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.

Victim Blaming Disguised as Dharma

Bob Thurman recently did a podcast on abuse in Buddhism, and though he said some  things that some may find helpful in the examination of the issues raised by abuse in Buddhism, I think we need to talk about the part where he fosters one of the ideas that enabled abuse and victim blaming in Rigpa. By talking this way, Bob has shown that he has no idea of the toxic culture that arises around abusive lamas or how some teachings/beliefs/ideas can be misued to enable abuse and so need a very careful balancing of polarities if they are to be taught responsibly.

The problematic idea

Below is a rough transcript of the section in question. It is not word for word, but close enough for you to get the gist of what he was saying.

Someone who was more or less ready for the teaching and it was given by someone who was somewhat abusive but not perfectly enlightened and gave it to a disciple enough that the disciple was able to go beyond that teacher, then that disciple will still be using that lama who had faults as if he were a Buddha in order to transform their own faults. So we can say that it is still okay for that disciple that they don’t have to join in on rejecting that lama. In their mind they could stick with that guru, and they actually might go beyond.
What was harm to one might not be harm to another because they had an advanced level of something from something they obtained from previous lives such that it is possible that they could use something dished out to them from an impure vessel to go beyond. It is possible. It isn’t so black and white.” Robert Thurman  https://bobthurman.com/abuse-in-buddhism/

What teaching?

“Ready for the teaching’? What teaching? We’re talking about abuse here. Is Bob suggesting that abuse is a legitimate teaching method? Unfortunately it appears that way.
“Given by someone who was somewhat abusive but not perfectly enlightened.” Not perfectly enlightened? Is Bob suggesting that someone abusive could be even a little enlightened?

Actual harm and feelings of harm

“What was harm to one might not be harm to another …” This is subscribing to the idea that harm cannot be objectively determined, that if you don’t ‘feel’ harmed then you actually haven’t been harmed. But when someone has been knocked unconscious, pulled by the ear until it bleeds, beaten so that you can see the bruising, or punched in the stomach such that they have a hematoma, it’s clear to anyone that the vicitm has been harmed, and certainly a medic could attest to that in court because the evidence of harm is clear to see.  Anyone who experienced such things and then said that they didn’t ‘feel’ hurt, indicates that they have not only been physically harmed but are also so under the sway of trauma bonding and gaslighting by their abusive lama that they protect him and fully subscribe to his version of reality. Not feeling harmed in these circumstances most likely does not indicate some advanced spiritual level, but rather that the poor person is trapped in a web of lies and delusion created by their abuser for the purpose of control and exploitation.
Bob either doesn’t understand or simply neglects to point out that not feeling harmed doesn’t mean that you weren’t actually harmed – not where blood, bruises, scars, and ptsd are concerned. Not recognising or admiting to the symptoms of ptsd in yourself, for example, doesn’t mean that you don’t exhibit those symptoms for the objective observer to see.

Advanced level?

“… because they had an advanced level of something from something they obtained from previous lives …” Advanced level, really. You’re going with that? This idea did so much harm in Rigpa. One of the reasons students stayed and kept taking the abuse was because they wanted to be at that ‘advanced’ level, and they wanted to prove to themselves, other students and their lama that they were such an ‘advanced’ student. How did they prove it? By not complaining about the abuse, by trying really hard to “use something dished out to them from an impure vessel to go beyond.”
When they finally saw the abuse as abuse, this idea that if you’re at an advanced level you can use abuse by your lama to benefit you spiritually was used by others to blame the victim. That the victim ‘felt’ hurt was seen as their fault, not the fault of the lama who actually hurt them. Sogyal said he felt sorry that people ‘felt hurt’. He never said he was sorry that he hurt them. This idea that a good/advanced student would be able to ‘transform’ the suffering they experienced at the hands of the lama allows abusive lamas to not take responsibility for the harm they have caused – something that is karmically inadvisable – and it also results in some students continuing to see abuse by lamas as an acceptable teaching method.
It’s true that people can use all sorts of difficult situations in a way that contributes to their spiritual growth, but what Bob neglects to make clear, and what needs to be made clear in relationship to abusive lamas is that this does not give anyone the right to abuse people with the expectation that that abuse be used for spiritual growth.

Physical, sexual, and psychological abuse are not teaching tools.” Mingyur Rinpoche https://www.lionsroar.com/treat-everyone-as-the-buddha/ 

Correctly identifying responsibility

The major issue with this kind of thinking is that it takes the responsibility for harm away from the lama and places it on the student, making the issue a perception of harm, rather than actual harm that can be seen by an objective person. And so it bypasses the issue of the lama’s wrong doing, but actually the lama’s wrong doing is the issue here, not whether the student can ‘handle’ it or not.
They shouldn’t have had to ‘use something dished out to them from an impure vessel’. The kinds of behaviour Sogyal regularly exhibited should never have occured – especially in a spiritual setting – and the fact that he hurt people was his fault, not theirs. Abusing students is not teaching them dharma. It’s teaching them how to be a bully and get away with it by twisting the teachings such that they lay the responsibility for the harm on the student for their perception of harm rather than on the lama for causing actual harm.
We shouldn’t be judging the student here. It’s the lama we should be judging – preferably in a court of law. He’s the one in a position of power with a responsibility to his students to do them no harm.
This is what Bob Thurman neglected to make clear and what other proponents of this idea also forget, so the idea that students can use abusive behaviour to ‘go beyond’ becomes a justification of the lama’s behaviour, but even if there is some truth to the basic concept, justification of the lama’s behaviour is not a logical inference.

Different responses

Certainly in any shared situation people will respond differently, some will be more bothered than others by being yelled at by their boss for instance, but that doesn’t mean that their boss should yell at them, thinking that he is giving them a great opportunity to not let it upset them. The boss is still a bastard and abuse is never an acceptable or effective management method.
Also the person who yells back might actually be handling it on a more healthy way for that person than the person who walks away thinking to themselves ‘I will not let him get under my skin’ or ‘he’s just a really unhappy person.’ To assume that one person is somehow more spiritually advanced than another because they ‘handled’ it better is simply not true, because the guy who yells back may have seen that the boss needs to be yelled at for his own sake, or for him yelling back might be exactly what he needed for himself for his own psychological health at that moment. And the person acting all meek may be simply enabling behaviour that is very bad for everyone and increasing their own sense of worthlessness. Of course, if the guy who yelled back yells at everyone, then it’s a different matter, but either way, it’s a toxic situation those people should never have been put in in the first place.
Could someone being in a bomb blast and seeing all that carnage use that as a means of liberation? I doubt that very much. There is a point at which a situation is just too toxic for people to be able to avoid some kind of trauma, no matter how well they ‘handle it’ and trying to ‘handle it’ well, thinking that means not showing any signs of trauma can be highly counterproductive for their healing, a repression rather than a facing of the reality of their feelings.

