Page 5 of 8
Some people noticed a change in Stanford.
"He became more forceful -- saying, 'This is true, that's true,' invoking his authority as a lama. I didn't think he had the qualifications to be a lama," says Erin Templeton, a college student who became a Buddhist at age 16 after joining Stanford's meditation group in the late '90s. "But he didn't seem to be hurting anybody, so I just thought, well, I'll just keep my head down and see if I can get through the weirdness of it all to connect with other people at the center." She joined the center's board in April 2003. Stanford quickly nominated her for board secretary, and the other board members voted in favor.
Having noticed that many Rime Center attendees would show up once or twice and then never come back, Stanford had found a volunteer consultant to help increase membership and implement a new accounting system. The consultant had suggested that Stanford expand the size of the board of directors and increase membership on the center's various committees so that new people would feel they belonged. By that spring, the board had almost twenty members on it.
"For a while, it was almost anybody who walked through the door could be on the board, and that caused some problems, some growing pains," Stanford says.
Despite Templeton's misgivings, in May 2003, she and her then-fiancé, Patrick Lauer, who wanted to get married at the center, asked Stanford to perform their wedding. But as she became more involved, regularly driving from Blue Springs to attend meetings, Templeton began to have conflicts with Stanford. The disagreements started when Templeton brought up something that had been bothering her.
Although Tibetan Buddhism has some inherent sexism -- women can't become lamas, for instance -- Templeton felt that the center itself was slighting women. She wanted to see women occasionally giving dharma teachings when Stanford was out of town. She argued that some of the prayers might be made more gender neutral. And she wanted the board to consider the possibility of bringing in a resident nun instead of a monk. She says Stanford sent her an e-mail telling her she was being divisive.
At least one woman agreed with him. "I thought that inappropriate," Jayne says. "I consider it irrelevant. I'm a female in this life. I've probably been a male a thousand times before."
Templeton says she convinced the board and some like-minded women to try to make changes, and she finally was invited to give a lesson one Sunday when Stanford was out of town.
But the atmosphere was deteriorating. One day a picture appeared on a bulletin board at the center: a photograph of Stanford in magician's garb from his "Mr. Fabulous" days. Other members reportedly began calling Stanford "Lama Fabulous" behind his back.
As the center tried that spring to implement a new accounting system devised by the volunteer accountant, tempers flared and one board member resigned. "Chuck had always handled all the accounting, and the process just went awry," says Andi Meyer, a Kansas City stage actress who joined the center after seeing the Rime Center sign as she was driving on Interstate 35. She joined the board in the fall of 2002 and had been elected to head the committee that made sure volunteers cleaned the center, emptied the trash and took care of routine maintenance.
"It's a thankless job, and I think she was getting burned out," says Matt Rice, board chairman. Rice abandoned his Southern Baptist upbringing for Buddhism four years ago. A good-natured security guard from Olathe, Rice had never led a board before. To mediate the disputes that kept erupting, he says, he tried to put a basic Buddhist teaching into action: "Be a better person, help people, and if you can't help them, don't harm them."