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

Sogyal Rinpoche’s Last Tour

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

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

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

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

Rinpoche’s last tour

Thanks to Sel Verhoeven for the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rigpa email

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

Turning the victim into the offender

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

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

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

Dismissing the abuse

They also write:

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

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

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

As someone in the What Now group worded it: 

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

What Now group member

The repercussions for Tibetan Buddhism

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

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

Sel Verhoeven

How Rigpa isn’t Reforming

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

Report recommendations being followed?

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

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

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

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

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

The gaslighting continues with another psudeo apology for the faithful

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

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

Rigpa Statement, 5 September, 2019

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

Parinirvana? Really?

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

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

Thugdam? Really?

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

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

Sogyal Rinpoche’s private office team

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

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

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

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

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

The Homages

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

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

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

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

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

Edited addition 15th September.

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

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

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

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

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

Mingyur Rinpoche.

A conflict of interest

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

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

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

Can Rigpa reform?

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

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

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

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

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

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

A guest post by Ayya Yeshe

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

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

Abusers don’t work alone

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

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

The price of turning away

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

Facing the shadow side

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

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

Ayya Yeshe

Tsoknyi Rinpoche shows a way for other lamas

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

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

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

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

Tsoknyi Rinpoche

This is only part of what he says here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is it that’s Damaging Tibetan Buddhism?

The video below of Khenpo Namdrol speaking about the eight letter writers in the months after the revelations of Sogyal’s abuse of students is being shared on social media again. I listened to the first part of it to see if it was the same teaching, and though back when it was first released, I was horrified at what he said, now I can see even more how these are the words of a cult leader.

Cult tactics

In true cult fashion, Khenpo Namdrol is:

  • Turning the cult members against the ‘whistle blowers’;
  • Demonising whistle-blowers;
  • Making those who revealed the abuse into the enemy;
  • Reinforcing the importance of blind faith and devotion no matter what the guru has done or does;
  • Laying the blame for the bad press and disillusionment of many students on the letter writers – all victims of abuse – not on the abuser;
  • Uses superstition – the belief in demonic forces – to explain something he can’t otherwise explain, i.e. someone of ‘excellent character’ and as ‘having a very good and kind heart’ telling a truth he doesn’t want revealed;
  • Is not concerned about the victims of abuse, only about preserving the reputation of the cult and retaining the leader’s status among the followers;
  • Threatens negative repercussions for those who speak up about the abuse or support those who do;
  • Affirms that cult members are on the right path.

Trigger warning: this video and transcript excerpts may trigger symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder for those abused in Tibetan Buddhist communities. Or it just might make you angry or nauseous!

Lies that twist the perception of the faithful

In this talk – given to Rigpa’s most devoted – he is saying that those who told the truth about Sogyal Rinpoche’s ‘serious physical, sexual and emotional abuse’ (as laid out in the Lewis Silkin Independent Investigation Report ) are destroying Tibetan Buddhism.

That was really an attempt to not only just disparage the master, but to try to destroy him, and everything that he’s done.

Rigpa Advisor Khenpo Namdrol

Wrong. It was an attempt to save others from the abuse they suffered and help an organisation to face and hopefully deal sensibly with the skeleton in its closet.

This kind of activity is so completely unnecessary. Why? Because it’s so detrimental to the doctrine. From a spiritual point of view it goes against every aspect of Dharma. And from a worldly point of view it is so disrespectful and unnecessary and also instilling doubt and wrong view in the minds of so many disciples unnecessarily, to the point where they may even turn their minds away from the Dharma for good.

Rigpa Advisor Khenpo Namdrol

Note that the ‘kind of activity’ he’s talking about here is writing and distributing the letter that exposed Sogyal’s abuse, not Sogyal’s behaviour!

But isn’t it Sogyal’s activity, not the truth tellers that is ‘so completely unnecessary’, ‘goes against every aspect of Dharma’, ‘instils doubt’ and ‘turns people’s minds away from the dharma for good’?

