The Belief at the Root of Abuse in Tibetan Buddhism

I’m going to start writing some positive posts for those who are leaving Tibetan Buddhism behind, but before I do, I think it’s important to make the root cause of abuse in Tibetan Buddhism very clear. The purpose of this post is not to put people off Tibetan Buddhism, but to educate them so they can choose not to subscribe to the beliefs that are the root cause of the abuse and can avoid groups and teachers who teach such beliefs. For example, Rigpa, Shambala & NKT.

The root cause of the abuse in Tibetan Buddhism is usually hidden from view, particularly from beginners. By the time the beliefs that allow such teachers as Sogyal Rinpoche to physically, emotionally, psychologically, financially and sexually abuse students with impunity become stated overtly (if they ever are), the student is likely already indoctrinated to this view. By laying it out up front as I’m doing here – should any Tibetan Buddhist student bother to read this – students can be aware of when this kind of belief is being laid on them, and they can reject it.

Why some Tibetan Buddhists think basic Buddhist ethics don’t apply to the guru

This quote from p131 of the The Torch of Certainty, a revered text by Jamgon Kongtrul says it all. It’s the most extreme statement I’ve seen of the belief at the root of the abuse issue, but though I never saw this particular verse while in Rigpa, the belief it elucidates is at the core of the Rigpa, Shambala and TKT culture, a culture that permitted the abuse and still stops the Rigpa Vision Board from admitting that Sogyal’s behaviour was harmful and inappropriate.

“From the sayings of the great Kagyudpas:
Everything this precious perfect guru does,
No matter what it is, is good.
All his deeds are excellent.
In his hands a butcher’s evil work
Is good, and benefits the beasts,
Inspired by compassion for them all.
When he unites in sex improperly,
His qualities increase, and fresh arise,
A sign that means and insight have been joined.
His lies by which we are deceived
Are just the skilful signs with which
He guides us on the freedom path.
When he steals, the stolen goods
Are changed into necessities
To ease the poverty of all.
When such a guru scolds,
His words are forceful mantras
To remove distress and obstacles.
His beatings are blessings,
Which yield both siddhis,
And gladden all devout and reverent men.”

Jamgon Kongtrul, The Torch of Certainty

Is this Buddhism?

The Buddha seemed to see ethics as the basis of the spiritual path. The Vinaya Pitaka is all about ethics and is one third of the Tripitaka, the Buddhist canon – along with the Sutta Pitaka (on meditation) and the Abhidhamma Pitaka (on wisdom). He encouraged people to use their own wisdom in ascertaining what kind of ideas to follow and his criteria was whether something caused harm or benefit.

“Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another’s seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, ‘The monk is our teacher.’ Kalamas, when you yourselves know: ‘These things are bad; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,’ abandon them.’

The Buddha, Kalama Sutta

If the Buddha wouldn’t condone this idea that unethical behaviour by a guru is good, then how is it Buddhism?

Rigpa’s view on the belief that everything the guru does is good

I recently sent this quote to the national director of Rigpa Australia and asked, ‘How does Rigpa see the following teaching from the section on Guru yoga in The Torch of Certainty.’ I received no reply. My guess is that they don’t want to admit that they believe this nonsense. If they don’t believe it, then surely they would have had no reticence in telling me so. The fact that Rigpa management and senior students accepted Sogyal’s abusive behaviour is proof that they do follow this kind of teaching – and it’s the same for Shambala and other similar groups.

And the fact that the Rigpa Vision Board have never admitted that Sogyal did abuse his students – despite the results of the Lewis Silkin report – and the fact that they have not denounced his behaviour as harmful and inappropriate proves that they still believe that ‘Everything this precious perfect guru does, no matter what it is, is good.

Sogyal may be dead, but this damaging belief remains in place to define Rigpa students’ relationship with whatever guru they take vajrayana empowerments from – including dzogchen and mahamudra introductions to the nature of mind.

One of the core texts for the Rigpa sangha A Guide to The Words of My Perfect Teacher – a commentary on Patrul Rinpoche’s commentary on the Longchen Nyingtik Ngondro, the main Ngondro practice for Rigpa students and many other Tibetan Buddhist groups – tells students that:

‘His [the teacher’s] charisma may attract men and women alike, but even if he were to seduce a hundred girls daily, see it as the activity of bringing under control. And when he causes trouble, stirring up disputes and so on, even if he slaughters hundreds of animals every day, regard this as the activity of fierce subduing.’

Khenpo Ngawang Pelzang, page 261 A Guide to The Words of My Perfect Teacher

Here is the ‘scriptural authority’ that guides Rigpa students in the matter of their guru’s behaviour. When I read this during my studies, I never thought a lama would actually do such things. I assumed it was overstated for effect and that the aim of the words was simply to encourage students to open themselves up to their teachers, not to suggest it was okay for the lamas to behave in such a manner.

Those two quotes came from books written in the 19th Century, but Dzongsar Khyentse wrote his book The Guru Drinks Bourbon? this century, and on page 19 in a section headed ‘Liberation Through Imprisonment’, he admits that in the student teacher relationship as traditionally laid out in Tibetan Buddhism, ‘The potential for abuse of power exists.’ Then, in the very next sentence, he speaks of a fully submissive relationship in which if the student wants to be enlightened, they can’t even call abuse abuse. He says:

‘However, once you have completely and soberly sur-rendered, you may not interpret certain manifestations and activities of the guru as the abuse of power. If you want to be fully enlightened, you can’t worry about abuse.’

Dzongsar Khyentse, The Guru Drinks Bourbon?

Dzongsar Khyentse (DZK) is one of Rigpa’s spiritual advisers. At least he is being honest and open about his commitment to teaching this kind of thing. That honesty helps students make an informed decision about whether or not they want to enter into a student teacher relationship with him.

Just as those who take the bible literally are called Christian fundamentalists, so, too, DZK and the other Rigpa advisers who take these kinds of teachings literally fit the label of Tibetan Buddhist fundamentalists.

The fundamentalist view

The following quotes from Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, written as part of his 10,000 word public Facebook opinion after the July 2017 letter state the fundamentalist version of Vajrayana. The whole thing can still be read here: https://www.facebook.com/djkhyentse/posts/2007833325908805

Recently, it was alleged by some of Sogyal Rinpoche’s students, who also consider themselves to be practitioners in the Vajrayana tradition, that Sogyal Rinpoche regarded abusive behaviour as the ‘skilful means’ of ‘wrathful compassion’ in the tradition of ‘crazy wisdom.’

However you describe Sogyal Rinpoche’s style of teaching, the key point here is that if his students had received a Vajrayana initiation, if at the time they received it they were fully aware that it was a Vajrayana initiation, and if Sogyal Rinpoche had made sure that all the necessary prerequisites has been adhered to and fulfilled, then from the Vajrayana point of view, there is nothing wrong with Sogyal Rinpoche’s subsequent actions. (By the way, ‘initiation’ includes the pointing out instruction which is the highest Vajrayana initiation, known as the fourth abhisheka.)

Frankly, for a student of Sogyal Rinpoche who has consciously received abhisheka and therefore entered or stepped onto the Vajrayana path, to think of labelling Sogyal Rinpoche’s actions as ‘abusive’, or to criticize a Vajrayana master even privately, let alone publicly and in print, or simply to reveal that such methods exist, is a breakage of samaya.



The bottom line here is: if both student and guru are consciously aware of Vajrayana theory and practice, I can’t see anything wrong in what Sogyal Rinpoche then does to his so-called Vajrayana students – especially those who have been with him for many years. Those students stepped onto the Vajrayana path voluntarily; it’s a journey that they chose to make. At least, I assume they did.

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, Facebook Post, Aug 15 2017.

In an age when teachers can’t be trusted to behave ethically or in accordance with the Buddha’s teachings, we need to re-evaluate the relevancy of these teachings/beliefs/ideas. And since we can’t make or trust the lamas to do it – especially not the fundamentalist lamas – the students must do this re-evaluation for themselves.

You don’t have to believe or follow such teachings

Just as plenty of Catholics don’t follow the Catholic Church’s teachings on not using birth control, and don’t believe everything in the bible, so people can follow Tibetan Buddhist teachings without believing the above. You don’t have to, or need to, take on board the superstition that pervades the Tibetan culture either, or buy into fear tactics such as ‘break samaya and you’ll go to hell’.

Sogyal had us believe that at a certain point, if we really wanted enlightenment, then we had to get rid of our doubts and follow the tradition to the letter. He said that picking and choosing was fine for beginners, but not for older students. This, however, is in direct contradiction the Buddha’s advice:

Do not accept any of my words on faith,
Believing them just because I said them.
Be like an analyst buying gold, who cuts, burns,
And critically examines his product for authenticity.
Only accept what passes the test
By proving useful and beneficial in your life.

The Buddha, from the Jnanasara-samuccaya

Should a Buddhist follow a Tibetan Lama or the Buddha as their primary source for authentic Buddhist teachings?

One thing is for sure, the idea that ‘everything this precious perfect guru does, no matter what it is, is good‘ has been proven to be not ‘useful or beneficial’. If you don’t believe me, read the Lewis Silkin Report into Rigpa.

Gurus don’t have to teach such ideas, either

 ‘The problem with the practice of seeing everything the guru does as perfect is that it very easily turns to poison for both the guru and the disciple. Therefore, whenever I teach this practice, I always advocate that the tradition of “every action be seen as perfect” not be stressed. Should the guru manifest un-dharmic qualities or give teachings contradicting dharma, the instruction on seeing the spiritual master as perfect must give way to reason and dharma wisdom. I could think to myself, “They all see me as a Buddha, and therefore will accept anything I tell them.” Too much faith and imputed purity of perception can quite easily turn things rotten.’

HH Dalai Lama, The Path to Enlightenment

I showed the above quote from Jamgong Kongtrul to someone who has been a student of Tsoknyi Rinpoche for 15 years. She said that she’d never heard him teach on anything like that in all that time. He and his brother Mingyur Rinpoche don’t talk about devotion much either, and never in relationship to students being required to have devotion for them. Contrast that with Sogyal’s insistence that without devotion to him no realisation was possible. And don’t forget Mingyur Rinpoche’s take on unethical behaviour published by Lion’s Roar that he wrote in response to the abuse allegations against Sogyal.

Tibetan Buddhist teachers won’t reject outright any teaching with scriptural authority behind it. It’s just not their way. The most we can hope for in terms of change is that they cease to teach such ideas.

