Does Dagri Rinpoche’s Response to Attestations of Inappropriate Conduct Embody Lojong? Where is the Compassion?

Post by Joanne Clark

Recently, Dagri Rinpoche, a monk who has been accused of inappropriately touching women on at least two occasions wrote a statement in defence of himself. Here is the English translation:

In this statement, his own version of events is very different from the version of the two women making the allegations. He is stating that the women are lying, that they have no basis whatsoever for their allegations and are making them up out of thin air. He also suggests that the woman who made the allegation in the UTube video was mentally unstable.

Then in the final paragraph, after making an assumption about the “contempt” of those who have “made these baseless allegations and have accused me of misdeeds that I did not commit”: he then declares some Lojong-style (See footnote on Eight Verses, below) statements in regard to these accusations, saying somewhat proudly that “I welcome you to use whatever means you can to continue to wrongly accuse me”.

Sadly, I feel that the tone of this declaration feels a little confrontational to me. I don’t think one can practice Lojong at the same time that one is publicly accusing someone of lying. The declaration feels a little proud too while Lojong is a unique practice of humility. Now, I am no great practitioner or scholar of Dharma, but I do treasure Lojong teachings and have used them frequently to help me through troubled times. It strengthens my resolve, compassion and patience to take on the ill will and harm done to me by others, to take all suffering and blame onto myself—and to put all victory onto others. It is really a miraculous and transformative practice in my experience.

So I agree with Dagri Rinpoche about the value of cultivating gratitude towards harm-doers for their gift of giving us the practice of patience. But I question whether one can view the two women in this case as “harm-doers”. And Lojong is a very private practice in reality and I wonder about the worth of declaring this gratitude publicly. So I question his purpose in doing that now.

And there’s another problem with this, the bigger problem. At least one of the women who have made allegations regarding Dagri Rinpoche’s misconduct has spoken about the many years of suffering she has undergone as a result of his actions. She claims that her spiritual path has been ruined. Watching her on UTube, it is clear that she is in distress and a natural response to her would be some compassion. However, there is no mention throughout his letter about that, about her clear suffering, no compassion expressed.

The only reference to suffering Dagri Rinpoche makes is to the suffering of bad karma experienced by those who make false allegations and hold “contempt” for him. The only compassion he expresses is for those who are behaving wrongly. Now again, I am no scholar or great practitioner, but the essence of Lojong in my experience is compassionate humility, a special kind of strong humility that is hard to explain to those who have not experienced it. It is not about beating one’s chest and declaring oneself a practitioner, nor is it self-debasing, but it does increase self-confidence, quiet self-confidence. And it increases one’s capacity to deeply feel the suffering of others. Sadly, I see no evidence of that in his statement.

Here is a suggestion I have for how Dagri Rinpoche might have demonstrated that he was practicing Lojong, without once needing to even quote from the Lojong instructions. He could have said:

“I have always said that I am full of flaws and I deeply regret the harm that I have caused these women who have made allegations against me. I take full responsibility and blame for their suffering and will do anything in my power to help them find peace and to insure that I never harm any being in this way again.”

It is said that the essence of Lojong is to take all blame and defeat onto oneself and to give all praise and victory to others. If so, isn’t it better to do this than to say you’re doing it? Wouldn’t that statement above be more in line with the practice than repeatedly accusing those who have made allegations regarding his behaviours of lying?

Also, there have been statements from teachers both within the FPMT and within Rigpa that we should see our teachers as Buddhas and their “supposed” faulty actions as simply “manifestations” to help us on the path. They say this in response to our distress over seeing teachers abuse students. However, I suggest that a Buddha manifesting such flaws that cause harm to others would necessarily follow up with manifestations of how we can honestly own our flaws and take proper steps to end the suffering. Surely that would be the least a skilful Buddha would do?

Many of us were drawn to the Dharma because of its unique, profound and vast teachings on how to cultivate love and compassion. The Lojong teachings are a great example of that. Every time I see a teacher within this tradition using the teachings in order to turn coldly away from a suffering human being, it chills me to the bone. I continue to pray that someday the unique and transformative teachings preserved within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition will be used properly to honestly and courageously address these challenging situations and to alleviate the suffering caused from them. It is time to stop using these teachings improperly in order to pile harm on top of harm.

Here is an example of a Lojong Text, treasured particularly in the Gelug tradition:

With a determination to achieve the highest aim
For the benefit of all sentient beings
Which surpasses even the wish-fulfilling gem,
May I hold them dear at all times.


Whenever I interact with someone,
May I view myself as the lowest amongst all,
And, from the very depths of my heart,
Respectfully hold others as superior.


In all my deeds may I probe into my mind,
And as soon as mental and emotional afflictions arise-
As they endanger myself and others-
May I strongly confront them and avert them
.

When I see beings of unpleasant character
Oppressed by strong negativity and suffering,
May I hold them dear-for they are rare to find-
As if I have discovered a jewel treasure!


When others, out of jealousy
Treat me wrongly with abuse, slander, and scorn,
May I take upon myself the defeat
And offer to others the victory.


When someone whom I have helped,
Or in whom I have placed great hopes,
Mistreats me in extremely hurtful ways,
May I regard him still as my precious teacher.


In brief, may I offer benefit and joy
To all my mothers, both directly and indirectly,
May I quietly take upon myself
All hurts and pains of my mothers.


May all this remain undefiled
By the stains of the eight mundane concerns;
And may I, recognizing all things as illusion,
Devoid of clinging, be released from bondage.


The Eight Verses of Mind Training

How do you feel about this response?

Image by omer yousief from Pixabay

Rigpa’s Vision is Still Missing the Vital Point

The new Rigpa statement “Rigpa’s Vision” put out by the Rigpa Vision Board contains the following statement:

It is also clear that the Rigpa leadership has made mistakes that we need to learn from. This includes not hearing, supporting or guiding some of our students appropriately. We are truly sorry for the hurt this has caused, and feel a strong commitment to making deep changes and ensuring that we do not repeat these mistakes again under any circumstances.

Is this an apology for their cover up of abuse and gaslighting of members?

This is not an apology to those who were abused during their time in Rigpa or even to the general student as regards their breach of trust. What they’re apologising for is not enabling and covering up abuse, but their ‘mistakes’ in not ‘hearing, supporting or guiding some of our students appropriately ‘. In the usual Rigpa style, this merely diverts attention away from the main issue – abuse and its cover up.

On top of this, they say they’re sorry for ‘the hurt this has caused’ instead ofthe harm we have caused‘. Their use of ‘this has’ instead of ‘we have’ indicates a lack of willingness to accept that they through their ‘mistakes’ have actually caused harm. And by using the word ‘hurt’ instead of ‘harm’ they are once again diminishing actual harm to a mere feeling that people have felt ‘hurt’.

Their list of ‘mistakes’ for which they are ‘truly sorry’ leaves out essential issues: covering up and enabling physical, emotional, sexual and financial abuse, truth-teller shaming, and manipulation of the community’s perception (gaslighting). Instead they are sorry that they didn’t hear and support students, which sounds great, but what do they actually mean by ‘supporting or guiding some of our students appropriately’?

What is meant by ‘guiding appropriately’?

What would this mean if a young woman was ordered to undress and perform a sex act. How exactly would Rigpa hear, support and guide her?

‘Guided’ is an extremely dangerous choice of words. Given the Rigpa world-view, the only direction they could’ve conceivably guided anyone they or Sogyal harmed was either toward accepting their lama’s abuse as a teaching or to let someone know they ‘weren’t ready’, which would have been a not-so-subtle punch in the belly of their spiritual aspirations.

Then there is the guidance of the group as a whole. And there was plenty of it. Indoctrination is a better word for it. Why else would all of us have sat there in the teachings while a very large percentage of it was given over to berating people for the smallest errors? Why else did we hear nervous testimonies from his harem, feel nauseous, wish it was over, and still continue on? Why else did many people come away from these teachings talking about how inspiring they were? They fucked with our heads, to be sure. And that was their ‘guidance’.

What Now? group member

What constitues ‘adequate preparation’

The statement goes on to say;

In addition to setting clear boundaries, we have learned the importance of emphasizing that the decision to practise Vajrayana or Dzogchen with the guidance of a teacher is a personal choice. It is not a condition for being part of the Rigpa community. What is more, it has become clear that it is the responsibility of the teacher to adequately prepare the student for the Vajarayana path. This is something that the student must consciously decide to embark upon through proper preparation and a formal request.

Is, for example, being ordered to undress and perform a sex act part of the Vajrayana path in Rigpa? And if it is, what does Rigpa think is an adequate preparation?

We permit guides to take people into the “death zone” on Everest, where roughly 10% of them will die. Navy SEALs train past the point of safety. But they are fully aware of the risks. They know the ways the task will damage them.