He thinks that speaking out about abuse is going against ‘every aspect of dharma’. But what sort of ‘dharma’ is he referring to here that speaking the truth is going against? It may be Tibetan, but how is it Buddhism when it goes against the Buddha’s words.

Conquer dishonesty with truth.

The Buddha. Dhammapada, verse 223

The real issue here, that this man and others like him conveniently sidestep in their rush to keep the faithful paying their bills and shore up the reputation of their religion, is the depravity of a guru. Sogyal Rinpoche/Lakar has caused many people such trauma that they suffer complex post traumatic stress disorder that is still affecting their health many years after their abuse. So if we’re talking about dharma, then what about the very foundation of the Buddha’s teachings – to do no harm? How is Sogyal’s abuse following that Buddhist ethic? And how does Khenpo Namdrol’s words not harm victims of abuse even further? And how is trying to keep people silent and obedient by threatening them with negative repercussions helping them?

“One is not called noble who harms living beings. By not harming living beings one is called noble.”

The Buddha . The Dhammapada, Verse 270

So who exactly is damaging Tibetan Buddhism?

Anyone who isn’t under the sway of a Tibetan Buddhist cult can see that the people who are damaging Tibetan Buddhism and turning people away from the dharma, not to mention splitting sanghas, are the abusive gurus. Not those who speak the truth about their experience in these cults.

Those who speak up about the abuse are clearing the puss from an infection that has been left to spread and rot the heart of the TB religion. The sickness cannot be healed until it is first revealed and acknowledged. Only then can the sickness be treated and eradicated. And if the lamas cannot see that sickness for what it is – sick – and help to eradicate it, then they are part of the problem. They are contributing to the downfall of TB much more than the truth tellers.

What Khenpo Namdrol doesn’t understand is how this very speech is turning hundreds of people away from his and Rigpa’s version of the dharma. The only good thing about it is that we can see it – thanks to those who keep posting it on You Tube when Rigpa takes it down – so we’re under no illusions as to what the Rigpa faithful believe.

And why would Rigpa keep taking that video down unless they realised how damaging it is? And if they realise that it’s damaging (if only to their image), then why is Khenpo Namdrol one of their ‘spiritual advisers’? He’s one of three – Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche (DZK), Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche and Khenchen Namdrol. Haven’t they just replaced one guru with the kinds of beliefs that enabled abuse with three of them?

What’s happening here is that people are waking up to the truth that Tibetan Buddhism in its most fundamentalist form (Rigpa for example) does not not match its public reputation (and it’s own teachings) of a religion of love, compassion and wisdom. The challenge is for the lamas to clean up their act. They can resurrect their reputation, but only if they have the courage (as HHDL does) to step outside of their cultural restrictions and make it clear that there is no place for abuse in vajrayana. They need to say that even though ‘crazy wisdom’ was accepted in the past, it is no longer appropriate and should be abandoned as a ‘teaching method’.

The lamas silence, their general reticence to say anything on the matter of abuse, is also damaging the religion.

Different rules for gurus and students

Khenpo Namdrol says that writing the letter was ‘nothing but negative. And so it is just the poorest choice they could have made, forever. ‘ Later he reminds the students of the repercussions of doing something negative, that they will have to face the negative consequences, but what about Sogyal and the other abusive lamas. Isn’t this true of them also, that negative actions will have negative results? So why do lamas like Khenpo Namdrol think it’s okay for lamas to behave badly? Oh, that’s right, if they’re realised masters (and the assumption from lamas appears to be that all other lamas are realised), they’re supposed to be ‘beyond karma’ and unable to cause harm. But even if that is true of someone like Sogyal, hitting someone will still cause harm if the person hit is not also ‘beyond karma’. A truly realised person would recognise this and out of compassion would not hurt that person. I look into this in more detail in my book Fallout: Recovering from Abuse in Tibetan Buddhism.


So always try to be in harmony with whatever Dharma says and never go off track just following your own whims or the customs of modern society.

Khenpo Namdrol

What about ‘just following the whims or customs’ of an ancient feudal society? Buddhism didn’t originate in Tibet. This is just another way of trying to keep the status quo. It’s also a put down of modern society and suggests that any attempt to make changes, like getting rid of abuse from the religion, is a ‘whim’ that has no value.

