Why Sogyal Rinpoche’s Lineage Should Die With Him

Rigpa is not a reliable organisation from which to learn Buddhadharma, not if it’s your sole source of tuition and not if you believe everything your teachers say without examination or question. Yes, I learned meditation from Rigpa, and yes, I learned a great deal of authentic Buddhadharma, but I also studied many of the original texts and gained most of my subtle understanding from them. Rigpa only provided the basics and an understanding of the nine yanas, a framework into which I could ‘slot’ the other teachings I studied.

The big curriculum issue

The big lack in the Rigpa curriculum was that it was completely devoid of Madyamika, the teachings on the ’empty’ nature of reality that you really need to not only understand but also have some experience of before you begin vajrayana. And yet, vajrayana was practised (with very few and very light weight teachings on what you were supposed to be doing) by anyone after they’d been studying the preliminaries for a couple of years.

I assumed that at least the senior instructors would have this understanding, but after Ian Maxwell died, I rarely found anyone who could satisfactorily answer my questions on either study or practice at the vajrayana level. I had to find my answers elsewhere.

When some of the madyamika teachings appeared for the Dzogchen Mandala, they were highly inadequate, and yet kept ‘secret’ for the Dzogchen Mandala only, yet the study was nothing more than a summary; one could learn more from reading any one of the many books available on the subject.

Why did I study with Rigpa and Sogyal, then? Convenience. They had a solid presence in Australia where we lack the choices of teachers available in other parts of the world. They made the teachings available to me. And I found Sogyal’s teachings inspiring back when it was all new to me. That faded well before the letter written by eight students exposed his abuse.

I am extremely grateful for my wall of dharma books!

I requested an update on the curriculum from Rigpa Australia, hoping that they had rectified this issue, but they ignored my request.

Even at a beginner level you can’t be sure

At a beginner level where you’re just learning basic meditation, Rigpa tuition should be fine – after all, it’s just meditation, right? But you might be being taught to spiritually bypass the very issues you should be looking at in order to be a mentally healthy person. This depends on the instructor, of course. But when I was an instructor, I didn’t know about spiritual bypassing, and yes, I did it in my own practice and I taught it, following what I had learned in Rigpa.

Might this have changed? Might the instructors that remain in Rigpa have become aware of it such that they know how to safeguard against students misunderstanding meditation in this way? Unfortunately, because those still in Rigpa appear to be uninterested in re-evaluating anything in terms of their beliefs and teachings, it’s highly unlikely. I suspect that, like me before I started investigating cult tactics, many have still never heard the term. Unless they have followed this blog or read Fallout: Recovering from Abuse in Tibetan Buddhism. Indications are, however, that rather than use this blog as a way of understanding the perspective of those who have left Rigpa in disgust, most of those who remain in Rigpa choose to ignore the blog’s existence.

And when it comes to compassion? Well, those of us who have been treated with disdain or barely veiled hatred, even by Rigpa instructors , who have had our attempts to communicate consistently ignored, been misrepresented and even vilified as demons know that even though some may speak all the right words when it comes to the compassion teachings, they cannot actually practice compassion in life. Those making the decisions in the organisation have consistently shown an inability to behave in a compassionate way towards victims of abuse and institutional betrayal.

Management’s latest indication of this lack of ability to connect with those they and Sogyal harmed is them setting up a restorative justice process ( a theory of justice that emphasises repairing the harm caused by criminal behaviour) without consultation with those Sogyal abused (to see if they would welcome this or see any point in it) and with the perpetrator dead, and without having admitted that any crime was committed.

You might say that at least they are trying to do something towards genuine healing, but considering that the lawyers they’ve engaged to undertake this restorative justice will require payment – and lawyers don’t come cheap – I feel that money would be better spent following recommendation 10 in the Lewis Silken Report on the independent investigation, which says, ‘So far as is consistent with the wider financial responsibilities of Rigpa, a fund should be created to provide professional counselling to those affected by abuse.’ Given the way the whistleblowers and their supporters have been treated by Rigpa people, I feel that this latest move is more about making them look good than any genuine attempt to hear what we’ve been trying to tell them for a couple of years.

The abuse issue hasn’t died with Sogyal

As long as Rigpa management, lineage holders, teachers and instructors don’t recognise and admit that Sogyal committed crimes, and for so long as they think that ‘crazy wisdom’ as modelled by Sogyal is acceptable behaviour, there is a danger that those most abused will become abusers.

Research has shown that ‘children who are abused are much more likely to become adults who abuse (between 30% and 40% of people who are abused as children go on to become abusers themselves)’ We are talking about adults here, of course, but certainly some of those in Rigpa’s inner circle were abused as children, and even if not, if victims of abuse never face the fact they have been abused, they may unconsciously repeat the pattern, particularly in a situation where such behaviour has been modelled by something they look up to as a spiritual guide.

Look at Shambala! The abuse in that organisation is widespread and inter-generational and it started with their founder Chogyam Trungpa. Why would Rigpa be any different when they, too, don’t recognise abuse as abuse?

Those who take charge after the death or removal of the abuser may not be as bad as their abuser – we would hope – but a friend of mine who did sewing at the annual Myall Lakes retreat had a boss who used to scream at her for no apparent reason, every year. Every year my friend told me about it and about how she never wanted to work with this woman again, but every year she came back and did it again. Why? She considered that it was up to her to learn to handle it, that being able to put up with it would be a mark of spiritual achievement.

That’s the dysfunction in Rigpa that had everyone putting up with Sogyal’s abuse, and until they recognise how that idea has been used as a reason for people in power not to moderate their worst impulses, that dysfunction will remain.

Emulating one’s teacher

We were taught that a good student comes to know their teacher’s wisdom mind and that, in order to facilitate that development, we should try to think/be like him. I have read in a Tibetan Buddhist text somewhere (The Words of my Perfect Teacher I think) that realised students emulate their teacher, so those who believe every word they read without examination and who still believe that Sogyal was genuinely a Mahasiddha will supposedly be aiming to emulate him – even if they don’t admit it, since beliefs direct people’s behaviour even if they aren’t aware of it. This idea that one should emulate one’s teacher is alone a good reason for ending the lineage.

Do they really understand the teachings?