Similarity to abusive families

And when the abuse is coming from someone who professes to love you, the situation becomes even more traumatic. This is where the situation of those who were abused in a Buddhist community cannot be compared to those of the yogis incarcerated and tortured by the Chinese. Their tormentors never professed to love them or be torturing them for their benefit. And they didn’t betray any deep spiritual trust, because the yogis hadn’t  placed any trust in them. The yogis still had their devotion to their own guru to sustain them, but the abused students were abused by the very person in which they had placed their trust.
The sense of betrayal and confusion that comes from being abused by a spiritual teacher adds a whole other layer of trauma. The inner circle culture in Rigpa had all the dynamics of a family with an abusive father, so the closest situation that can be used for comparison is that of domestic abuse, not incarceration in prison. The more the spiritual seeker in this instance relates to their lama in a way similiar to how a child relates to their father, the more traumatic the situation would be for them, and a child-like adoration of and complete faith and trust in Sogyal was definitely encouraged in Rigpa. The betrayal of trust and neglect of duty of care is similar to that experienced by the child of an abusive father.
An abusive husband makes his wife feel like it’s her fault, but we all know it isn’t. She loses her self esteem in such an environment, which makes it hard for her to leave and keeps her always trying to do ‘better’ (even to the degree of apologising for causing him to hit her), and it was the same in Rigpa, just replace ‘husband’ with ‘lama’. But the situation in Rigpa is worse because the general culture is supportive of the abuser by giving a philosophical, so-called spiritual, reason to blame the student for their trauma. This attitude only increases the trauma, and anyone who professes any kind of idea that contributes to this culture of victim blaming is enabling abuse, just like the neighbour of a family where she knows there is excessive violence, but instead of reporting the abusive father to social services, she tells herself that it’s just a parent disciplining their child.
Even if adults have been given tools to make the most of an abusive situation, having those tools does not take responsibility for the abuse away from the perpetrator. And it certainly isn’t an excuse or a reason for a lama to abuse people with impunity thinking he is giving them an opportunity to grow. And that applies regardless of the lama’s level of realisation. Permiting someone to hurt someone else on the grounds that it is good for their spiritual development is just twisted thinking that allows violence to be perpetrated in the name of teaching dharma.

Not a failure

My understanding of how it was for people is that they tried for years to transform the abuse into something beneficial for them, but eventually they saw the situation for what it was – a culture of abuse – and then they left. That was the point where their wisdom kicked in. Any suggestion that leaving, or ‘feeling abused’ was some kind of failure on the student’s part is simply a cult control mechanism, thought manipulation, nothing more. It is most certainly not true.
It’s like in family abuse where speaking up or leaving is seen as a betrayal of the family. The idea just keeps family members stuck in the cycle of abuse. In Rigpa fear of being seen and treated as a failure was one of the things that kept people stuck in that toxic situation.
That people struggled for years under the expectation that they transform the abuse into something beneficial, just made the whole situation more toxic and more traumatising.

Misplaced attribution

One can separate oneself and ostracise a lama who abuses the sacred trust of being a spiritual teacher to abuse students using spiritual things as an excuse and method. It is ethical to do that. It protects yourself and protects others, but if there was some genuine learning, then one cannot hate that miscreant. One works with compassion towards people we hate, so why not apply that to the lama as well. So we still love even the bad gurus if we learned anything from them. We love the teachings, we love them, we consider them no longer qualified and we ask them to try to rehabilitate themselves, and if necessary we use law and media and reason to do that.” Bob Thurman. Abuse in Buddhism podcast.

Bob suggests that we remember the benefit we gained from a lama and honor him for that even while we reject them. This is the usual dharma teacher’s response to leaving a teacher,  and being good little Buddhists, we immediatly assume that any benefit we gained from our time as an abusive lama’s student is due to the qualities of the lama.
But what if it was all a performance? All of it. Even what we felt as love. The idea that Sogyal was nothing more than a consumate performer is something that has been suggested to me by many of the people I’ve spoken to who were directly abused – and they should know better than anyone. What if the good qualities we see in our disgraced lama are just a projection of what we want to see? What if by holding onto the idea that he did have some good qualities we’re just making ourselves feel better about the situation? I guess that’s an okay reason, but we should be willing to accept that it may only be wishful thinking on our part, and if we are to see truth directly we need to drop all our attachment and aversion related to our seeking out the benefit.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to see some good in our experience, or that some of us didn’t gain some beneift – clearly we did or we woudn’t have stuck around – just that we need to be careful that we don’t attribute that benefit all to the lama or hold onto our idea of benefit as an excuse not to examine our ‘realisation’.
Those who remain, still thinking they weren’t abused, and those who did feel some shift from something Sogyal did are likely not more advanced spirituality, but rather more able to manufacture or convince themselves of ‘results’, blind to the truth of the dynamics that keep them trapped, ignorant of the teachings on what a crazy wisdom master actually is, and are erroneously laying the benefit they gained on the lama, not on themselves, which is where they should be placing it. It is their devotion, their openess and trust that allowed understanding to arise, not any quality of the lama. Anything they experienced in a positive way was because of them, not him. The point we should not forget here is that the lama was not fit to be in his position.
Anyone who honours Sogyal for any transformation they may have felt from being abused by him (or taking teachings from him) is actually misplacing their attribution of benefit. Given his almost complete lack of qualificiation for the role he took on, any benefit we received was more likely to be despite Sogyal than because of him. It is more realistic to attribute any benefit we gained from our time in Rigpa to the variety of causes and conditions present rather than to one man.

Tough love?

The idea that a student should be able to transform abuse into some kind of realisation also contributes to the idea that tough love is part of vajrayana, and if you can’t ‘handle’ the tough love then you shouldn’t be a vajrayana student.
Is this really the kind of idea we want to propagate for Tibetan Buddhism? A religion where abuse is seen as part of the deal?
No matter from where this idea came, it was used in Rigpa, and can be used in future for so long as its propagated by lamas such as Dzongsar Khyentse, as a cult control mechanism to keep students taking the abuse and in slavery to the whims of the lama. Though some people may need to be treated firmly sometimes, we’re not talking about a sharply given reprimand here, we’re talking about what Karen Baxtor called ‘serious abuse’. There’s a huge difference between the loving parent who shouts at a child to stop them running onto the road in front of a car and then explains why they had to yell and the parent who grabs the child by the hair, drags them off the road and then beats them while they scream, leaving them bruised and traumatise. The second is abuse. The parent is merely releasing his frustration on the child. In the first instance the child learns not to run onto the road without looking. In the second instance the trauma of the beating obliterates the intended learning. They learn only to fear their father, not to take responsibility for checking for cars before stepping into the road.
Physical, emotional and sexual abuse is not love, is never skilful, and is not a teaching method. It’s been proven through educational studies that people learn better in an environment where they are rewarded for learning, not punished for their failures. That Sogyal did not see and apply this is another indication that he is certainly not enlightened, and that he went so far as to inflict this extreme behaviour on his students indicates that, despite whatever benefit anyone gained from their time in Rigpa, Sogyal and other lamas who hit, humilate, or ask sexual favours of students are not fit to teach. That’s the main point, and it should never get lost in talks on abuse in Buddhism.