In terms of Rigpa, ‘adequate preparation’ would first be to inform the student of exactly what they mean by ‘the vajrayana path’ in terms of the student’s relationship with their teacher, including how to test the qualifications of such a teacher. It would involve – before committing to such a relationship – observing the relationship students in the inner circle have with their teacher and hearing about what embarking upon the vajrayana path would mean for them in terms of Sogyal’s behaviour . What they are commiting to must be completely transparent, which means that the very worst of it should be clear. There should also be proof that can be examined for what the “result” will be.

Think about the preparation people do before they get married, how well they know their partner.  Preparation would also involve knowing that the relationship is not exclusive, on either side, and knowing how to call it quits – how to leave without threat or coercion. And does the Rigpa belief system even permit leaving without risking hell? Will instructors tell potential vajrayana students that once they’ve made their ‘formal request’, they aren’t even allowed to interpret the kinds of behaviour attributed to Sogyal as abuse?

All these aspects need to be made clear.

What isn’t being made explicit

But Rigpa is not making their attitude towards abuse in vajrayana clear. What they aren’t saying, but what is suggested by their whole approach to the matter of Sogyal’s behaviour is that they think that abuse is an acceptable part of vajrayana, so long as people are ‘prepared’ and have given ‘consent’.

It’s DZK’s approach; it’s reflected in the problematic area of the code of conduct, and is made explicit in the teachings on How to Follow a Teacher in The Words of My Perfect Teacher which is a core text of the Rigpa sangha.

Dzongsar Khyentse (DZK), a key spiritual advisor for Rigpa, said in his first statement on the matter of Sogyal’s abuse:

‘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.’’

Dzongsar Khyentse, Rigpa spiritual advisor.

People tell me that DZK has said that because Sogyal isn’t a qualified teacher and the students weren’t properly prepared, then what Sogyal did was wrong, but DZK has never said that it also would’ve been wrong if he had been a qualified teacher and the victims were ‘prepared’. He never said that such behaviour is not an acceptable part of vajrayana, and neither has the Rigpa Vision Board. On the contrary, DZK has made it very clear that he thinks abuse is quite acceptable in the context of a qualified vajrayana guru:

‘Once you have completely and soberly surrendered, 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, p 19,The Guru Drinks Bourbon?

Is abuse really acceptable in vajrayana?

It appears that Rigpa and their advisors do consider abuse acceptable by vajrayana teachers. Thankfully, other Tibetan Buddhist teachers disagree.

The practice of tantra is never an excuse for unethical behaviour.’

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

Few have been willing to publically state a stance that indicates that they agree with HHDL. Those who have are listed on our Which Lamas are Trustworthy? page.

Physical, sexual, and psychological abuse are not teaching tools.’

Mingyur Rinpoche, When a Buddhist Teacher Crosses the Line

Tenzin Palmo recently wrote an endorsement for my book Fallout: Recovering from Abuse in Tibetan Buddhism, (coming out in July). In speaking of the ‘appalling behaviour and the subsequent efforts, by those who seek to maintain their power and control, to condone such conduct and meanwhile denigrate the victims,’ she says:

In this feudal outlook, both physical violence and sexual predatory behaviour towards dependents are viewed as acceptable. … This is a complete distortion of the impeccable Vajrayana path and creates much confusion, disenchantment and pain.

Jetsumna Tenzin Palmo

The vital point

Until Rigpa actually denounces Sogyal’s abusive behaviour and says that such behaviour has no place in vajrayana, they cannot be considered a ‘safe’ organisation relgardless of their code of conduct. Any organisation that, even if only at ‘advanced’ levels of engagement, gives a teacher absolute authority to do what he wants – especially if abuse is supported by their belief system – requires absolute obedience and gives the student no right to question is a potentially harmful cult. Rigpa may not demand these things at an entrance level, but they’re still there at the core of the organisation in the area they consider the most profound and important. Shambala is the same.

Making the vajrayana distinct from other levels of the path is a good move for clarity in the curriculum, but it’s also a way to encourage new membership by making people think they’re safe at the introductory levels. The trouble with this approach, however, is that if they don’t reveal to beginners what will be expected of them at a later level of engagement with the organisation, then they’re being deceptive, which is a method of cult induction.

How cult induction works in Rigpa

Once people enter the Rigpa organisation, if they follow the Rigpa path, which – even if the community recognises that not everyone has to take that path to be part of Rigpa – holds vajrayana and dzogchen as the ultimate teachings, that’s where people will likely end up, simply because that’s where the path leads.

In Rigpa, recognition of the nature of one’s mind is considered the answer to all our problems, the one thing that will lead us quickly to enligtenment. That message comes through all levels of the Rigpa curriculum. And according to Rigpa, you can only get that by having an introduction by a qualified vajrayana/dzogchen teacher. To get that, you have to sign up for the vajrayana/dzogchen ‘level of spiritual instruction.’ It’s supposed to be the fastest and highest path – and who doesn’t want that?

By the time students get to the point of giving their ‘consent’, they’ll be so indoctrinated with ideas of the validity and supremacy of that path, that they’ll take that step with all the same trust that we did and will be subjected to the same beliefs that kept students in an abusive relationship.

And then there’s the book which proclaims the same ideas – the importance of getting the introduction to the nature of mind and the necessity of complete devotion to a teacher in order to get it. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying is what sent me off in search of dzogchen. I couldn’t get there fast enough! If Rigpa doesn’t want the TBLD to be considered a cult induction manual, then they need to be totally transparent, not just with those wanting to enter the vajrayana path but also with those entering their basic courses. They need to tell them where the path is leading and what will be expected of them at that point. Will they do that?

The bottom line

This latest statement makes it clear, once again, that Rigpa leadership apparently do not see what has occurred as abuse but as some sort of misunderstanding or failure to prepare students for the kinds of behaviors they deem appropriate in vajrayana – like hitting, slapping, knocking people unconscious, and sexual coercion.

Would you enter Rigpa or Shambala or any other organisation if you knew that at the ‘highest’ levels of their spiritual belief system, you’d be asked you to consent to an agreement that meant that the teacher could abuse you if he or she felt like it, and that you would not be able to complain or disobey? Does this coincide with what you know of the Buddha’s core teachings and values? What about common sense?

(The image of a path into darkness is by Lutz Peter from Pixabay)

You might also be interested to know that Patrick Gaffney has been disqualified by the UK Charity commission from acting as a trustee of any charity for a period of 8 years.


If you’d like a more private place to chat about your ongoing spiritual path after you’ve left an abusive community, you can join the Beyond the Temple Facebook group. This group is for people who don’t want to talk about abuse, but want to keep in touch and share their discoveries, inspiration and challenges as they move on with their lives.

If you want to talk about abuse, then Rigpa or ex-Rigpa students can join the secret What Now? groupApply via the contact form here, telling us about yourself and why you want to join the group. 

Students from other Vajrayana communities who need somewhere where they can talk about abuse and find survivor support can join the Survivors of Vajrayana Abuse and their Allies group.  

Note that you will not be added to these groups if you don’t answer the questions.

The Facebook page and You Tube Channel associated with this blog are called Living in Peace and Clarity. Click the relevant link on the side bar to ‘Like’ and ‘Subscribe’.

Are you Beyond the Temple?

You can’t go beyond the temple unless you were once in the temple. Those of us who think of ourselves as part of the Beyond the Temple community have a shared ground in Tibetan Buddhism, and the reason we’ve ‘gone beyond’ is the result of unethical/criminal/abusive behaviour by our lama.

But ‘the temple’ doesn’t have to be a Tibetan Buddhist one. Anyone who has left a cult has had their eyes opened to the dynamics that come into play in a community that requires unquestioning devotion to their leader. After a cult or spiritual abuse experience, you see things differently. Your niavitee is gone. Your eyes are open to the way gurus hook people, and hopefully you’ve worked out why you were hooked and how you can avoid ending up in the same position again.

But it doesn’t have to be an abuse or cult experience that causes a shift; any reason for disillusionment with religion can cause you to move beyond the temple. If you’ve left a religion or a cult, you’ve left the temple, but whether or not you’ve moved beyond the temple is a different question.

What does being beyond the temple mean?

If you’ve gone beyond the temple, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you aren’t involved in a religion or that you aren’t listening to spiritual teachers, it means that you have an unattached relationship to them. You’ve gone beyond the illusion that there exists a perfect religion and a perfect guru with all the answers. You no longer give someone else responsibility for your spiritual path. You’re the adult in the driver’s seat of the vehicle on your spiritual path.

