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.

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.

“THEY’RE A***HOLES” – MY FIRST VISIT TO LERAB LING

This is a guest post from someone who had an ‘enlightening’ experience at Lerab Ling. It’s anonymous, but none-the-less truthful. The author simply doesn’t want to open themselves up to abuse. This person’s experience shows the attitude at the core of the Rigpa organisation towards to issue of Sogyal’s abuse.

I wrote the following after visiting Lerab Ling last September. I chose not to publish it at that time as I wanted to give Rigpa the chance to “do the right thing” in responding to the report that had recently been published upholding the abuse allegations against Sogyal Rinpoche. I am sharing it now for two reasons. Firstly, nine months have gone by without Rigpa accepting the testimonies in the report as true. Secondly, via a third party I received a message that Vinciane Rycroft of the Rigpa “Vision Board” had requested I share what happened when I was there.  I have chosen to do this publicly rather than privately as I feel it would be more beneficial.

Lerab Ling open day

I decided to take a week out to travel from around Montpellier in France down to north-east Spain, where I was to go on a Salvador Dali-related pilgrimage. Through the wonders of Google I discovered that the Buddhist centre at Lerab Ling, in a lovely location near Montpellier, was having an open weekend at that time, where one could even stay overnight. Although I have some Buddhist friends, I had never been anywhere like that in my life, so I booked a night.

However, between booking and arriving I saw news in the press about the report of the independent investigation into the abuse allegations about Sogyal Rinpoche, which made pretty shocking reading. So I hoped that while I was there I might get some insights into how they were feeling about it.

When I arrived, they explained that there was an organised retreat going on (the nature of which no one would tell me) but that there were also private retreatants staying and said I was welcome to join them for a meditation class in the morning. Having never tried meditation, I immediately agreed.

A meditation class

After breakfast, I gathered with others outside the impressive temple. The class was in an upstairs room in the temple with a vista of the woods. A picture of the Dalai Lama was prominently displayed, as it was in the temple below (I saw no images of Sogyal Rinpoche there). I was pleased to be allowed to meditate from a chair as I’m not good cross-legged.

The class was led by Sinsi Ong, who, from his bio on the Lerab Ling website seems to be one of the regular meditation teachers. I recognised him from dinner the night before, where I had seen him engaged in lengthy and intense conversation with some retreatants, who seemed to be listening closely to him. 

I enjoyed the class and the meditation. Sinsi encouraged us to ask questions and whilst meditating I felt strongly that I would like to have a conversation with him. So afterwards I waited while he patiently and clearly explained to one of the private retreatants the difference between “self-cherishing” and simply being egotistical, which made me feel even more sure he was a good person to discuss my first meditation experience with.

Broaching the topic of abuse

We then spoke about that for a while and, since he seemed happy to talk, I broached the subject of what I had read in the press and asked him what he thought about it. He started by saying that “something had clearly gone wrong”, that people had been harmed and that they needed to look at how this had happened.

I recounted that the previous night I had been chatting to a German student who was on the main retreat, who called Sogyal Rinpoche “my teacher”. When I asked if he was still her teacher she had gone silent and blanked me. Sinsi explained that some people couldn’t accept it and were very closed: he tried to talk with them, but in the end he had to respect that where they were was different from where he was.

I asked him how he personally viewed Sogyal Rinpoche and he replied with a Japanese word, which he said meant “a riddle” – in terms of weighing up what he had done versus the benefit of his teachings. He told me they viewed it as an opportunity for learning.

He said that Sogyal was his teacher but had retired and was now on retreat. I asked if Sogyal was still his teacher, in the sense of receiving teachings. He didn’t reply. I tried asking more directly if Sogyal was still teaching in some way. He did not reply.

In terms of the meditation classes, he said, “People are begging us to continue with the classes. They say, “We know things have happened but please don’t stop.” That’s the reason that I stay and continue.”

Attitude towards those who broke the silence

Then came something I really hadn’t expected.

“Anyway,” he added with a shrug, “These people were arseholes.”

 “Who?” I asked, “The people who wrote the letter?”

“YES!! They were arseholes!”

I must admit, it was not a word or an attitude I had expected to come from the person who had been patiently and peacefully leading me through my first meditation a short time before. He went on to explain that everybody at Lerab Ling considered them to be problem people. He said that talking with them had made him feel shame because of the things they said and their wrong ideas.

“Even the monastics?” I asked.

 “YES!!”

I pointed out that to take up precepts as a nun or monk was a huge commitment, a bigger commitment, surely, than he himself had ever made. He replied that it had taken him years to see monastics as not being perfect. That was clearly not a problem any more.

I mentioned that many of the people he referred to were key helpers or leaders. He replied, “You can’t always get good people,” adding that you just have to put up with what you have.

In Tibet it’s normal for students to be hit

He stressed that all the letter writers had problems with learning Sogyal Rinpoche’s teachings and went on to discuss at length the fact that in Tibet it is normal for students to be hit and said that they need it. He told me how Tibetan teachers throw stones at students, but what they are doing is hitting their chakra points, like in their forehead, to open their minds. I replied that punching someone hard in the stomach, as had been described, is not anything beneficial. He answered, “There’s a chakra point in the stomach!” with great relish, as if it cleverly settled that argument.

I discussed a personal story about a teacher I liked very much in secondary school who, after 4 years, hit me. It didn’t help me at all, it just made me feel sorry for him, that he had lowered himself to doing that, and it made me lose my respect for him and my trust in him. Sinsi nodded but did not reply to this.

I argued that surely if this method of hitting people worked, then one should see results: an improvement, not just suffering. If a teacher hit somebody 10 times, without any beneficial effect then surely that wasn’t working? Is he supposed to hit them 20 times, 50 times? Sinsi did not answer.

So I said “One of the witnesses in the report was hit over 200 times: surely it was therefore not working?”

He replied, smiling, “I don’t know. I can’t say.” as if this was just a mystery of Buddhist wisdom.