In section 2 of my book Fallout: Recovering from Abuse in Tibetan Buddhism – a fully referenced section drawing on the work of respected scholars and masters – I explore the misunderstanding and misuse of Buddhist beliefs that enabled the abuse in Rigpa. Widespread misunderstanding of the most subtle aspects of certain teachings at the highest level is at the core of Rigpa’s inability to admit that Sogyal committed crimes or even actually did wrong (apart from Rigpa Australia whose representative did publicly admit that Sogyal did wrong), and this impedes any possibility of genuine change. Unless management and instructors examine these beliefs using their critical thinking faculties, they will remain stuck right where they were when Sogyal was alive, and all they have done in their Rigpa Moving Forward will remain as nothing more than window dressing.

Those who misunderstood the teachings such that they saw nothing wrong with Sogyal’s behaviour will pass on their misunderstandings. So Rigpa is a lineage with misunderstanding of the teachings and dysfunctional behaviour at its core. What better reason is there for ending this lineage?

Unfortunately, however, it continues, with those who were most abused and most responsible for the enabling and cover up still running the show. The three most responsible have stepped aside from management roles, yes, but PG is teaching, and PP appears in many Rigpa photo opportunities right at the heart of things. The majority of those in the Vision Board were also complicit in the cover up, as well as at least some of those teaching at national levels

Who is checking their understanding? Their spiritual advisers all seem to think that beating increases wisdom. Now the abused who think they were blessed not abused become the teachers, since those who recognised the abuse as abuse have surely left.

The core of healing is confession

Another indication that they don’t actually understand the teachings, or at least don’t practice them is that the healing practice of Vajrasattva that we accumulate 100,000 recitations of as part of the vajrayana preliminaries (ngondro) is quite clear on what is needed for healing. They call them the four powers. This is from the Rigpa Wiki (an excellent resource btw) on these four powers.

 O Maitreyabodhisattva mahāsattva, if you possess four factors, you will overcome harmful actions that have been committed and accumulated. What are these four? The action of total rejection, the action as remedy, the power of restoration, and the power of support.[1]

The Noble Sutra of the Teaching on the Four Factors

The action of total rejection, also known as the power of regret, is recognising that you have done wrong, understanding that it was harmful and owning up to it. In other words, confession.

Confession (Tib. བཤགས་པ་, shakpaWyl.bshags pa) — the process of admitting or ‘exposing’ one’s misdeeds before a witness or support, feeling regret for them and vowing not to repeat them in future.

Rigpa Wiki

And yet, Rigpa communications to their sangha speak of healing without having either admitting their misdeeds, shown any indication that they feel regret for anything other than the damage done to their reputation by those misdeeds being publicly exposed, or that they vow not to repeat them in future. They have made half-hearted attempts to sound sorry and say they will do better, but you can hardly vow not to repeat harmful actions if you don’t recognise exactly what you did wrong.

Rigpa teachers and instructors taught this practice of Vajrasattva, but did they ever actually truly practise it? If so, how did they miss this vital point? And if they did get this point, then why do they not apply it as their guide in life? Isn’t the point of studying Buddhadharma and practising meditation that we live it? Isn’t it reasonable to expect that a ‘spiritual’ organisation would behave in accordance with what they teach?

Postscript

I know that some Rigpa people feel that I have done a lot of damage by saying these kinds of things and they feel hurt by my behaviour. They feel that I have turned against them – and I understand that it looks that way – but actually I only bother to spend time to write this kind of thing because I care. I care that they actually practice in life the dharma they are supposed to be teaching. To not do that, to not live what you preach, is a tragedy.

I am aware of the upset this kind of thing will cause, but I do it in order to wake Rigpa people up. They have ignored or sidelined my attempts to speak to them on these matters – as you’d expect from cult members – and that leaves me only this way to try to help clean out the rot that infests the organisation. My criticisms are a direct result of Rigpa management’s failure to genuinely communicate. They speak of reaching out, but no one from Rigpa has contacted me or followed up on my efforts to communicate with them. They speak of listening, but they do not hear.

Rigpa can rise from its ashes, but healing can only happen if they recognise and confess their negative actions, and I don’t think they can recognise those actions on their own. Rigpa needs members of the What Now group to help heal Rigpa. We don’t need them to help heal us. We healed each other, and how we did it, and what we, as a group, came to understand is all laid out in Fallout. If they can’t manage to read that book with an open mind and a willingness to reflect on what it contains, then we can’t help them.

I find it helpful to remember that likely all Rigpa and many ex-Rigpa students share a concern for the future of Tibetan Buddhism in the West. The letter exposing Sogyal’s crimes would never have been written without that concern. What connects us is stronger than what divides us.

Without a concerted effort to act in accordance with the Buddha’s teachings and examine the beliefs that enabled the abuse, all of the factors I’ve spoken of above will remain and will be passed on, either consciously or unconsciously. All they will be doing is propagating their misunderstanding. This is why Sogyal’s lineage should not continue.

Image by Bernhard Renner from Pixabay

Climate Revolution Requires a Shift in Consciousness

Changing the world requires a change of consciousness. Think about the big shifts in human development – the French Revolution; the abolishment of slavery; voting rights for women; equal opportunity for all regardless of race or gender – when these ideas first appeared, the mainstream thought them extreme and they met a lot of resistance, but eventually enough people saw the importance of breaking out of old patterns that our civilisation made these changes, changes that benefitted a huge number of people.

The shift in consciousness required now is essentially one that changes our pattern of plundering the natural world (e.g. burning fossil fuels) to one of caring for it (e.g. using renewable energy sources).  

‘Humanity needs a transformation of belief – a drastic reshaping of human values. People around the world must come to see the planet as our “common home,” one that we share with other countries and other species.’ 

James Engell Professor at Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences English Department

The reshaping of human values of which Engell speaks is one based on an understanding of interdependence, impermanence and, at the deepest level, the compound nature of all phenomena. Sound familiar?

But there is enormous resistance in some quarters to making that shift. In Australia our government is practically a puppet for the fossil fuel mining companies, whose greed outweighs any sense of responsibility they might have to future generations.  And yet the climate science is so clear. So why can’t those in power in Australia and the US, and those who support them, see what’s right in front of them? Why can they not embrace the necessity of change?

Answer: Essentially they lack the necessary level of mental awareness to be able to escape the fear-driven machinations of their own minds.

Blinded by attachment, aversion and ignorance

“I used to think the top environmental problems facing the world were global warming, environmental degradation, and eco-system collapse.. but I was wrong. The real problem is not those three items, but greed, selfishness and apathy. And for that we need a spiritual and cultural transformation.”

James Speth, former head of the Council on Environmental Quality and a top Washington policy maker.

In other words, the reason some cannot see the evidence before them is attachment to money, aversion to anything that threatens oneself and one’s comfortable life (selfishness), and ignorance or lack of concern or interest.