Being ‘beyond the temple’ can mean that you’ve given up on religion entirely, but it is unlikely to mean that you’ve given up on living a spiritual life, or thrown out your respect for the dharma in its unsullied form. But how you think about and relate to your spiritual life will be different to how you related to it when you were stuck in the temple. You’re wary now – wary of charlatans, false promises, sales pitches,
dangerous philosophies, and cult mentalities and tactics – and you’re much more critical of what ‘spiritual’ teachers say, never wanting to be duped again. You have a greater respect for common sense and have probably reaffirmed the importance of ethical behaviour in all areas of life.

You’ll never give up your discernment again. And though you may have a religion or even a guru or two, and even though you may have respect for them, you’ll not fall into the unquestioning-devotion trap again. And you’ll not expect them to be anything other than a fallible and flawed human being.

You’re likely to have affirmed what in the dharma is most important to you, or has the most value, and have some idea of what is extraneous in the religion. You’re likely to be turning inwards and learning to trust your own wisdom and compassion – and perhaps that’s something you learned to do while in the temple, but now it may be your only or primary refuge.

How to be both in and beyond the temple at the same time

If you still want a guru, still want a spiritual community that you can talk to face to face (as distinct from our virtual community) and you still want to go to retreats and listen to video teachings and have a set practice to do, then you’ll find yourself with another teacher and another community. And that’s fine. You can do that while being in the temple and beyond the temple at the same time. How?

  • You don’t expect the living guru to be perfect. In your practice (it it’s TB) you realise that the perfect guru is a construct and not the same as the living guru who teaches you. You might surrender to the mental construct, but you don’t surrender to the living teacher. There’s a difference between respect and blind devotion and adoration.
  • You don’t fall into any idea that the guru is ‘better’ or ‘higher’ than you or that they have all the answers to your problems. They may know more about dharma, and have better skills in meditation, but your Buddha nature and his or hers is the same; in essence you are equal. You are quite capable of working out your own issues and even of surpassing their realisation.
  • You recognise that (where relevant) they come from a different culture, or have been taught by someone from a different culture, so their ideas of what is and isn’t appropriate may not be the same as yours – particularly as regards to sex. You see sexual coercion for what it is and don’t get lured into sex by promises or accolades of how special you are.
  • _Photo from Kunzang Dorji’s Facebook page
  • You demand ethical behaviour in your guru and community and aren’t afraid to raise issues when they appear.
  • You know the cult warning signs and pay attention when a red flag arises.
  • You recognise that talk of crazy wisdom is likely being used as an excuse for bad behaviour.
  • You question everything and aren’t afraid to speak out where you see issues.
  • You make an effort to separate the truth of the dharma from the religious baggage that surrounds it.
  • You aren’t afraid to leave or go it alone. And recognise when you’ve learned all you can from this teacher.

In essence, you’re actually practicing dharma because you’re not attached, not to the lama or the community.

Any other ideas? What does being beyond the temple mean for you? Where have you landed? Or are you still falling?


If you’d like a more private place to chat about your ongoing spiritual path after you’ve left an abusive community, you can join the Beyond the Temple Facebook group. This group is for people who don’t want to talk about abuse, but want to keep in touch and share their discoveries, inspiration and challenges as they move on with their lives.

If you want to talk about abuse, then Rigpa or ex-Rigpa students can join the secret What Now? groupApply via the contact form here, telling us about yourself and why you want to join the group. 

Students from other Vajrayana communities who need somewhere where they can talk about abuse and find survivor support can join the Survivors of Vajrayana Abuse and their Allies group.  

Note that you will not be added to these groups if you don’t answer the questions.

The Facebook page and You Tube Channel associated with this blog are called Living in Peace and Clarity. Click the relevant link on the side bar to ‘Like’ and ‘Subscribe’.

Time to Move On? Or not?

The idea of moving on as an indication of healing from a distressing situation can be applied to both individuals and to organisations. In this post I look first at how Rigpa is using the idea of Rigpa Moving Forward, and then at how a narrow view of the concept of moving on can be counterproductive to our personal healing.

Rigpa Moving Forward

Rigpa has a web page called Rigpa Moving Forward on which they list all the things they’ve done and plan to do following The Lewis Silken Independent Report on the allegations made in the July 2017 letter by the eight Rigpa students. Though it reads if all the right things are being done – and their transparancy is admirable – if they follow the pattern they’ve established so far in dealing with the abuse issues, the results are likely to fall short of their assurances, as they did with the Rigpa Code of Conduct, and what Rigpa are referring to as ‘apologies’.

What we see in their communications to the sangha is a desire to move on as soon as possible from a situation where the embarrasing issue of abuse in Rigpa is in the public spotlight. They want everyone to forget about it and get back to business, but isn’t it a bit premature to be pushing for moving on when the issues at the core of the problem haven’t been solved? Everything they have done, which they proudly list on the Moving Forward webpage, have been the equivilent of putting a Band Aid on a cancer.

Band Aid on a cancer

Why is it like a Band Aid on a cancer? Because their spiritual advisors apparently believe, as Sogyal did, that once a student has taken a lama as their tantric guru, they cannot criticise, must obey him or her without question, see their teacher as a living Buddha, and see his or her every action as the beneifical actions of a Buddha no matter what they do. These are the very same beliefs that created the Rigpa culture that enabled the abuse, and no matter what a code of conduct says and no matter how good they get at listening to their acolytes, while they still cling to these beliefs, nothing fundamental has changed. And just as cancer ignored will only fester, an organisation that makes only surface changes when the cause of the issue runs deep will never be truly healthy.

Ripe for reoccurance

It’s a situation ripe for reoccurance of abuse, even with a lama who has signed their code of conduct. How can that be? Because the code, though it sounds good on the surface, uses vague terminology open to different interpretations and does not catagorically rule out sexual relations between teachers and students other than during an actual teaching event. It does not rule out grooming a student during an event for a sexual relationship after the event nor does it define what kinds of actions constitute harm.

And the section of the Rigpa Shared Values & Guidelines document titled ‘Entering the Vajrayana Path’ says that when students make ‘a formal request for this level of spiritual guidance’ that constitutes ‘consent to this level of spiritual guidance.’ Given the beliefs mentioned above that are still in play about ‘this level of spiritual guidance’, that consent could mean consent to what some would call crazy wisdom and what others would call abuse.

Moving forward or putting on a good front?

The Moving Forward page is a handy resource for Rigpa management and instructors since they can point to it to assure anyone who raises the issue of Sogyal’s abuse that it’s all being taken care of. But is it?

The page says, ‘The teams managing Rigpa internationally and nationally, including the Vision Board, have been reflecting on the culture that enabled this situation to take place, and continue to do so. Workshops specifically addressing this topic will continue to take place in the coming months.’ This sounds wonderful –
as I pointed out above, getting to the root of the problem is exactly what they should be doing – however, sources inside Rigpa have told me that they have heard nothing about such workshops. But even if they do actually work out what beliefs enabled the abusive culture, will they be prepared to actually go against their advisors views and change them?

Given all this, isn’t the idea of Rigpa truly moving on from an abuse enabling culture at the vajryana level at the worst impossible and at the best premature?

When moving on is counterproductive

A popular idea is that healing from any distressing situation requires one to ‘move on’. Though some kind of alteration of one’s relationship to a distressing situation needs to occur for us to heal, the idea of the necessity of moving on as soon as possible can be misused. It can be a way of saying, ‘Shut up I don’t want to hear about it any more,’ or ‘the problem is solved, everything is now okay,’ even when it isn’t.

In the following video I talk about the importance of not moving on prematurely and not having a narrow view of what is meant by ‘moving on’. The ‘issue’ I refer to here is, of course, that of abuse in Tibetan Buddhism

Do you feel that you have ‘moved on’? In what way? And what does ‘moving on’ look like for you? Let’s talk about this in the comments.


If you’d like a more private place to chat about your ongoing spiritual path after you’ve left an abusive community, you can join the Beyond the Temple Facebook group. This group is for people who don’t want to talk about abuse, but want to keep in touch and share their discoveries, inspiration and challenges as they move on with their lives.

If you want to talk about abuse, then Rigpa or ex-Rigpa students can join the secret What Now? groupApply via the contact form here, telling us about yourself and why you want to join the group. 

Students from other Vajrayana communities who need somewhere where they can talk about abuse and find survivor support can join the Survivors of Vajrayana Abuse and their Allies group.  

Note that you will not be added to these groups if you don’t answer the questions.

The Facebook page and You Tube Channel associated with this blog are called Living in Peace and Clarity. Click the relevant link on the side bar to ‘Like’ and ‘Subscribe’.

