foundation
There seem to be also inconsistencies in his charity Gesar Foundation. According to EDP 24 “his Gesar Foundation for Children [was] set up in 2005 …” and Kelsang Pawo “has achieved the colossal task of raising £22,000 for the new children’s library in Ethiopia.” According to the BBC article from march 2012 “The Gesar Foundation is currently applying for charitable status.” In the UK only low income charities do not have to register or give accounts. However, receiving a £22,000 donation does not indicate a low income charity. How to solve this contradiction? The Gesar website says that now it would be an “independent charity” that “no longer operates under the umbrella of the charity, eye on the wild Reg 1044459”.8
According to my own research Kelsang Pawo (Barry Grivell) has been accused of having abused the charity number he used for collecting money via Gesar Foundation, and finally he was forced to stop using the (abused) charity number: “his charity number was false it belonged to a lord who on two occasions demanded Pawo to not use it as it brought suspicions to him.”
The musician, Mark Emmins, claims to have been cheated by him:
In an email* Mark wrote:
I met that man a few years back where he asked me to do a version (my interpretation) of a song called Wishfulfilling Tree. I was happy to do this thinking the money raised was going to children. When I saw the flaws and cracks in the man’s identity I demanded the song be removed from his website and any money that may have been collected from my part I have no idea where it went or who had it. But I do deeply believe it would never have gone to children. He was very reluctant to take the song off and I had to threaten him in the end.
The police in this area are very much aware of him. He is a beggar and has serious attraction to people with money or land. He also preys on the week in the hope of conning them for their property.
In another email* Mark added:
He is a crook and needs to be stopped.
I hear he was trying to buy Brighton Pier !! I can assure you that any money given to him for that would not have gone into that project.
He is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
I am also aware of sexual harassment from him to a few women. There is also another woman that is on his case too …
Kelsang Pawo’s current project: Buying Brighton Pier
Barry Grivell collects money using the name Kelsang Pawo in the streets of Brighton for his unregistered9 Gesar Foundation. It is not illegal to beg for money on the streets of Brighton if one has a street collection permit. His latest project (after an animal charity in Devon collapsed) is collecting money to buy the Brighton Pier. According to BBC NEWS Sussex, the pier has an estimated value of at least £25m, and
“Kelsang Pawo wants to buy the structure and turn it into a symbol of worldwide hope and love. He has launched The Gesar Foundation Palace Pier project which begins with the art auction, where he is hoping to raise £500,000.
He said that Brighton Pier could become the first landmark structure in the world to be run by a charity for the benefit of local history, culture, community and children.
English-born Kelsang Pawo is determined to succeed, and said: “I remember the saying of Gandhi – first people laugh, then they ridicule and then you win.”
On the 14th July 2012 I wrote to the Brighton authority making them aware of the case. As of today they haven’t answered.
The media seem to believe what Pawo is stating without questioning him and instead seem to be promoting him in two press articles:
- BBC: Buddhist monk holds art auction to buy Brighton Pier (8 March 2012)
- The Argus: Monk wants to buy Palace Pier for the people (8th October 2011)
For a self-promotion video about his wish to buy Brighton Pier see:
Besides this immodest comparison it is also wrong to claim that the Dalai Lama would not do solitary retreat. The Dalai Lama regularly does retreats, and he has an extensive meditation practice starting each morning when he gets up 3:30 a.m.
2 28 July 2012: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151502895731549&set=a.80072891548.89512.648846548&type=3&theater screenshot https://thedorjeshugdengroup.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/bildschirmfoto-2012-07-28-um-13-38-39.png
5 The last name comes before the first name in Tibetan and Asian society.
6 NKT ordination is not a sufficient Vinaya ordination for details see:
- Update: New Kadampa Tradition – Ordination 2011/04/18
- NKT Ordination – Clarifying More Misunderstandings 2011/06/22
- Australian Sangha Association Statement 2008/07/21
- Are NKT monks and nuns authentic? July 27, 2008
- How important is the Vinaya? 2008/07/25
7 NKT Office <firstname.lastname@example.org> Fri, 13 Jul 2012 10:11 AM, signed by “Steve EC reps” and Sat, 14 Jul 2012 2:06 AM signed by “Steve NKT General Secretary”
9 28 July 2012, according to the Charity Commission website
* email quotes with kind permission from the writers
Last edited by tenpel on August 2, 2012 at 2:06 pm