Minimising the issue

Sinsi pointed out that Rigpa itself had commissioned the report – which was evidence of their good intentions. He kept talking about the witnesses in the report as “these 20 people” in a manner which implied that this was the total number of people who had ever had a problem with Sogyal Rinpoche, as opposed to the ones who had been brave enough to talk. I also found it interesting that he (or someone) had counted them.

More than once he stated that Sogyal Rinpoche had apologised, but I have not since come across anything that could be described as an apology – in the conventional sense of recognising what you did wrong and then saying sorry.

Culturally subjective ethics

Sinsi talked about the limitations of thinking in terms of “good or bad”, arguing that morality and ethics were culturally subjective and varied from one place to another. So, I asked if it would be OK for a teacher to kill someone.

His reply was to tell the story of “Captain Super Compassionate” – a previous incarnation of Buddha –  killing a man on his boat who he had realised would was going to kill all 500 passengers. Not only did he do good by saving their lives but he also prevented that man from going to hell as a result of committing murder. Captain Super Compassionate still suffered for doing it, but it was with good intention and he was taking the bad karma on himself – so it was a kind of compassionate self-sacrifice to kill the man. I tried to say that the same could be said of people who reluctantly fight in war to protect others, but he insisted it could not be applied because their intention was not pure.  (I failed to see why Captain Super Compassionate didn’t simply tie up or lock up the bad man, rather than killing him, but didn’t say this.)

So Sinsi’s reply to the question of whether it was OK for teachers to kill people was a story of justifiable homicide. When I pushed him further on the subject of ethics, his manner changed, as if realising he may have gone too far and he pointed out that Rigpa had now drawn up an ethical code and stressed, “There is no place for abuse at Lerab Ling.” This sounded like a rehearsed statement and flatly contradicted the opinions he had expressed just moments before.

He argued that Sogyal came from Tibet, so would naturally have the mindset from that culture. I pointed out that Sogyal had left Tibet as a child and had actually spent the vast majority of his life in the West, so surely he should understand Western culture very well. I cited that I had lived abroad for 7 years and soon learned the different cultural norms in terms of behaviour and did not have a big problem adapting. Sinsi did not reply to this.

I brought up the necessity of abiding by the laws in the countries where you are. I mentioned the answer Jesus gave, when asked about whether people should obey the invaders – the Romans – which was, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and render to God what is God’s.”: meaning that whilst honouring your beliefs, you must also behave according to the law of the land. Sinsi seemed reluctant to agree with this.

Women enjoyed the sex

Instead, he began telling me that plenty of women really enjoyed having sex with Sogyal and were happy to do so. I replied that most rapists have also had conventional, consensual sexual relations. He visibly bristled at this.

“Let’s not go too far,” he said, “The report doesn’t say anything about rape.” I explained that I wasn’t referring to Sogyal Rinpoche, just making the general point that a person may have consensual sex and yet also be a rapist. He visibly reacted when I mentioned the word “rapist” again.

It comes down to karma

Referring to those who complained of being abused, Sinsi commented, “They were free to go any time they wanted. But they stayed. Why didn’t they go?” I asked him if he would simply go if there was something he didn’t like or if he would persevere. He said he would stay because of the benefit. So I suggested that the same thing might have happened to these people: despite being unhappy, they stayed in the hope that things would improve and/or because they didn’t want to throw everything away. It is a lot to walk away from after many years of commitment. He stressed again that they were free to go.

He summed up by saying that “It comes down to karma”. It was the karma of those people, he explained, what happened to them, either to do with something in this life or past ones.

Following his lead, I replied, “I see. So if that’s the case, then what is happening to you now and to everybody here is YOUR karma.” He sort of winced, whilst nodding. I went on, “And what has happened to Sogyal Rinpoche is HIS karma.”

He seemed reluctant to look at it like that but didn’t argue back. He told me that he had things to do and left.

NOTE: If anybody in Rigpa wishes to communicate with me about this, I can be reached via the person Vinciane Rycroft contacted about it.

How do you feel about this?

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

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

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

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

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

Tibetan Buddhist Tulku Privilege – a Cultural Clash

Conversations with people who have spent time in Tibetan society and been close to lamas have made me realise that, in general, Tibetan people accept unethical and even abusive conduct in their reincarnated masters (tulkus) without question or censure. But ‘tulku privilege‘, which essentially places tulkus above the law, conflicts with modern Western values where equality is the very basis of our democratic and legal system. Also the Tibetan injunctions against criticism and requirements for subjugation to one’s teacher are in direct opposition to Western values of freedom of speech and choice.

‘Human rights recognise the inherent value of each person, regardless of background, where we live, what we look like, what we think or what we believe. They are based on principles of dignity, equality and mutual respect, which are shared across cultures, religions and philosophies. They are about being treated fairly, treating others fairly and having the ability to make genuine choices in our daily lives.’ https://www.humanrights.gov.au/about/what-are-human-rights

Tulku privilege in action

In the West, sex between a student and teacher is considered unethical due to the power imbalance, and coercion into sex is considered sexual harassment at the least and sexual abuse at the worst. But Tulkus see nothing wrong with coercing women into sex through such things as threats of hell and promises of a fast path to enlightenment for the woman and/or her family members.

Sexual misconduct is very common amongst high level lamas,’ Dr Nida Chenagtsang Karmamudra: The Yoga of Bliss, Sexuality in Tibetan Medicine and Buddhism.

Tulkus are brought up believing that they are ‘holy’ and by right of that designation are not subject to the same ethical restrictions as normal beings. They grow up in a religious culture where coercing women into sex is the acceptable norm and under the tutelage of role models who take full advantage of tulku privilege. I expect this is why so few of them have made statements denouncing abuse perpetrated by other lamas.

‘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 Khyents, page 19, The Guru Drinks Bourbon?