‘The transformation that Speth speaks about is a shift to a higher level of attention and seeing the world from a more objective vantage point with a witnessing or reflective consciousness.’ … it’s a ‘shift from an “embedded consciousness” that is locked inside the habits of our thinking mind to a more spacious “reflective consciousness” that enables us to become a fair witness or objective observer of our lives. … A reflective or witnessing consciousness also promotes a feeling of connection with the rest of life. We begin to see and sense our intimate relationship with all of life and this, in turn, naturally fosters feelings of compassion and caring.’

Duan Elgin, Climate Change Consciousness, Huffington Post

A reflective consciousness uses the skills we developed through meditation practice and that millions of others around the world are developing in secular mindfulness programs.

If we care about our children and future generations, both human and animal, and about our planet, we will care about doing our bit to halt climate change, and for some of you this might mean working to assist people in making this shift in consciousness by teaching meditation in your local community hall.

Thoughts and beliefs give rise to speech, and action follows thoughts and speech.

Mind is the master. Change starts there.

Mental revolution

As Buddhists or ex-Buddhists, we should have learned a bit about how our minds work. The idea of being able to look at our own thoughts and beliefs without getting involved in them is not just something for us to do on a mediation cushion; it’s something to apply to our lives. We practice so we can apply that skill of being non-judgmentally aware of our mind to our life.

We also, if we’ve studied a bit, have learned that, according to Buddhism, in order to see reality directly, we have to be able to drop (if even only for a moment) the four things that obscure us. These are cognitive obscurations (our concepts and beliefs), habitual obscurations (our habits), emotional obscurations (the emotions we get caught up in), and karmic obscurations (the actions we take without awareness that are driven by past actions).

We can only truly see reality without these overlays. If we can recognise these concepts, habits, emotions and impetuses in ourselves, then we can start to let them go, or at least step outside of them enough to see without filters for a moment or two.

In meditation we practice doing exactly that. We practice simply seeing, without commentary, without becoming distracted by whatever rises in our minds. We practice seeing reality as it is without the overlay of concepts and beliefs about what we see, and without habitual or karmic reaction or getting carried away by whatever emotion whatever is in front of us might evoke. This makes the skills learned in meditation essential for this shift in human consciousness to occur.

What causes denial and inaction?

We saw the result of Buddhist practitioners not applying their meditation skills to life when many in our old communities refused to believe that our ex-gurus abused people, despite being presented with solid evidence to the contrary. Instead of seeing the evidence as it was, they let their concepts, emotions, habits, and unconscious reactions blind them. Those who made no decision as to the truth or untruth of the accusations of abuse misused the madyamika concept of emptiness and the meditation instruction to not get involved in risings as justification to not act.

Those who thought, ‘It didn’t happen to me, so it doesn’t affect me,’  or ‘Hitting transformed me, so those who felt abused simply weren’t able to work with it in the right way,’ allowed those ideas/concepts to blind them to the truth. They didn’t look with an open mind. They looked with a heavily conceptually and/or emotionally obscured mind (habitual and karmic obscurations would be in play as well). So they didn’t see the evidence as it was.

And most likely these reactions were driven by fear of change and the results of accepting such an uncertain future. Accepting the evidence would mean they would have to re-evaluate their beliefs, their actions, and their place in the world, and likely certain beliefs and the emotional support they give would crumble as a result – a scary prospect. No one wants to have to do that. As human beings we tend to cling to our comfort zone and do whatever we can to protect it. Only a great shock will jolt us out of our torpor of ignorance.

It’s easy for people to reject the evidence of climate change because up until now it appears to have happened fairly slowly or it hasn’t impacted on us directly yet, because media propaganda has made some think that climate change is not real, isn’t as serious as the majority of scientists say or is a matter of belief not fact, and because it suits us to ignore the signs – just as we ignored the signs that Sogyal wasn’t actually the person we thought he was, and we were brainwashed by the Rigpa party line. And it’s easy to reject predictions for the future because they seem too extreme, the same reason some rejected the ‘stories’ of Sogyal’s abuse; they just couldn’t believe it could be that bad.  And in the same way, we don’t want to believe that our future could be as bad as predicted. It’s just too scary.

They [climate change deniers] reject the knowledge because it’s incompatible with their worldview, their sense of identity, their anti-government and governance bias, and with all they would have to do and be if they were to take in these truths. 

Psychiatrist and historian Robert Jay Lifton

If practicing Buddhists can’t manage to accept clear evidence, to see without obscuration, is it any surprise that ordinary people can’t do the same when it comes to climate change? Is it any surprise that they/we react with fear (emotional obscuration), disbelief (cognitive obscurations), resistance to change (habitual obscurations) and that we continue to be driven by the four hopes and fears – hope for happiness, fame, praise and gain, and fear of criticism, loss, pain and suffering – (karmic obscurations)

The mental health challenge

Of course, acceptance of what the climate science research is telling us is a challenge for our mental health. Anxiety and depression are on the rise – and no wonder. This is why it’s important for us to find out what we can do in our own lives to help and then do what we can.

If we fall into despair, dwelling on the worst-case scenerios and thinking there is nothing we can do, or that we, as individuals, can’t do enough, then it becomes another reason not to act and that only compounds the problem.

The Australian PM, Scott Morrison (aka Scomo or ScottyFromMarketing) often says that Australia only contributes 1.3% of the global total of carbon dioxide emissions and he uses that as an excuse to not cut emissions more. His thinking is, ‘Why bother, if we lack the power to do anything that makes a difference?’ But apart from that figure giving a distorted picture by leaving out some important factors (like that our per capita emissions rate is one of the highest, along with the USA), if we put together all the countries responsible for less than 2% of total global emissions they make up something like nearly 40% of the global total. Imagine what a disaster it would be if they all took the same attitude as the present Australian government. The point being that everything helps. Even if it seems like very little, if enough of us do it, it will have a huge effect. For instance, imagine if all of us put our superannuation into an ethical super fund that doesn’t invest in fossil fuel companies and instead funds renewables.

My key to mental health this year is telling myself, ‘I will not fall into despair.’ Remembering that when I feel really down about it all, stops me from getting depressed and keeps me focused on what I can do, not on what I can’t do. Despair is debilitating. Action is empowering – even if it’s small.

Watch out for distorted truth in this discourse

Near the bottom of a comprehensive article on climate change by Warm Heart Worldwide is a section that warns of how people’s reactions can distort the conversation around climate change. I quote it below. You’ll notice that it’s very similar to the kinds of reactions we saw to the accusations of abuse by our Tibetan Buddhist gurus.