What to believe

This is not a doctrine that’s new. This is thousands of years old. It is time-tested material. It delivers liberation to countless practitioners and has actually cultivated countless realized accomplished masters and scholars. We can have confidence in every single word of this doctrine.

Khenpo Namdrol

Look at the list of cult tactics at the start of this article. How can we can have confidence in anyone who blatantly uses such tactics and shows no compassion for victims? Perhaps countless practitioners did attain realisation with the TB ‘doctrine’ while being abused in a cult environment, but that doesn’t mean that the cult parts of the religion are necessary for that attainment. Perhaps Tibetans did respond to slavery and violent methods of ego ‘crushing’ but those ‘methods’ won’t work on the majority of Westerners. The results I’ve seen are complex PTSD, crushed self-esteem and an enormous amount of confusion – not due to someone exposing the truth, but due to a teacher who abused them and a religion that, at least in this fundamentalist version, enables such abuse – and still does, despite their codes of conduct.

‘Don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, “This contemplative is our teacher.”
When you know for yourselves that, “These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering” — then you should abandon them .’

The Buddha. Kalamatta Sutta.

So who is really destroying the religion? Those who follow the Buddha’s advice and that of His Holiness the Dalai Lama by speaking the truth and evaluating everything carefully, or those who follow this fundamentalist version of Tibetan Buddhism in which true dharma has been overshadowed by cult behaviour?

And what about the audience?

This talk was given to Rigpa dzogchen students, and at the end, they clap, enthusiastically. Why? Because the cult tactics I mentioned at the start of this article work to keep the faithful faithful. They must have felt very reassured to hear this talk, to know that they don’t have to examine their beliefs because the letter writers were wrong to do what they did and they are right to just carry on as usual. But there is nothing dharmic about manipulating people like this. Leaders in all destructive cults use the same tactics.

I don’t doubt that Khenpo Namdro thinks he’s doing the right thing, and if he has any idea that he’s manipulating people, then he’ll be thinking it’s all for a good cause – the protection of his religion. What a pity it’s doing the exact opposite.

Can a cult stop being a cult?

The question the Rigpa cult must face now that Lerab Ling has failed in its bid to sue Midi Libre and Jean-Baptiste Cesbron for suggesting that Rigpa is a cult is whether or not Rigpa can stop being a cult. This question relates just as well to Shambala, the NKT and any other Buddhist group showing cultish behaviour. 

Clearly in order for a cult to stop being a cult, the cult has to change those beliefs and behaviours that make them a cult. Harmful behaviours can be banned, but what about beliefs that enable harmful behaviours? Doesn’t the potential for harm still exist for so long as a group retains beliefs that enable harm.

What is a cult?

The Urban Dictionary defines the modern understanding of the word cult as:

‘A religious/non-religious group that follows a series of strict beliefs, may include worshiping a specific God/Deity or multiple Gods/Deities, or following strict specific ideals. May involve some form of brainwashing that their knowledge is correct and that everyone else is wrong, WILL have a hierarchy, and may be led by one of a small group of charismatic leaders, and typically will shun those who are ex-members.

Not all of the above will apply to a cult, but at least one of the descriptions will. A Cult isn’t necessarily good or evil, it depends on how the cult leaders use the power they have.’

Rigpa clearly fits this definition of a cult, just by the first sentence, and most ex-members, especially those who have been outspoken about the group’s deficiencies know about being shunned by those who remain in the group—sometimes in particularly nasty ways. The belief that Tibetan Buddhism, and the Rigpa version of it in particular, is the only path that can take you to enlightenment in one lifetime fits the definition, as does the belief that anyone who thinks they were abused got it wrong—‘misunderstood’ is Rigpa’s word for it.

But the question is not so much whether they are a cult or not, but whether or not they are a destructive cult.