Personal realities and community responsibilies

Trauma arising from abuse by a lama is NOT the student’s fault – even given their role in their perception of harm – and anyone who suggests that it is by using this idea that an advanced practitioner could benefit from an abusive lama shows a lack of understanding of the dynamics of the situation – particularly that the lama has broken his part in the teacher student relationship and therefore the required dynamics for transformation in a teaching sense are not present. They are also particularly ignorant on how such ideas have been distorted and used as a cult control mechanism.
The idea that students of any capacity can benefit from violent behaviour on the part of the lama must be discarded from Vajrayana, or at the very least, not emphasised and where it is mentioned, taught with a warning for how the idea is not an excuse or justification for harmful actions on the part of the lama. It does not bypass the lama’s responsibility to behave ethically and should not be used to make a student feel that they are a failure if their lama abuses them and they feel hurt by it.
Spiritual abuse is the worst kind of betrayal. To not feel hurt by it, rather than indicating some kind of realisation is more likely to indicate spiritual bypassing and supression of normal healthy human emotion. So don’t assume that feeling blessed rather than harmed, or experiencing what you interpret as a transendent state, indicates some kind of advanced spiritual capacity, it may just brainwashing and the kind of dissasociative state people commonly enter as a response to trauma. Or it may not.
Only one thing is certain in this play of personal realities: whatever you believe will be what you experience as truth, and only by dropping all beliefs will you have any chance of seeing reality directly. If you are brave enough to drop all beliefs and look directly at what actually is, rather than assuming that the truth is what you want it to be, then you are a true dharma practictioner.
Stopping abuse requires community participation. If we are to root it out, it is up to all of us to become educated, and Robert Thurman is not behaving responsibly by propagating this victim blaming disguised as vajrayana.
However, to his credit, he did also make some good points about teaching tantra and made it clear how unscrupulous lamas use the teachings on pure perception to faciliate abuse:

So lamas dish out initiations and then use the aspect [of the teachings] that ‘I’m now a Buddha in your eyes, and anything you see about me that doesn’t look like a Buddha, you have to imagine it is’, and then they abuse you. And worst of all they cripple your learning ability, they make you helpless.” Bob Thurman. Abuse in Buddhism podcast.

So watch out for any lama who suggests that anything you see about them that doesn’t look like a Buddha, you have to imagine it is. That’s a misuse of the pure perception teachings.

Helpful Words on Devotion, Samaya and Pure Perception from Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo

In June 2019, Damcho Dyson, Tahlia Newland and Jacki Wicks are delivering a paper together on Sogyal Rinpoche’s abuse and the fallout it caused as part of the  Sakyadhita International  Association of Buddhist Women’s 16th International Conference. Jacki emailed Tenzin Palmo asking about an aspect of the conference and also asked what her  thinking was on things like samaya and guru devotion in the context of abusive teachers. I found Tenzin Palmo’s reply refreshingly sensible and direct and asked if I could post it here. She gave her permission, so here it is:

Samaya goes both ways:  the student has samaya to the teacher but the teacher also has samaya to the student.  The student’s samaya is to cultivate devotion, trust and openness in order to receive the mind blessings of the guru.  The teacher’s samaya is, through their knowledge and compassion, to develop the spiritual potential of the student. Therefore we must ask, do the actions and words of the guru lead to the students’ well-being, advancement on the path and general feeling of enrichment – or not?

Spiritual teachers cannot use the Dharma as an excuse for licentious or abusive behaviour.   Tantra isn’t about coercing vulnerable women into having sex.  Where is the compassion in exerting your position of power and authority to betray the very people who trust and obey you?  Where are basic ethics and kindness?

If the students (usually -but not always – female) as a result of a sexual relationship with the guru, do feel enhanced, empowered and confident, then that was skilful means on the part of the teacher.  But if the result is humiliation, confusion and disillusionment, then where is the wisdom and compassion in that?  Where have they been helped?

Clearly the manipulative nature of these encounters causes so much distress.  It all seems so egocentric and devoid of empathy. How can these teachers justify such behaviour to themselves?  Although it is a mixture of power, loneliness, emotional immaturity and so on, still this does not excuse the kind of behaviour that would be condemned by anyone anywhere.  That these teachers do have problems is one thing, but that they cannot use their own training to deal with these issues (or even acknowledge them) is really a problem!  Actually, it is pathetic.  Gurus need to observe the same ethical standards as doctors, psychologists, teachers and so on in order to be trusted and respected and not to drag down the reputation of Buddhism.

As Mingyur Rinpoche pointed out, we cultivate pure perception towards everyone, not just the guru. Nonetheless, present day lamas are not Guru Rinpoche or Tilopa, any more than the student is Yeshe Tsogyal or Naropa.  Is the student benefitted? Good. Is the student psychologically harmed?  Not good.  It is so simple.

Tibetan Buddhism is based on a feudal system of total authority (however corrupt) and abject obedience.  We do not need to go backwards to outdated social attitudes in order to be good practitioners. One troubling aspect is the effort to ‘cover up and defend’ by lamas who really should know better.  Part of the ‘Old Boys Club’ syndrome. To try to defend indefensible behaviour by quoting tantric texts and accuse the victims, is to equate Tantra with violence, over-indulgence and sexual predatory activity, which hardly speaks well of that method as a valid path to Enlightenment.

When students are instructed to never question the teacher and to do everything to please them, then of course it leaves the doors wide open to exploitation.  This feudal thinking has to be tempered with common sense and common caution.  If it feels wrong – don’t do it, no matter who asks you.  It is not breaking Samaya to say No.
As someone said: ‘…the happiness of the privileged is based on never starting the process towards becoming accountable…… the revelation of truth is tremendously dangerous to supremacy.’