Image by Stafford GREEN from Pixabay

Compassionate Anger and Why it Must Continue

This post is inspired by a blog post on compassionate anger by Sandra Pawla of the How Did it Happen? Blog and a recent post by Tenzin Peljor of the Buddhism Controversy blog

The power of compassionate anger

As Sandra notes in her recent article ‘Get Angry! The Dalai Lama on Compassionate Anger’, the Dalai Lama has spoken about compassionate anger in his books Be Angry and Beyond Religion, Ethics for the Whole World. The quotes she shares in her article are so wonderfully sane and bring much-needed common sense into a Buddhist worldview that usually simply declares anger bad. Thank you, Sandra for writing that helful article. (For a detailed look at the difference between negative and positive anger read the whole article and feel free to discuss it in the comments here.)

“There are two types of anger.  One type arises out of compassion; that kind of anger is useful.  Anger that is motivated by compassion or a desire to correct social injustice, and does not seek to harm the other person, is a good anger that is worth having.’

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

In assertiveness training, you learn how to recognise when a situation calls for a strong, clear response, and you learn to do that without getting angry. This, like compassionate anger, is using the pure energy of the anger – mirror-like wisdom – to drive your actions rather than getting caught in the destructive/unenlightened side of anger. Assertiveness can look angry to others, but no one other than the person being assertive can know whether they are consumed by anger or driven by the energy inherent in it. Dismissing people as ‘just angry’ is a particularly Buddhist and new age way of discrediting people that speak up about injustice, but those who continue year after year are more likely to be driven by compassionate anger – the other kind is far too exhausting to maintain.

His Holiness also makes it clear that it’s not enough to sit in our caves and meditate, rather that, ‘ When faced with economic or any other kind of injustice, it is totally wrong for a religious person to remain indifferent.  Religious people must struggle to solve these problems.’

When I learned what had happened to people in my sangha, I felt angry, but it was anger infused with a desire to protect the victims, support them in their healing and help make sure it would never happen again.

“To be angry on behalf of those who are treated unjustly means that we have compassionate anger.  This type of anger leads to right action, and leads to social change. To be angry toward the people in power does not create change.  It creates more anger, more resentment, more fighting.”

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

Compassionate anger and the bodhisattva vow

In the early days after the letter by the eight Rigpa students detailing Sogyal’s abuse came out, someone asked me why I was breaking my samaya and making myself a target by speaking publically ‘against’ my lama, and I told her that, as I saw it, such action was part of my bodhisattva vow. His Holiness agrees, and it’s wonderful to find a lama that understands this.

If one is treated unfairly and if the situation is left unaddressed, it may have extremely negative consequences for the perpetrator of the crime. Such a situation calls for a strong counteraction. Under such circumstances, it is possible that one can, out of compassion for the perpetrator of the crime—and without generating anger and hatred—actually take a strong stand and strong countermeasures. In fact, one of the precepts of the bodhisattva vows is to take strong countermeasures when the situation calls for it. If a bodhisattva doesn’t take strong countermeasures when the situation requires, then that constitutes an infraction of one of the vows.’

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

And in this situation, it goes far beyond Rigpa or Shambala. I continue to speak on these matters because of my concern for Tibetan Buddhism. If the lamas don’t address the issue of abuse in Tibetan Buddhism is will, and already is having extremely negative consequences for all the lamas and their sanghas. They are all tainted by association and, for most of them, by not speaking out against abuse.

Why we must continue our vigilance

‘Anger toward social injustice will remain until the goal is achieved.  It has to remain. ‘

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

Tenpel had given up writing for his blog, but something happened that inspired him to write again, and it reminds me of why we cannot stop our endeavours until our goal is achieved – which I assume is the same for all of us, to protect people from cults and abusive lamas and to remove abuse and the potential for abuse from Tibetan Buddhism. If we let things pass, we are allowing the situation to continue unabated, and instituting code of conducts doesn’t achieve this aim. Only examining and changing the abuse-enabling beliefs will do that.

In an article called ‘Buddhism is not a Cure for Mental Health Problems – or is it?’ Tenpel raises the issue that even after an abusive guru has been exposed and some response made, the cults of abusive gurus continue to exist and continue to draw in unsuspecting people.

The abuse scandals become history. They fade from the news and people who know nothing about them or don’t care because it was in the past and they believe the organisation has changed, go to the cult’s classes and are drawn in in the same way that all cults draw in their members. No one sets out to join a cult, but these organisations don’t look like a cult. On the outside they are glossy and sweet, and they do offer something of valuable – meditation . People’s first experiences with them are wonderful, and before they know it they have been subtley brainwashed into a belief system that eventually makes them slaves to the guru or gurus the cult follows.

Tenzin talks about an article in The Atlantic called “Why So Many Americans Are Turning to Buddhism] where the author goes to one of these cults and writes about her wonderful experience with no knowledge that her writing is promoting a dangerous cult. Tenzin says:

‘I want to highlight some of the dangers. I want to highlight a group which has such a toxic setting, that your mental health might very likely be harmed in the long run if you join this group. The group is the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) – or more precisely, the “Kadampa Buddhism” movement. Yes, the group whose two meditation classes and the good experiences the author had joining these classes formed the beginning and end of The Atlantic article. ‘

So it’s important to keep organisations like Shambala, NKT and Rigpa in the spotlight so people know to stay away, because at the very least they’ll be supporting an organisation that fosters abuse-enabling beliefs, and at the worst, they run the risk of not only being abused themselves but also of accepting the abuse without complaint.

And so the compassionate anger remains and appears as action (such as Tenzin writing this blog post) when circumstances require it, and I hope it will continue until people are safe from dangerous TB groups and their gurus.

(Do read and watch the videos onTenzin’s blog post.)


If you’d like a more private place to chat about your ongoing spiritual path after you’ve left an abusive community, you can join the Beyond the Temple Facebook group. This group is for people who don’t want to talk about abuse, but want to keep in touch and share their discoveries, inspiration and challenges as they move on with their lives.

If you want to talk about abuse, then Rigpa or ex-Rigpa students can join the secret What Now? groupApply via the contact form here, telling us about yourself and why you want to join the group. 

Students from other Vajrayana communities who need somewhere where they can talk about abuse and find survivor support can join the Survivors of Vajrayana Abuse and their Allies group.  

Note that you will not be added to these groups if you don’t answer the questions.

The Facebook page and You Tube Channel associated with this blog are called Living in Peace and Clarity. Click the relevant link on the side bar to ‘Like’ and ‘Subscribe’.

ALL ROADS DON’T LEAD TO THE SAME PLACE!

This week we have a guest post by Brielle Love Eden. She posted it in a Facebook group called Grounded Spirituality a discussion group for Jeff Brown’s new book of the same name, and she allowed me to republish it here. Given the behaviour we’ve seen in our Tibetan Buddhist cults, I thought you’d find it interesting. Perhaps some of you have come, or are coming to the same kind of conclusion. Please share what you think of this view in the comments.


DEAR FRIENDS- Because I want you to be completely free of the undeserved suffering you have been struggling with your whole life, I am about to say something which is both “spiritually incorrect” and essential to reclaiming your birthright of happiness.

Despite the bland and comforting saying about the wide array of religions and spiritual paths- that they are all equally liberating and therefore “all roads lead to the same place”- the honest truth is that they actually don’t!

Or, you might say that they do all lead to a common destination….

Which is a dead end.

Because none of them are grounded in, and sharply focussed upon, what will really heal your pain and set you free.

Allow me to explain why this is so!

In my years as a Core/Bioenergetic Psychotherapist and teacher of unconditional self-love, I have had the honor of working with many brave people- true spiritual warriors- who had invested decades of their lives into their religious and spiritual beliefs.

Many of them were brilliant and accomplished teachers of these paths.

They ranged from Buddhist meditation masters to world traveling yoga teachers, from devout Christians to devotees of various gurus or modern teachings like the Law of Attraction or A Course in Miracles.

What did they all have in common? Just this- they had put their faith and trust and every drop of effort they had into these worldviews and disciplines.

And yet they were still burdened by inner conflicts and relationship struggles, recurrent frustration and lingering unhappiness.

Most of these people were desperately struggling with anxiety and depression and haunting self-doubt. They felt far from being truly free.

Sounds familiar?

Their unresolved conflicts- which were primarily with their own honest feelings and Real Selves- had not been reached and released by the ways they had been taught to look at and work with themselves.

Certainly they had made valuable gains from their years of inner work and from the partial truths contained in the paths they had followed.

But they had not gotten to the bottom of their problems, and thoroughly broken the inner chains that bound them.

Each of them was wise, and desperate, enough to realize that they were never going to be free if they stayed strictly on the road they were on and kept on doing what wasn’t really getting them “unstuck”.

So here is what I helped them to wake up and see. And what I taught them to do to finally claim the grail of happiness they had struggled so long and hard to reach.

First of all they had to recognize- regardless of what they had been told by their traditions and teachers- that their anxiety and depression, their lack of fulfillment and genuine joy had its true origins in the dysfunctional treatment and negative conditioning they had suffered DURING THEIR CHILDHOOD.