In other words, after you’ve taken a vajrayana initiation with a teacher, that teacher can do what he wants to you and you can’t complain. In Tibetan Buddhist thinking, Tulkus have a free pass to treat people any way they wish because it’s all seen as ‘enlightened action.’

This attitude can be clearly seen in Lama Zopa’s response to Dagri Rinpoche’s inappropriate behaviour. He uses a lot of words to basically say that since Dagri Rinpoche is a ‘holy being’ anything he does is a ‘holy action’ and therefore not ordinary action which shouldn’t be held to the same standards as the actions of those who aren’t ‘holy.’  

Lama Zopa is so completely ignorant of how ridiculous his kind of thinking appears to the majority of Westerners—excluding those who swallow such beliefs without examination—that he doesn’t hide his views. This is a good thing, because it’s certainly time for some transparency on this.

Clearly Dagri Rinpoche didn’t take the FPMT code of conduct as having any relevance to him, and due to tulku privilege, I expect all tulkus will think the same way—Rigpa’s special category for Vajrayana and Dzogchen in their code of conduct certainly upholds that idea.

In the West, all are equal before the law. A crime is a crime, no matter who commits it. Cardinal George Pell, the Catholic equivalent of a very high lama was convicted for sexual abuse in Australia. Western law sees abuse by spiritual figures as crimes, not ‘holy actions.’ In fact, the very fact that the abuse was perpetrated by a spiritual figure makes it all the more abhorrent.

Not only is the idea of spiritual leaders being above the law not accepted in the West, as James R. Lewis explains in his book Cults in America, probably the most important characteristic of a dangerous cult is that ‘The organization is willing to place itself above the law.’ (See http://abuse.wikia.com/wiki/Cult_checklist )

If Tibetan Buddhism wants to be seen as a reputable religion in the West, instead of a religion comprised of dangerous cults, the lamas have to give up their tulku privileges. I’m not holding my breath waiting for that, though, but we could at least get some transparency around the issue. Westerners should be under no illusions about their Tibetan Buddhist teachers.

Celibacy? Nah. Even the monks do it.

One of the things that really shocked me on my journey of discovery of tulku privilege is that even the tulkus who are monks have sex, and they have it with multiple partners. One Western woman teacher of Tibetan Buddhism with decades of experience around lamas and their communities told me that sometimes tulku monks have sex with many women while looking for a wife, and once they’ve found their wife, they give up their robes. Why, I wonder, don’t they give up their robes before looking for a wife?

She also told me that having a wife does not necessarily stop them from continuing their multiple partners, and some do not give up their robes, even if they do have a wife. So they appear to be a monk, but they aren’t.

Another woman told me that she heard HHDL on two separate occasions saying that a monk could penetrate a woman without breaking his vow of celibacy so long as he didn’t ejaculate! I couldn’t find any scriptural authority on this, but the woman assures me that he shared this fact in Kalachakra teachings she attended.

The fact that ample numbers of Western women have appeared all too keen to have sex with a tulku, robed or not, hasn’t helped the lamas to recognise the reality of the situation—that in the West, as a spiritual teacher, they are expected to behave ethically in all areas. And having sex with a student is considered highly unethical for any teacher no matter whether the student wants it or not.

Teachings or a way to cover their asses?

‘Capitulation to the teacher’s wishes is [seen as] virtuous and defiance has dire consequences as does breaching the secrecy that typically surrounds such encounters.’ Holly Gayley (Department of Religious Studies, University of Colorado) ‘Revisiting the “Secret Consort” (gsang yum) in Tibetan Buddhism.’

The biography of Lingza Chökyi, Travels in the Nether-worlds, includes the story in of a 16th Century women who refused to be the ‘secret consort’ of ‘a master of esoteric teachings’ and complained about his inappropriate conduct. In the story, ‘Yama declares, “It is a greater sin to denigrate and slander lamas and teachers than it is to murder a thousand living beings,” and condemns her to suffer the torments of the hell realms.’ Lama Zopa’s response mentioned above is really just a more subtle way of saying the same thing.

Teachings that do nothing more than maintain the power of the lamas should be thoroughly questioned, not simply accepted as an integral part of the Buddhist teachings. Some lama some time made up the teachings on how to follow a teacher, but did they do it for the sake of the students or to provide themselves with slaves for their own gratification? Given the abuse enabled by these teachings, the latter purpose seems most likely.

And yet these teachings are now seen as integral to the religion. But are they? Really? Isn’t some openness and respect towards a lama enough? Why accept behaviour from our Tibetan Buddhist teachers that we would not accept in any other area of our life?

A huge cultural clash

Western culture has taken a very long time to develop the idea of equal rights for all human beings. Are we going to throw all that away because Tibetan Buddhist teachers expect us to play the serfs in a system that places them in the role of a feudal lord? Didn’t we get rid of that way of thinking back in the time of the French Revolution? Wouldn’t accepting Tulku privilege be a huge step backward for is both individually and collectively? And how does giving up our right to recognise abuse as abuse contribute to our spiritual development, anyway?

Tibetan Buddhism has a lot of offer, but tulku privilege is not something we should import along with the teachings.

A call for transparency

On the issue of unethical conduct, I’ve seen no willingness in tulkus to move an inch from their exalted position where they feel they can ignore ethical guidelines with impunity. Since they appear unwilling to even consider that their beliefs in this area may be needing some revision, then they should at least do us the decency of being transparent about their behaviour.

Isn’t it high time that a lama sat down with a panel of Western students and answered a few core questions such as:

  • Is there any behaviour that would be considered unethical for a tulku?
  • Are tulkus who wear monks’ robes celibate? If so, what does celibacy actually mean for a tulku? Does it mean no sexual contact as it does in the West?
  • The teachings on How to Follow a Teacher in The Words of my Perfect Teacher benefit lamas by providing them with compliant slaves, how do such teachings benefit the students?
  • Do tulkus think that having sex with a woman is beneficial for the woman regardless of whether the woman wanted it or not?
  • Do tulkus see anything wrong with threatening a woman or promising her something in order to get her to have sex with them?
  • Tibetan Buddhist values and Western ethical values clash where tulkus are not held to the same standards as the rest of society, why shouldn’t tulkus behave in accord with Western ethics if they want to teach in the West?