Psychologist Michael Langone, executive director of the anti-cult group International Cultic Studies Association, defines a destructive cult as ‘a highly manipulative group which exploits and sometimes physically and/or psychologically damages members and recruits’. (1)

In the opinion of Benjamin Zablocki, a Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University, destructive cults are at high risk of becoming abusive to members. He states that this is in part due to members’ adulation of charismatic leaders contributing to the leaders becoming corrupted by power. (2)

I think it’s fairly obvious how Rigpa fit the definition of destructive cult while Sogyal was physically present—Sogyal abused students, senior students covered it up, and their beliefs enabled the abuse—but the question is are they still a destructive cult.

With Sogyal—the teacher who abused many of his close students—retired from his role as Rigpa’s spiritual director and Rigpa making efforts—albeit limited—to implement the recommendations of the Lewis Silkim Report, it’s easy to assume that the danger is over, and certainly that’s what Rigpa wants people to believe. They have even convinced the Charity Commission in Australia of this, but just how deep does this change go? Is it just for show?

The issue of beliefs that enable harm

I’d love to see Rigpa genuinely reform, but to do that they would have to remove from their belief system the beliefs that enabled the abuse. For so long as Rigpa management and instructors believe that the abused students only ‘thought’ they’d been abused, and that this was because they had misunderstood the relationship between the student and teacher in vajrayana, the potential for abuse remains—despite their code of conduct and any other changes they make.

Dzongsar Khyentse, one of Rigpa’s main advisors admits, in his book The Guru Drinks Bourbon?, that in the student-teacher relationship 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:

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

Dzongsar Khyentse The Guru Drinks Bourbon? ‘Liberation through Imprisonment’

DZK is speaking here specifically about a vajrayana level relationship, not about the relationship with a teacher at the early stages of the Tibetan Buddhist path, but what does this belief say about how Rigpa members define abuse at the vajrayana level?

And this same teacher, who is not only a Rigpa adviser but also revered by Rigpa students, emphasised this view again in a Facebook essay on the Guru and Student in the Vajrayana, which he wrote in August 2017 in response to the effects of the Eight’s July 2017 letter. 

“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.”

Dzongsar Khyentse, Guru and Student in the Vajrayana

And further, from the same essay:

“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, Guru and Student in the Vajrayana

DZK as a revered Rigpa adviser is strengthening in Rigpa student’s minds the very ideas that enabled the abuse. But if there is nothing wrong with what Sogyal did so long as the student voluntarily chose the vajrayana path, then what does this say about the value of the Rigpa code of conduct to those who will make this choice in future?

Ethics and commitments specific to vajrayana and Dzogchen

In their document Shared Values and Guidelines of the Rigpa Community  which provides additional information relating to the Rigpa code of conduct, in the section on ‘Entering the Vajrayana Path’, it says of students that ‘They will receive teachings on the ethics and commitments specific to vajrayana and Dzogchen’. In other words, there are ethics and commitments that are different to the other levels of the path. What are these ethics and commitments?

In their daily Longchen Nyingtik Ngondro practice, Rigpa students chant:

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

Longchen Nyingtik Ngondro

This idea that you have to see anything your guru does as okay is not helped by one commentary on this text used by Rigpa which adds another phrase to the last verse: ‘and may I see whatever he does, whether it seems to be in accordance with the dharma or not, as a teaching for me.’ Another commentary on this Ngondro, expands this idea on by saying:

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

A Guide to The Words of My Perfect Teacher page 261

Here is the ‘scriptural authority’ that guides Rigpa students in the matter of their guru’s behaviour.

Rigpa’s version the vajrayana student-teacher relationship

Also in the section on ‘Entering the Vajrayana Path’, the Rigpa Shared Values and Guidelines document says, ‘Such formal requests [for instruction at the vajrayana level] are completely optional and voluntary, and when made by a student, constitute consent to this level of spiritual guidance.’ The vajrayana level of spiritual guidance under Sogyal included what we now recognise as abuse. Dzongsar Khyentse, whose opinions reflect those of all Rigpa’s advisors, says that at this level of the path, you must ‘completely and soberly’ surrender and ‘you may not interpret certain manifestations and activities of the guru as the abuse of power’.