The massive contradiction

The traditional advice for avoiding an abusive guru is to not choose them in the first place. The same book from which our first quote came from today also says this:

In particular, you should absolutely avoid [a master who commits the following misdeeds], for such a master can only confer the “blessing” of Mara:
1. Explaining or demonstrating to a crowd of common fold [such practices as] Tsa-Lung or Mahamudra meditation, those which employ mantras, or the essentials of the Fulfillment Stage;
2. [Boastfully claiming to possess] instructions others lack and spreading instructions in the profound philosophy and practice of the Mantrayana in the marketplace;
3. Behaving in an undisciplined manner;
4. Verbalizing the ultimate philosophical perspective (footnote: Since it is not subject to verbalization, any attempt to do so is pure distortion).
5. Greatly coveting money or property belonging to the Precious Ones;
6. Being highly deceitful and hypocritical;
7. Giving empowerments and instructions which do not belong in any tradition;
8. Indulging in the pleasures of liquor and sex;
9. Teaching a doctrine which conflicts with the Dharma, in words of his own invention, because he does not know how to teach the true path.

Jamgon Kongtrul, The Torch of Certainty p 134

If you follow those guidelines, you cut out all those self-styled dzogchen gurus that are popping up all over the place as well as all those lamas who indulge in sex. But note the conflicting teachings here. On the one hand we’re not to choose a teacher who ‘indulges in the pleasures of liquor or sex’ or ‘who behaves in an undisciplined manner’, but on the other hand if you do happen to choose someone who ‘unites in sex improperly,‘ lies, steals, scolds and beats you, you’re supposed to see ‘all his deeds’ as ‘excellent’.

In addition, given that gurus hide their ethical failings, it’s impossible for anyone to choose teachers with any confidence, especially when all you know about them is the nice stuff written on a glossy website. Clearly, you can’t trust any guru not to abuse their power; you can, however, not give away your power.

What does a student wanting Tibetan Buddhist teachings do?

‘The only way out of this mess, I think, is for students to vow to never compromise their personal integrity, to take responsibility for their own spiritual path rather than handing control over to another, and to keep their critical thinking faculties engaged at all levels of the path rather than blindly accepting every pronouncement by a lama as wisdom. To give any of that up in the name of devotion is neither wise nor in line with what the Buddha taught.’

Tahlia Newland. Fallout: Recovering from Abuse in Tibetan Buddhism

Image by ArtTower from Pixabay

Looking for a Tibetan Buddhist Teacher? Or Been Mistreated by one? Here’s some good advice.

This video is an interview with Karma Yeshe Rabgye (a Western monk in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition) in which he gives good advice for students of Tibetan Buddhism looking for a teacher and particularly for those being abused by their lama. He is, of course, talking from a Western perspective, and we’ve hit the wall of cultural differences here when trying to get lamas to make public stances against misconduct, so I don’t think he’ll get far with his call for lamas to speak out. But his advice for Western students is basically: you’re a Westerner, you know it’s wrong, so don’t be bound by the fear tactics (samaya) of a feudal culture that has no relevance to you as a modern Western person, and report all incidences of criminal behaviour to the police. Lamas in the West must abide by Western law and should be given no special treatment just because they and you think they’re someone special.

I agree with his point that Tibetan Buddhism in its feudal form will continue on the fringes, but it likely will eventually die out in the West because the feudal aspects (in which he includes the tulku system) are simply not relevant to the modern world. The Tibetan Buddhism that will survive is where the lamas adapt to the modern world and needs of their Western students. Adapt or die is the way of the world, after all.

Finding a teacher

Many of the readers here are so disgusted by the behaviour of Tibetan lamas that they don’t want anything to do with the religion anymore, but others understand that despite the religious limitations, Tibetan Buddhism does have a lot to offer those seeking to understand their mind and learn effective ways of operating in the world. The question then is how do you find a teacher that won’t abuse you.

As well as checking them out thoroughly, particularly noticing whether or not they practice what they preach and whether they have a secret inner circle (particularly if it’s all young women), Karma Yeshe talks about looking at how we are as students, and asking ourselves, what do we want from the relationship and how do we see the teacher. If we see him or her as a saviour who will tell us what to do, as a daddy figure or a god, then we’re opening ourselves up to abuse.

This echoes the approach I take in my book Fallout: Recovering from Abuse in Tibetan Buddhism where I suggest that we can’t change the teachers but we can change the way we relate to them. ‘We must forge a new way of relating to our spiritual teachers’, a healthier relationship than the teachings proscribe, one where we do not fall into blind devotion.

Such a relationship, however, can only be achieved by someone who does not have codependent tendencies, someone who has clear boundaries and good self-esteem, but those who seek gurus may be weak in these areas. If you don’t think you can manage not to fall into a submissive, codependent relationship with a guru, I suggest you do some solid work with a psychotherapist before seeking a guru.

From Ch 48 of Fallout: Recovering from Abuse in Tibetan Buddhism

The other important point Karma Yeshe makes is that we should have many teachers. We can learn different things from different teachers. The idea that we should have one teacher for life should be discarded as it’s limiting at best and dangerous at worst. We must retain control of our spiritual path.

The only way out of this mess, I think, is for students to vow to never compromise their personal integrity, to take responsibility for their own spiritual path rather than handing control over to another, and to keep their critical thinking faculties engaged at all levels of the path rather than blindly accepting every pronouncement by a lama as wisdom. To give any of that up in the name of devotion is neither wise nor in line with what the Buddha taught.

From Ch 48 of Fallout: Recovering from Abuse in Tibetan Buddhism

And what if you’ve been abused?

Speaking up is Karma Yeshe’s advice, but we all know that’s not easy. Certainly it’s important to step outside of the TB conditioning so that you’re not afraid to make a police report, but stepping outside of a belief system into which you’ve been indoctrinated is really hard. It takes time. I think I’ll write a whole post on this after some more thought, but the first step is to follow any grievance procedure that is in place in your sangha, and to record all communications.

If no such procedure exists then email whoever is in charge with a formal complaint. You can google how to make a formal complaint. Also keep a record of when the email was sent, and send a copy to a another person for them to also keep a record of. Again, keep a record of all communications on the matter. Copy and paste them into a Word document.

And lodge a complaint with the police as soon as you realise you’ve been abused in some way. That doesn’t mean that you’ll be taking legal action, it just means the police will have a record of it. We have to get over this idea that good Buddhist don’t involve the police. If a crime has been committed, we need to report it. We don’t need to sue, but we do need to make a report. This is vital for any investigation, particularly if someone else comes forward with a similar experience.

Going public

If you get no satisfaction from a grievance procedure or from lodging a formal complaint, then you may wish to warn others by going public. That will have repercussions that will be hard to handle – such as vilification from sangha members (and I’ll go into them in more detail another post) – and if you decide that’s the way you want to go, the question is how best to do it. Clearly getting others together so there is more than one voice speaking out is the best option, but it’s not always possible to do that even if you know the same thing is happening to others.

If you’re a lone voice, it’s hard. Journalists can’t publish someone’s story unless it’s verified by at least one other person, and they have good reason to believe that the allegations have some basis in fact. Someone not publishing your story doesn’t mean they don’t believe you, it just means they need more information. It’s about responsible journalism. My policy here is not to be the original source for someone’s public statement of their experience of abuse.

Facebook rants don’t work. Share in a closed group, by all means, but if you want to make a clear statement, I don’t advise Facebook because it’s too easy for people to abuse you and even get your account shut down. Utube videos do work, but I suggest that you don’t allow comments unless you’re either going to ignore them all, or are prepared for abuse from the true believers.

Tell your story to the camera and make sure you begin by saying that this is your lived experience, your story, that this is what happened to you. To be even safer, do not directly accuse the perpetrator of a crime. You can say, he sexually abused me in these ways, but don’t say, ‘He’s a sexual abuser or a sexual pervert.’ That’s slander.

If there’s only you and you don’t want to do a video, I suggest making your own statement on your own webpage (they’re free through WordPress.com). Then you can share the link to it wherever you want, and blogs like this can link to it as an allegation.

Most important is to look after yourself. I suggest reading my book and seeing a counsellor.

If you’ve been in a cult, or have been a victim of spiritual abuse and institutional betrayal, reading Fallout could literally be even better than going to a psychologist, because it will go straight to the point, it will take you step by step through a process of recognizing what you’ve been through, in order to deal with it.

Dr J Perez   Goodreads Review

What do you think of what Karma Yeshe Rabgye says in the podcast? And do you have any advice for those who have been abused and are wondering what to do that I can include in a comprehensive post on the topic?

Image by Jan Alexander from Pixabay

The challenge of losing your spiritual path

When members of a Tibetan Buddhist group discover that their leader abused people, their reactions tend to fall roughly into the following categories:

  1. Those who deny or ignore the abuse or explain it away according to their belief system (thinking it’s genuine crazy wisdom) and remain committed to their religion and their group;
  2. Those who accept that the abuse happened and know it was wrong, but stay in the religion and the group, believing that the group will genuinely change such that abuse can never happen again;
  3. Those who leave the group but not the religion;
  4. Those who leave Tibetan Buddhism but remain a Buddhist;
  5. Those who leave Buddhism.

Retaining the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual path

In four out of five of those broad categories, the student retains their TB spiritual path. Those in group 2 or 3 will make some adjustments to how they view the religion or the group in order to accommodate what happened; they will convince themselves that the abuse was an aberration, and that they can find other lamas who don’t abuse his or her students. They continue with Tibetan Buddhism either with another group or with getting teachings from a variety of teachers.

They may will find it very hard, if not impossible, to trust a guru fully again, and they may be very suspicious of all gurus. They will feel adrift for a while, until they work out how to move forward with their religious path. Moving forward for them may entail reading books and/or seeking a new guru and will likely entail some strengthening of their trust in their own discernment. They may be reticent to join another group and will be more aware of cult warning signs, but they can continue with (or eventually return to) their religious practice. They can go back to their Ngondro (many lamas use the Longchen Nyingtik Ngondro) visualising Guru Rinpoche or the Buddha or even the letter Ah as the guru. This continuity of practice will give them some stability, a sense that they have not lost their spiritual path, that this difficulty is just a challenge they will overcome and continue on. For them, it’s not a matter of finding a new path, it’s a matter of developing a new relationship with the religion.

‘I think so many people tend to think of faith as blind adherence to a dogma or unquestioned surrender to an authority figure, and the result is losing self-respect and losing our own sense of what is true. And I don’t think of faith in those terms at all.’