‘Fringe environmental groups, right-wing internet blogs, politicians of all stripes have spread falsehoods far and wide or distorted the truth to serve their own ends. Beware three particular versions of “science” abuse:

My cause is so critically important that a little exaggeration/a few lies are no sin’: This is the most common version indulged in equally by left and right. Environmentalists feel that “life on earth” or whatever is worth any price; the hard right believes that the “climate myth” is simply another internationalist plot to impose government control on free people – whose freedom must be protected at all costs. In both cases, attention to the truth takes a back seat.

The sky is falling – Oh, give me a break’:
Here the divide is between the doomsayers (“Climate Change Impacts Could Collapse Civilization by 2040” report)  and the perpetually disengaged (“Americans don’t worry much about climate”). The doomsayers will find any excuse to believe the worst; the “whatevers” see no reason for concern about anything. To put these contending positions in context and observe the misuse of science in action, remember, first, the 1970s and the gloom that surrounded the impending exhaustion of world oil resources that led to a policy of “pump America dry first” and then, second, the “oh, give me a break” reaction to the efforts that ultimately led to the 1970 Clean Air and Water Act.

”They only believe in/deny climate change because they are [dumb, insane, evil, deluded, godless, terrorists…]’:
This is such a common type of “argument’ that it must be mentioned, although it is so illogical an “explanation” that it is hard to consider. Most people learned in primary school that such ad homonym attacks do not constitute compelling refutations, but such assertions form such an essential part of what passes for global “public discourse’ today that it bears repeating that any such contention only bears tossing out.’

We all know how frustrating it is to deal with these kinds of responses, but if we are to help shift consciousness, we must restrain our anger when we’re trying to have a conversation with those who use these tactics. When you’ve finished talking, go yell into a pillow, not at the object of your anger; it only polarises people and causes them to be even more protective of their own beliefs.

Anger feeds a divisive politics that cannot help us to address our big collective challenges. By retreating into social media echo chambers where mockery and disrespect are the norm, we risk losing entirely the social cohesion and trust needed for democracy to work.

A whole-of-society discussion about our collective future is urgently needed. Now is the time to reinvent how we communicate about climate change, particularly with those who don’t see it as an urgent concern.

theconversation.com/not-everyone-cares-about-climate-change-but-reproach-wont-change-their-minds-118255

Not everyone cares about climate change, but reproach won’t change their minds. We know that all too well from trying to converse with those who don’t care about guru abuses. This article from The Conversation gives some excellent pointers for communicating with those who simply don’t seem to care enough.

The good news

The good news is that by merely accepting that we need to make major reductions in carbon emissions and radically up our level of environmental care, we contribute to the necessary shift in global consciousness. Just that awareness and understanding, even with no other immediate action on your part, contributes to a positive future. Why? Because you’ll naturally transmit that understanding to others, and it will eventually have an effect on your behaviour and the behaviour of your friends and family.

But we need more than acceptance of the facts to deal with the plethora of issues involved in turning this around, we need a level of genuine awakening, the kind that many of us who have studied and practiced Buddhism for decades already have, one based on an understanding of interdependence, impermanence and the compound nature of all phenomena.

Climate change is not the concern of just one or two nations. It is an issue that affects the whole of humanity and every living being on this earth. This beautiful planet is our only home. If, due to global warming or other environmental problems, the earth cannot sustain itself, there is no other planet to which we can move. We have to take serious action now to protect our environment and find constructive solutions to global warming.

When we see photographs of the earth from space, we see no boundaries between us, just this one blue planet. This is no longer a time to think only of ‘my nation’ or ‘our continent’ alone. There is a real need for a greater sense of global responsibility based on a sense of the oneness of humanity.

HH Dalai Lama. Message to Delegates to the COP24 UN Climate Conference December 5, 2018.

More good news is that this shift in consciousness is already happening. The Beyond the Temple community is evidence of that in the way we support each other on this journey of awakening, and our communication technology supports us in those efforts, enabling us to share ideas with others across the globe. The amount of information and opinion open to us through social media is enormous if we’re interested enough to access it.

With the combined power of our communications technologies, we are fostering a new level of collective consciousness that can overcome our apathy, selfishness, and greed and enable us to discover a common future of sustainable prosperity. We are a witnessing species. Assisted by the communications revolution, we are becoming more fully awake and able to respond to the supreme test of climate change from a higher level of perception and understanding.

Duan Elgin, ‘Why Climate Change Requires a Consciousness Change.’

In his new book, The Climate Swerve: Reflections on Mind, Hope, and Survival, Psychiatrist and historian Robert Jay Lifton argues that we are living through a time of increasing recognition of the reality of climate change, a psychological shift he refers to as a “swerve,” driven by evidence, economics, and ethics. “It’s becoming more and more difficult to take the stand of climate rejection,” he says, “because there is so much evidence of climate change and so much appropriate fear about its consequences.”

Compassion is another means to facilitate the shift

Like Australia, Bangladesh is also feeling the disastrous effects of climate change and so is Indonesia – for them it’s trial by water not fire. And like Australia, Indonesia also faces government inaction even though 60 people died in recent floods. People in these countries are already suffering from climate change, and their poverty makes it all the more harder for them to takes the necessary steps to cut emissions and to deal with the results of not doing so. All the more reason why we, the affluent nations responsible for the majority of the emissions, do more.

As the huge generosity of people in supporting bushfire victims in Australia shows, many people find it hard to stand by and do nothing when people and animals are suffering.  The suffering they witnessed in their own backyard, or in a culture so similar to their own has been the impetus for many to find out more about climate change and its role in what we actually are experiencing now. I have seen a shift in my own friends and family to a consciousness that wants to actually do something to help thwart the gloomy picture of the worst-case scenario future. Because of my raised awareness of the issue, I am looking into what changes I can make in my life, and no doubt others are doing the same.

As people with a greater understanding of mind than the average person, I believe that we have a role to play in facilitating this shift of consciousness. How that will play out in our own lives and actions, I have no idea, but if we are true to deepest ourselves as experienced without obscurations , I’m pretty sure we’ll naturally have a positive effect on the climate change discourse and therefore the future of the planet and its species. Caring is key.

“We have to make an effort, so that even if we fail we have no regret. Ultimately this is a matter of our survival. … Taking care of the planet is taking care of our home.”

HH Dalai Lama

Do you have any additions, comments or suggestions on this Buddhist perspective on the consciousness change required to thwart climate change?

If you need facts of climate change, click here to read a post I wrote on Medium.