What this means is not that a student won’t be harmed by a vajrayana teacher, but that in future, they won’t complain because they have ‘consented’ to ‘this level of spiritual guidance’. They likely, like those who still remain faithful to the teacher who abused them, won’t even think of it as abuse. They will see any thought that they’re being abused as a failure of perception on their part—exactly the beliefs that were used and are still being used to diminish or disregard the abuse perpetrated by Sogyal Rinpoche as outlined in the Lewis Silkim report.

During the court case against Jean-Baptiste Cesbron one of the senior Rigpa students present explained to the tribunal to that the master /disciple relationship was out of the ordinary and unique and that the victims had misunderstood the master’s intention. He accepted and saw no problem with his statement that the disciple could be ‘burned’ by coming into contact with a powerful master. Apparently the students speaking for Lerab Ling attacked the victims’ testimonies and showed total disregard for their suffering.

Does this indicate that Rigpa is no longer a destructive cult?

The Lewis Silkin recommendation on risk assessment

Number 5 of the Lewis Silkin report’s recommendations says: An appropriate risk assessment addressing the whole range of the organisation’s activities should be conducted and regularly refreshed. The risk assessment should specifically address teaching practices which are, or have been, associated with the Dzogchen Mandala – careful, well guided judgements will need to be made on the future use of such practices in the organisation’s work. For the avoidance of doubt any practice amounting to abuse of a student should never be tolerated.

Given that the beliefs that enabled the abuse in Rigpa have not changed, it can’t be said that they have adequately assessed the risk and made a careful judgement on the future use of such practices. Certainly there is still doubt around this point in their code of conduct in the special section on Vajrayana and Dzogchen.

Has the Rigpa Vision Board examined these beliefs? Are they willing to take a sober look? As is suggested in this recommendation? Have they, or can they, in order to make a ‘careful judgement on the future use of such practices’ make a decision on how they should interpret them that goes against the teachings of their spiritual advisers? Are they willing to even study alternative interpretations? If not, we must question their commitment to the safety of their students.

If they are willing to examine, then Part Two my book Fallout: Recovering from Abuse in Tibetan Buddhism is a good starting point, and Alexander Berzin presents a clear and healthy understanding of the real meaning of these beliefs in his book Wise Teacher, Wise Student: Tibetan Approaches to a Healthy Relationship (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2010)

Does Rigpa have a charismatic leader or group to which they offer adulation?

Sogyal Rinpoche has resigned as Spiritual Director of Rigpa, but is he still the teacher of Rigpa? Does he still have influence over the students? Rigpa states the answer to this in a press release from Jan 3 2018

‘Although Sogyal Rinpoche is no longer the Spiritual Director of Rigpa, he has an ongoing responsibility as a teacher to his students. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the sacred bond between student and teacher continues until enlightenment.’

He still teaches through video. And I hear that he’s pulling the Vision Board’s strings, which makes sense considering that those students have decades of practice at not being able to make a decision without Sogyal’s instructions.

Rigpa also has a group of spiritual advisors, who, as I’ve shown, propagate the same view as Sogyal did, and expect the same kind of unquestioning devotion from their students. The adulation Dzongsar Khyentse receives from his students is clear on his Facebook page, and students received Khenpo Namdrol’s victim blaming of abuse victims with enthusiastic applause.

I have even heard Patrick Gaffney spoken of with the same kind of devotion as is accorded to Sogyal. Even though he has resigned from the management team, he is still very influential in Rigpa.

Does Rigpa still exploit and psychologically damage students?

Given that Sogyal no longer physically attends retreats, the level of exploitation should have decreased considerably. However, as we have examined previously, Rigpa communications twists members perception with highly manipulative language, designed to make students and the public think that everything is fine, that Rigpa is safe now, but they have not examined or changed the core beliefs that enabled the abuse, so the potential for harm caused by those beliefs still exists.

We called it the Rigpa party line; has it changed?

Aren’t people who hold the following beliefs psychologically damaged or, at the very least, in danger of abuse?