Sharon Salzberg

Retaining a general Buddhist path

Those who give up Tibetan Buddhism but continue with Buddhism can still feel that they’re on some kind of spiritual path – it’s not Tibetan Buddhism anymore; but it’s still Buddhism, and there is a prescribed path. Even so, they struggle with the loss of community, loss of innocence, loss of a set shape to their daily practice and loss of continuity of practice. But if they are willing to retain some Buddhist practice in their life, then they’re not set entirely adrift. After a period of feeling lost, they will eventually find their way back to incorporating some form of Buddhist spiritual practice in their lives.

They may return to basics, study the Theravaden teachings and practice uncontrived meditation only, or study from a variety of sources and focus on compassion practices. There are many options for those who can still engage in some kind of Buddhist practice.

No matter which group you presently fall into, you’ll experience some sense of loss as you adjust to changed circumstances. But those who leave Buddhism entirely, face the most uncertain future. They face the greatest challenge, but also the greatest opportunity for genuine freedom of mind.

Adrift

If you’ve lost your spiritual path, you tend to feel adrift, lost, directionless, floating, groundless. You have no idea where you’re going in terms of your spiritual path. This is particularly difficult for those who followed the structure of the Tibetan Buddhist practices in their daily life. Such students were used to being told what to do each day—for example; one hundred and eight one-hundred-syllable mantras; 3 of a certain prayer, and/or a certain number of accumulations of a vajrayana practice. If now they can’t face doing any of those practices, they feel completely adrift.

How do you progress on your spiritual path when you don’t have one anymore? Are you faced with a life time of not fulfilling your spiritual yearning? That’s a scary prospect for those who have been committed to living a ‘spiritual’ life.

Spiritual path or religious path?

The first thing to realise in handling this situation is to differentiate between a religious path and a spiritual path. One’s spiritual path may include following a religion as part of it, but the spiritual path continues before and after, as well as during, one’s involvement with a religion or cult. We may not always be or have been part of a religion, but we’ve always had a spiritual path, even if we didn’t know we had one – don’t we keep growing simply as part of life? And now, even if it doesn’t feel like it, even if we feel at a loss, we are still on a spiritual path. We are on our own spiritual path, and if it doesn’t look like anyone else’s spiritual path, that’s not because it’s wrong or misguided; it’s because we are unique and so is our spiritual path. Even if on the outside our path looks similar to others, it will never be the same path.

‘The spiritual path – is simply the journey of living our lives. Everyone is on a spiritual path; most people just don’t know it.’

Marianne Williamson

What is a spiritual path?

I couldn’t find a definition of spiritual path that didn’t use a religion’s frame of reference, but Wikipedia did provide a modern version of the word ‘spirituality’:  

Modern usages [of the term spirituality] tend to refer to a subjective experience of a sacred dimension and the “deepest values and meanings by which people live”, often in a context separate from organized religious institutions, such as a belief in a supernatural (beyond the known and observable) realm, personal growth, a quest for an ultimate or sacred meaningreligious experience, or an encounter with one’s own “inner dimension”.

wikipedia.org/wiki/Spirituality

Characteristics of spiritual paths are such things as prayer, meditation – the development of mindfulness and awareness – contemplation, ethical values, a belief or awareness that there is more to the world than what we perceive with our physical senses, deep self-investigation and conscious personal growth, a commitment to service to others and to ‘truth’ – whatever we perceive that to be. Engaging in such things gives a spiritual dimension to our lives even if they aren’t ordered into some kind of path with a beginning, middle and end. (Our life provides its own beginning, middle and end.)

Is there an end?

The word ‘path’ gives us a sense that there is an end point, something we will achieve at the end of the path – enlightenment, Christ consciousness, satori, nirvana and so on – but I find that idea problematic because it suggests a static state, free of mental suffering perhaps, but is there any point at which we cease changing and growing? The nature of the universe is that the only constant is that everything changes all the time; was the Buddha exempt from that? How can there be an end point past which there is no more growth?

The wisdom of not seeking

As I see it, the spiritual path is not about getting to an end point; it’s about how you live your life in every moment.  It’s not about seeking some attainment in the future, but about fully being now and trusting that your very desire to live attuned to what is real and true will naturally move you forward.

Something I’ve found transformative is dropping the idea of seeking enlightenment. It’s held up as such a high state that one is only ever likely to fail to achieve it unless you’re some very special rare individual – so most of us, in seeking this rarely defined state, are setting ourselves up for failure. I’m better able to be focused in present awareness without that constant striving for the unachievable.

We turned to Buddhism probably due to some yearning to connect with a ‘spiritual dimension’ in ourselves and our world, but we can do that by simply tuning into our present awareness. And there are many secular tools we can use to assist us to do that – meditation, yoga, gardening, walking in nature, engaging in art and craft, listening to or creating inspiring music, singing, reading something inspiring, or just sitting quietly and watching the world go by.

‘The practice of being on a spiritual path isn’t about being the best meditator or the kindest possible person or the most enlightened. The practice is about surrendering to love as often as possible.’

Gabrielle Bernstein

The role of teachers

Of course we do need spiritual teachers at some point in our lives to give us pointers for how to work with ourselves, but those of us who’ve had decades of Buddhist study and practice should be able to trust our inner guide by now – that is the point of the path, after all.

Teachers that illuminate our inner beings in some way don’t even have to be a ‘spiritual’ teacher. They could be our yoga teacher or our swimming coach or our counsellor or therapist. There are many different layers to our ‘self’ and many different ways we can learn about them.

Different teachers can teach us different things at different stages of our life, and options will appear to us even if we aren’t looking. If we’re toying with the idea of taking teachings from someone, we just have to examine that someone and their community carefully, trust our gut feelings, and not buy into hopes and projections born out of our of our insecurities.

The trick, I think, of relating to teachers and religions is not to fall into the idea of thinking that they’re ‘the one’ and that they’re all you’ll ever need, all the way to the end of your life. That idea just closes one down to opportunities. The idea that we only need one perfect teacher is untrue and could be dangerous.

Sogyal taught us to abhor the spiritual supermarket – picking a bit of teachings from here and there – but perhaps that is exactly what we need right now. Perhaps that is our path for now. Yes, we could get confused, but once we realise we’re confused, we’ll find some way to move on from that confusion. Certainly, there is a lot to pick from from within the Buddhist path itself, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t avail ourselves of all those different options.

The greater the loss the greater the opportunity for awakening

Steve Taylor in his book The Leap: The Psychology of Spiritual Awakening talks about the research he did into people who exhibit characteristics of awakening. What is clear from his research is that awakened people, or people who show some degree of awakening, are much more numerous than Buddhism would have us believe. Taylor considers awakening as the inevitable future of the human race, the result of the inexorable march of evolution. And he discovered that the thing that causes awakening most often is some major crisis in one’s life where you experience great loss, some time when the rug is ripped out from under you – such as the death of a loved one, a serious accident or illness, anything that sets you adrift, where your old ways of being simply don’t work for you anymore.  

He discovered that though long term religious practice helps one wake up from the ‘sleep’ state experienced by the majority of people, it’s a slow process and it is most transformative when an extended period of religious practice is followed by some traumatic event that changes everything for you – perhaps like the loss of one’s religion.

Don’t despair

So don’t despair. Trust in the natural process of life as spiritual practice. All we have to do is turn up for it and pay attention to ourselves, others and whatever life presents us with. If we stay open, curious, and aware, we can trust that we’re still progressing on our spiritual path. The very yearning that brought us to Buddhism in the first place, is still there, still directing us towards whatever will help us wake up even more. We just have to be open to it and realise that opportunities for growth might not look a bit like how we expect them to.

Don’t worry if you feel lost, directionless, bereft, rudderless, and so on; those states are full of potential for transformation. Being adrift is also being without reference, and that’s something we aimed for as dzogchen practitioners, so let’s embrace our new state, whatever it is. We don’t need to know where we’re going in order to appreciate the journey. We’re on a pathless path, a journey without an end.

You also might be more awakened than you think you are. When you read the qualities of awakening laid out in the above book, you might be surprised just how many of those qualities you already have. And honestly, does it really matter where you are on the ‘enlightenment scale’? Isn’t the important thing not where we’re heading but how we live each moment?

I went to a yoga class yesterday. The first one since I joined Rigpa. And oh, how I enjoyed it. I’ve also been doing some art and craft, and gardening.

What activities do you find are an outlet for that part of yourself that yearns to connect with the ‘spiritual dimension’? And please share any thoughts you have on walking a pathless path?

Image by Jim Semonik from Pixabay

Authentic Experience with an Inauthentic Guru?

Can an unrealised teacher induce a genuine spiritual experience in his or her students? This is something we’ve talked about before here, but for me, up until now, my examination has been very much informed by beliefs instilled in me by Tibetan Buddhism. In fact the whole quandary is due to the dzogchen teachings insistence that one needs a realised teacher for any genuine transmission of the nature of mind to occur.

‘So in Dzogchen, the direct introduction to rigpa requires that we rely upon an authentic guru, who already has this experience. It is when the blessings of the guru infuse our mindstream that this direct introduction is effected. ‘

Dzogchen, Heart Essence of the Great Perfection, HH Dalai Lama

Now I’d like to step out of the Tibetan Buddhist framework of beliefs and look at this question from a different perspective.

The quandary

Given this kind of teaching,

  • When you discover that your dzogchen teacher is abusing people and so isn’t a reliable/authentic/realised guru, does that mean that what you experienced that you thought was the nature of mind, couldn’t have actually been the nature of mind after all?
  • If you did experience the nature of mind, does that mean that the teacher must be authentic/realised/reliable despite evidence to the contrary?

These two questions – posed due to the dzogchen teachings emphasis on the importance of the teacher having some realisation – leave students in a bind. It means that any student who had a taste of the nature of their mind in the presence of their guru, when faced with revelations of that guru’s abusive behaviour, either has to believe that their teacher did have some realisation, or they have to deny their own experience, thinking that a fake guru means a fake experience.

The first option is the one taken by those who deny or minimise their teacher’s abuse. The second option is the one taken by those who declare that all Rigpa students wasted their time and couldn’t possibly have had any genuine taste of the nature of their mind.

But there is a third option. It’s just not the option the religion wants to emphasise because it diminishes the importance of the teacher’s qualifications.

The other ‘uncomfortable’ option

The other option is that one can have a genuine spiritual experience with a fake teacher.

Those invested in holding to either of the first two options might find this option uncomfortable because if you accept this possibility, you’re questioning the truth of the religion’s insistence on the necessity of having a realised teacher. And examining how such a thing might be possible leads one to see the whole religion in the stark and unromantic light of open enquiry.