So be grateful for what teachings the Lama has given and appreciate everything that has been helpful.  But do not feel guilty about seeing and acknowledging where the boundaries have been overstepped by the teacher.  The fault is with limitations and wrong conduct of the guru.  Better luck next time.
All good wishes in the Dharma,
Tenzin Palmo


NB: Tenzin Palmo was NOT a student of Chogyam Trungpa. Read her biography here: http://tenzinpalmo.com/jetsunma-tenzin-palmo/
If any of you would like to donate a little something to help Damcho and Tahlia get to the conference to deliver the paper in person click here.

Dangerous Ideas that Support Abuse

Orgyen Tobgyal promotes violence

In Paris last year at the Rigpa Centre, Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche publicly said about spiritual teachers, “Such great beings, whether it coresponds to western ideas or not, if they kill someone, it’s fine.Whatever they do is for the benefit of sentient beings” and “Beating hard increases wisdom.” Click here to see notes on the full talk. The quotes above are are in question 3.
His talk fostered beliefs that support Sogyal Lakar/Rinpoche abusing his students and details examples of other such behaviour from spiritual teachers that he holds up as something to emulate. He doesn’t believe Sogyal did anything wrong. In saying that he saw “nothing extraordinary” in the back scratcher, he was referring specifically to regular beatings Sogyal Lakar/Rinpoche gave students using his back scratcher. These assualts were verified by the Lewis Silkin Independent report into the abuse.
Is this a teacher you should be supporting, following, inviting to your centre or listening to? Are these ideas ones you want to believe? Are they healthy for society and individuals or harmful? Should you be part of an organisation that invites such a person to their centre?

The Buddha taught people to use their intelligence and not follow anyone who preached ideas that caused harm.

And yet Rigpa takes the advice of this man

Orgyen Topgyal is one of Rigpa’s “spiritual” advisors and he is about to undertake a major visit to Australia (details here: https://www.rigpa.org.au/orgyen-tobgyal-rinpoche/).
But I suspect that many in Rigpa in Australia and elsewhere are not aware of what he said in Paris and that he is a man who publically supports Sogyal’s abuse of his students. I think they need to  know this, and they need to be encourged to really think about whether these are ideas they should be taking on board. So please share this information with your Rigpa friends and ask them if these are healthy ideas to be taking on board.
Of course his full talk to Rigpa Paris is indoctrination that supports the power structure that allowed Sogyal to abuse his students for decades, so by the time they read down to question 3 where he makes clear his view that abuse by teachers is perfectly acceptable, they may have lost their ability to see what he says clearly, so you’ll need to get them to read question 3 or quote it to them.
Dangerous beliefs are the core of the problem here and until we make it clear that such beliefs are not healthy and not acceptable in the West, abuse can still happen in Tibetan Buddhism.

 
 


Current and previous students of Rigpa can participate in private discussion on this and other abuse-related topics on our What Now? Facebook Group. If you’re interested in joining, please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
People from any Vajrayana sangha can join the Survivors of Vajrayana Abuse and Allies Facebook group for support. Click the link to request to join.
Anyone who has left a Buddhist sangha that had an abusive teacher can join the  Beyond the Temple Facebook Group. The focus in this group is not on the abuse, but on ourselves and our spiritual life as we recover from our experience and look to the future. Click here and request to join.
The What Now? Reference Material page has links to a wealth of articles in the topics related to abuse in Buddhist communities. For links to places to assist in healing from abuse see the sangha care resources page.
Those of you who are interested in ‘keeping Buddhism clean’ could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page, which posts links to related articles as they come to hand.

Dzongsar Khyentse's London talk.

Dzongsar Khyentse’s Rigpa London talk has been posted on You Tube. It’s in two parts. They’re 4 hours in total.
You could listen on your phone with ear buds in while you clean the house, or weed the garden or drive to work! Or not.
Anyway, if you watch them,  let us know your thoughts, and if you don’t watch you could maybe tell us why. A good questin to ask is have these talks (this and the others in this tour) helped ensure that the abuse that occured in Rigpa will never happen again in any Tibetan Buddhist organisation?  That is what I’d like to see come out of all this.

 

 
 

Another View on DZK's talks

The following, written by Topden, appeared first as a comment on a Facebook post as a reply to someone who essentially said they were finding it hard to see anything positive about DZK’s talks because they had experienced abuse at the hands of two Tibetan Lamas who were operating under the same belief system as DZK was expounding.
I asked permission to post it here as an example of one way to view the teachings. Anyone with a different view is welcome to submit a guest post.
Sorry it’s so long.
Tahlia


Any kind of abuse, physical, emotional or psychological can be deeply damaging, and I truly wish healing to those who experience it as well as those who are the perpetrators, as the pain they inflict on others arises out of their own suffering and confusion. I also deeply wish that it doesn’t turn into an obstacle that cannot be worked with and transformed on the path for spiritual practitioners.
My experience of the talks is not any less influenced by my own pre-conceived notions or previous experiences, because naturally they are, and that is true for everyone. The interesting point simply is my experience is quite different. To out myself from the start, I do like DJK’s teaching style, approach and explanation of the Dharma and feel I have benefited (and been challenged) by him in that regard. Also I have no personal experience of abuse of this kind in a Dharma setting so that might make me a bit naive.

What DZK is and is not doing.

As far as I see it, and by what he has said in his talks, DJK isn’t coming to Rigpa to play judge and jury or directly try and heal the emotional and psychological damage of those who were subject to the abusive behaviours outlined in the letter. I am not even sure if that is his role to play, but in any case it is a role he isn’t trying to play, rightly or wrongly. What he does seem concerned about is trying to explain and correct misunderstandings about the Vajrayana in particular, which from my point of view is a way he can help contribute towards the reduction of further abuse and harm occurring in the future, as well as preserving a tradition that for many is beneficial and free from the kind of abuse we have heard about at Rigpa.
DJK is also trying to make sense of the immensity of the situation and is but one voice in a dialogue to that end. In the meantime he is teaching the Vajrayana from what he has learnt from his teachers and the texts and encouraging others to study and not just take the Lamas’ words for it.
Here are some of the points that I can remember him making in his writing and talks so far, that I think help towards these ends:

Points for the future.