What questions would you like to ask to bring some transparency to the issue of tulku privilege?

For further perspectives on this see the article Why I Quit Guru Yoga by Stephen Batchelor.

Image by lanur from Pixabay

Rigpa’s Vision is Still Missing the Vital Point

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is meant by ‘guiding appropriately’?

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

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

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

What Now? group member

What constitues ‘adequate preparation’

The statement goes on to say;

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

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

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

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

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

All these aspects need to be made clear.

What isn’t being made explicit

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

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

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

‘If Sogyal Rinpoche had made sure that all the necessary prerequisites has been adhered to and fulfilled, then from the vajrayana point of view, there is nothing wrong with Sogyal Rinpoche’s subsequent actions.’’

Dzongsar Khyentse, Rigpa spiritual advisor.

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

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

Dzongsar Khyentse, p 19,The Guru Drinks Bourbon?

Is abuse really acceptable in vajrayana?

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

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

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

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

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

Mingyur Rinpoche, When a Buddhist Teacher Crosses the Line

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

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

Jetsumna Tenzin Palmo

The vital point

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

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

How cult induction works in Rigpa

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

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

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

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

The bottom line

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

On Dzongsar Khyentse’s Letter to the Rigpa Sangha

Dzongsar Khyentse wrote a letter that went to the Rigpa sangha and that I think needs some attention given to it because people tend to think – just as they did with Sogyal – that because he appears wise when teaching dharma that he is always wise. This is simply not true. A series of ill-conceived, inappropriate and arrogant Facebook posts prove that. (Sorry, Dzongsar, but you posted them, not me. I’m just telling it like it is.)
‘Buddhadharma actively encourages its followers to apply critical thinking to everything it teaches’ DZK says in this letter, and this is exactly where we as students have fallen down. We have left our critical thinking behind in the service of devotion. We have swallowed everything our lamas tell us as truth. Why? Because they teach us that we must not criticise them, and so we do not criticise what they say for fear of hell. And yet, what they say is exactly what we must apply our critical thinking to if we are to avoid what happened in Rigpa from happening again. Hence this post.
I honour DZK for being one of the few lamas willing to actually talk about the abuse in Rigpa, and he has been helpful in some respects, but sometimes he does more damage than good with his words, and I don’t think he realises, or cares, how he falls into the manipulative kinds of tactics used by leaders of destructive cults.

Cult issues

He complains in the letter that he ‘can’t help but feel frustrated’ when he hears that ‘Buddhadharma is being labelled a “cult”.’  I have not heard anyone call Buddhadharma a cult, but people have called Rigpa and even DZK’s sangha a cult—and with good reason since this stating a specific allegation (Rigpa is a cult) as a general one (Buddhadharma is a cult) so it’s clearly absurd and so can be easily disregarded in its entirety is an example of cult leader tactics to manipulate their followers into not examining something they don’t want examined.
I wrote a blog post (in 2 parts) showing how Vajrayana is NOT a cult, UNLESS the lama steps over the line into cult territory, and that’s a line that all lamas need to be aware of if they are to avoid doing more harm than good to their students. I have never called Buddhism or Vajrayana a cult. But I do draw attention to the cult tactics used in Rigpa. How else can we avoid such tactics in future?

Listening, hearing, and deep examination

He says of the Rigpa sangha: ‘It would be silly to dwell on the difficulties. Instead, we must look at what we can learn from this situation, correct the misunderstandings and errors, and make Rigpa even better.” I totally agree, and that’s why it’s vital that those who ‘criticise’ are listened to and heard, because we have a role in helping Rigpa to look very deeply at the causes of their problems, something which must be done before they can be corrected. Is DZK willing to look deeply at how his cherished beliefs were misused to enable the abuse? Is he willing to learn about cult dynamics so he can avoid them? They are not inherent in vajrayana as I state clearly in the blog post mentioned above.

Don’t forget the importance of critical thinking

You can read DZK’s full letter to the Rigpa sangha by clicking here but when you read it, note that the contents may manipulate you into wanting to return to Rigpa. It’s basically heaping praise on those who have stayed with Rigpa, and most of the letter is perfectly reasonable and makes valid points, which is why you have to be careful not to also think that the last paragraph is perfectly reasonable. It isn’t. It’s misinformed and divisive, and is using cult tactics to set those inside the group against those outside the group. Don’t fall for it! It’s designed to make you think that those who have stayed are better, wiser, more enlightened etc than those who have left, and that the only possible path to spiritual development is in Rigpa. This is cult tactics 101.
He says:
‘There have been, are, and always will be people whose sense of personal dissatisfaction leads them to oppose, slander and, I dare say, even thirst for Rigpa’s ultimate destruction. Instead of wishing such people ill, we must always remember that we are followers of the Buddha. We must therefore feel compassion for all those who stand against us and try to understand the cause of their pain – especially if they were once our Dharma brothers and sisters. Try to embrace them with compassion and pure perception. And rest assured, if their pursuit of the Dharma is genuine, sooner or later they will see the truth and find a path back.’
There are some who do want to see Sogyal in prison and who do want Rigpa’s destruction, but possibly only because Sogyal has not admitted that he behaved wrongly and because Rigpa management has not denounced his behaviour, but I personally know of only a few such people, whereas I know hundreds of people who have left, who see Sogyal and those still stuck in a belief system that enabled abuse, not with ill-will but with compassion and understanding, and who would love to see Rigpa truly reform—not just make some half-hearted attempts that don’t get to the crux of the matter.