To really be open to this option, to see what the video below is showing us, you need to step completely outside of the belief structure of Tibetan Buddhism. You’ll need to ignore, or put aside with a question mark, the opening quote in this article .

Watch this video with an open mind and suddenly you can see all those rituals, the words the lama says, how he says it, the gestures he uses, and the environment in which is occurs for what they are: the manipulations of a skilled mentalist. Realisation is not a requirement so long as you follow the procedures set down by the previous skilled mentalists in your lineage.

In this video, Derren Brown demonstrates how he can induce a ‘religious experience’ in an atheist. He reproduces a number of well known psychology experiments which show how even non-believers are ‘hard-wired’ to be susceptible to suggestions of super-natural (and religious) presences.

Note that when he tells the woman how he induced her experience, he states that her experience was genuine. It was ‘her’ experience, something real, not something he gave her. All he did was set up the conditions where it was likely that she would experience some kind of spiritual opening. Just like a lama induces experiences in us and calls it ‘introducing us to the nature of mind’.

But is it the ‘real’ thing?

When I first watched this, the Tibetan Buddhist indoctrinated part of me wanted to say that such an experience wouldn’t be the nature of mind, that it would be some other ‘lesser’ state. Then I realised that I’d fallen prey to the elitist cult tactic, the ‘we have the answer that no one else has’ belief. The point here is not what kind of spiritual experience can be induced in this way, the point is that a spiritual experience can be induced by someone who willingly admits that he is not a guru and has no special powers, just the knowledge of a mentalist.

What this video is showing is that what kind of spiritual experience we might have when the right environment is created through chanting, meditation, tone of voice, gestures, belief in the power of the guru, suggestion, and so on depends entirely on us, not on the guru. That’s the point. All the guru does is set up a situation where we are most likely to have some kind of spiritual experience. What we actually experience is individual, and could be any of a variety of mental states.

Given that as part of a pointing-out-mind instruction we would’ve had teachings on the nature of mind, the likelihood that those who are ready would experience the nature of mind would be quite high. And if we were following the instructions on what to do – or not do – with our mind, there is no reason to believe that such a thing would be a ‘manufactured version of the real thing’. If you believe that the teachings and instructions are a true guide, then why would we not experience it if following those instructions?

The point is that during pointing out instructions, the guru is nothing more than a catalyst to help us experience our own nature, and he doesn’t need any qualities other than knowing the procedure to follow to induce a spiritual experience in his followers. The religion has a reliable system in place that has worked for centuries. They’re not faking it; their religion simply works based on lineages of skilled mentalists. The delusion is the idea that these lamas are anything other than skilled mentalists.

Views on this issue from within Tibetan Buddhism

“It is possible to gain genuine realisation even when the teacher later proves to be unqualified. If the student has a direct realisation of the nature of the mind, then that is so, whatever the status of the lama who gave the pointing out instruction or facilitated this insight. Some teachers have the ability to open the minds of the students even when in other ways the conduct and wisdom of the teacher may be questionable. This is one reason for the confusion nowadays with lamas who have helped so many students yet have been shown to be unworthy of their role. Still these students were helped….”

Tenzin Palmo. 30th December 2018 (Email response to a question)

Sogyal often told us the story about the woman who achieved realisation through praying to a dog’s tooth because she thought it was a relic of the Buddha. He told the story to us to show us that what was important wasn’t the quality of the teacher, but the quality of our devotion. I even heard him say on a couple of occasions that he might be ‘just a dog’s tooth.’

But don’t forget the most important part of the dzogchen teachings. The part that tells us that the lama doesn’t actually give us anything, and that realisation of the nature of mind is up to us:

‘What we have been looking for—the true nature of our mind—has been with us all the time. It is with us now, in this very moment. The teachings say that if we can penetrate the essence of our present thought—whatever it may be—if we can look at it directly and rest within its nature, we can realize the wisdom of buddha: ordinary mind, naked awareness, luminous emptiness, the ultimate truth.’

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche from the“Wild Awakening” lecture series , February, 2004.

The power of suggestion

In Tibetan Buddhism we practice ‘seeing the lama as a buddha’; what’s that if not using the power of suggestion? In the following video, the people gathered – all declared atheists – have been told that Derren has the power to convert people instantly. See what happens …

What you see in this video shows what is actually going on in Tibetan Buddhism when the lama introduces us to the nature of mind. There’s nothing magical or mystical about it. Our expectations simply make us highly suggestible. We want to experience something, so we do. But that doesn’t mean that what we experience is somehow ‘fake’. It’s a real experience of a real mind state.

Do we create something or do we drop our defences and allow something to arise? I expect that would depend entirely on our training. If you’re trained to drop everything and see what’s left, that’s what you’ll do. Hence, a genuine experience of the nature of mind can come from a guru who does not have the qualities of a realised being.

If this is hard for you to accept, why? What beliefs are holding you back? How do these videos make you feel about your experience with Tibetan Buddhism?

Reginal Ray: Transmitting Trungpa’s lineage of abuse.

Another Tibetan Buddhist heavy weight bites the dust!

Eight students of Reginald Ray, inspired by the revelations of abuse in Rigpa in the letter written by eight Rigpa students and in Shamabala by Buddhist Project Sunshine, have written an open letter revealing Reginald Ray’s abuse of students and the cult dynamics in his organisation, Dharma Ocean.

An all-too-familiar story

This excerpt from the letter sums up the general contents, and those of us familiar with this kind of thing from Rigpa, Shambala, NKT and other Tibetan Buddhist groups will recognise the methods and language used to create this kind of cult-ure. It’s the same-old story. Clearly, we, as Westerners, are importing the worst of this tradition on a grand scale.

“The forms of emotional and spiritual abuse perpetuated by Reggie Ray and, by extension, those in positions of leadership within Dharma Ocean, are commonly acknowledged as characteristic of high demand groups :
● grooming;
● love bombing new group members;
● questioning and doubt being discouraged or punished;
● public shaming of community members;
● a cycle of verbal abuse and triangulation in interpersonal communication;
● selective enforcement of rules/community norms; dissent framed in terms of spiritual immaturity/shortcomings;
● a pervasive culture of fear and paranoia;
● a charismatic leader insulated from any external accountability;
● reframing dissent or the loss of prominent members as proof of the worthiness and
exceptionalism of the “in-group”;
● frequent public appraisals of other spiritual paths and communities, which were
always found inferior by comparison with Dharma Ocean.
● the organization’s all-important ends justify its unethical means.”

A worrying transmission of abuse by Westerners

This abusive Tibetan Buddhist teacher is a Westerner, a man whose books I loved for their clarity and the depth of the author’s dharma understanding. But as we’ve come to realise, knowledge, and even practice of, the dharma according to Tibetan Buddhism is no guarantee of developing any kind of decency as a human being, especially if your master practised abuse in the name of dharma.

Chokyo Lodro, Sogyal Rinpoche’s master, was abusive in his behaviour, and so was Chogyam Trungpa, Reginald Ray’s master. Sogyal can be cut some slack for his perception that abuse was acceptable behaviour due to being a child while under the influence of at least one man who thought beating increased wisdom, but RR came to the dharma as an adult with a Western upbringing and presumably some awareness of the concept of human rights, so why is he behaving in a similar fashion? Answer -Chogyam Trungpa. He’s following a flawed role model, and presumably, like many of us did, has given up his personal integrity (presuming that he did at one point have some) on the altar of devotion.

Chogyam Trungpa: the father of the Western lineage of Tibetan Buddhist abuse

Trungpa’s alcoholism, womanising and hedonistic lifestyle have long been well-known but were generally brushed off as a result of the free-love ethos of hippy days in the sixties and seventies.

“Vajradhatu students had a reputation for the wildest parties in Buddhist America. Although most Tibetan Tantric schools clearly discourage “acting out” passions and impulses, Trungpa Rinpoche did not. In fact, drunk and speeding, he once crashed a sports car into the side of a joke shop and was left partly paralyzed. He openly slept with students. In Boulder, he lectured brilliantly, yet sometimes so drunk that he had to be carried off stage or held upright in his chair. …

When Trungpa Rinpoche lay dying in 1986 at the age of 47, only an inner circle knew the symptoms of his final illness. Few could bear to acknowledge that their beloved and brilliant teacher was dying of terminal alcoholism, even when he lay incontinent in his bedroom, belly distended and skin discolored, hallucinating and suffering from varicose veins, gastritis, and esophageal varices, a swelling of veins in the esophagus caused almost exclusively by cirrhosis of the liver.

“Rinpoche was certainly not an ordinary Joe, but he sure died like every alcoholic I’ve ever seen who drank uninterruptedly,” said Victoria Fitch, a member of his household staff with years of experience as a nursing attendant. “The denial was bone-deep,” she continued. “I watched his alcoholic dementia explained as his being in the realm of the daikinis.'”

Tricycle: Encountering the Shadow in Buddhist America

However, some have revealed an even darker and clearly abusive side to Trungpa, and though (as it was with such students in Rigpa) vehemently denied by those who cannot bear to have their faith shaken, others have corroborated most of the stories that have come to light.

Chogyam Trungpa’s abusive behaviour has been documented in various places, such as the frank revelations of Leslie Hays, one of his ‘wives’, Katherine Rose talking about how Trungpa and his followers stripped a couple naked against their will, and John Riley Perks who shares the story of Trungpa’s abuse of a dog in his book The Mahasiddha and His Idiot Servant.

A worrying transmission

On its website, Ray’s organisation, Dharma Ocean, says that it’s core mission is “transmitting Trungpa Rinpoche’s living lineage in the modern context.” That page goes on to tell us that “Dr. Ray has practiced and studied in the lineage of Chögyam Trungpa since 1970, when he met Rinpoche just after his arrival in the U.S. ” And “Dr. Ray passes on the “moving and remarkable trust” he received from his teacher. Under this guidance, many of Dharma Ocean’s senior students are beginning to instruct others along the Dharma Ocean path of Chögyam Trungpa.”

Now that “senior students beginning to instruct others along the path of Chögyam Trungpa” is a worry. And one wonders what “moving and remarkable trust” refers to. Is that the never-question-your-teacher-because-they’re-perfect-and-what-might-appear-as-abuse-isn’t-really-because-it’s-all-for-your-benefit bullshit?

The third point on that page where it summarises the essence of the lineage is “The everyday practice to “never turn away” — to develop an attitude of complete acceptance and openness toward all experience …” But if you take a look at the letter   you’ll see a lot of non-acceptance and close-mindedness in practice. Another instance of the guru and his organisation not walking their talk.