  • He emphasised more study, practice and preparation, which, as we know, is a protection against being duped or sucked into harmful relationships or situations. Knowledge and insight is empowering.
  • He said that it is the Tibetans who are at fault for joining spiritual power with temporal power and making the Vajrayana into a public affair with mass empowerments etc. which is not how it originally was in India, where instead there were very private Vajrayana student-teacher relationships between competent individuals.
  • He said that SR was at fault in recreating the spiritual/temporal Tibetan cultural set up within Rigpa, which has nothing to do with Dharma, Vajrayana or otherwise.
  • He said that SR is totally wrong if he did not correctly prepare his students and then acted as if they were in a Vajrayana student-teacher relationship with him.
  • With regards to samaya he mentioned that in the above case the so-called teacher is at fault far more than the student, because the teacher should know better.
  • He said that Student Devotion is equally, if not more important, than Guru Devotion. Personally, I don’t think I have heard much or anything about the concept of Student Devotion from other teachers and am interested to hear more from him about that.
  • He said in terms of conduct that teachers should act outwardly like a Sravakayana practitioner, inwardly as a Mahayana practitioner and only secretly as a Vajrayana practitioner.
  • He has said that the Vajrayana isn’t necessary or a path for everyone, and if it is to be undertaken, then it is to be done so after much study, practice and analysis of the teacher and student and through complete choice and volition as a way to train the mind, but once the decision is made it wouldn’t be an effective method if it could be opted out of any moment the ego feels challenged or uncomfortable.I would say this implies that the uncomfortableness is held within the perspective and profound understanding gained from the previous training, practice and analysis of the teacher and is therefore known to be part of the path by the student in a deep way but nevertheless still has to be experientially worked through as a point of mind training. In all the examples DJK uses here to elucidate this point, there is no mention of abuse, be that physical, emotional, sexual or otherwise, rather they are ones like being told to “keep Wednesday a secret” as a way for the student to train the mind and go beyond dualistic thinking.

On Abuse.

When questioned about a Vajrayana master using what looks like abusive methods, he says that if they are a Mahasiddha and they are performed out of wisdom/compassion (with the understanding that the student has been properly prepared, both sides have analysed and entered into a Vajrayana student-teacher relationship; because anything less than that is totally wrong) to benefit the student, then there is room for this in the tradition and as we know there are many examples of this, so that should not surprise anyone. If we don’t like that fact about the tradition, then we don’t need to follow the Vajrayana path or engage in a Vajrayana style student-teacher relationship and that is okay. What DJK is continually pointing out however is that the context those examples occurred in are completely different historically, culturally and inter-personally, to the historical and cultural context at Rigpa and the relationship SR had with his students as the relationships were not based on the correct foundations, as far as he is aware and can get a sense of.

Not a mahasiddha, thinking for oneself and opposite interpretations.

When he used the example of the mahasiddha, by saying that he isn’t one, you might interpret it as if he were hiding behind non-discrimination and that no one could therefore judge SR and his behaviour. I interpreted it differently, partly because he immediately went on to make value judgements and discriminate, like the points I mentioned above about Rigpa and SR. Also, he was telling people not to take what he says as the proclamation of a Buddha, as he [DZK] has his own projections. In other words, you need to think for yourself, which for Rigpa students if what people are saying is true, could be quite radical for them to hear. Moreover, within the context of what he said about Tibetan culture and temporal power, he could have basically been saying, “I am not a Lord and you are not my Serf, wake up, discriminate!” Ironically, what I interpret he was saying and doing there has been interpreted by some as the complete opposite. I am not saying here that either of our interpretations are totally right or wrong, but it is interesting that they can be so different based on our individual projections etc, which is what DJK said would happen and is a teaching in itself. So it gladdens me when people highlight this when their opinions have an online following.

Obedience.

Later, using himself as an example, he said there are some things he would not be able to do if his teachers asked him and that was okay, but at the very least he would make an aspiration to be able to do them in the next life. If that personal example isn’t a way to help people relax around what they currently understand as Guru Devotion being a very rigid, completely obedient, blind following of an authority figure kind of trip, then I don’t know what is.

Tibetan Lamas.

He also mentioned that Tibetan teachers like OTR should know better and make an effort in understanding westerners and western culture more, but many, including OTR don’t and that is a big problem.

Not black and white.

I cannot see anything in what DJK has written or said so far that justifies or legitimises SR at all in terms of SR’s training or lack of training, how he set up the culture in Rigpa, how he hasn’t prepared his students properly and how in not doing so then acting abusively is totally wrong behaviour. However, that does not mean, I am sorry to say, that SR is totally evil or that he hasn’t benefited anyone at all. People are complex, situations are complex, nothing is black and white, inconveniently, but it is far easier psychologically to so order reality in that way.
That’s what the media does, that’s what the human mind which oscillates between extremes does every moment, and that is what the Dharma, the Middle Way, is in part trying to liberate sentient beings from, as far as I understand. That’s not to say no actions are wrong or right on the conventional level because they are, and they should be opposed and rectified or cultivated and promoted, respectively, in ourselves, others, organisations and society at large. But people are not totally bad or totally wrong or totally good or totally right, generally (Guru Yoga and Pure Perception is a practice) and that way of seeing things is what in part entraps people in unwholesome situations and relationships in the first place, as they abandon any critical analysis by blindly thinking and therefore feeling a person is 100% good (attachment/grasping), then after that fantasy is disappointed they become 100% bad (aversion/hatred). That right there is Samsaric thinking; suffering and is to be challenged. Sitting in the middle of that, with all the confusion and unknowing, is as far as I can tell part of the practice. Life is like one big, long (if we are lucky) Zen Koan!

Challenging negativity bias.

What I personally feel needs to be challenged here in particular and generally in life, is negativity bias, which is when the mind is drawn to, focuses on and dwells on the negative at a higher level of frequency and at detriment to the higher instances of positive things or occurrences. Negativity bias, when left unchecked can contribute to general anxiety, low moods and distorts our perception of reality. This has an evolutionary component in so much that noticing what was lacking, wrong or dangerous helped in survival by protecting against all kinds of threat to physical life. Most of these physical threats have been removed for many of us, however the underlying negativity bias mechanism continues to operate on a psychological/identity ego level. To me there is a lot of negativity bias going on in some places with regards to DJK’s talks. No one seems to be acknowledging that he is taking the time to talk, answer difficult questions and provide an ongoing platform for discussion and dialogue. Instead there is cherry picking, extracting a few lines of text from hours of talks or a whole book, looking for what fits an already negative narrative and caricaturing him as a villain. What’s more, some people seem to be responding to him as if he has committed the abuse himself because of his association with Rigpa. A positive aspect of Rigpa, that DJK points out and I agree with, is that it invites and hosts many different teachers, and I wonder where the Rigpa Sangha would be now if that was never the case? So, perhaps the human tendency towards negativity bias and the mindful application of recognising what is good and useful is worthy of some attention here.

Pure perception and trust.

Ironically, the controversial and as far as I can see often misunderstood practice of pure perception, goes against the deepest grain of negativity bias. However, it is a practice to be done only with someone we trust without doubt has our best interests at heart, a conclusion the student comes to due to their previous study, practice and analysis. As we know, the Lam Rim has a lot to say about how to recognise an authentic teacher, what qualities they should have and DJK dedicates time to this in his book, The Guru Drinks Bourbon, as well.

