Dalai Lama Speaks Out About Sogyal Rinpoche

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Recently, author and journalist Michaela Haas asked the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama for a statement about the current situation in Rigpa, in particular the allegations of abuse made by 8 former and current students.
In response, they referred to the following remarks the Dalai Lama gave at the Inauguration of Seminar on ‘Buddhism in Ladakh’ on August 1, 2017.
This is a transcript of his remarks.  There’s a video clip of this part of his address at the end of this post.
It can be helpful to listen to the video in addition to reading the transcript so you can hear the emphasis the Dalai Lama gives certain points.  For example, he’s quite adamant when he says, “That’s totally wrong,” in reference to following a spiritual teacher blindly.
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A Letter to Rigpa International Regarding Allegations of Abuse

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Dear Vinciane, Sophie, Alex, Eric, Gill, and Catherine,

Thank you for your recent ‘reaching out to each other email’ (to view the email, scroll down to the second entry), which asked us to share our thoughts and suggestions about the letter sent to Sogyal Rinpoche from 8 students alleging abuse, and his response.
Please let me introduce myself for those of you who don’t know me. I have been a student of Sogyal Rinpoche for thirty years, attended the 3-year retreat, and am currently a member of the Dzogchen Mandala. I was a Rigpa Director for 13 years and an instructor for 7 years.
I completely understand how difficult all this must be for you, as I was in a leadership position during the 1994-95 lawsuit against Sogyal Rinpoche and Rigpa. My heart is with you as you navigate these troubled waters, just as it is with those who have suffered.
Before I can share my thoughts and suggestions about the letter sent to Sogyal Rinpoche and his response, I feel I need to share concerns about your email communication to the sangha.
I’m deeply grateful you have reached out to open up dialogue concerning the allegations of abuse. I trust you have the best of intentions so please do not take my remarks as personal criticism. But I think you need to take these thoughts into consideration if you want to establish a forum for honest and full communication.
Here are my thoughts and suggestions, a bit of what I’ve heard from others, about your email:
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Breaking the Veil of Silence that Hides and Sustains Abuse

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Abuse is particularly painful to confront when in a spiritual context. Why? Because it’s so hard to believe that those we trust with guiding us spiritually, those that talk about morality or ethics don’t abide by those principles themselves. We trust that, as spiritual advocates, they will have the practitioners’ best interests at heart. When presented with testimonies that indicate otherwise, we simply find it hard to believe.
“But he is such a nice man,” we say. We can’t believe that there is another side to him that only the victims of his abuse see. And we don’t want to confront the possibility that it’s true. Especially if the person accused is someone close to us: our husband, our brother, our father, our revered teacher. Paedophilias get away with their abuse for years because of this.
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How Some Students Responded to Allegations of Abuse by Sogyal Rinpoche

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As you can imagine, responses to the letter containing allegations of abuse in Rigpa varied widely.  Some expressed anger that the behavior of their teacher could ever be questioned and faulted the 8 signers.  Others felt relieved this information had finally come to light.  And still others said they’re were slowly progressing through the five classic stages of grief as defined by Kubler-Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Following is just a small sampling of the many affirmative responses to the letter.  The intention behind sharing them is to help others feel less alone, especially if you feel conflicted or in pain.  Hopefully, these words will also help arouse compassion for the genuine suffering that has occurred. Continue reading “How Some Students Responded to Allegations of Abuse by Sogyal Rinpoche”

You Might Be Okay with Violence, but I'm Not

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During August of 2016, Sogyal Lakar gut-punched a nun in front of an assembly of more than 1,000 students at the Lerab Ling Retreat Center in France. Recently, the nun responded to allegations that this constitutes abuse, saying this is an acceptable part of her Buddhist training.
These are thoughts on the matter from Constance O’Mara, now a former Rigpa student:
She might be okay with violence being perpetrated against her, but I’m not. Nor is our society. There was a Muslim woman in the news recently saying being hit by her husband was okay and a blessing. Our law says otherwise. So perhaps there’s another way he can bless her?
Me leaving the Rigpa organisation (and taking my dollars with me) is a statement of a clear position on the unacceptability of violence. There’s enough suffering in the world (and in our own heads) already without purposefully inflicting it upon ourselves and others.
We need to consider the impact on the witnesses too. Human beings are naturally altruistic. Seeing someone assaulted creates a flight or fright response. It does not settle the mind. It stirs it up. And if it doesn’t, that is not called enlightenment, it’s called ‘desensitisation to violence’.
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A Message for Rigpa International and National Rigpa Organizations on Handling Allegations of Abuse

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Dear Senior Students, Instructors and Administrators,
What you say and do right now is of upmost importance, given the current crisis surrounding allegations of abuse.  Many people are waiting and watching to see how Sogyal Rinpoche, Rigpa International and National Rigpa organizations respond after SR’s initial letter to the sangha, to decide whether to remain a Rigpa student or to leave.
Silence, denial, and exclusion of certain voices may very well tip people further and further away from Sogyal Rinpoche and Rigpa or cause them to leave entirely.
For example, here’s feedback offered by one student after the first delayed stream of the Ngondro Retreat in Lerab Ling:

“Not once in recent weeks had I lost interest in being a part of the Rigpa Sangha. I consistently felt optimism about the possibility for connection and renewal offered by the cracking-open that is underway.