The lineage of abuse Trungpa left in his organisation, Shambala, carried by his son, the Sakyong, is also now widely known thanks to Buddhist Project Sunshine. In between Chögyam Trungpa and the Sakyong, Shambhala was led by an American-born Buddhist who is mainly remembered for having sex with students even after he knew he had AIDS.

In the book Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism, Mary Finnigan tells how in 1975 Sogyal’s behaviour changed abruptly from jovial to a tyrant’s attitude, which included public berating and humiliations of his students, after he returned from his visit to the U.S. where he met Trungpa in Boulder/Colorado.

Unfortunately, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche has also made his respect for Trungpa clear, and who knows how many other Tibetan Buddhist teachers, of both Eastern and Western roots, idolise a man now known to be a serial abuser.

How do we stop this transmission of abuse?

SPEAK UP! Tell it as it is, just like these eight students of RR and the eight Rigpa students and others who have broken the silence. And report crimes to the police. Treat abusive dharma teachers as we would any corporate boss who abuses his workers.

If you have knowledge of others abusing in the name of dharma, find others who can corroborate your story and write an open letter signed by as many students as you can who witness the same kinds of behaviour in their teachers, and post it wherever you can on the internet. If you can’t find anyone to back up your story, maybe you could be the first and hope that others will come out of the woodwork if you speak up. Best is make a You Tube video where you simply tell your story as ‘this is what happened to me’, no accusations, just facts as you know them. It’s hard, I know. But videos work best if you’re the only one speaking out. On a video you’re a real person, much harder to disregard, but don’t allow comments on your video. Best not to open yourself to further abuse. Be prepared for a backlash, though. Unfortunately those who feel threatened by such revelations will retaliate. For support, join the Survivors of Vajrayana Abuse Facebook group.

Cut the lineage here, now. No matter how wise they might sound, do not quote abusers or teachers who were once their students unless that person has made a public statement denouncing their teacher’s abuse and vowing not to continue it. To stop lineages of abuse from taking deeper root in the West, we have to stop seeing having Trungpa as a teacher as some kind of respected qualification.

Don’t support dodgy organisations and teachers. Only take teachings from teachers who make a public stance against abuse and cult behaviour. In today’s climate, I don’t think it’s too much to ask.

PS

On another note, you might be interested in this review of Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism. https://buddhism-controversy-blog.com/2019/10/07/knowns-and-unknowns-regarding-sogyal-rinpoches-biography/

The King is Dead: Long Live the King

A reflection on Sogyal Rinpoche’s death and feudalism in Tibetan Buddhism.

The first thought I had on hearing of Sogyal’s death was ‘The king is dead: long live the king.’ I ignored it, thinking it was one of those useless bits of mind vomit that invade our minds, but the phrase kept popping up during my quiet times, during my morning walk or meditation, along with a sense of what unpacking that phrase might mean in the present circumstances of Sogyal’s death. Wanting to retire into anonymity, I resisted writing about it, but eventually the insistence with which the phrase kept reoccurring made me accept that, like it or not, I had to write about Sogyal’s death in light of this phrase. So here it is:

The King

King Louis XVI giving alms to peasants in the winter of 1788.” – painting by Louis Hersent 1817 . This scene looks very familiar if you substitute King Louis with Sogyal, clothe the peasants in modern clothes, and set it in Lerab Ling.

Sogyal is the king to which we’re referring here. He (along with his willing slaves, of which I was one) created his kingdom, Rigpa, and he sat on the Rigpa throne – usually an office chair – encouraged by his students, who showed the kind of deference and devotion peasants are expected to show their king.

He gathered a court around him, an inner circle of lords and ladies, who protected him from the demands of the peasants and pandered to his every whim. And he had a harem of beautiful women to attend to his sexual gratification. Women who he and his court convinced were ‘special’ and lucky to gain his attention.

This is not Buddhist in any way, it’s just feudalism. Even Western kings prior to the time of the French Revolution had access to pretty much any woman they chose. No one would turn away the attentions of the king. The benefits to one’s family were considerable – see the movie The Other Boleyn Girlnot to mention the lavish lifestyle to into which the woman would be thrust as a concubine or mistress. Coercion into the bed of the master, lord or king was a fact of life for woman in medieval times, as was the brutal disregard with which they were discarded when the person with power over them and their family grew tired of her charms.

And he had knights who went out and did his work for him: National Directors, Study and Practice Co-ordinators, Practice co-ordinators, Finance and fundraising co-ordinators, event managers, and so on.

Those who spoke badly of the king were publically drawn and quartered, and so dissent was effectively squashed. The only option for those who saw that the Kingly garb was an illusion was exile.

We even called him a ‘master’. The historical meaning of that word is ‘a man who has people working for him, especially servants or slaves’. Synonyms: lord, overlord, ruler, sovereign, monarch, liege

The true nature of the king

Few knew the true nature of any king in a feudal society. Only his closest courtiers. And if the king was an idiot or abusive (as I suspect many of them were, given that absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely and the brutality of the human race in general up until the development of the concept of human rights around 250 years ago in France), his knights and advisors worked with that as best they could. The monarchies were good at making fine shows to satisfy the populace that they were being taken care of – so long as they were faithful to the crown. Pomp and ceremony and fancy speeches promoted the idea of a truly wise and benevolent king or queen regardless of the true personality of the regent. Sound familiar? Anything Buddhist here? Nope, just feudalism.

In the same way, us ordinary peasants had no idea of Sogyal’s true personality. We saw aspects of it, but just as a peasant in a feudal society would ignore any indications that the king wasn’t the noble being he was made out to be, so did we. To see him differently was dangerous. If the illusion came tumbling down, so did our place in the society/cult. And King Sogyal’s knights and couriers always did the required damage control to soothe the peasants concerns.

When I realised that Sogyal wasn’t the man I thought he was, when I realised that although he could be kind and apparently (as I saw him) loving, he could also be incredibly cruel, and that although he seemed very insightful at times, he could also do incredibly stupid things, I realised that the ‘kingliness’ I’d perceived in him had been nothing more than a projection on my part.

I wanted a spiritual teacher who was perfect, so that’s what I created for myself. But there never was a king. Even though we had one.

I’m reminded of the words: Mind (it exists) is devoid of mind (it doesn’t exist). The nature of mind is clear light. (Nevertheless it manifests as clear light.) Sogyal was not a king, nor was he enlightened, nevertheless he manifested as a king for those who wanted a king. Despite his personality disorder, he faithfully dispensed his kingly duties as he’d been taught to do by his upbringing and teachers, and just as a king who is rotten to the core can still follow legal protocol and preside over a court to dispense justice for those seeking it, so, too, could Sogyal provide what we came looking for. If our introductions to the nature of our mind was just a projection from our side, it still did the trick, because the protocol for introduction, well established over centuries, was strong enough in itself that it still worked regardless of the lacks of the person presiding – at least for those whose minds were ready for a little nudge in the right direction.

Is Dead

King Sogyal died for me as soon as I realised he wasn’t a king (not a role model for achieving enlightenment). I grieved back in June 2017.

Now the man Sogyal Lakar is dead as well. People have their own reactions to that, depending on their relationship to him. But regardless of how one feels about this personally, his death likely raises questions about death and our relationship to it.

Our personal relationship to death

I grew up on a farm. I saw a lot of dead animals. Death was simply part of life for us. Even now I live in the country and on my walks will come across the remains of some animal. I’ve also travelled a lot in outback Australia where road kill is common. I’ve driven along sections of roads lined with the desiccated corpses of kangaroos, and plucked feathers from dead birds with which to decorate masks and hats.

I look at my family often with the awareness that death will one day take me from them or them from me. My daughter, when she was growing up, often told me how unusual our family was because her friends’ parents never talked about death. My husband often says, ‘I’ll be dead by then.’ We don’t pussy foot around the topic. My mother (93 yrs old) told me how relieved she was that I would actually talk to her about her impending death. ‘No one else will talk about it,’ she told me.

My father died from cancer when I was in my twenties, and that hit me hard. I remember him saying to me, ‘I’m not afraid to die. I’ve led a good life. I know where I’m going.’ As a Christian who lived by the words of Jesus, he had no reason to fear. He was a genuinely good person.

I’m not afraid of death, either. I never believed the Tibetan Buddhist stuff about bardos and ending up in lotus flowers for centuries if you didn’t realise you were in one! And being released into a pure realm if you did realise. Sheesh who needs that kind of pressure to remember all that shit when you’re dying – don’t look at the dim lights or you’ll end up as a pig! Apparently Tibetans fear death more than any other race. And it’s no wonder. I’d be scared, too, if I really thought I’d be facing terrifying beings in the bardos.

I prefer the near death experience idea of ‘rapid movement toward and/or sudden immersion in a powerful light or being of light’ accompanied by ‘an intense feeling of unconditional love and acceptance.’ Not only does it seem ‘right’ to me, but also the characteristics of near death experiences have been formed from research, not just because a ‘master’ says so.

Since any idea of death that isn’t supported by research into people who have actually been dead is really only a belief about death not a fact about it, you can believe the Tibetan version or not. It’s a choice. If you’re Tibetan, it would be difficult to step outside that Tibetan cultural perspective, of course, and near death experience research indicates that people interpret what happens according to their beliefs. So if you believe in the terror of the bardos, that’s what you’ll experience – assuming there is some continuation of consciousness after death. I’m happy to leave that question until I’m dead. I figure I’ll find out then, and until then, the question is kind of irrelevant to me.

I figure that if we live a good life and do our best to die in a good frame of mind, then if we do have some continuation of consciousness, we’ll be in a good space for going forward, and it there isn’t any continuation, then at least we will have died in peace.

What do us ex-Tibetan Buddhists we do when we die?

This is a scary question for someone who had it all worked out according to a tradition that they no longer believe in. If you figured that you’d just do Guru Yoga at the time of death, and now you couldn’t possibly do GY, what do you do?

You could follow the same idea but cut out the middle man. My practice for a long time has essentially been merging my mind with the true nature of reality every time I remember to do it. Another way to think of it is turning my mind onto my own awareness or looking for the true nature of my awareness.  And that’s what I plan to do when I die. Maybe you could think of merging your mind with that ‘being of light’ they talk about in the near-death research. Same idea but without the bad associations.