Raising up, not bringing down

Our complaints are not designed to bring Rigpa down, but to raise Rigpa student’s awareness of what Rigpa management still has to change. To lump everyone who has left into the extreme category is ignorant and divisive and typical of the black and white thinking attributed to cults, words designed to make members think that only the cult has the answers they seek and that anyone who leaves cuts themselves off from their only chance at spiritual progress. Don’t fall for it. It’s not true. There are many other sanghas and teachers to choose from who study and practice genuine dharma.
I and others like me do not ‘stand against’ Rigpa. My aim has only ever been to assist Rigpa to do the right thing and to genuinely change for the better. The fact that Rigpa management consistently makes poor choices is the only reason I write anything that may seem ‘against’ them. But actually all I’m doing is trying to help them to see the depth of change required. Why? For the sake of the future of genuine dharma.

Slander or truth?

And slander? Is it slander when you all you’re doing is revealing the truth? No. It’s not. I do not write about things that have no basis in truth.
The majority of those who speak publically about the issue of abuse in Tibetan Buddhism do it only for the sake of dharma, to raise awareness of the issue so organisations and individuals will be motivated to deal with the issues fully and intelligently. They speak out because they cannot bear to see the Buddha’s intention that his teachings help beings lessen their suffering be so misused as to cause harm, and until the actual harm (not the feelings of harm) has been admitted to, taken responsibility for, and apologised for, genuine deep change cannot occur, and those who point it out will have to keep pointing it out until they are heard.
Sogyal, Rigpa and their critics are interdependent. Our voices arise only in dependence on some action on which something needs to be said to provide a larger perspective to help students and their teachers understand what exactly is going on—like this letter.

Genuine practitioners

And ‘if their pursuit of the dharma is genuine’? Those I am regularly in contact with who have left Rigpa are the most genuine dharma practitioners I’ve ever met. Why? Because they are highly ethical and compassionate people, they know what is dharma and what is not, and they will not stay with a corrupt lama and an organisation who misuses the teachings for their own gain, because that is not authentic dharma. They know that to advance on the path, you have to do more than claim to study and practice authentic dharma, you must live it authentically.
I have seen students completely shattered by their experience in Rigpa, but still they follow the Buddhadharma in one form or another, many even remain in Tibetan Buddhism just with a different teacher or no specific teacher. To assume that because they have left Rigpa they are not genuine dharma practitioners is quite simply mistaken, especially when the very reason many left is that they are committed to living a life that is authentically dharmic. The depth of wisdom and compassion, and the genuine desire to live a dharmic life that I constantly see in the ex-Rigpa sangha is a constant inspiration to me. These people deserve to be honoured for their courage, honesty, integrity and diligence in living by the dharma, not denounced as slanderers, and their suffering passed off as ‘personal dissatisfaction’.

Don’t be Fooled

To heap praise on those who remain in Rigpa while demonising those who have left is neither wise nor helpful. If Rigpa is to truly change, and I still hope they can, management must learn how they have used, and are still using, cult tactics and give them up. Unfortunately, DZK is only reinforcing some of those tactics here. A great deal of education is required on this matter, as well as honest examination of the real motivations behind our communications.
These [kinds of] letters are expecting people to go quietly back to sleep,Sangye said in a recent Facebook post on this letter. ‘They are layering ignorance upon the wounds, and it doesn’t heal; it doesn’t help. Of course they are trying to protect their income stream, the number of students in their lineage and the powerful land holdings and bootlickers to maintain them. … It may be full of half-truths or say nice things, but it masks an approval of Vajrayana lamas who abuse.
Let’s not be fooled into returning to an organisation that has not denounced their lama’s abusive behaviour, and who has chosen spiritual advisors who blame the abuse survivors for their ‘feelings’ of abuse because they ‘don’t understanding vajrayana’ or were ‘possessed by demons’.
DZK asks Rigpa members to ‘feel compassion for all those who stand against us and try to understand the cause of their pain.’ But labelling those who have left as ‘those who stand against us’ shows a lack of understanding of the true situation; it’s lumping us all together under one extremist view so we can be more easily dismissed and ignored.
To try to understand we must do more than listen; we must also hear what people are communicating, and acknowledge their pain. Only then can there be any chance of true compassion. Listen to Sangye:
‘People who are traumatized – it replays over and over. They get worse, not better, and if they are stuck in a circumstance where the person keeps re-traumatizing, they even get beyond PTSD. They get CPTSD [complex post-traumatic stress disorder] as they start to be scared of more and more things. It never really goes away – their life, their precious human birth is made less precious by the abuser.’
And yet DZK, in minimising this kind of suffering as ‘personal dissatisfaction’, shows a lack of the very compassion, he is asking from in students.
I’ll let Sangye have the last word:
‘Love and kindness is about listening, believing the weak, supporting those who are alone. Not further isolating them and shaming them because they couldn’t bring joy to a narcissist. Seriously, it’s so embarrassing for you that you can’t get this. That you can’t even watch HHDL spell it out and understand basic obvious compassion and kindness.’
 
 
 
 
 