Image by Sumanley xulx from Pixabay

Climate Change: The Challenge of the Decade

I have lots of ideas for posts for this blog that take the idea of ‘beyond the temple’ broader than it has been, but it could take a while for me to get around to writing them. Those who are my friends or followers on social media will know that I’ve been consumed by the bush fire crisis facing my home state, NSW. I even had to evacuate one day. But today we have a little rain, so perhaps we’ll dodge the bullet this time. The nearest fire is about 20 kilometres away, but it hasn’t moved towards us for a week now, so the ever present anxiety has eased.

The expected rain isn’t enough to put out the fires, though, just slow them down, nor is it expected to be enough to fill the dams and break the drought. Ferns and trees are dying. Kangaroos are coming into the garden to get water and vast areas of Australia are burned and/or in severe drought. Wildlife is devastated. I read somewhere that scientists predicted that Australia would be one of the first countries to feel the effects of climate change, and here we are.

So discussions around Tibetan Buddhism all seem rather inconsequential and even indulgent in light of the fact that if we don’t act in the next decade to lower carbon emissions, we truly will be facing the extinction of life as we know it.

We are truly, all of us, facing the great impermanence.

Ah, back to Buddhism. Wait, no. That’s simply a statement of truth. Life is impermanent. That’s a fact, not a belief. But let’s not let be distracted …

Civilisation as we know it is dying. I can see it in the destroyed forests just south of me, and in the dead animals lying in the paddocks. We will not be able to feed ourselves if we don’t have sufficient water, and the fighting over water has already started here. It isn’t machetes or guns, it’s protests and angry voices, but it’s still a fight because it’s unjust, ordinary people’s rights are being ignored in favour of the rich.

We either change or die out along with all those other species going extinct through humankind’s negligence.

At times I’ve had to wear breathing apparatus to go outside. I felt as if I was living in an apocalyptic world.

Oh, wait. I am living in an apocalyptic world,

We can’t grow food without water. It’s that simple.

The Garnaut Review concluded that unmitigated climate change would be “bad beyond normal human experience”, both due to the extreme weather and the consequences that those extremes would have on the safety of our societies. Even with immediate action, the impacts on Australia will be far more severe than they are now. It is likely that, even if we do everything we can to cut emissions, the Great Barrier Reef will be dead, or close to dead, if temperature rises reach 2 degrees. Such a path may become inevitable by 2030.

“Without mitigation, the best estimate for the Murray-Darling Basin is that by mid-century it would lose half of its annual irrigated agricultural output,” says the Garnaut Review. “By the end of the century, it would no longer be a home to agriculture.” Since then, the temperature rises driven by rising emissions have been causing impacts that are tracking at the more dangerous end of scientists’ forecasts.

smh.com.au/national/what-is-real-action-on-climate-change-20200115-p53rok.html

The challenge we face

The challenge of the decade is lowering carbon emissions and dealing with the environmental issues arising out of our lack of care of our earth since the industrial revolution. But there is a lot of resistance from the Australian government and in right wing sections of governments all over the world. In Australia, our politicians are virtually dictated to by the coal industry. The coal industry gives both major political parties huge amounts of money. Corruption is rife in water management, too, with the interests of big business being deemed more important than the right of ordinary folk to water to drink, wash in and farm their land.

It’s been a miserable start to the decade for me. Climate change has become very real. And the old ‘righteous anger’ has returned, but this time it’s not because of a corrupt guru and the system that supported him, it’s because of those morally bankrupt and corrupt politicians and big business who are actively destroying this planet. Now that we know what is coming, to do nothing or not enough is worse than negligent, it’s criminal.

If emissions aren’t cut drastically before the end of the decade, my daughter will face starvation at some point in her life. Her children, if she has any, will not be able to go outside for much of the year because the heat will be higher than a human can survive.

If you aren’t joining protests asking for greater climate action, it’s time you did. And yes, I’m telling you that you should do this because if you don’t, you’re being someone who sits by, saying nothing while evil proliferates. I doubt any of the readers here want to be that kind of person. Perhaps you are already out on the streets and gathering your friends to join you. If so, tell us what you’re doing.

“The bushfires have shown that doing nothing is itself a choice,” says Herd, “with radical implications as Australia is highly vulnerable to the frontline effects of climate change. As such, we are choosing to lock-in climate change and the damage it will bring rather than reduce the emission intensity of our economy. And the extent of this damage will worsen the longer we choose not to act and the more temperatures increase.”

https://www.smh.com.au/national/what-is-real-action-on-climate-change-20200115-p53rok.html

What can we do?

We can live a life with the lowest carbon footprint we can manage. And we can educate ourselves with the facts on climate change and share what we learn. But don’t forget to check that you’re sharing from reputable sources and not sharing misleading information or outright lies – there’s a lot of that about, unfortunately. And we can join the protests, email our local MP and vote for politicians committed to saving the planet.

Some people find the sharing a bit much doom and gloom, but it’s only gloomy if we fail to act. We have a decade to save our future from the worst predictions. If we don’t recognise just how gloomy that future is if we don’t severely cut emissions ( to near zero ) by 2050, we likely won’t act in time.

It’s just like all the stories of abuse in Rigpa; we had to know just how bad it was. We had to know the truth. It’s the same here. We have to come down from our lofty spiritual mountains and see what’s happening in the real world. We can’t spiritually bypass this crisis!

Luckily there are stories of people doing good things.

And here’s another positive view about what we can do.

Waking up has never been more imperative

Waking people up is not just a spiritual imperative, it’s a survival imperative. The following video created by my husband Chris Newland who wrote the music is designed to help wake people up.

Please do your bit to wake people up by sharing this widely. It’s a powerful statement.

If you need any more convincing as to the nature of what we’re facing, take a look at this article with its wonderful graphic. It lays it out really well.

What are you doing to fight climate change?

Image by Fuzz from Pixabay

After religion? Do What Makes Your Heart Sing!

When you’ve become aware of the corruption in the religion you’ve followed for decades and moved on from it, what replaces the dictates of that religion for your spiritual study and practice? What comes after religion?

Tibetan Buddhism gave us a form to follow, one we thought we could trust until we discovered we’d been taken for a ride and all the pretty words we resonated with were ultimately being used as a way to capture slaves for a corrupt king. We had daily meditation practices to do that set our minds on a good track for the day, and those meditations had forms, even if only the simple one of starting with a motivation to benefit beings, practice without concepts, and at the end dedicate the practice to the benefit of all. We didn’t have to work anything out for ourselves, and if a practice didn’t suit us for some reason, we did it anyway, or tried our best.