For example it wasn’t their (non-existent) “Original Sin”, their “karma from past lives” or their Buddhist “ego” which was causing them to suffer.

And that to finally be free they needed to break through their emotional blocks and numbness, and thoroughly express/release the stored-up childhood sorrow and anger, pain and self-defeating attitudes (fear, guilt, shame, self-doubt) that were keeping them bound.

There is no substitute for this heroic and infinitely self-compassionate work.

To avoid becoming fully conscious of the impact of your childhood keeps you forever trapped in the darkness you are afraid to face.

The other essential healing task they needed to whole-heartedly embrace was to unconditionally love and accept themselves.

Learning to warmly understand and validate everything inside you- and see your own unique beauty and perfection through the eyes of love- enables a person to be at peace with Life and at one with their Real Self.

And in the end that loving relationship with YOU is the ONLY THING that leads to lasting fulfillment!

So if you are a practitioner of any religion or spiritual discipline I urge you to wake up now and realize that none of these can possibly get you all the way to where you need to go.

Why? Because they don’t keep you completely focussed on the real problem- your buried and unredeemed childhood suffering and the shame and guilt, fear and self-doubt you so undeservedly carry from the dysfunctional treatment of your developing infant, child and adolescent self.

And on the real hope- which lay in accepting/expressing/releasing every last drop of your stored-up anger and fear, hurt and grief.

All of this as you learn to unconditionally see, love and validate the Beautiful and Authentic You.

It’s time to open your eyes and realize that “you can’t get there from here”!

But if you seek with all your body and spirit and heart and soul to love and liberate the Real You, I guarantee that you will find your way home to the unchained aliveness and blessed life of happiness you have always deserved! LOTS OF LOVE- BRIELLE

P.S. I have developed a rich array of practices and meditations designed to help you face and release your stored-up emotional pain (especially from your childhood) and awaken the grace of your Unconditional Self-Love. These are available for your study and use in the Notes section of my Timeline and on my Psychotherapy page.

Be brave, move forward, work hard- and set yourself free! YOU CAN DO IT!


What do you think of Brielle’s point of view? Does it ring true to you or relate to your experience in any way?


If you’d like a more private place to chat about your ongoing spiritual path after you’ve left an abusive community, you can join the Beyond the Temple Facebook group. This group is for people who don’t want to talk about abuse, but want to keep in touch and share their discoveries, inspiration and challenges as they move on with their lives.

If you want to talk about abuse, then Rigpa or ex-Rigpa students can join the secret What Now? groupApply via the contact form here, telling us about yourself and why you want to join the group. 

Students from other Vajrayana communities who need somewhere where they can talk about abuse and find survivor support can join the Survivors of Vajrayana Abuse and their Allies group.  

Note that you will not be added to these groups if you don’t answer the questions.

The Facebook page and You Tube Channel associated with this blog are called Living in Peace and Clarity. Click the relevant link on the side bar to ‘Like’ and ‘Subscribe’.

The Benefits of Tibetan Buddhism

Despite the issues with the religion, there are benefits of Tibetan Buddhism, and I think it’s important to recognise these. It’s easy when we’re first discovering the drawbacks (like abusive lamas, cult tendencies, and spiritual bypassing) to reject everything about it, but those who stuck around for decades did so because they did actually gain some benefit – at least those of us who weren’t directly abused.

Tibetan Buddhism may leave out important aspects of human development, be easily misued (but aren’t a lot of things?) and fail in training their gurus such that they don’t become corrupted by their power, and we may have been brainwashed into accepting behaviour we would never accept in any other circumstances, but we did gain important skills for working with our mind and with others. And even if we move on from the religion, we’ll still retain the skills we developed through all those practice accummulations.

Where Buddhism excels

Human beings have psychological, emotional, energetic, physical, spiritual, and mental aspects to their being with various overlaps between these areas, and (unlike what we see in many Tibetan Buddhist Teachers) a truly self-actualised/enlightened being would not be developed in only one or two areas, but in all. If we’re aiming for this kind of balance in our personal and spiritual development, then we need to recognise what works well on what aspects of ourselves, and Buddhism is a powerful tool (perhaps the most powerful tookl) for developing our mental and spiritual aspects.

Some teachers do teach on energy (the tsa, lung teachings) and I know of one who did include a physical aspect—Namkhai Norbu’s Vajra dance—but the teachings in general deal with the mind and going beyond the mind to develop the spiritual aspect of our experience. If we study and practice knowing this without expecting that the teachings and practice will also solve our psychological, emotional and physical issues, then some study and practice of the Buddhist teachings are very beneficial, and I found the extensive practice that I did extremely beneficial.

Some, however, had some adverse effects, so it’s not a one-size-fits-all deal. You have to know yourself, your needs and trust your own instincts on this as in all things.

Benefits of Tibetan Buddhism in skill development

If you ever wondered why we did all those recitations of practices, it’s because the brain needs a certain number of hours to actually change its structure such that the centres of our brain associated with love and compassion and regulating emotions, for example, light up automatically. This is why, once you’ve done the required number of hours – assuming you did them correctly – the skills you learned from your Buddhist practice become part of how you approach your life and my mind.

Mind you, since the brain is very plastic, you could lose it if you don’t use it. But if you’re truly integrating these practices into your life, then you won’t lose them, and you can always return to your cushion for a top up when things get challenging.

Below, I list briefly the skills developed by Tibetan Buddhism that I believe are valuable and probably even necessary for our spiritual and mental development. Most of these skills can be developed through secular means, of course; they are not only the realm of Buddhism. However, Tibetan Buddhism does do an excellent job of teaching us about the subtle levels of mind.

Meditation:

Being able to settle and observe our thoughts and emotions is a vital skill to develop for the sake of our personal well being. We all need to be able to find relief from our thoughts and emotions when they’re too wild and overwhelm us. It’s important, however, to also be aware that that same ability if used to excess can blunt all emotions, including positive ones. Meditation is a tool for us to use wisely.

Loving kindness and compassion practices:

These practices, if done correctly, make us kinder and more compassionate people and help us to relate better to others. When directed at ourselves, they can increase self-esteem and heal feelings of unworthiness.

Vajrayana practice:

What is the point of all that chanting and visualisation? Let’s start with the preliminaries, the ngondro: when done with the awareness that all deities are representations of the nature of your own mind, not some external being or a representation of an external being, and even when done essentially without all the bells and whistles, refuge gives us confidence in our true/Buddha nature, our inner wisdom; bodhichitta/compassion practice makes us kinder and more attuned to others; Vajrasattva practice is a healing tool within which we can right wrongs, energise ourselves and build our immune system; mandala offering is a practice of gratitude and generosity and at its deepest gives insight into the ‘empty’ nature of reality; guru yoga assists us in recognising the nature of our own mind—but I find that if I’ve done offering sufficiently deeply, I don’t need guru yoga.

Oh, and there’s the contemplations on the 4 thoughts that turn the mind to the dharma. What does that do? Exactly what it says it does – develops renunciation. I learned to have deep gratitude for the life I have, an awareness of impermanence that makes me appreciate every moment and every human interaction, an understanding of the nature and pervasiveness of suffering and disatisfaction and a determination to escape that, and a recognition that all my actions have results – postive negative or nuetral. But I got this not from casual reading or from saying them quickly daily but from spending 3 months contemplating each thought, bringing whichever one I was working on into my life as manay times a day as I can remember. After that the 4 lines of the practice were just a reminder.

The three roots practice – guru, yidam and dakini – in which the practitioner arises as the deity: For me, the guru practice helped me to see every sound, perception and thought as sacred, as empty and luminous; Vajrakilaya practice helped me to see that my obstacles were mostly in my mind, and since I worked specifically on some of those obsctacles that I knew I carried from my childhood, it helped me release them. Since I never did the dakini practice, I can’t comment on that.

Other than that, there are various sadhanas that do various things, but the ngondro and three roots practices are the ones from which I gained the most personal benefit, and all while also visualising the same benefit for all other beings.

In general, the practice of visualisation and mantra, when done fully using the three samadhis, and actualising the elements of purity, equality and vajra pride gives a direct experience of the luminous empty nature of ourselves and reality – and yet, the same practices can be nothing more than a fancy form of shamata mediation. It all depends on whether or not you know what you’re doing and actualise it. The knowledge and meditative experience required to do it fully and gain these benefits, however, requires a lot of study and time committment, and I don’t see why you can’t get the same kind of experience using other methods.

Vajrayana practice for me was very inspiring until I became bored with it. I can move on now not because I reject vajrayana, but because I did enough of it.