Missing the Connection

At a time when I personally am so sick of  Rigpa’s cultish manipulations of their members  that reading anything ‘they’ say makes me feel physically ill, I am particularly grateful that Jo Green is still writing for us. Thank you, Jo. Keep em coming! Without this kind of  exposure of the brainswashing tactics employed in Rigpa communications, many people will never realise how their perception of Sogyal lakar and Rigpa has been and still is being manipulated.
This kind of writing is vital if people are to ever realise that the organisation we once thought was beneficial, and many still desperately want to believe is beneficial, appears to really only care about keeping their members and getting new ones so they can pay their and their disgraced lama’s bills and pay the salaries of those who covered up Sogyal’s abuse for all those years.
Who, after all, still receives a salary from Rigpa? And how much power/respect do they have in the organisation? Would your local management team tell you the truth if you asked? Or would they say what they think you want to hear while never giving you a straight answer? Soothing words aimed entirely at keeping you a devoted member of the community (or kicking you out and ignoring you if they deem you beyond their ability to manipulate). 
The three stooges may have ‘stepped down’ from their management roles, but are these people suddenly not being listened to by those who have taken on their roles?  Has their mode of operation been discarded? The latest communication from Rigpa to the sangha, the topic of this blog post, indicates that the same methods of manipulation are still being used.
And how many of your local management team are more concerned about the Rigpa bank account and clinging to their guru – despite his now obvious flaws – rather than rooting out the cult tactics employed by their organisation or actually contacting the letter writers living in their country with an offer to help paying for their counselling?
Where is the honesty? The ability to say, “Yes, Sogyal did harm people, and what he did was wrong. And, yes, many in management covered this up, and that, too, was wrong.”
Sorry, I think I’m going to vomit!  
Rot makes me sick, especially when it clings at the heart of something pretending it’s healthy, and especially when after you cut it open for all to see, those reliant on the healthy image for their livelihood or spiritual security hastily tie it all up with a string called ‘code of conduct’ and ‘grievenace proceedure’, but the rot remains because no one representing Rigpa will actually say it was wrong for Sogyal Lakar to abuse people.
That’s how I’m feeling right now. Spiritual abuse is a huge betrayal of trust, and trust cannot be regained by using the same tactics used to betray that trust in the first place.  
Would it really be such a bad thing to sell off the assests and let the whole rotten edifice tumble down? It sounds to me like a really beneficial thing to do at this point, much better than pretending to change for the sake of their charity status while still secretly fostering the same beliefs that allowed Sogyal to abuse people in the first place.
Over to Jo, now, for an excellent and entertaining piece on the latest Sangha Connection newsletter.

Verbal abuse

The latest Sangha Connection Newsletter from Rigpa does not so much call a spade a spade as call it “an elegantly designed, handle-operated tool which fulfils a wide variety of agricultural and construction functions”. It does, however, demonstrate that a great deal of thought has gone into the really pressing issues for the leadership: how to appear to acknowledge the report without ever mentioning any of the damning testimony it contains, and how to refer to the victims of physical and sexual abuse committed by Sogyal, without using the words “victim”, “sexual”, “physical”, “abuse”, “harm”, or even the name “Sogyal Rinpoche”.
In this they have triumphed. With her fine legal mind, Catherine Paul has crafted the phrase “those who are hurt” to cover all of this. One particularly striking aspect is that it is not phrased as one would normally expect when referring to a series of events that occurred over a period of years: i.e. “those who have been hurt” or “Those who were hurt”. There is no way in English you can talk about any kind of physical injury or trauma that occurred somewhat in the past by using the present tense. The only things that can be discussed that way are ongoing feelings, e.g. “I’m still hurt that she never called me after my father died.”
The other loud, flashing alarm is the use of the passive voice – a top go-to strategy for anyone wishing to manipulate people’s perceptions of the facts. Catherine’s is a doozy. Instead of saying “those who Sogyal hurt” – which has definite sense of cause and effect, with the cause of the hurt identified – a word is substituted to create the bizarrely neutered “those who are hurt” as if the nature and cause of the hurt are unknown. And that’s without even changing “hurt” to the more appropriate “harm” – a word which appears to have the same effect on the Rigpa leadership that a crucifix has on Dracula. From when the letter came out last year to now, I don’t believe it has been used in any official communication from Lerab Ling in relation to Sogyal’s behaviour. This too is not an accident. The purpose of this linguistic abuse is to damp down the responses of the person reading.
Credit should be given to the Australian Rigpa board for recently showing independence of thought by saying “we apologise and are sorry for any harm we have contributed to” in their own newsletter. At least that acknowledges that harm has occurred, and they have contributed to it. Lerab Ling fiercely resists giving into what they seem to view as inappropriate expressions of basic humanity and honesty.
Catherine writes too ably for any of this to be an accident. It is done knowingly to appear to refer to the abuse, whilst only actually being applicable to feelings – thus dovetailing into the contemptible “apology” by Sogyal, about people feeling hurt by his actions as a result of not understanding them properly.
Oh dear, and we have only arrived at the second line.

The omission of compassion

Still, “people who are hurt” do get “our compassion and our unreserved and wholehearted apology”. What is being apologised for, however, is not stated. It is not an apology for the actions of Sogyal. It is not an apology for Patrick Gaffney, Philip Philippou and Dominique Side conspiring to conceal reports of abuse and spreading malicious gossip about those who spoke out. It is not an apology for failing to believe or help people. It is an apology for unnamed things done by unnamed people. So, not actually an apology.
As for “compassion” – what the hell does that mean? Precisely zero has been done to support the many people left traumatised by the uncontrolled narcissistic tornado that Sogyal became. The report recommends Rigpa should fund the therapy of those harmed by him. It is one of the simplest, cheapest and most practical ways support could be offered, but this has not been done. So where is the compassion? Compassion must manifest in action or it is nothing more than pat-myself-on-the-back-for-being-so-great ego-stroking.
Considerably more space is then dedicated to Catherine saying how great her experience with Sogyal was and how important he has been in her life. Again, a person with compassion would understand how inappropriate it is to recite these affirmations any time the issue of the bad things he did is tiptoed towards. It is insensitive and has upset many of the victims a great deal.
Yes, we get it, you think Sogyal did some good things for you. Why does that have to be said every time? Perhaps Catherine should read my piece about Jimmy Saville. I guess if I had a conversation with a faithful Rigpa student about recent world events, it might go like this:
Me: “My God, did you hear about the tsunami in Indonesia? It’s terrible what happened, so shocking. I sent some money – lots of those survivors are in a desperate state.”
Student: “Actually I went on a number of trips to Indonesia and had a wonderful time. The people were very friendly, the food was lovely and it’s so cheap. Last year, I went on this yoga and meditation retreat. It was really beneficial for me at a difficult time. So that’s what I’m focussing on.”
Returning once more to Rigpa’s favourite weasel word (alongside “unfounded”), the advice of the newsletter is that “those who are hurt” contact the new Rigpa councils for support. Bizarrely, they later suggest that current students inform “friends who have left Rigpa and may have an unresolved ethical question or complaint that impacts on their peace of mind”. That’s a very delicate and low-key way to refer to matters such as having your ear half ripped off, or having a piece of furniture smashed over you and then being compelled to do degrading sexual acts, or being ordered to give a blow job whilst trying to carry out your professional duties.
The Rigpa leadership know who these people are and they know how to contact them. Would compassion not consist of getting in touch and offering support rather than telling victims to write to an email address? Do they honestly not realise that, having broken trust so badly with these people, the leadership of Rigpa must humbly reach out their hand and risk it being, quite justifiably, smacked away or bitten off, just as those who spoke up took a huge risk? That would truly demonstrate compassion and lack of ego.