Tibetan Buddhism appeals to people with a deep sense of spirituality, those who want to immerse themselves in the spiritual and mystical aspects of life as much as their lives allow, so how do such people move on in such a way that they continue to nurture that aspect of themselves? Some assume that we’re left with nothing, that we’ll simply flail about forever without a path and without anything to nurture our connection to our deepest self, but that’s not what’s happening.

The refugees from Tibetan Buddhism that I talk to in the Facebook groups What Now? and Beyond the Temple are much stronger than that. What I see are people forging their own paths and showing incredible joy in doing so. They are revelling in the freedom they’ve gained from leaving the religion. And their guiding light and constant spiritual practice is trusting and honouring their deepest nature.

‘Dwell with yourself as your own island, with yourself as your own refuge, take no other refuge. ‘

The Buddha, Mahāparinibbāna Sutta.

The point of all of Buddhism is to recognise your enlightened nature and remain in that awareness. We were told again and again that we can’t do that by following anything outside ourselves and that the ultimate teacher was within us, in the nature of our own mind. And yet everything in the religion kept us dependent on something outside ourselves. Now we are free of that, we can do exactly what we should have been doing all along – looking in to our own true nature. Taking our wisdom self as our refuge. That’s what we’re doing and it’s a very powerful practice.

What does trusting in your enlightened nature mean in your daily life?

It means different things to different people, of course, but for me it means turning my mind into my own awareness every time I remember and acting from that place. It means pausing before making decisions and checking in with my inner wisdom. I ask myself, is this the right thing to do? Or what do I need to know right now? Or why do I want this? Do I need it? And so on. Then I wait, looking for the next thought. I find that there’s a space and our of that space whatever comes is spot on what I need at that moment.

Times when I find it’s good to do this are:

  • At the beginning of the day to find out what’s most important to focus on for the day;
  • When someone pisses me off or I get strong emotions for any reason;
  • When I turn to social media;
  • When I want to buy something;
  • Between activities.
  • And pretty much anytime.

It also means following your interests and doing what makes your heart sing.

Following your interests

Being a Tibetan Buddhist took up a lot of our time, and now we have time to spare. People have found it really good to reconnect with the things we liked to do before we got caught in our respective cult. I’ve rediscovered yoga and finally taken a course in counselling – something I wanted to do when I was much younger. Others have gone back to making music or spending more time in their garden or in nature, but we do it now with more awareness – after all, many of us did spend decades practising meditation. Mindfulness kind of naturally came with the territory.

Something about those activities spoke to us then, and they speak to us again now. They nurture us on a deep level. We feel as if we’re reconnecting with a part of ourselves that we neglected while trying to conform to the Tibetan ideals of what a ‘good practitioner’ would look like. They may seem like superficial things to a TB ‘true believer’ but our interests can lead us towards our hearts in service of our best interests if we let them; if we do them consciously, with awareness.

A spontaneous desire to try Chakra Dance, for instance, could lead you to find out about the chakras according to the Indian system, and that could lead to you finding an alternative way into meditation, a way that does not catapult you back into the quagmire of pain you associate with Tibetan Buddhism. And we’re not likely to suddenly become so enamoured with the ‘system’ that we become a Hindu! Rather it becomes a tool in a new spiritual toolbox.

Sometimes when on social media, something someone shares may catch your eye; things that you would have ignored before, you now may be more willing to explore, just for the sake of curiosity. We’re more open to what’s on offer, more able to be spontaneous, even though we’re also more suspicious, more able to easily spot a potential charlatan. We have our eyes open now. Hopefully we have examined why we joined our cult and so can avoid falling into another one. We can dip in and out of anything that draws our interest, just to see where it takes us, and if we trust that following our interest in this way will lead us where we need to go, then it will.

Doing what makes your heart sing

It’s easy to make choices with our ordinary mind, our limited self, rather than our awakened Self, and if we didn’t manage to get familiar enough with meditation practice to be able to easily recognise that awakened Self, we could be lost as to how to connect with that part of ourselves. This is where the term ‘makes your heart sing’ can be helpful. Choosing activities and directions in life that make our heart sing is a way to bypass our thinking mind and connect with our deeper self. There’s something about the word ‘heart’ that speaks of deep nurturing and profound layers of being, so if we tune into that feeling of our heart singing, we’ll be going in the right direction for creating a life that nurtures our spirit.

I have lived my life according to what makes my heart sing, and it’s lead me to have a very interesting, creative and fulfilling life. For a time TB made my heart sing, but it had stopped doing that long before I decided to leave Sogyal and Rigpa. And I gave up too much of what did make my heart sing in order to fit myself into someone else’s idea of who I should be, so I stagnated within the religion. Now I’m back to following what makes my heart sing and it’s lead me via a round about route back to meditation, a meditation without the TB baggage. Meditation inspired by music, combined with dance and yoga and out of which is emerging a unique form suited just to myself. It was getting back to yoga, which makes my heart and my body sing a very happy song which set this in motion, and it’s not a static place that I’ve come to, not something to define and stick to, just another step along the path of my life.

Creativity has always been a kind of refuge for me, and I know others are the same. The hat and the mask are mine from my Tahlia’s Masks Etsy shop. The others just a couple of examples of the creativity in our community.

What makes your heart sing?

So let’s celebrate what makes our hearts sing. Here’s what some of the other members of the Beyond the Temple Community have been doing that makes their heart sing.

One joined a choir, another enjoys ‘doing nothing, watching my cat and learning from her. Learning from anything around me.’ Another told me they love ‘dancing, video editing, focusing on my work that I love so much. Writing, quilting, loving.’

Janet Trew is busy putting love out there with a book that encourages children to accept all kinds of differences in the world.

Another of our group has taken up dancing with ‘a beautiful bunch of women who make me laugh, keep me sane, and make my heart sing in a different way than I’m used to.’

Sandra Pawla spends time colouring in, and creates beautiful pictures that she shares with her social media contacts.

Another said: ‘Painting the Medicine Buddha Mandala gave me so much joy and peace.’

Another takes joy in cooking, even making a tiramisu yuletide log from scratch.

Mary sent me photos of her garden and said: ‘Why does gardening make my heart sing? Partly aesthetic, partly mother earth, partly trans dimensional. I guess a Taoist metaphor would work best – there’s everything you need to nourish your spirit in nature. I try of work with nature, rather than taming it. My gardens are largely intuitive – they happen as I go along rather than to plan.’

Michael is getting into photography again, along with the occasional bit of poetry, as well as eating good food and deepening his vlogging.