Silence and evaluating a teacher.

As for the question of how we can analyse a teacher if their student’s cannot speak about their methods, it presupposes that the methods a teacher uses with one student shall be the same as the methods they use with another, which as far as I understand may not be true due to the unique, fluid and dynamic nature of each individual Vajrayana student-teacher relationship, therefore, analysis made on that basis may well turn out to be unhelpful in any case. I would suggest it more beneficial to focus on getting to know the teacher’s qualities, (which isn’t a purely intellectual endeavour but one also of the heart that is helped through personal practice) however long that takes, and trusting what their motivation is, however long that takes, because then the methods will be understood within that context, whatever they may be. Moreover, as DJK explained, if you find a teacher that you cannot get close to, then perhaps they aren’t for you. And as has been mentioned again and again, a Vajrayana teacher-student relationship isn’t mandatory at all.

Recognising the difficulty.

I recognise the extreme difficulty here in attempting to call out injustice and abuse to protect future individuals as it is fraught with many outer, inner and no doubt secret (people’s blind spots to mention one) obstacles. It is not one I think I could manage as I would not know where to draw the line between exposing abuse and protecting people and their connection to the Dharma and exposing abuse and therefore turning people off the Dharma before a genuine connection can be made. Gun shots always make more noise than hugs, but that doesn’t mean there are more gunshots in the world than hugs, although it can seem that way if we simply believe our ears and people generally do. To those of you who are brave enough to walk this tightrope, I salute you! 👏
I do believe, or perhaps pray and hope, much like DJK also said, that bringing these issues to light and the subsequent interest and discussions that result, will in the end strengthen the authentic Dharma, help protect future people from being led astray or being prey to those who would use it for their own ends, as it takes root in the West at this relatively early stage.
May it bring benefit!
P.S. DJK can be a provocateur and confronting, and I think that is either a turn on or turn off for many. The good news is that no one has to listen to anything he has to say about anything. We must also know that we do not have to totally accept or totally reject what anyone says, Lamas or otherwise. Instead we can take what we personally find useful and leave what we don’t or are unsure about.
Topden


 
Current and previous students of Rigpa wanting private support are welcome to join the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
Ex-Rigpa students and their dharma friends who want to move on from the discussion of abuse in Rigpa can stay in touch through the Dharma Companions Facebook Group.  
The What Now? Reference Material page has links to a wealth of articles in the topics related to abuse in Buddhist communities. For links to places to assist in healing from abuse see the sangha care resources page.
 

Vajrayana Buddhism in the Modern World.

Dzongsar Kyentse’s talks in Europe have begun. The first, in Berlin, was titled “Vajrayana Buddhism in the Modern World” and it has been uploaded unedited to the Rigpa videos You Tube channel in both English and German. It also appears on the Sidharta’s Intent channel.
It’s 3 hours, so quite a committment to watch, so my house got cleaned from top to bottom while I listened on my phone.  Depending on how you feel about DZK, you might feel some aversion to the idea of listening at all, but I found it well worth listening to. He did make some important clarifications and needed critical commentary on the issue of the translation of Tibetan Buddhism into the West.

How to listen

I feel I do have to mention this, since my last post could be interpreted to mean that we listen only to see what isn’t true, which wasn’t my intention. In it I reminded you to not believe everything you hear out of respect alone, but to use your wisdom of discernment. Today I remind you to listen without ‘poison in your cup’, without hatred or aversion in your heart, but rather with the intention of trying to understand his points. As he points out, if we watch with a positive mind we will see the positive, if we watch with a negative mind we will see only negative. Our challenge is to listen with an open mind, not obscured by any assumptions or projections and with the intention of understanding what he is saying and whether it rings true for us or is helpful in light of the present situation.
I suggest you don’t expect anything either, because if you expect anything, you will probably be disappointed.
[Some of the following was edited and republished on March 1st 5.37pm AEDST]
I don’t want to say too much about it, because it’s better you consider it for yourself, but I feel I need to warn you about the begining or some of you you may not get past it, and the edifications and criticisms of how lamas teach come later. So stick with it. There are some good dharma teachings here; the issues in my mind are not the varjayana when correctly understood, but our attitudes towards it and how we apply it.

Stuff to wade through

Something that might scream at some of you is that in the first hour he appears to denigrate the teachings of the shravakayana and Mahayana by calling them Cinderella teachings, teachings the Buddha didn’t really mean. He referred to the vinyana as for babies with a lot of desire and equates the Vajrayana with the real thing, the teachings the Buddha meant, the ones equated with wisdom. I looked past his inflamatory use of language, but if you don’t find that so easy, note that he does later say that all the shravaka and mahayana teachings are the basis of vajryana and cannot be discarded. The perceived arrogance could just be a poor choice of words.

He claims to care about the ‘alleged victims’ a lot, but that he cares beyond emotional or physical hurt; he cares for their seed of enlightenment and continuous spiritual path. He cares about the doubts they have about the Buddhadharma and Vajrayana. ‘I care so much,’ he says, then he adds: ‘By caring you just don’t want to lend your shoulder to cry upon, you want to do something more.’

Victims could find this an ignorant denigration of their situation and sufferings because he appears to belittle their immediate needs for care as just needing a pat on the back and a shoulder to cry  on, and he seems to denigrate any comforting form of compassion as irrelevant to the bigger picture of their spiritual path. I expect after being abused to the degree that some people have here, their spiritual path is the least of their worries, and despite his best intentions, this kind of attitude can come across as cold and uncaring. Christian missionaries attend to the needs of their communities for food, shelter and clean water, why can’t Buddhists also attend to the immediate needs of those suffering, especially when the suffering has occured at the hands of the Buddhist they were supposed to revere. Also to use the words ‘alleged’ at this stage does not even acknowledge the truth of their suffering. Worse, this is the exact attitude that caused them so much pain when trying to get help within Rigpa.
This really is a major point that DZK and those running Rigpa need to understand. Spouting absolute doctrine does not help someone suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome from trauma caused, in part, by people’s belief in and misguided application of that very doctrine. And it’s not a matter of changing the doctrine, but of making sure it is taught completely so it does not deny relative existence.
It seems to be a case of placing absolute doctrine over the actual needs of a person, a hallmark of a fundamentalist attitude (a strict literalism applied to an ideology). And yet, right at the end, he describes how we should deal with a situation where a sangha member comes to us saying they are in fear of being raped by the guru, and you might find his advice surprising.
I absolutely do not want to appear negative here, and so I mention this only  to encourage you to watch past the bits you might take issue with. And note that these are things that were insinuated by word choice and lack of clarification, not things he stated outright, and so may possibly be only your own projections.
He does say some very useful things that should provide food for thought for Tibetan lamas as well as vajrayana students and Rigpa management.