 Staring into the abyss

For all my criticism of Catherine Paul, one must remember that she is the messenger, not the sole originator of the message, even if she applies herself to her job with apparent gusto. She has been rare in attempting to keep in touch with those who have left, although she withdrew from Facebook groups on the eve of the report’s publication for reasons which seem self-evident. But Rigpa needs people who are willing to listen.
Equally obvious is why she cannot confront head-on the terrible damage that has been done by her teacher. Beneath the outer bluster and love-bombing of Sogyal, for some there is of course guilt that people they knew, people they were close to, were being harmed right under their noses but they never paid attention – or saw it but did not recognise it for what it was, preferring to hide behind “pure perception”. It’s very hard to look that guilt in the face, to remember how you joined in with running down those who criticised Sogyal, and to now realise your most trusted leaders fed you lies. That’s difficult to look at without wanting to turn away.
The questions it throws up are scary. What if those sacrifices weren’t worth it? What if you weren’t serving a bigger purpose but just serving Sogyal’s out of control ego and facilitating his abuse? Then you have to stare into the abyss, as so many driven out of Rigpa have, and wonder what it all meant and where to go now. That’s why so many at Lerab Ling and elsewhere are still living in complete denial, even in the face of all the report has revealed. They are terrified that if they allow one crack, the whole edifice will collapse.
But such a view is bereft of compassion. This hardcore group is selfishly fixated on their quest for enlightenment in this lifetime, so they see those who participated in the report as traitors, fools who failed to learn, obstacles to be swept aside as you carry on battling to get a seat in that helicopter to the top of the mountain. Nothing else matters but me and my enlightenment. It is the highest manifestation of pure spiritual egotism.

Recommendation vs Implementation

Passing on to other subjects in the newsletter:
There is an update about the Vision Board, confirming that Patrick Gaffney and Philip Philippou have “stepped down”. It’s worth remembering that their original appointment to the board, even after the publication of the letter, was the product of Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche’s much-vaunted divinations. I have no skill in these esoteric areas but my divination at the time was that they wouldn’t be there for long. If a vacancy has now opened up for OT’s job, I’m available.
They move on to the Lewis Silkin report’s recommendations, which apparently the reduced Vision Board is “fully focused on acting on”. However, not one specific recommendation is mentioned here, nor even the general substance of them. All that is said is that they aim to “meet any national legal requirements” and “work in ways that suit local culture”. But this is just a statement of obligations, which should never have been neglected in the first place. None of this directly addresses any of the 12 recommendations.
One recommendation that is tackled, under the next heading, is getting lamas to sign up to the new Code of Conduct. The list of those who have done so apparently “includes Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, the group of lamas and monks who held the Vajrakilaya drupchen in Lerab Ling, Khenchen Namdrol, and Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche.” They do not state whether Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche has signed up, despite being a key advisor, a recent visitor to Lerab Ling and currently teaching in Australia.
They go on to discuss the new “Independent Council” for complaints, which presently consists of Jann Jackson and Helen Berliner, from outside Rigpa, who I know little about. The report recommended “An abuse helpline outside of Rigpa should be set up, in addition to the internal reporting mechanisms made available.” But it’s not clear if that is what this is: for one thing, the word “abuse” is not used and although there is an email address provided, it is not stated who monitors it or how the system works.

The guru of non-apologies

In terms of Sogyal himself, whose geographical location is still unstated, they say the message/teaching he created for the August Dzogchen retreat will be shared at optional gatherings in October. Apparently, “The message includes an apology to those who are hurt and the news that he is going more deeply into retreat.” There’s that weird piece of language abuse again: “those who are hurt”. But the weirdest part is the idea that he has apologised, yet it will only be shared in a way that ensures that none of the people he should be apologising to can hear it.
In my whole life I never heard of a meaningful apology which could not be heard or read by the injured parties. A few months back there was an alleged audio “apology” which turned out to be nothing of the sort – just more self-justifying nonsense. If Sogyal is making an apology then why is it not being shared online, where everybody can hear it or see it? Why has it not been included in this newsletter? I can only think of one reason: that the leadership know it is worthless to anybody but the devoted.
The faithful down at Lerab Ling are already telling people that Sogyal has apologised and that he did nothing wrong (a slightly contradictory perspective, but there it is). The reality is that Sogyal has acted appallingly and his lack of an apology is just yet another manifestation of his abusive, narcissistic personality and the vacuum of compassion in his soul. I do not doubt he is very sorry, though – for himself.
In terms of his health, they say “he is frail, his condition remains serious and he is following ongoing treatment”. After seeing a recent photo of Sogyal with Dodrupchen Rinpoche on Facebook – where he looked much healthier and more robust than the wan picture from 8 months ago, pinned to the top of his own feed – I hoped that there had been a significant improvement. Time will tell, I suppose. As for “going more deeply into retreat”, I think we should take this literally. He realises he is now compelled to distance himself from Rigpa and he may be considering a move to a more geographically remote location.