One response to this question that I really love is ‘I’m enjoying thinking! After having thought demonized and non-thought glorified for so long, I am enjoying the way some thoughts make my body tickle, other thoughts make me sense, some make me laugh. It is overall, really fun to just lay in bed and think!’

So in a nutshell, just trust that doing what makes your heart truly sing, such that you feel it in your heart, rather than doing what you think you should do will take you in the right direction for you as you are here and now. And if you do these things with your whole heart and awareness attuned, then they go far beyond a simple pastime.

Have a great new year everyone. I hope this post sets a good tone for 2020.
I’m on holiday until the end of January, so don’t worry if you don’t hear from me for a while.

Rigpa Australia Apologises & Admits Sogyal Rinpoche’s Abuse was Wrong

After being prompted by Joanne McCarthy, a journalist for The Newcastle Herald, Kathryn James, the chair of Rigpa Australia, recently publically gave the kinds of statement that we’ve been wanting to hear from every Rigpa organisation.

Journalist Joanne McCarthy isn’t someone that can be put off with platitudes and deflections. She won a Gold Walkley award, the most prestigious of the Walkley Awards for Australian journalism, so her writing holds weight. She’s experienced in dealing with religious groups and their methods of deflecting, minimising and covering up, due to her reporting on child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, as well as other cult and corruption issues, such as the pelvic mesh scandal.

McCarthy did her homework, interviewing several Australians and getting confirmation of what they told her from a second source, so she knew exactly what to ask to push for some kind of admission of the truth. She wrote three articles on Sogyal and Rigpa for The Newcastle Herald (Newcastle is the biggest city in the Hunter region where the Rigpa Australia national retreats were held each year.) At least one of the articles (the first one) was also published in The Canberra Times.

The articles

The first article gave the general story of Sogyal’s abuses – nothing there we don’t all know already – but she called Sogyal a ‘mindfulness’ guru, which is not a designation Sogyal would ever have accepted, and it unfairly tarnishes the mindfulness movement. I don’t know why she didn’t use the word ‘meditation’, but perhaps it’s because mindfulness tends to be used as a secular word for meditation as if interchangeable with it. For Buddhists, mindfulness is a specific Shamata practice not an alternative term for meditation, which encompasses a wider range of methods. And we know that Sogyal rarely taught on the mindfulness practices. That aside however, she was careful to get her facts straight.

The second article is the one of most interest to those of us in the What Now? group, and contains the content to which this article refers.

In this article Kathryn James showed a rare honesty by admitting that they had a way to go to fully implement the recommendations of the Lewis Silkin report. Mind you, the journalist already knew they hadn’t implemented them properly, so denying it would have been seen as lying – not a good look. Nevertheless, it was good to see someone speaking honestly about it. My own effort to get such an admission from Rigpa Australia via email received no reply!

The third article, written after the Herald apparently received a cease and desist order from Rigpa’s lawyer, spoke about the workers compensation claim made for one of Rigpa Australia’s National Directors who had an emotional breakdown. The article restricted itself to quotes on the matter from Rigpa Australia’s communications with members. The suggestion was that Rigpa Australia, having lodged the claim, accepted some level of responsibility for the man’s breakdown.

Report findings accepted

McCarthy asked James some tricky questions that pushed James to admit (after discussing with the Rigpa Australia management team how she should answer) that Sogyal had hit her – McCarthy already knew this to be true – and that Rigpa Australia accepted the findings of the Lewis Silkin independent report into Sogyal’s abuse.  

Rigpa Australia accepts the allegations of abuse and the findings and recommendations of the Lewis Silkin Report.

Kathryn James, Rigpa Australia

In contrast, the Rigpa Vision Board only said, ‘We acknowledge the gravity of the independent report.’ By using that wording, the Rigpa Vision Board never admitted that the report was a true account of Sogyal’s behaviour and their cover up. So good on Rigpa Australia for actually accepting the findings. That means that they agree that the contents of the Lewis Silkin report are true.

Finally, we have some honesty! Go Australia!

Mind you the wording of her admission is problematic in that she said Rigpa Australia accepted the ‘allegations’ of abuse, not that they accepted the truth of the allegations. Maybe their lawyer wanted to make sure her admission didn’t open Rigpa up for a legal action, because her next statement made it clear that they do accept that Sogyal abused people.

We believe this abuse was wrong.

Kathryn James, Rigpa Australia

Hallelujah! It’s a relief to have someone in a major role in Rigpa who not only realises that what Sogyal did was wrong but also is prepared to say it publically.

A real apology

Later in the second article, James shares a genuine apology made in an email to the Rigpa Australia members after the release of the Lewis Silkin report. Unlike the communications from the Vision Board that refuse to admit any responsibility for their role in enabling Sogyal’s abuse – saying only that they apologise for the ‘hurt experienced’ or that they failed to educate students properly – this apology is the real thing.

The investigation report has laid bare the pain experienced by those students and the failures within Rigpa to adequately protect, respond to and support them. We, in Australia, acknowledge that pain and apologise for our own failures to listen, understand, accept and protect our students.

Rigpa Australia in a message to the Rigpa Australia Sangha

How wonderful to see something real, something not in the language of minimisation or denial favoured by the Vision Board.

The apology was apparently sent to the Rigpa Australia members, but it is not available to the public on their website, nor was it sent to those who Sogyal did abuse in Australia or Australians he abused elsewhere. They didn’t send it to me to distribute to those harmed, either, and they have my email address and the addresses of the Australian members of the 8. What a pity they didn’t take that next step and deliver the apology to those who most need to hear it. Sending it only to those remaining in Rigpa makes it seem as if the purpose of the apology was only to appease their members. What use is an apology if you don’t make it to the ones you’ve harmed?

The statement on Rigpa Australia’s website about the Lewis Slikin Report is the one put out by the Vision Board, the one that does not accept the findings of the report, only the gravity of it. To make this apology, admission of the truth of the allegations and that Sogyal’s abusive behaviour was wrong a real gesture of healing, Rigpa Australia needs to take a couple of further steps.

Can Rigpa Australia make this a step for genuine healing?

Rigpa Australia could take a real step towards healing by:

  • Making what James said into a public statement – one that includes the apology, admission of the truth of the allegations and their belief that Sogyal’s abusive behaviour was wrong – and putting it on their website in a prominent place.
  • Sending that statement to the 8 letter writers and all those who have left Rigpa since July 2017.

Doing these two things would be a game-changing positive step, and it would pave the way for other National Rigpa teams to do the same. Does Rigpa Australia have the courage to make their own decisions on this, though? Only time will tell. If they do do it, I hope they will send me an email to let me know.