The nature and responsibility of the guru

I didn’t want to say much, damn it, I need to get on with an editing job for which I’m actually being paid, but in the interests of balance and of encouraging you to watch the whole thing, I also want to mention his important clarifications on the nature and responsibilities of the guru, and the issues of how vajrayana has been taught in the West.
DZK reminds us of a vital point, that of the outer, inner and secret aspects of the guru, and of the point of guru yoga. He clarifies what a tantric guru actually is, and the difference between that kind of relationship and the relationship you have with the head of an organisation. They are not the same thing, and confusing the two has caused a lot of our problems. He even admits that Tibtan lamas are severely lacking in their understanding of Western people and have misused the guru ‘system’.
Despite the issues raised previously (which I point out not in order to criticise, but because for the sake of the dharma DZK needs to be made aware of them) there is much of worth in this talk and we must remember that it is only the beginning of a series of talks.
This is a talk about vajrayana, not about applying it to the situation of abuse by a guru. Rather than talk about the guru’s behaviour, he talks about the guru’s responsibilities. Only at the end where questions are read out do we get closer to the issue.
When asked if a guru has the right to beat his students, DZK replies, “If the guru’s actions damage even a little bit the seed of bodhicitta, pure perception, guru devotion, the guru will have to take the responsibility more than the student because he should know better.”
He gives some interesting insight into OT as well.
So here’s the video.

Opinions

There’s a lot in this talk that could be discussed, like the point that DZK really does need to talk to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Mingyur Rinpoche. Joanne Clark goes into this point in a post on the Buddhism Contraversy Blog.
And here is a short video that was posted on the Sogyal Truth Channel by someone who was clearly expecting more than they got. I have no idea who made it, and I feel it’s a bit mean in that it does not give any credence for the fact that DZK does actually say some very useful things, and that the talk was about vajrayana in the modern world, not specifically on abuse. However, I include it because it may bring some humour to the situation, and I think their point is that we are still a long way from addressing the actual issue of abuse in Tibetan Buddhism. Even so, I suggest that when watching DZK’s talk that you look for what he does say, not at what he doesn’t say.

The question that won’t go away

DZK also talks about secrecy and admits that it’s a difficult word. He explains to some extent its meaning in the context of vajrayana, but it still affirms the ‘don’t criticise’ dogma. After reports from DZK’s talk to the sangha in Berlin (which will be shown only to the Rigpa sangha) one point becomes glaringly obvious.
When students are silenced by a code of secrecy, such that they are not allowed to tell others what their teacher does to them and others, we can’t know what a teacher’s private ‘methods’ are, in which case how can we evaluate him or her? It’s not possible.
This is where the injunction against not criticising your teacher falls down – could vajrayana students not be ‘permitted’ to tell someone, ‘He hit me,’ with the good-hearted motivation to assist others in making an evaluation (as I believe the 8 letter writers did). Do we not have a responsibility to others to make sure that they have the information they need to evaluate fully?
And if we do decide that we are willing to take a lama as our guru and in true tantric fashion we are willing to ‘accept that anything can happen’ (quote from the talk), how can we trust that the teacher will not abuse our open acceptance and by their actions ‘damage the seed of bodhicitta, pure perception, and guru devotion’ in us?

The core of the cult issue must be addressed

Note – this section is not a commentary or criticism on the talk or an opinion on it. It’s just noting a topic that I would like to see DZK address in the future.
Since DZK has taken the role of advisor to Rigpa, he needs to tackle the core reason why in the eyes of some Rigpa slips over the line between a beneficial religious organisation and a cult that causes harm. I believe that it lies in the way that some Rigpa members have and still do use the vajrayana teachings to judge, denigrate, blame, manipulate and ignore the suffering of others (not to mention defending their own little kingdoms) all in the guise of being true to the vajrayana. According to some reports, this behaviour is so entrenched in the higher levels of the organisation that they are probably not even aware that they are doing it. I doubt they intend to do it, either, but it’s what some have experienced and why many do not trust those who stood by and allowed the abuse to flourish and continue. So as well as clarifying the meaning of vajrayana, what is needed in Rigpa is to examine how beliefs in samaya, pure perception, devotion and the very nature of vajrayana have been used as weapons against others – and note that I have seen this kind of judgement and condemnation in an email from someone in the highest level of management to one of the 8 letter writers.
For example; judging those who thought that Sogyal had caused people harm and declaring that they lacked pure perception, didn’t have enough devotion, didn’t understand vajrayana, didn’t have the capacity to be a vajrayana student and were samaya breakers who would go to vajra hell. Take a look at the comments on some of my You Tube videos and on the Dharma Protector’s Facebook page to see the kind of vehemence with which these kinds of ideas can and have been be wielded.
Whether or not the statements are true or not for any individual person is not the point, the point is that such statements have been used in Rigpa to legitimalise all sorts of sordid behaviour and to silence those who saw it as wrong. Anyone can believe what they want, but if they use their beliefs in a way that causes harm, it is not only the mark of a cult but also, as the Buddha said in the Kalama Sutta, something we should abandon.

So, as I said, Kalamas: ‘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.’

Please note that I am not talking here about the vajrayana as something to abandon, or about DZK’s talk, but about the teachings of the vajrayana being used in a harmful (and presumably wrong) way. Despite all attempts at change, and despite some recent indications of positive moves in the right direction in Rigpa,  in some parts of the world people are still leaving Rigpa because this is what they see, so if Rigpa is to ever be truly healthy, this kind of thing must be addressed.
Of course, let’s not forget that there are some pretty mean comments flying towards Rigpa as well, often from people who were victims of abuse there themselves – that’s karma for you! But DZK is not in the role of advisor to those people, and if they have given up Buddhism all together, how they behave does not reflect upon it, and so is not his concern.
We are all unenlightened beings struggling with our own projections so I do not expect anyone to be perfect (their true nature excepted), and I have certainly not always acted skillfully myself, but anyone running a spiritual organisation needs to look very closely and honestly at their own hopes, fears and motivations, particularly in light of how they might be using their beliefs to judge, denigrate, blame, manipulate and ignore the suffering of others, for surely this is not the sort of application of the teachings that the great masters invisaged.

Just the start

The Berlin talk was, however, only the first in a series of talks.
Here’s the Lerab Ling talk.