Dzogchen and Mahamudra:

These teachings drew many of us to Tibetan Buddhism, and practiced well, they can give you a direct insight into the true nature of your mind and reality. Having confidence in your true nature and being able to remain in a state of pure awareness connected to everything and everyone, isn’t just a wonderful state of being, it also enables us to truly find and follow our own wisdom – so long as we don’t get attached to our teacher. The result of that is a sense of freedom and a sense that you can handle anything one way or another. Everything is fluid and workable.

Undoubtably, these teachings are the jewel in the Tibetan Buddhist crown, and beware of look-alike options. You’re better off with a traditional Tibetan Buddhist Dzogchen text translated by someone like Erik Pema Kunsang than a Western cult leader. These are subtle teachings, very easy to misunderstand, and, despite his faults and crimes, I am extremely grateful to Sogyal for introducing me to them.

Balancing it out

The danger with any form of meditation is when students use it (at any level) as a kind of drug to get you away from the difficulties of life and/or as an avoidance mechanism, a way to bypass your emotional and psychological issues. So some examination of our childhood patterns and the role of beliefs in our thinking, feeling and perception is an important adjunct to Buddhist practice as well as some kind of conscious body work or exercise.

If you’re feeling a bit numb, or if your non-attachment is making you unable to relate to the people or situation before you with any real empathy, you’re out of balance. I doubt the Buddha meant that to be the result of his teachings on non-attachment, but I’ve seen it in students who have been Buddhist practitioners for many years. There’s a tendency to gravitate towards the nature of mind teachings and leave the compassion teachings behind as if, being Mahayana, they are lesser somehow.

This shows how important it is to take the path step by step, making a firm foundation in each step before focusing on the next. It might be inspiring to have Dzogchen teachings straight up, but we mustn’t neglect those compassion teachings because they help to keep us grounded.

The weakness and the integrity

The weakness in the religion today is in the poor quality of some of the teachers, and yet you can gain benefit even with a teacher you later discover is a fraud—as I and many others did. This indicates that there is some integrity in the Vajrayana ‘system’ untouched by the failings of an individual or even general corruption in the religion. I’m not the only one who feels that the Vajrayana practices themselves—minus guru yoga—are free of Sogyal’s taint.

Some time ago, I emailed Tenzin Palmo and asked the following:
“Can one gain some measure of genuine realisation through relying on an unqualified teacher? 
This is referring to a situation where the student has given complete, unquestioning devotion and fulfilled their obligations as a student and then only later they discover that the lama was not worthy of that devotion. “

Her reply was:

“Yes, 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….”

Image by Михаил Нечаев from Pixabay

If you’d like a more private place to chat about your ongoing spiritual path after you’ve left an abusive community, you can join the Beyond the Temple Facebook group. This group is for people who don’t want to talk about abuse, but want to keep in touch and share their discoveries, inspiration and challenges as they move on with their lives.

If you want to talk about abuse, then Rigpa or ex-Rigpa students can join the secret What Now? groupApply via the contact form here, telling us about yourself and why you want to join the group. 

Students from other Vajrayana communities who need somewhere where they can talk about abuse and find survivor support can join the Survivors of Vajrayana Abuse and their Allies group.  

Note that you will not be added to these groups if you don’t answer the questions.

The Facebook page and You Tube Channel associated with this blog are called Living in Peace and Clarity. Click the relevant link on the side bar to ‘Like’ and ‘Subscribe’.

Is Tibetan Buddhism Really a Complete Path?

One of the result of Sogyal’s betrayal for me is questioning EVERYTHING about Tibetan Buddhism. I realise that I accepted too much on faith alone. I had faith that ‘Buddhism’ was all good. But the Buddha himself said we shouldn’t take what he said on faith alone, let alone what some teacher 2500 years in the future might say.

I tested some of it, the stuff that related specifically to me, my mind, and how I handled my life, but I never doubted that Tibetan Buddhism was a complete path as Sogyal said. It certainly appeared to have everything covered, and we did have a step by step progression to follow that was supposed to end up with us being enlightened – in one lifetime. Given the actual results, however, I now have to ask whether or not this is actually the complete path we were told it was.

What are the results?

After forty years in Rigpa, and longer for Shambala, do we have any enlightened beings amongst the students? Are Sogyal and Trungpa’s oldest students the wise and compassionate beings they should be if this path according to them is truly what they say it is? And look at these abusive lamas; If they did actually practice the path they taught – which is highly doubtful – then they are hardly a good advertisment for their path. They may be highly developed in the area of meditation and be able to share some dharma gems, but they are also emotionally immature and highly manipulative people. This is hardly the kind of person we should be aiming to emulate, and they are clearly further from any genuine ‘enlightenment’ than the average law abiding citizen, so something must be amiss in what they taught.

Look at those still running Shambala and Rigpa. In both organisations we see the same kind of DARVO responses (Deny. Attack. Reverse Victim and Offender) as given by every person and institution accused of abuse. There is nothing enlightened or even genuinely compassionate in their behaviour – and certainly no following the vajrayana teachings on purification of bad karma as the basis for their actions (confession, regret and reparation before a witness). What we’re seeing is people concerned primarily with protecting and continuing the very institutions, teachings and teachers who caused and enabled the abuse in the first place.

Can a cult stop being a cult?

In both cases, Shamabala and Rigpa, the changes are superficial, and will remain so unless they actually denounce the behaviour of the teachers who perpetrated the abuse – and in Shambala that’s a lot of teachers, since abuse of one kind or another seem to be throughout all levels of the organisation. These organisations are clearly cults, and I don’t believe they can be redeemed, because though they may remove their teachers from the organisation, they will not denounce their behaviour. They still think it was crazy wisdom and therefore accept abuse as a legimate part of the vajrayana path. For so long as this is the belief at the core of these organisations, their codes of conduct are only for show, and the lovely facade they present at local centres are nothing more than cult induction techniques.

Does the path work with the whole of us?

I realise now that I suppressed my feelings for years under Rigpa’s tutelage, so though my awareness of my own mind and the empty nature of reality is fairly firmly established, I’m underdeveloped in terms of my emotional intelligence – just like my lama. I’m grateful for what I gained in the area of mental awareness, but I can’t say that it’s a complete path.

I’d done a lot of work on my childhood patterns before coming to Rigpa, and I have a high level of physical awareness gained from years as a dancer, but there was no place to work on those aspects of ourselves in Rigpa. The physical aspect of ourselves was simply ignored, and we were advised against looking into our past to examine what we might have picked up from our childhood that is holding us back today.

Not all teachers are the same

Other teachers don’t ignore the physical aspect, however. Namkahi Norbu had his Vajra dance (which I always wanted to learn and never managed to) and Tsoknyi Rinpoche talks about dropping our mind down into our body and tuning into what is happening there. He also talks about acknowledging our feelings by giving them a ‘handshake’ before letting them go. So clearly there is variety within the tradition which makes a general evaluation impossible.

Some people tell me that there are some teachers who are genuinely good people. His Holiness the Dalai Lama appears to be a fine example of compassion and wisdom, so really here, I’m talking about Tibetan Buddhism as it’s taught in Shambala, Rigpa and other organisations of abusive lamas, because in these organisations, the results are not well-balanced wise and compassionate people, and those that are were likely like that before they joined up.

Because there is no central authority in Tibetan Buddhism, many lineages, and individual lamas can basically do and say what they want, there will always be exceptions to disprove any evaluation of the tradition as a whole. But in general the teachings do primarily work with one’s mind, emotions are the enemy and the body is ignored, and so it’s easy to end up with people (including teachers) who are not grounded in their body and in the world, and who are experts at bypassing their issues and emotions rather than dealing with them.

If you have experience of teachers who do seem to teach and embody a path that acknowledges and works with all aspects of ourself -physical, mental and emotional – please do share in the comments. I’d also like to hear your thoughts on how Tibetan Buddhism did or did not live up to your expectations. Do you feel as if you’d been sold a lemon?

For more on this topic check out my vlog.

If you’d like a more private place to chat about your ongoing spiritual path after you’ve left an abusive community, you can join the Beyond the Temple Facebook group. This group is for people who don’t want to talk about abuse, but want to keep in touch and share their discoveries, inspiration and challenges as they move on with their lives.

If you want to talk about abuse, then Rigpa or ex-Rigpa students can join the secret What Now? groupApply via the contact form here, telling us about yourself and why you want to join the group. 

Students from other Vajrayana communities who need somewhere where they can talk about abuse and find survivor support can join the Survivors of Vajrayana Abuse and their Allies group.  

Note that you will not be added to these groups if you don’t answer the questions.

The Facebook page and You Tube Channel associated with this blog are called Living in Peace and Clarity. Click the relevant link on the side bar to ‘Like’ and ‘Subscribe’.

Does Tibetan Buddhism Condone Abuse?

Does Tibetan Buddhism condone abuse? Let’s look at the information we have on this.