Imagining yourself flying up into a being of light that is unconditionally loving sounds like the kind of thing that will help you die in peace. It’s also the kind of thing that will help you live your life in peace. No need for even a buddha. I sometimes visualise a ball of light with all the enlightened beings in it, all together. A kind of generic version of vajrayana. It’s great when you’re feeling like shit. Just pop them in the sky and have them send a whole lot of light down to fill you up. Anyway, it’s just a suggestion for ex-vajrayana practitioners. For me it takes the essence and leaves the garbage out of it.

Cultural perspectives on death

And then there’s the Rigpa flying circus and the homages. We’ve talked about those issues before, but it seems that a notable number of the Tibetan lamas, despite their cultural programming, removed their homages or made condolences rather than homages in deference to the outcry as to the inappropriateness of whitewashing the crimes of someone just because they’re dead. The homages were in stark contrast to the articles that appeared in the Western media that spoke about both his ‘good’ works and his abuse of students.

Our ideas of what is and what isn’t appropriate at the time of death depend on our cultural upbringing.

For instance, there were arguments as to whether the original image (similar to the one below) used for the last post was appropriate. I removed it because the author of the blog and others didn’t like it and I figured since it was her blog, she should decide what image should go with it. Others complained that it had been removed, because they thought it was the perfect image. There’s no right or wrong here. We just have different ideas, and they tend to reflect your background (for me this corpse is no different to all those dead animals I’ve seen.)  

To put this into perspective, I did a bit of research on death customs, and I found that there are some really weird ones. The weirdest I found was those of the Malagasy people of Madagascar, who, in an effort to hasten decomposition — what’s seen as an crucial step in the ongoing process of getting the spirits of the dead into the afterlife —dig up the remains of their relatives, rewrap them in fresh cloth, then dance with the corpses around the tomb to live music. ‘The living family members then reflect with the bodies in their laps, pose for photos, and again dance with the bodies of those they’ve lost within the tomb -before putting them back to rest.’

Until recently, female members of the Dani tribe of Western Papa, New Guinea had a finger amputated each time an immediate family member died.  The Yanomami, an Amazonian tribe who live in the jungles between Brazil and Venezuela eats their dead. They see the consumption of dead tribe members as a unity-strengthening act. The Rigpa flying circus is nothing on this lot!

Funeral procession of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej_2017

Parades of the deceased so people can pay their respects are something seen in both the East and the West.

Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk’s Coffin

Though such funeral processions in the West are grand for kings, queens, prime ministers and presidents, they don’t exhibit the kind of bling seen in the East, just a simple flag-covered coffin on a carriage or in a Hurst.

Corpse preservation

According to one article, in southern Tibet corpses are ’embalmed with ghee, salt and perfume and placed in a wooden casket’. The book, Sources of Tibetan Tradition says that the ‘practice of embalming became widespread in Tibet in the seventeenth century’ and the first step in mummifying a corpse is to pack it in salt. Salt shrinks cells by drawing liquids out of them, so packing a corpse in salt will remove the liquids from the body, which will help to stop it stinking, and also cause it to shrink – another way to suggest spiritual attainment. Removing certain foods from one’s diet and eating little, such that one loses weight before death also helps the body not to decay after death.

In modern embalming, practised by many funeral homes, the blood is removed from the body through the veins and replaced by injection into the arteries with a mixture of  formaldehydeglutaraldehydemethanol, and other solvents. According to this article on different methods of corpse preservation, ‘Bodies embalmed in this manner have a shelf life of approximately 10 years’. Lenin was embalmed 145 years ago and ‘the Soviet founder’s corpse still maintains the look, feel, and flexibility of Lenin toward the end of his life. If anything, the body’s appearance has improved with age.’ No spiritual accomplishment involved there – unless Lenin was enlightened!

Long Live the King

As Wikipedia says ‘”The king is dead, long live the king!”, or simply “long live the king!” is a traditional proclamation made following the accession of a new monarch in various countries. The seemingly contradictory phrase is used to simultaneously announce the death of the previous monarch and assure the public of continuity by saluting the new monarch.’

Tibetan Buddhist practice can continue seamlessly after the death of a master by adding the dead one to one’s perception of the master that represents them all – i.e. Guru Rinpoche for the Nyingmas – and by taking on a new master. Just replace the old with the new and carry on. That kind of continuity is reassuring at a time when it might feel, to the devoted, that their world is falling apart.

Those who still want a ‘master’ will be looking (if they haven’t already) for a new one. The questions for those students are: Will you just swap one king for another? Will you continue to play the master/servant game? And, is that a healthy relationship to be in?

And what of Rigpa? Who will take over Rigpa? Will the vision board find a new king? Or will some narcissist rush in and save them from making a decision by offering to take it on?

An opportunity for change.

Rigpa actually has a great opportunity here to make healthy changes. They could be quite clear and say that they will no longer have any spiritual advisors, that they will run Rigpa as a Western organisation without a king or a council of kings. They could institute democracy where the members vote for the vision board and have a real say in policies, and they could simply employ teachers on a simple fee basis.

Even with a democratic structure, unless they voted out the ‘old guard’, reject their fundamentalist views, and any new board denounces Sogyal’s behaviour, it will make little difference.

For sure the time of kings and feudal structures is long gone in the West. We gave them up around 250 years ago around the time of the French revolution. Surely we can take the Buddha’s teachings to heart without having to step back a few centuries and take on the feudal baggage we outgrew here with the birth of the idea of human rights for all.

The king is dead: Long live the king.

Sogyal Rinpoche’s Last Tour

Rigpa has sent an email to their devotees sharing their plans ‘for the ceremonies that will be performed for Sogyal Rinpoche over the next few months’. These plans show a stark difference in cultural attitudes between Tibet and the West as to the respectful way to treat a corpse, and we can respect that. But Rigpa could have been culturally appropriate without the elaborate charade they have planned, and in their communications, they could have been respectful to those Sogyal abused rather than painting them as enemies.

Parading his corpse around as if he were an enlightened master just continues the lie that damaged so many and disillusioned many more. It’s nothing more than their usual manipulation of the faithful. The actions of a cult. They’re essentially repeating the ‘Rigpa party line’ in a big display, saying, ‘Sogyal is a great master; it was crazy wisdom, not abuse; the 8 and their supporters got it wrong. We can be safe in the knowledge that we are right; we can go on with our worship as if nothing happened. ‘

The anger arising now is not that of people clinging to anger about the abuse; it’s fresh anger arising from what Rigpa is saying by this display. Sel Verhoeven talks about this in this guest post.

Note the meaning of Kundung according to Rigpa Wiki: ‘kudung’ refers to ‘the sacred body of a great master who has passed away, or to their relics, such as ringsel, or a stupa housing relics’

Rinpoche’s last tour

Thanks to Sel Verhoeven for the following:

First of all, I would like to say my heart is with anyone who is truly mourning the passing of Sogyal Rinpoche. It is a shattering experience to lose someone you love. If you are feeling very raw about this, you might not want to read this blog – even though it is not about Rinpoche’s passing away, but about what Rigpa is making out of it.

A man has died who has done a lot of bad and a lot of good. He still has thousands of devotees, but he has seriously harmed dozens of people and around a thousand students have left Rigpa, feeling completely disillusioned because their trust has been so badly broken.

What kind of a goodbye should be chosen? That is a difficult decision. Of course family and close ones should have the opportunity to say their goodbyes. And an opportunity for the devotees to pay their respects should be created. But, one would think that, given the circumstances, it would be wise (and compassionate to his victims) to try to keep it as small and discrete as possible.

Not Rigpa. No; let’s fly his body from Thailand to France, then to Bodhgaya in India, then to Sikkim and then to West-Sikkim on a 3 month tour:

Sogyal Rinpoche’s kudung will be taken firstly to the Buddhist temple of Wat Thong Nopakhun in Bangkok, Thailand. From 17th-22nd September [the temple] will be open to visitors daily between 5am-10pm. The kudung will then be taken to Lerab Ling in France where a private ceremony will be held for Sogyal Rinpoche’s family and community of close students. The kudung will remain at Lerab Ling from 24th-29th September, before being taken to India.

In India, Sogyal Rinpoche’s kudung will be taken to Bodhgaya, the seat of Buddha Shakyamuni’s enlightenment. The kudung will remain there for approximately one month, from 1st-31st October, at the Shechen Gompa. Lamas and monks from the Shechen Monastery and other Dharma communities will be invited to perform various practices and rituals in its presence.

From Bodhgaya, the kudung will be taken to Chorten Gompa, Kyabjé Dodrupchen Rinpoche’s monastery in Gangtok, Sikkim, where further practices will be performed by the Lamas and monks there throughout the month of November. Finally, the dungshyu (cremation ceremony) will take place on 2nd December at Tashiding in west Sikkim, a most sacred site and one of the Eight Great Charnel Grounds, blessed by Guru Rinpoche.’

Rigpa email

In other words: let’s do as many ceremonies as we can over a 3 month period of time and let’s involve as many lama’s and monks as possible. Let’s just bombard everyone into believing he is a saint by making a flying circus out of it.

Turning the victim into the offender

Let’s look at this in terms of the DARVO technique commonly used by individuals and organisations when their unethical behaviour is exposed. (Deny it, Attack the whistle blower, and Reverse the Victim and Offender – make the abuser/offender appear to be the victim, and the victim appear to be the abuser/offender ). Again in the email they sent out: 

‘But now that Rinpoche is deceased, we pray that, for the sake of his family, loved ones and close Dharma brothers and sisters, our plans to offer the traditional ceremonies and rituals will unfold peacefully and harmoniously. We simply ask, in all humility, for your respect and understanding at such a time.’

This would make you think that we (the community of victims of spiritual abuse, their supporters, and advocates for ethical behaviour) are a bunch of barbarians that would try to bomb the temples where the ceremonies are being held. When all we have ever asked for is to stop the denial, to acknowledge the abuse, for Rigpa to take responsibility for its part in it, and if possible, for them to really apologize. (On a side note, humility is a trait I have never seen in Rigpa …)

Dismissing the abuse

They also write:

‘Sadly, unresolved controversies in Sogyal Rinpoche’s life have elicited strong feelings in many people.’

So abuse that has been confirmed by an independent investigation is now just an ‘unresolved controversy’. It sounds a whole lot better than abuse, doesn’t it?

I don’t think there will be any protest at any of the ceremonies that are to be held in the next three months. There is no need to protest against this charade, because any sensible person will see it as a cult-warning sign when someone accused of abuse is sent off in such a grandiose way. So let them have their flying circus.