I’ve listened to some of it, and I wonder if DZK realises that by saying that ‘Buddhism is above the law’, he has said that practictioners are exempt from the law, that the law does not apply to us. In other words that we can murder, rape, steal and abuse with impunity. I hope that is not his meaning, but unfortunately, that is what is meant by saying it is ‘above the law’.  Such a statement waves a red flag to a cult investigator. It’s also in direct contradiction to what HHDL and Mingyur Rinpoche have said. I really wish he would speak to them, for they are both very clear on the importance of staying true to the teachings, but both of them have said we must abide by the laws of the land. To say that we are ‘above the law’ is so extreme, so dangerous an idea, (remember the tantric practitioner Charles Manson? That’s what he thought), that I can only hope he does not really understand the full English meaning of what he has said. I don’t think the French police will be happy to hear such a statement.
Anyway, people have told me that there are many gems in this talk and that it is well worth listening to. I respect DZK for tackling the problems, but I think he needs an English language advisor – just to be sure he knows what he’s saying.
May all those who were harmed be healed. Tahlia.


Current and previous students of Rigpa wanting private support are welcome to join the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
Ex-Rigpa students and their dharma friends who want to move on from the discussion of abuse in Rigpa can stay in touch through the Dharma Companions Facebook Group.  
The What Now? Reference Material page has links to a wealth of articles in the topics related to abuse in Buddhist communities. For links to places to assist in healing from abuse see the sangha care resources page.

Response to Bernie from Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche

Yesterday Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche sent a letter to Bernie S in reply to a letter Bernie sent to him last August. The August letter was published on the How Did it Happen Blog and a link to it was posted here. Rinpoche requested that we also post a link to his reply. It begins with ….
Dear Bernie,
I am sorry for not responding much sooner to your letter of 23rd August. The main reason is that I’m just so lazy but also pretend to be busy – a pretence that ends up actually making me busy. In fact, I had started to respond to your letter months ago but somehow never got around to finishing this return letter till now.
However, I want to assure you that, because the Buddhadharma and especially the Vajrayana are dear to my heart, I do pay attention as much as time allows to what you and others write. So, from my heart, I want to offer my sincere appreciation for the great effort and thoughtfulness you and many others have been putting into the dialogue of the past seven months. …
Read the rest of the letter here.


 
Current and previous students of Rigpa wanting private support are welcome to join the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
Ex-Rigpa students and their dharma friends who want to move on from the discussion of abuse in Rigpa can stay in touch through the Dharma Companions Facebook Group.  
The What Now? Reference Material page has links to a wealth of articles in the topics related to abuse in Buddhist communities. For links to places to assist in healing from abuse see the sangha care resources page.

Tsoknyi Rinpoche Responds

Email sent

Around a month ago, a group of 20 Rigpa and ex-Rigpa students sent an email to  teachers  listed as teaching in Lerab Ling in the coming year. Included was a copy of the letter by the 8 to make sure that they could read it for themselves, a summary of the issues that had arisen in the sangha as a result of the reveleations, and a request for them to teach on topics that would be helpful to students in processing the allegations. Our concern was that the issue of abuses of power were being swept under the carpet in the interests of business as usual, and that this was detrimental to the students. We felt that visiting teachers were in a good position to help students if they didn’t ignore the ‘elephant in the closet’ and actually addressed the issues that had come up.
The email was sent to Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche,  Dzigar Kontrul, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Ringu Tulku, Jetsun Palmo, Kamdrul Rinpoche, Philippe Cornu, Alain Beauregard, Christine Longaker, and Pascale Tanant. We ony received replies from Jetsun Khandro, Dzigar Kontrul, Jetsun Palmo and Tsoknyi Rinpoche.  Jetsun Khandro and Dzigar Kontrul were decent enough to reply, but essentially only said that they were praying for the sangha. Jetsun Palmo was candid in her reply but did not want her comment made public.
It seems that even in Western teachers there is a desire not to become involved in the issue, even when a teacher’s misuse of power reflects badly on Tibetan Buddhism as a whole. All credit to those who have actually spoken up, like Matthieu Ricard and Venerable Thubten Chodron.
The silence from the majority of recipients is telling, especially in contrast to the reply from Tsoknyi Rinpoche, who not only gave a careful reply to our letter but also gave permission for us to publish it.

Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s reply

He said that he had read the letter from the 8 carefully and that:
“I am increasingly more aware of the situation and have informally talked to some students in Europe and the U.S. Also, I have read some of the letters by other Rinpoches and teachers.
“My commitment, to the best of my abilities, is to teach pure dharma, especially when there is a deep need.
“I do agree fully with what Mingyur Rinpoche wrote and the importance of ethics in dharma by teachers and students, including the need for teachers to practice ethical behavior. What he said is very important:

[Quote from Mingyur Rinpoche’s Lions Roar article] . . .  the violation of ethical norms needs to be addressed. If physical or sexual abuse has occurred, or there is financial impropriety or other breaches of ethics, it is in the best interest of the students, the community, and ultimately the teacher, to address the issues. Above all, if someone is being harmed, the safety of the victim comes first. This is not a Buddhist principle. This is a basic human value and should never be violated.

“I do value my long-term friendship with Sogyal Rinpoche and want to acknowledge that he has helped many people with teachings, books and the dharma to flourish in a good way around the world. At the same time and apart from my personal relationships with him as with many Rinpoches and lamas, the ethical core of dharma is what is most essential (again this is expressed really clearly by Mingyur Rinpoche.) ”
In reply to the part of the letter detailing the aftermath of the revelations for the sangha, he said:
 
“I am aware of this, and although I don’t know all the details of the situation personally, I am most concerned about how to help with the suffering and trauma for all the students. When there is conflict everyone feels pain and confusion. I do want to focus, when I have the time to teach, on how to work more and more with skillful ways of healing.  My online course on Fully Being also addresses how to heal in different ways.”

Relieved

We were all very grateful to have this reply from Tsoknyi Rinpoche, and relieved that here was another lama we could trust, someone who is firmly committed to ethical behaviour from teachers.

Healing

Some ex-Rigpa students from the Dharma Companions Facebook group are doing Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s online course Fully Being and are finding it very helpful.
One such student said, “Tsoknyi Rinpoche is very good at helping students to not fall into spiritual bypassing of feelings and issues. He helps you to deal with issues, not just sweep them under the carpet in the name of ‘letting go’.”


Current and previous students of Rigpa wanting private support are welcome to join the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
Ex-Rigpa students and their dharma friends can stay in touch through the Dharma Companions Facebook Group.  
The What Now? Reference Material page has links to a wealth of articles in the topics related to abuse in Buddhist communities. For links to places to assist in healing from abuse see the sangha care resources page.
Those of you who are interested in ‘keeping Buddhism clean’ could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page. 
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