That came crashing down when I saw ‘The Important Message Regarding the Delayed Streaming’ at the outset of the delayed streaming of the Ngondro Retreat.

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Buddhist Monk Matthieu Ricard Comments on The Letter

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The French magazine “Marianne,” asked Matthieu Ricard, Buddhist monk, author, translator, and photographer to comment on The Letter from 8 former and current students of SL, asserting allegations of physical and sexual abuse.
These excerpts are from a lengthier response:

“Regarding the recent letter concerning the behaviour of Sogyal Rinpoche written by some of his close disciples, I cannot judge the intentions of Sogyal Rinpoche and can not say whether he actually meant to harm his students. But I have also no reason to doubt the truth of these facts and testimonies, which describe the abuse that various people have suffered at his hands. I know two of the authors of the letter and I consider them honest and trustworthy. The behaviour described in this letter and in the other past testimonies is obviously unacceptable—from the point of view of ordinary morality and especially from that of Buddhist ethics. This is all the more so given the considerable suffering that has resulted from such actions.”

He also recognizes that many people have benefited from the teachings of SR by saying:

“The fact that a number of authentic masters have given teachings at Lerab Ling is, in itself, a very good thing for all who have encountered them. Likewise, it must be recognized that the teachings given by Sogyal Rinpoche, as well as his books, have benefited many people. But this does not in any way excuse the harmful actions that he may have perpetrated in other contexts.”

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Maybe Pure Perception Is To Never Look Away

Buddha_Flowers_800I would like to share the following, as food for thought:
Let me introduce myself: I am still and fully intend to remain, a student of SR. For maybe 20 years SR has been the absolute root of my spiritual path and the source of so much profound understanding and liberation that, even if I wanted to, I could not cut that sacred bond. I know the organization is not a sect, SR is not a fraud, and we’re neither brainwashed nor gullible, and that things can be different than they seem. I do not waver in my devotion. Yet that doesn’t mean that everything is fine, nor that I can understand or condone what has happened to people.
You probably don’t know me, because illness has kept me both from being able to work for the organization on a more than incidental basis or go to any other retreat but the Amsterdam ones. But let it be a demonstration of the power of his teachings and blessings that they are fully present in me! Because my illness also created an intense need to work with my mind, SR is vey close to my heart. I am fully ‘marinated in his teachings’ and have enough inner experiences to have no doubt at this point.
Yet not having experienced SR outside his teaching role, I have no means of ascertaining for myself what is true or not from either side of the fence, so I’ve just been trying to listen and understand. These are my personal thoughts for contemplation, from an insider outsider view. I apologize that at points I sure sound like a know-it-all. Unfortunately, I’m not… I’m an armchair warrior and have no idea of how it is to actually work for the organization and put your money where your mouth is. I must admit it’s all just theory and little actual realization, but this is what I would like to strive for.
I recognize the value of wrathful, crazy teaching. In my own life the greatest breakthroughs came in times of great despair, when something was painfully busted. But to find the courage and space to be able to open up in the pain also required feeling completely held by love and wisdom. Insights can’t be forced. If you experience abuse, and nothing is transformed or opened up besides fear and pain, wrathful teaching stops being skilful. You can’t be shocked into finding the deep unwavering strength of your true being if your mind is completely absorbed by panic, fear, and trauma, only wanting to be everywhere else but there. No matter how well the intention, it just can’t work. And it stops being right.
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Response to Sogyal Lakar (Sogyal Rinpoche)

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Sogyal Lakar,
Thank you for your response to our letter of July 14. We have since met and are of one mind in what follows.
We are encouraged by your willingness to engage in a dialogue with us and that you are taking very seriously the harm your actions have caused. We agree with you that you should seek advice and guidance from the masters who have a genuine care and concern for R, such as DKR and MR. We too have confidence in a number of well respected lamas, whose support and concern have been extended to us.
We are confused that you did not mention that you will seek advice from HHDL, your eldest and senior most teacher. You have always spoken of him with such deep devotion. Certainly at this critical moment his guidance would be precious. Will you seek counsel from His Holiness the Dalai Lama?
As you know, it was out of deep concern for our companions on the path, and the Buddha Dharma in general, that we felt compelled to write to you. Over the last two decades many close students have voiced their concerns to you about your behavior, but their efforts have been to no avail. Continue reading “Response to Sogyal Lakar (Sogyal Rinpoche)”