As someone in the What Now group worded it: 

‘Strange maybe, but I feel compassion for Sogyal’s dead body being dragged around for so many days, through so many countries. To me, that doesn’t sound respectful at all. And this ‘traveling circus’ is even worse than all the eulogies we’ve read on the Rigpa home page … it’s about officially, and with lots of pomp, promoting a lie to a ‘truth’ that will be spread for decades to come…’

What Now group member

The repercussions for Tibetan Buddhism

What saddens me most of all is that what started out as the harmful behaviour of one person and the denial and whitewashing of one cult-like group has now, through the endorsement of so many lamas (by way of writing homages and participating in ceremonies) and the remaining silence of so many other lamas, become a reason to seriously doubt all of Tibetan Buddhism.

It has a treasure to offer. But so much seems to be rotten that I’m not sure whether the treasure can be saved. A lot of Sogyal Rinpoche’s ex-students have left Tibetan Buddhism, and I can’t blame them.  I’m ever so grateful for HHDL, Mingyur Rinpoche, Tsultrim Allione, Ato Rinpoche, Dagpo Rinpoche, Thubten Chodron, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Matthieu Ricard, Namgay Dawa Rinpoche and Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo who have spoken up against the abuse*. That’s ten teachers that can be trusted. Unfortunately around twenty teachers have endorsed Sogyal Rinpoche’s behaviour and contributed to his aggrandisement by writing a homage for him. One of them, Ringu Tulku, even turns out to be the champ of reversing abuser/victim roles by writing that ‘some of his trusted students attacked him with most serious accusations’.

Sel Verhoeven

How Rigpa isn’t Reforming

Rigpa’s gaslighting skills are making a strong showing in the wake of Sogyal’s death. Gaslighting is a nice term for what some might call outright lies. It’s a way of obscuring the truth and manipulating people to perceive things in a way that suits the gaslighter’s agenda. Rigpa needs students to deify Sogyal, to keep the fantasy alive so they can keep the money rolling in, so they’re doing everything they can to assure their devotees that Sogyal was truly an enlightened master – and therefore, according to their beliefs, he didn’t harm anyone.

Report recommendations being followed?

The Rigpa website has a page titled Rigpa Moving Forward on which they list all the ways they are instituting the recommendations of the Lewis Silkim Report on Sogyal Lakar/Rinpoche’s abuses. If you raise the issue of Sogyal’s abuse with a Rigpa devotee, they will point to this page to show that they have changed. But if you look closely at the recommendations and at what is written on that page, you’ll see a vast discrepancy between the actual recommendations and what they’re doing, and between what they say they are doing and what they have actually done.

If they were actually working systematically on each recommendation, why have they organised their page in a way that doesn’t relate to the recommendations? To check if the recommendations are actually being followed, you have to go to the report and try to check whats on the Moving Forward page with the recommendations, and who is going to do that? Not your casual reader, and not the devotees who only want to be reassured that the right thing is being done. The page organisation acts as a smokescreen.

For instance, for the recommendation, “Rigpa leadership in each country (being the trustees or equivalent) and the Vision Board should, as necessary, be refreshed in order to ensure that; its members are unconnected with the harmful events referred to in this report and so can credibly lead the programme of changes required; …” But Rigpa have removed from management only 3 of those who enabled the abuse for decades. The Vision Board and management in various countries still contain people well connected to the harmful events. This is typical of Rigpa’s approach to the recommendations – do enough that it looks like you’re making changes, but not enough to actually make a change.

And then there’s the look-how-wonderful-we-are language they use to distract readers from remembering that the man they are devoted to was the perpetrator of serious physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Apart from the usual important-lama name dropping and insistence that Rigpa offers “a complete and authentic path of Buddhist study and practice”, their words make it sound as if they’ve done more than they actually have. For instance, if you click on the link on the word ‘apology’ you’ll find only a pseudo apology. They look like apologies to anyone who doesn’t look closely, but despite using the word ‘sorry’, Rigpa and Sogyal have never actually apologised for hurting anyone; they’ve never said, ‘we’re sorry we hurt you’ only sorry that people ‘feel hurt.’

Their apologies aren’t for those they harmed, they’re to gaslight their devotees into thinking that they actually have apologised. And they’re still doing it.

The gaslighting continues with another psudeo apology for the faithful

Rigpa put out a statement on Sept 5th, a few days AFTER the petition asking for the lamas to retract their homages , presumably to make it look as if they actually cared about those who objected to their hideous display of hypocrisy. In Rigpa’s statement they use the word ‘deepest apologies’ to make it look as if they’re apologising and ‘again’ as if they have apologised before, but now instead of talking about people who have ‘felt hurt’, they’re talking about members of the Rigpa community who have ‘experienced hurt’. Still the passive voice that makes it sound as if the hurt happened without anyone actually causing it. Still they’re not admitting that Sogyal and Rigpa management and culture actually did hurt people, still not saying, ‘we’re sorry we hurt you’. The expressing our ‘deepest apologies’ doesn’t even say what the apologies are for!

Rigpa acknowledges that this may also be a difficult period for past and present members of the Rigpa community who have experienced hurt, and wishes to express again our deepest apologies. We continue our process of healing and reaching out, and the reforms that Rigpa has taken over the past two years.

Rigpa Statement, 5 September, 2019

And they have the gall to say that they’re continuing the process of ‘healing and reaching out’. Their efforts at ‘reaching out’ were extremely limited and misguided, and last I heard, the communication set up with two of the victims has stalled. To even talk about ‘our process of healing and reaching out’ as if it’s some ongoing initiative is highly misleading.

Parinirvana? Really?

The Rigpa website has a page called SOGYAL RINPOCHE’S PARINIRVANA in which they say, “Sogyal Rinpoche entered into parinirvana on 28th August, 2019.” Parinirvana means “The final passing beyond suffering manifested by buddhas and highly realized masters at the end of their lives. ”

Just using that word gaslights the gullible. What actually happened was that a serial abuser died. Yes, he did some good stuff, but people who hurt others – and he hurt hundreds of people – are surely not real candidates for parinirvana. If your belief system allows a serial abuser to be enlightened, then that belief system must be seriously flawed.

Thugdam? Really?

“On behalf of Sogyal Rinpoche’s private office: From the time when he passed away on August 28th, Sogyal Rinpoche has remained in a state of meditation (thugdam) at his residence in Thailand. Yesterday, Tulku Rigdzin Pema, a close disciple of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and a highly accomplished and knowledgeable master, arrived and confirmed Rinpoche’s profound meditation. Today, three days after his passing away, Rinpoche left his meditative state, and Tulku Rigdzin Pema performed all the necessary rituals and prayers. He also noticed a gentle fall of rain at that time, which he considered a very auspicious sign.

We are being guided by a number of eminent lamas. The two most important considerations now are creating an opportunity for as many students as possible to pay their respects to the kudung sometime in the coming weeks, and making arrangements for the cremation, to be performed according to the authentic Tibetan tradition. We will soon have clarity where and when these events will take place and will share more news.

Sogyal Rinpoche’s private office team

The Facebook notice that Sogyal was going into hospital was dated Aug. 28, 4:47 am, It told us that there was a team of doctors working with him and he was in and out of intensive care and no visitors. The message telling us that he had died was the same day, August 28, 8:27 pm, 16 hours later. In that message, again the team of doctors working to save his life was mentioned, and it’s clear that he died in hospital. That message was from Jackie Lee, but now, the message about his remaining in thugdam – written by Sogyal Rinpoche’s private office team – states, “On behalf of Sogyal Rinpoche’s private office: From the time when he passed away on August 28th, Sogyal Rinpoche has remained in a state of meditation (thugdam) at his residence in Thailand.”

According to Tibetan Buddhist belief, if you touch the body in the first 3 days, the consciousness will leave the body at the point where it was touched and so make ‘resting in meditation’ after death (thugdam) impossible. Sogyal’s corpse was moved from the hospital. Rigpa’s story doesn’t hold together at all. But the devotees won’t notice or care, and so Sogyal’s last day was spent, as so many others have been, in deception.

And they’re even going to let people view the kudung – the sacred body of a great master who has passed away. Have they trussed him up to sit in the right position? For sure he didn’t die sitting in meditation.

Do any of the devotees question this story? No, they’re fed what they want to hear to keep them happily in their Rigpa fantasy.

Ugh. There’s something really disgusting in all this. Why not just be honest? I guess that just isn’t Rigpa’s style.

The Homages

Rigpa asked as many lamas as they could think of to write a homage to Sogyal Rinpoche. In accordance with Tibetan culture, most of them wrote glowing accolades, as if Sogyal had never done anything wrong. This brought an outcry of disgust from Western students more familiar with the kind of obituary we saw in The Telegraph that acknowledges both the good and the bad. In response to the outcry, and some letters written to the offending speakers, some of the ‘homages’ were taken down. Read the Tricycle article for details.

Some of the lama’s responses, however, merely gave condolences and advice for students, but Rigpa still posted these as if they were homages on a page titled Paying Homage to Sogyal Rinpoche. Isn’t it dishonest to post messages of condolence as if they are homages? The unquestioning follower will look at the page, see all the photos and names and, without reading and evaluating, think that all these masters have actually paid homage. Look at Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s one for instance. It isn’t a homage; it’s advice for students.

And yet, many of the lamas who’ve taught in Rigpa have said nothing publicly. In a culture where one is expected to say nice things about someone who has just died, to say nothing says a great deal. It’s the old ‘if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.’

Notably, wrote nothing, and neither did HH Dalai Lama. Others who have remained silent are Dzogchen Rinpoche, (previously joint Spiritual Director of Rigpa and is SR’s brother); Dodrupchen Rinpoche; HH Sakya Trizin; HH Karmapa XVII and Gyalwang Drukpa Rinpoche. Even Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, one of Rigpa’s main advisers, has no statement on that homage page. And those are just some of those who have remained silent.

Just as it’s a basic courtesy in the Tibetan tradition not to mention a deceased person’s bad deeds when expressing condolences, it’s also traditional to express disapproval by not saying anything, even if asked. Of course, Rigpa would not draw attention to the silences.

Edited addition 15th September.

Mingyur Rinpoche has now written a message of condolence, but like his brother says nothing good about Sogyal and acknowledges those students who have left Rigpa. At first Rigpa placed it on its Homage page, but some of the Tergar students protested and Rigpa took it down. This is what he said:

In the past weeks I have been approached by many of Sogyal Rinpoche’s current and past students who have asked me to offer guidance for how to practice at this time.

I was saddened to hear of the passing away of Sogyal Rinpoche. I have known him for many years and have a close connection to many of his students. Of course all of life is subject to impermanence, but it is always a surprise when we lose someone we have known for a long time.