The crazy wisdom tradition

A favourite story of all teachers in the religion is that of Marpa and his student Milarepa. Milarepa had a lot of bad karma so in order to purify his karma, Marpa made him built towers of rock and then pull them down and build another. I think he built and demolished seven towers. Apparently this purified his negative karma and eventually he became enlightened, and a favourite saint of the Tibetan people. Marpa also beat him and this is seen as an acceptable teaching method for Milarepa because apparently he had great potential. Marpa is seen as a great master. However, Marpa also beat his wife and she didn’t become enlightened.

There are other stories of masters throwing stones and hitting students with sandals – shared by Sogyal in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying – and these stories are told to show that unconventional teaching methods can wake students up if those students are ‘ready’ for some realisation and the teacher is a great master who knows that the student needs this.

Whether or not you believe there is some value to this kind of idea, and whether or not you believe teachers use the idea as an excuse to do what they want, it is a fact that this kind of behaviour is part of the tradition.

Sogyal certainly thought he was a crazy wisdom master and so do those students who are still devoted to him. In this video he tries to justify his actions to a student hes just hit. If you think this does actually justify it, then I’d say you’ve been brainwashed. The idea that hitting someone brings that person closer to their attacker is nonsense! And why would you want to be close to someone who hits people?

(If the You Tube video has been removed, the file is attached below.)

Of course, some lamas recognise that abusive behaviour isn’t crazy wisdom.

‘Unfortunately the term “Crazy Wisdom” has now become so popularised that people will use it to explain any kind of bad behaviour by gurus, as if “Crazy Wisdom” is some special Tibetan cultural practice which allows a Vajrayana guru to ignore all laws and vows, all of the Buddha’s teachings on ethical behaviour, and any consequences for their actions! …  The time for the misuse of “Crazy Wisdom” is over. “Crazy Wisdom” is not an excuse for breaking vows or for bad behaviour.’


Dr Nida Chenagtsang, Karmamudra:The Yoga of Bliss, Sexuality in Tibetan Medicine and Buddhism

A lineage of abuse

 ‘The people of Katok experienced Khyentse Chokyi Lodro’s arrival as something of a tsunami. They said he was like an “invading force” (they used the same Tibetan word to describe the advance of the Communist Chinese) because his sovereignty over them was absolute and indisputable. Monks were punished ten at a time. When a flogging was called for, Rinpoche insisted in four or five hundred lashes, never a mere hundred, and he always watched from the window of his residence as the punishment was meted out.’ The Life and Times of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö: The Great Biography by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and Other Stories. Dilgo Khyentse and others, Shambhala (July 25, 2017)

This is the man Sogyal talks about in the TBLD as a great master and saint.

During a talk at the Paris centre, Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche said about spiritual teachers, ‘Such great beings, whether it corresponds to western ideas or not, if they kill someone, it’s fine,’ and, ‘Beating hard increases wisdom.’

Abuse is widespread in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries. The young Kalu Rinpoche on You Tube talks about being gang raped in a video titled Confessions of Kalu Rinpoche. I saw a video of a monk beating a young monk—badly—and a friend told me of nuns she had spoken to in India who were regularly raped by the local monks, monastics who apparently have no concern over breaking their vows.

Sexual misconduct is very common amongst high level lamas.’

Dr Nida Chenagtsang, Karmamudra:The Yoga of Bliss, Sexuality in Tibetan Medicine and Buddhism

Teachings on how to follow a teacher.

Rigpa students chant the following in their daily Longchen Nyingtik Ngondro practice:

‘Towards the lifestyle and activity of the lama,
May wrong view not arise for even an instant, and
May I see whatever he does as a teaching for me.
Through such devotion, may his blessing inspire
and fill my mind!’

This idea that you have to see anything your guru does as a teaching (and therefore okay) is not helped by one commentary on this text used by Rigpa which adds another phrase to the last verse: ‘and may I see whatever he does, whether it seems to be in accordance with the Dharma or not, as a teaching for me.’ A Guide to The Words of My Perfect Teacher, another commentary on this Ngondro, expands this idea on page 261 by saying: ‘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.’

If you take these words at face value without the depth of understanding to moderate their apparent meaning, then what is it saying to those who chant it every day?

The Dalai Lama doesn’t agree with this, but then he’s from the Gelupka lineage. There are 3 other lineages and the heads of those lineages have not said a single thing about all this abuse.

As far as Gelugpa is concerned, Lama Tsonghkapa clearly mentioned; if a lama teaches something that is against the dharma it should be avoided and opposed. If the lama’s teaching is in accord with the dharma it should be followed, if it is in discord with the Dharma it should not be followed.

Dalai Lama, National Seminar on Buddhism in Ladakh, India on August 1, 2017.

The Words of My Perfect Teacher and a commentary on it A Guide to The Words of My Perfect Teacher are the two core texts of Rigpa on the Vajrayana preliminaries or Ngondro—the entrance into the Vajrayana path—and both books make it very clear that once you’ve taken a teacher as your Vajra master you have to do what he or she says, see them as a Buddha, see everything they do as enlightened activity, and never criticise. Many teachers use these books as a reference for how students should follow their teachers. The book is based on being a student of a perfect teacher, however, not an imperfect one! And these days, even the book in question (written a couple of centuries ago) admits that good teachers are rare:

‘All the qualities complete according to purest dharma are hard to find in these decadent times.’

Patrul Rinpoche. The Words of My Perfect Teacher

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche is the only lama who has spoken extensively on the matter, and for that I am grateful, but he sees the problem of guru abuse in Vajrayana as being caused by student’s misinterpretation of Vajrayana Buddhism, not the guru’s behaviour. He is often ambiguous, but if you look carefully, you’ll see he does make the bottom line clear.

‘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.’


Dzongsar Khyentse, Guru and Student in the Vajrayana, Facebook 15t August 2017

In a teaching called Being Savvy at following the Guru , Part 2
Chile, January 20th 2019 he said:  ‘And what I have basically, among other things that I’ve said, if Sogyal Rinpoche had applied the correct procedure and if the students also knew what was happening, then if they had taken him as a vajrayana master, that’s it, then you have to continue with this practice of pure perception, but if SR haven’t taken the correct procedure, and I have said that that time and I say now, that I doubt that SR had taken the correct procedure. This is my personal thought. You know the correct procedure … and someone says you do my chores for 3 years, these are the correct procedures. If SR didn’t apply the correct procedures, students didn’t know what was happening and students also don’t know was happening, it is totally wrong for Sogyal to demand whole-hearted pure perception so that he can do what he likes; it’s totally wrong. Okay. ‘

In other words, abuse by a guru is only ‘totally wrong’ if that guru hasn’t taken the correct procedure to prepare you. He’s saying that the problem with Sogyal’s abuse of students was not the behaviour itself, but that he behaved that way to students who weren’t properly prepared. He doesn’t say that a teacher shouldn’t abuse students who were properly prepared – and some were.

In page 19 of his book The Guru Drinks Bourbon? he makes this even clearer. 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 says: ‘However, once you have completely and soberly surrendered, 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.’

There you have it. Vajrayana according to DZK does permit abuse just so long as
the guru has properly prepared you. Not only that, but if this is the case, then you can’t even complain about the abuse when you discover that that’s what’s happening to you. Ouch!

Failure of lamas to condemn abuse

In an attempt to encourage some more native Tibetan lamas to state their position on abuse, some of us got the letter by the eight translated from English into Tibetan and sent it, along with the Lewis Silken report and over 100 signatures to thirty-eight lamas, with a question. We asked: Do you think the behaviour of Sogyal Lakar/Rinpoche as described in the 2017 letter by eight close students and confirmed by the Lewis Silkin Report is ever an acceptable way for Tibetan Buddhist teachers to behave towards their students?

We received only two replies and one of them referred students to The Words of My Perfect Teacher for information about how to follow a teacher! Apparently no one wants to simply say that beating, promiscuity, humiliation, abuse, are not acceptable behaviours, not in the Vajrayana, nor in any Buddhist context. We explained how important it was that they respond, how their silence is seen as complicit, and still they did not respond. I understand that there are cultural reasons that make speaking out difficult for them, but to not do so after we made it clear in our email just how important it was shows a sad lack of concern for their Western students.

Where teachers in a religion do not denounce abuse when asked to, does it not indicate that they condone it?

The names and responses of those few lamas who have made a clear stance against guru abuse can be found on the ‘Which Lamas are Trustworthy?’ page on the Beyond the Temple website. Take a close look at those who received the letter and never replied. You may be surprised to find lamas you respected on that list.

Conclusion

It’s hard to talk about Tibetan Buddhism as a whole because each lama rules his own little kingdom and isn’t beholden to anyone else, so every lama has to be taken on his or her own merits. However we can discern generalities.