How great would that be!

(That’s an in joke for Aussies)

Further steps that would go a long way towards healing:

  • Rigpa members have maligned, abused and attacked the integrity of the 8 letter writers and others who have exposed the truth about Sogyal’s behaviour. I suspect that apologies for such attacks on behalf of those who perpetrated them would constitute a genuine offer of reconciliation that would far exceed the bumbling attempts at ‘reaching out’ made to the 8 by a member of the Vision Board.
  • Making sure that the person who is supposed to be dealing with grievances for Rigpa Australia actually replies to all emails detailing grievances and deals with them with due respect and consideration. (I put one in and never received a reply!)

On a personal note, I would appreciate an apology to me for not allowing me to attend the 2018 retreat without discussion or explanation, and for the Rigpa Australia members who treated me unkindly at the Sakyadhita Conference in June 2019 or abused me on social media. One of the saddest things about all this that remains for me is that Rigpa and I didn’t part on good terms, that the cruelty of some members has so overshadowed the good times, and I expect this feeling is shared by many. I remember the day I put the phone down, my hand shaking, after being told not to contact anyone in the organisation again. Such things may seem petty, but the hurt is real. I can drop it from my mind, but it remains in my heart.

That aside, I would love for Rigpa Australia to show some courage and leadership by making a statement as suggested above, and publishing it on their website.

What do you think of this development?

Photo of the new Rigpa Australia National Centre as shown on the Rigpa Australia Website.

Do you Need Structure to Facilitate your Spiritual Life?

One of the reasons people join a religion is because the structures of that religion help them make time to contemplate the spiritual dimension of life. Christians head off to church every Sunday, for instance. Many people who aren’t Christians or who don’t belong to a specific church believe in God, but without the ritual of church and listening to a priest give a sermon, they may never take the time to think outside of their worldly existence. And most people do need something to remind them to at least aim to be a good person. It’s easier for the worries of life to take us over if we don’t take time to meditate or contemplate or pray or just sit and enjoy some mental space or peace and quiet.

So what do those of us who don’t want a religion do?

The downside of religion

Most of the readers here have discovered how corruption can infest even a religion that purports to teach wisdom and compassion. We’ve seen how Tibetan Buddhist beliefs on the student teacher relationship can result in abuse. This is a result of holding onto beliefs created for another place and time, beliefs that have a questionable basis to start with, and that certainly have no place in the modern world.

Most of us probably thought that Buddhism was better than the other religions, but as we’ve seen, just like all religions, when Buddhism is taken in a rigid way, it stops people thinking critically, logically or even sensibly. The danger of following stupid beliefs isn’t just for individuals, it can be seen on the level of society in the way our politician’s religion affects how they run the country.

“From an analysis of their theology and the political company they keep, it is evident that neo-Pentecostal churches are content to leave global ecological issues up to God. They believe that God loves humans and, ultimately, humans can do what they like with natural resources, because God will take care of the global climate.”

Mairead Shanahan ‘Australian neo-Pentecostal perspectives on anthropogenic climate change.’

When held by people in power, the consequences of this kind of belief has negative ramifications for the whole planet. Though Australia is presently feeling extreme effects from global warming, our prime minister, Scott Morrison, rather than using it to bring in the kind of strict emission reduction measures the world needs, does nothing to lower our emissions further because he believes that God will take care of it. Duh!

This is just one example of how religion can have a negative effect on society, all while those who follow it believe that they are the chosen ones, the ones who have it all worked out, the ones who will be saved, the ones on the right path and so on.

Why bother with religion at all?

Most religions seem to have some teachings that encourage people to be kind and ethical to some degree, but just how far that actually goes probably depends on the practitioner more than the religion. Since people seem to find it easy to be selfish and hurtful, encouragement to moderate that kind of behaviour is surely a good thing. And if we don’t occasionally remind ourselves of the importance of being kind, we’re likely to forget about it and stumble blindly through life hurting people and ultimately ourselves. But we don’t need a religion to remind ourselves to be kind and so on, we just need a way to help us remember.

Given that religions most likely also have some harmful beliefs or teachings, surely we’re better to come up with a way to remind us of the spiritual dimension of our lives without submitting to a dodgy package deal. The Christian Bible, for instance, has some truly hideous things in it! Like this one in which Samuel, one of the early leaders of Israel, orders genocide against a neighbouring people:

“This is what the Lord Almighty says … ‘Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’ ”

1 Samuel 15:3:

And here is St Paul’s advice about whether women are allowed to teach men in church:

“I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.”

1 Timothy 2:12

Doing it for ourselves

I never wanted a religion, but I found that the Buddhist teachings on mind, particularly the dzogchen teachings and practice spoke to me, so I ended up in one. But the teachings and practices that speak to us can be used outside the framework of the religion that brought us the teachings. There are plenty of books from which we can learn, after all, and we can join in events lead by various spiritual teachers without getting caught up in their whole deal.

We can do yoga classes and/or Tai Chi or meditation classes and spend time walking in nature and reading whatever book has caught our eye at this stage of our life without having to subscribe to whatever yoga, tai chi, meditation or belief system our teacher follows. We can do them all at once and simply use what they each have to offer to help us make time for the spiritual dimension of our lives … to remind us of what we likely already know, but can so easily forget, and to help us tune in to unbounded awareness.

We could have a journal where we write down anything we read that speaks to us and so create a personal book of spiritual guidance. And we can make a schedule for ourselves to help us to take time for whatever practice we find nourishes us and our spiritual awareness – or just our kindness. Or we can just wing it without any structure and trust ourselves to remember.

This I see as the challenge of living beyond the temple, and I talk about it a bit more in this short video.

Of course, our spiritual and daily lives are not necessarily separate.  But most people need committed time in individual spiritual practice to develop the qualities that will make them truly spiritual people in daily life.

Sandra Pawla ‘How to Make Space for Your Spiritual Life.’

I’m using yoga each morning to help me take time for the spiritual aspect of my life, and I’m dabbling with tai chi, but my ongoing practice, as I say in the video, is still dzogchen. But, at this point, it has nothing to do with any guru or religion; it’s simply a way I work with my mind.

So what helps you to live beyond the temple? If you haven’t entirely given up on the idea of having some form of spiritual practice or contemplation or self-reflection time, do you need a structure to encourage you to make time for such things? If so, what kind of structure do you use or could you use? Do you use anything you’ve learned from Buddhism – either consciously or unconsciously?

Image by apic from Pixabay

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?