I am aware this has been a very painful time for Sogyal Rinpoche’s students, his present students and those who have decided to leave the community. I am thinking of each of you and dedicating my practice to your well-being.

Death reminds us that there is no certainty in life and calls to us to open our hearts wide enough to hold whatever arises. It is my personal wish that all of you, wherever you find yourselves, keep each other in your hearts at this time. You are in my heart and in my prayers. Please remember that regardless of whatever happens, the teachings of the Buddha are always completely reliable. This is the time for us to dedicate ourselves to the path. By practising the teachings that we have received, we can free ourselves from the bonds of duality and merge with the luminous nature that never dies.

Mingyur Rinpoche.

A conflict of interest

So this is how Rigpa keeps on behaving like a cult, how they continue to gaslight their students, manipulating their perspective in ways that will confirm their idea of Sogyal as enlightened. Any student who wasn’t sure about Sogyal, given this manipulation will now likely be thinking, “Oh, he must really be enlightened. He’s resting in meditation; Tulku Rigdzin Pema even confirmed it and said the gentle fall of rain was a very auspicious sign. And lamas are calling him a great master. “

I’ve heard that Tulku Rigdzin Pema is Rigpa’s stupa builder. The greater the master, the bigger the stupa, the more money for him, so it’s in his financial interest to make Sogyal out to be a great master. But most Rigpa students wouldn’t know this, and if they did, they certainly wouldn’t allow the knowledge to put a crack in their blind devotion. Nevertheless, there’s a conflict of interest here, a reason for him not to check too carefully.

Personally, I don’t believe a word Rigpa says anymore.

Can Rigpa reform?

As many of you know already, the BBC focused on the Rigpa debacle on a couple of their recent Sunday shows. The first interview was on the 1st of September with Mary Finnigan and she spoke of Sogyal’s history as presented in her and Rob Hogendoorn’s book, Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism. She mentioned, among other things, how important success and supporting success was for the Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy, another reason why lamas are so keen to support what he’s done.

Mary Finnegan on Sogyal and Rigpa, BBC interview Sept 1st. (edited to just the relevant part)

The next week on the 8th of September, the Sunday show interviewed several exRigpa students, including me, and the focus was on whether Rigpa could be called a cult and whether they could reform. I think I made my perspective on that quite clear. As I said n my book, Fallout: Recovering from Abuse in Tibetan Buddhism, Rigpa can never be considered a safe organisation unless they denounce Sogyal’s behaviour as wrong and inappropriate for any teacher. Unless they do that, they don’t know the meaning of the word harm, and that makes their code of conduct worthless.

BBC interview on Sogyal and Rigpa, Sept 8th (edited to just the relevant part)

The question also arose in the talk I gave at the Cult Information and Family Support network’s meeting in Sydney on the 28th August. They hosted my book launch, and I talked about how Rigpa operates the same way as all cults operate. People in the audience with experience in a wide variety of different cults were nodding their heads; they knew the cult markers and recognised them when I spoke of how we were brainwashed and how I woke up from my naive trust in Rigpa as an organisation.

We don’t want to Hear About Abuse, but What is the Price of Denial?

A guest post by Ayya Yeshe

What is the cost to Buddhism if we turn away from survivors and try to keep Buddhist hierarchies and our faith intact in the #metoo age?

None of us want to wake up each day and hear about more teachers that have been accused of abusing their students (mostly women). None of us want to engage in the in-fights as we see groups of those who support survivors of abuse, those who think we should be silent and those who choose to defend their teachers attack each other. None of us want to have to question the system of faith that brought us so much benefit. None of us want to hear a very powerful lama say that his students should visualize a teacher accused of molesting multiple women and abuse as a Buddha. Very few of us want to hear that the manager of a large centre decided to throw out a monk who instigated a report against an abusive lama out of a puja. We don’t want to hear that male managers of large European dharma centres are trolling respected female journalists who simply did their jobs in exposing abuse. Most of us don’t want to see 12 powerful lamas praising a deceased lama and known abuser and bypassing his abuse and the pain and trauma of his many victims.

Abusers don’t work alone

Seeing people in power behave this way, it’s clear that abusers don’t work alone. They are supported by systems of enablers that shore up their power. Another name for this system is patriarchy – a system that ensures male privilege and power. In the case of Tibetan Buddhism, it ensures that most of the power remains in the hands of a small racial group of males from noble or well-educated and wealthy Tibetan families or those propped up by that system of privilege. That does not mean that the lineage does not have good to offer. But it does show that all too often absolute power corrupts.

Its horrifying when you realise that men you’d seen as compassionate and awakened deny the testimonies of rape survivors and disparage open and scientific means of investigation in favour of protecting those in power. It’s a field of landmines. It’s easier just to turn away. No one wants to have to see the shadow side of their own faith. No one wants to watch the inevitable clash of cultures.

The price of turning away

But think of the price of turning away; of not holding abusers accountable; of not questioning people who kill the messenger rather than acknowledge the ugliness of the violence unleashed by the abusers. For those who appeal to survivors to be silent, what if your daughter was next? What if your lama continued to teach in centres where known child abusers are still in charge? How many more people need to be abused and lose faith because we think that keeping face is more important than protecting followers of Buddhism?

Facing the shadow side

If we don’t question the shadow side of our faith, our tradition’s good aspects will never be able to shine. Women – 50% of the population – will never have equality or safety, and there will be no justice, ethics or trustworthiness in our tradition. If you have to live in denial about women and children being raped, how enlightened is your Lama anyway? How many more people need to suffer until all that is good in our tradition just becomes an empty shell with a nice veneer, but inside is empty and hollow and full of trauma survivors and traumatised enablers? The Buddha predicted his tradition would not be destroyed by outside forces, but from inside elements, like a mighty oak eaten inside by wood worms.

The age of kings is over. Women need an equal share in resources and systems that their labour and faith have so long maintained. Rape survivors need justice, and we need to stop using the idea of faith to hide abuse. This is the only way the beauty of our tradition will survive. Not by regression and suppression.

Ayya Yeshe

Tsoknyi Rinpoche shows a way for other lamas

Rigpa would have asked all those lamas who left accolades to Sogyal to say something, and tradition dictates to them that it be nice. They are culturally bound not to criticise another lama, to only talk about the good. That’s why in Mingyur Rinpoche’s Lion’s Roar article on the abuse, he never actually mentioned Sogyal’s name.

Tsoknyi Rinpoche has shown the lamas a way to say something to satisfy any request from Rigpa (which it would be difficult for them to refuse, especially given that Tsoknyi still teaches there) without glorifying Sogyal.

He made a comment on Sogyal’s death that is not an accolade; it has no bullshit about what a wonderful guy he was. Just excellent instructions for his students, and these instructions also work for his ex students as well because it bypasses the nirmanakaya or embodied level of one’s relationship with a guru. His instructions suggest a way in which we can honour our deepest relationship with our root guru (as Sogyal actually is for many of us) without having to relate to the person we have come to see is a seriously flawed human being.

‘The essential link between student and teacher is the teaching. Now, the connection is no longer with the embodied Lama, but rather with the pure dharmakaya Lama.’

Tsoknyi Rinpoche

This is only part of what he says here

With these words he suggests a way even for ex-students to approach their relationship with Sogyal, to see him not as a man, but as a way to ‘the pure dharmakaya Lama’ and to see their essential link to him as through the teachings (suggesting that it isn’t via his personality). This is really helpful for those who no longer can take Sogyal as their teacher, but still acknowledge some deeper relationship with him – a link that can never be broken and is difficult to understand or explain for those who have rejected him as a person but still feel this link.

As I say in my book Fallout, my connection was always with the pure dharmakaya lama, never with the man. And that connection has never been broken, hence no samaya break with the ultimate lama – how could there be once you have that connection. The ‘pure dharmakaya Lama’ is just a metaphor for the nature of mind and reality.

He also acknowledges those who have left by saying ‘everyone has a right to choose their faith’ and that this advice is on a traditional practice of Tibetan Buddhism.

Everyone has the right to choose their faith, and based on that faith, there are many traditional practices we can do at this time—practices for ourselves and practices for the teacher.

Those of us who have left after years, sometimes decades, of training on what to do at the time of death of one’s root guru still have that knowledge with us. We know that merging our mind with the lama’s wisdom mind is the whole basis of dzogchen, so what do we do now? How do we do the dzogchen practice of merging our mind with a lama we no longer respect? I don’t know of anyone who can do guru yoga now, certainly not with Sogyal as the focus, and for most, the practice itself reminds them of Sogyal and so they cannot do it. Tsoknyi Rinpoche, though he is primarily speaking to those who are still Sogyal’s students, shows a way for even his ex-students to do this dzogchen practice. His advice speaks of the absolute meaning not the relative and so it bypasses personality.

It is a potent time to allow your own unborn nature and the Lama’s dharmakaya essence to mingle together and merge.

Merging our minds with Sogyal’s mind might be impossible for us – probably for many of us the very thought of it raises a host of feelings about his betrayal – but allowing our own unborn nature and the ‘lama’s dharmakaya essence to mingle together and merge’ might be something we could actually do. He’s chosen his words well because this sentence makes our unborn nature and the lama’s dhamakaya essence equal. We can do this, not to gain something for our self, but to help him.

For some of us, even those who have left Rigpa or even left the religion, this kind of merging of ‘minds’ would have been an automatic response to his death. It’s a merging of minds that has nothing to do with religion or with personalities. It’s merely using the idea of merging wisdom minds to help us enter a state of awakening where we actually see the true nature of reality. For some of us, this kind of ‘merging’ wisdom minds has never ceased, regardless of what we feel and what we say about the man. But since this state is beyond personalities, beyond any idea of a self to merge with, it transcends the whole debacle. Tsoknyi’s words remind me of this.

I appreciate the way he has handled this with sensitivity and given guidance that hits the essential points without the devotional garbage that is now such a turn off for those who have left Rigpa. Thank you Tsoknyi. You lighten my heart, shown me that some lamas can step outside their cultural conditioning and actually genuinely care about everyone, not just the party faithful.

Tsoknyi Rinpoche also was one of the few lamas who responded to our requests for a statement on the abuse. His response is here http://beyondthetemple.com/tsoknyi-rinpoche-responds/

We should also note the lamas who have said nothing about Sogyal at this time – Mingyur Rinpoche, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Dzongsar Khyentse. They haven’t joined in with the accolades. I expect Dzongsar will say something – he is one of Rigpa’s spiritual advisors after all. It looks like he’s taking time to think before he speaks.