  • It’s acceptable for a teacher to abuse their students so long as that teacher is a vajrayana teacher and that student is a ‘properly prepared and initiated’
  • A vajrayana student must not criticise their teacher no matter what he or she does.
  • Everything a vajrayana teacher does is for the student’s benefit, even if they hits them, asks them to perform sex acts they don’t want to do or publically humiliates them. Such things are teachings and a great kindness and blessing for me.

Are these not the beliefs key Rigpa figures hold?

Are they not still what Rigpa teaches their vajrayana students?

Is Rigpa management prepared to publicly state that these are not their beliefs?

Did the Australian Charity Commission ask these questions? Certainly, they seem in their ‘investigation’ not to have asked anyone other than Rigpa about it.

The court in Montpellier wasn’t fooled.

Is there still a risk of abuse to Rigpa students?

Because of the code of conduct and grievance procedure, there is less risk, and likely none for beginning students, but for so long as Rigpa maintains their fundamentalist views of the teacher-student relationship at the vajrayana level, the potential for abuse remains for vajrayana students. Why? Because given the prevalence of abuse—including allegations against some of Rigpa’s advisors—we cannot trust Tibetan Buddhist teachers (even Westerners) not to abuse their students once ‘consent’ to the vajrayana level of spiritual instruction is given.

Rigpa, as is shown by their Shared Values document, makes a distinction between vajrayana students and students at the ‘lower’ levels of the path. They can say that their code of conduct applies to all, but how can it when they believe, and teach, and students consent to the idea that ‘once you [the vajrayana student] have completely and soberly surrendered, you may not interpret certain manifestations and activities of the guru as the abuse of power. If you want to be fully enlightened, you can’t worry about abuse.’

If this is not the case, let Rigpa make a statement that makes it clear that they believe what Sogyal did was wrong and caused harm, and that they have examined the beliefs that enabled his behaviour and have now changed the way they interpret those beliefs such that they will not enable abuse in future. Unless this is done, the potential for abuse remains.  

References

  1.  Robinson, B.A. (25 July 2007). “Doomsday, destructive religious cults”Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. Retrieved 18 November 2007.
  2. ^ Turner, Francis J.; Arnold Shanon Bloch, Ron Shor (1 September 1995). “105: From Consultation to Therapy in Group Work With Parents of Cultists”. Differential Diagnosis & Treatment in Social Work (4th ed.). Free Press. p. 1146. ISBN 0-02-874007-6.

Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism: The Rise and Fall of Sogyal Rinpoche

As most of you probably know, the book about Sogyal written by Mary Finnigan and Rob Hogendoorn is available now .
The book description follows:

This book is the story of how a penniless Tibetan refugee with fierce ambition managed to establish himself in the West as a renowned Buddhist lama and hoodwink thousands of people, including show business luminaries, tycoons and politicians, for more than 30 years. 

Sogyal Lakar left his birthplace in eastern Tibet aged eight when his family fled the Chinese invasion to seek refuge in India. Arriving in England in the early 1970s, he brought with him traditional ideas and attitudes rooted in a culture whose spiritual sophisticated was coupled with near-feudal social norms. 

His transition was spectacularly successful. Sogyal Rinpoche, as he became known, was a charismatic multi-millionaire, credited as the author of a best-selling book. He starred in a Hollywood movie and his Rigpa Fellowship attracted followers across the globe. At the peak of his fame he was the most powerful and best-known Tibetan holy man after the Dalai Lama. 

But, as revealed here, it turns out that Sogyal was a charlatan who was never trained as a lama. He stands accused of financial and sexual misconduct, physical violence and fabricated credentials. Now seriously ill, he is a fugitive rumoured to be in Thailand beyond the reach of police and civil investigations. 

This book does not sensationalise the perverse behaviour that caused profound suffering to scores of devotees. Based on interviews with victims and eyewitnesses, together with detailed research and first-hand experience, it echoes the feminist perspective highlighted by the Me Too and Time’s Up movements. It is also a story about the culture clash that occurs when the misogyny of old Tibet is greeted with naïve acceptance and adulation by spiritual seekers in the West.

If you’ve read it already, please let us know what you think.