The Nyingma lineage clearly does condone guru abuse for the student who is properly initiated into vajrayana – at least according to DZK, Orgyen Tobgyal and Sogyal Lakar. Though Mingyur Rinpoche said that ‘abuse is not a teaching method’ in his Lions’ Roar article, the Kagyu is the lineage with the most ‘crazy wisdom’ masters in their history. I know nothing about the Sakaya’s philosophy because none of them have said anything, but I do know of at least one woman abused by a high Sakaya lama. The Gelupka lineage appears to be the only one where their leader has clearly stated that lama abuse is not acceptable.


This post uses some excerpts from my upcoming book Fallout: Recovering from Spiritual Abuse in Tibetan Buddhism

If you’d like a more private place to chat about your ongoing spiritual path after you’ve left an abusive community, you can join the Beyond the Temple Facebook group. This group is for people who don’t want to talk about abuse, but want to keep in touch and share their discoveries, inspiration and challenges as they move on with their lives.

If you want to talk about abuse, then Rigpa or ex-Rigpa students can join the secret What Now? groupApply via the contact form here, telling us about yourself and why you want to join the group. 

Students from other Vajrayana communities who need somewhere where they can talk about abuse and find survivor support can join the Survivors of Vajrayana Abuse and their Allies group.  

Note that you will not be added to these groups if you don’t answer the questions.

The Facebook page and You Tube Channel associated with this blog are called Living in Peace and Clarity. Click the relevant link on the side bar to ‘Like’ and ‘Subscribe’.

Vajrayana Buddhism Issues – Arrogance

Vajrayana Buddhism issues abound and if you’ve been around a Tibetan Buddhist sangha for any time, you may have heard a teacher talk about the supremacy of the Vajrayana, how it’s the fastest path, has the most skilful means, is for students of the greatest capacity and so on. If we heard someone from another religion talk like this, we’d probably scoff, so is this kind of arrogance something we should buy into? And if we do, what are the results, apart from soothing our ego by making us feel that we’re on the one right path?

The following quote, written by one of the members of the Beyond the Temple Facebook group, inspired this post.

I’m going back to so-called Basics. The 4 Noble Truths, the Noble 8 fold path. I’ve already decided it’s well worth focusing on that for me. The Noble Eight Fold Path is full of suggestions and statements that are more than enough for me to validly follow and see how that works (not just read about and then move on to ‘posher’ ‘clever’ stuff.)

Surely it’s all meant to be about doing It – walking your talk. And if anyone tries to tell me I’m not Buddhist because I reject the clever, complicated Vajrayana practices etc, that’s their problem. I wonder if sometimes people simply (not that simply) just try to do too much and get scattered and forget the really crucial stuff like right speech etc etc. It leads them away from the well-being of all, including themselves, despite their good motivation. And teachers should help remind them when they go down a wrong, time-wasting or unkind side alley. I am not trying to tell a teacher what their remit is, but surely that is blindingly obvious.

Beyond the Temple member

These kinds of thoughts and approach to their spiritual path moving forward are shared by many ex-students of abusive vajrayana teachers and their cults. Below I pull out the main points and expand on them.

Many paths, all valid

  • The Buddha taught many paths to suit different kinds of people. All are complete paths and all lead to liberation – why would he have taught anything less? If you look closely, you’ll see that all the Buddha’s teachings are contained in the foundation yana in an implicit way if not explicit. Later teachings – if they are genuinely Buddhist – simply build on what’s there. Any Buddhist path is as good as any other Buddhist path.
  • The idea that the vajrayana is somehow better than other forms of Buddhism is just arrogance, and yet that’s what we were taught. Such elitism – the idea that vajrayana is the best/fastest/most skilful path – is common in cults, and is as ridiculous as saying that the Christian or any other religion is the best one. The idea that it’s faster is misleading since if it isn’t the right path for you, then you may just be wasting your time, and if you have an abusive guru, then vajrayana will bring you more harm than good.
  • Vajrayana arrogance leads to people not paying enough attention to the foundation teachings on which vajrayana is supposedly built. They skip over it or give lip service to it, but don’t actually study and put into practice things like the 10 negative actions to be avoided. If they had done that work, they would be able to discern right from wrong action and never consider that the kind of abuse we saw in Rigpa was anything other than wrong action. A house without a strong foundation will eventually fall down, and isn’t that what we’ve seen here with this massive failure of vajrayana to uphold even a basic ethical stance?
  • What use is the study and practice of a path that supposedly teaches wisdom and compassion if it doesn’t lead to followers living the teachings and becoming genuinely good people?
  • Isn’t it better to follow a simple path that leads you to be a genuinely good person than to follow a complex one where you get confused about what is right conduct?

Is vajrayana Buddhism truly Buddhism?

After the rose-coloured glasses fell from my eyes in the wake of the revelations of Sogyal Lakar’s abuse, I saw how wafting off into vajrayana land of rainbow light and mantras had resulted not in wiser and more compassionate people, but in minds and eyes closed to the truth of what was actually happening before them. Like the commenter above – and many others – I decided that the most important thing in life was not to follow a complex spiritual regime, but to actually be a good person.

It seemed bizare to me that teachings full of compassion and wisdom could have led to such a result, and I wondered just how far Rigpa had departed from what the Buddha actually taught. To find out, I spent some time looking at the Buddha’s earliest teachings, and some of what I found made it look as if vajrayana wasn’t even Buddhist. Certainly the Tibetan emphasis on unquestioning devotion and ritual seemed the opposite of what the Buddha taught.

The Buddha before Buddhism

One of the books I read was The Buddha before Buddhism: Wisdom from the Early Teachings by Gil Fronsdal. It’s a translation of one of the earliest of all Buddhist texts, the Atthakavagga, or Book of Eights, which comes from the earliest strain of Buddhist literature, before the Buddha came to be thought of as a ‘Buddhist’. The approach to awakening laid out in the Book of Eights is incredibly simple and free of adherence to any kind of ideology. Instead of doctrines to be believed, it describes means for realizing peace that bring genuine results to those who live by them.

What may be perplexing to many is that the Book of Eights does not espouse a religious doctrine that exists in opposition to other doctrines. Nor does it put forth a teaching that is meant to be seen as superior to other teachings. In a manner that challenges the religious beliefs of many people – including many Buddhists – the test explicity denies the role of ultimate religious “truth” and “knowledge” in attaining personal peace.

Gil Frondsdal. The Buddha before Buddhism

Truth or arrogance?

Of course those who like to maintain that the Mahayana and Vajrayana are superior to the early teachings of the Buddha on the basis that the attainment of ‘peace’ is not full enlightenment will scoff at this simply for the use of the word ‘peace’, but really, why would the peace the Buddha referred to in the first turning teachings be anything other than the peace of full enlightenment? If he was enlightened, why would he teach a path that lead anywhere less than the full state of enlightenment? That idea simply doesn’t make sense. And the Buddha would agree that we shouldn’t accept something as truth just because some lama says so!

Nothing basic about the basics

How does following the ‘best’, ‘the fastest’, or the ‘most skilful’ path that requires us to sit on our bums for hours spacing off in a rainbow realm help us if we can’t even follow the noble eightfold path? ( Right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right meditative absorption.) And let’s be honest here, can you? Do you? I certainly don’t. I have plenty to work on without falling for the ‘enlightenment-in-one-life-time’ hook. I’m not saying I didn’t benefit from vajrayana, I did, a lot, but I still have to come back to earth and live the teachings in the real world, and what does that come down to? Following the eightfold path!

There is nothing basic about the Buddhist basics and nothing simplistic about their simplicity. The point is that you can have the teachings and practice the practice without all the bullshit. These days, there are so many books and talks and videos around, that you don’t even need to go anywhere near a physical teacher. Like with husbands, you’re better off with none than with a bad one.

I find it very useful to have a valid, real-live teacher, but if I feel a need to see him/her too often, that may be a danger sign – for me anyway. It shouldn’t be necessary really.

Beyond the Temple member

What do you think?
Leave your comment below.


If you’d like a more private place to chat about your ongoing spiritual path after you’ve left an abusive community, you can join the Beyond the Temple Facebook group. This group is for people who don’t want to talk about abuse, but want to keep in touch and share their discoveries, inspiration and challenges as they move on with their lives.

If you want to talk about abuse, then Rigpa or ex-Rigpa students can join the secret What Now? groupApply via the contact form here, telling us about yourself and why you want to join the group. 

Students from other Vajrayana communities who need somewhere where they can talk about abuse and find survivor support can join the Survivors of Vajrayana Abuse and their Allies group.  

Note that you will not be added to these groups if you don’t answer the questions.

The Facebook page and You Tube Channel associated with this blog are called Living in Peace and Clarity. Click the relevant link on the side bar to ‘Like’ and ‘Subscribe’.