A friendly little raid

Meanwhile, “Lerab Ling is undergoing a preliminary investigation conducted by the French authorities into its activities. As part of this process, on September 19th, the lead investigator accompanied by a group of gendarmes visited Lerab Ling. Although it was an unsettling surprise for the community, they were met with kindness and openness.”
Yes, whilst some in Rigpa were busy weaving a giant rug to sweep everything under, the French authorities were taking all these matters very seriously indeed. For a group of armed police officers to be authorised to do a raid on Lerab Ling, investigations must have progressed quite a long way – so watch this space. How nice that “they were met with kindness and openness”. I can almost picture the scene now…
“Yes Inspector, if you just sit yourself down there, we can bring out the wads of cash and count it for you, whilst your officers have a coffee. Someone from admin will be along in a minute with that file of reports of abuse that we compiled over the years, and I’ll jot down Sogyal’s address in case you want to pop over and have a chat with him. Are you all right there or would you like a cushion?”
They add that the raid “is not related to the Lerab Ling lawsuit for defamation”. Of course it isn’t: they don’t need to raid Lerab Ling to form an opinion about whether the place has been turning into a cult – just read the report. This is about how to respond to the evidence in the report and elsewhere, and what the French state should do about it.
And if the French state is looking for more evidence of Lerab Ling being cult-like, this newsletter is a great piece of evidence. I mean what can you call persuading the faithful to believe something is an apology when it doesn’t acknowledge any wrongdoing, except “brainwashing”? What can you call only sharing that “apology” in closed groups, but “cult-like”? What is misusing language through subtle shifts in meaning and employing the passive voice to make the crimes and criminal disappear, if not “gaslighting”?
Over the last year the leadership of Rigpa has been engaged in a huge survival project: making the changes that must be made so as not to lose their charitable status in different countries and thus their right to exist. That is the “outer” appearance. meanwhile, at the “secret” level they are engaged in a project to not give a millimetre, not accept any criticism, or any demotion of “Rinpoche” and reassure the faithful that this is the case.
They are playing a risky game. The French state bestowed Lerab Ling’s crucial status as a “religious community” and it can take it away. France is also unique in having the “About-Picard” law, designed to protect vulnerable people from exploitation by religious groups who behave like cults. Every single thing Rigpa says that is evasive and manipulative goes towards building a case against them under that law. They would be wise to get real and get real fast.
As for that defamation lawsuit; if they really intend to still pursue it, in the face of all that has been revealed, then – to quote the comedy series, Blackadder – they are “madder than Mad Jack McMad, the winner of this year’s Mr Madman competition”.


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.

Hollow words? An Analysis of Rigpa's Statement on the Results of the Independent Investigation

Rigpa’s response to the Lewis Silkin report on the results of the independent investigation shows a continuation of their methods of operation to date. Once again we see the kind of response given by expensive PR firms and sneaky lawyers, words that appear to say the right things and appear to tell us what we want to hear – and many will read it at face value and go away content (which is what they want) – but what does it actually say? Or not say?
The words of the report are in the quote boxes. The analysis follows each section.

5 September 2018
We acknowledge the gravity of the independent report that Rigpa commissioned last year following allegations of misconduct by Rigpa’s Founder and former Spiritual Director Sogyal Rinpoche, and thank the investigator and the witnesses.

This does not say that Rigpa accepts the findings of the report.  This does not say that Rigpa thinks Sogyal Rinpoche or anyone in Rigpa has done anything wrong, even though the Report clearly concludes that there has been “serious physical, sexual and emotional abuse” by Sogyal Rinpoche and misconduct by Senior Rigpa Individuals “who were aware of at least some of these issues and failed to address them, leaving others at risk.”

We feel deeply sorry and apologise for the hurt experienced by past and present members of the Rigpa community. We are contemplating on our role as an organisation, and how we may have contributed to this situation. We will do everything we can to reach out to, and support everyone who has been affected, and take full responsibility for ensuring that Rigpa provides a safe environment for all. These are our heartfelt commitments.

This does not say that Rigpa accepts that Sogyal Rinpoche or anyone in Rigpa has actually harmed anyone, despite the conclusions of the Report and the evidence presented there.  They still only apologise for hurt “experienced” not for the hurt they and Sogyal caused.  The inclusion of the word “experience”  also reminds cult members of the subjective nature of the victims’ perception, something that reinforces the Rigpa ‘party line’ that the problem is with the victim, not with the perpetrator.
And they do not commit Rigpa to anything specific, instead they use the same vague soothing language they are so well known for – “reach out to”, “support”, “safe environment,” “heartfelt” – and they are only “contemplating on” their role, not admiting that they actually did have a role in the harm, and neither are they taking any actual responsiblity for it.
The only thing they are taking responsibility for is “ensuring that Rigpa provides a safe environment for all.” I seem to remember hearing something similar to this kind of committment from them in the past, all while the abuse continued. They will point to their code of conduct as one way they’re doing that, but there are serious loopholes in that code.
Their use of the words “taking responsibility” might lead people to think that they’re taking some responsiblity for the harm, but if you read carefully, you’ll see that they’re not.

The findings in the report will affect many people. It will take time for all of us to reflect on the report’s contents.

They have had the report since August 22nd and we have been told, via Rigpa streaming, that 30 individuals have been involved in developing this response. How much time do they need to come up with something more specific than this?

Rigpa commits to act upon the report’s recommendations. We will move forward in consultation with our community.

This is a key paragraph.  It does not commit Rigpa to implementing any of the recommendations in the report, although it gives that appearance. They commit only to “acting upon” the recommedations; they do not committ to implementing them. Acting upon can be as vague as considering whether or not they will actually implement them.

In the face of the allegations, last year Sogyal Rinpoche retired definitively as Spiritual Director of Rigpa, and now has no organisational role in Rigpa.

Sogyal Rinpoche’s main role in Rigpa is not and never has been “organisational”.  He resigned only as spiritual director. He has not resigned from his position as the community’s guru and has stated himself that he is still their teacher. He gave a teaching on devotion to the Dzogchen Mandala retreat recently, and has been giving “messages” to the sangha at all the retreats held since his stepping down as spiritual director.
Why use the word “definitively”? It’s completely unecessary. He has either retired or he hasn’t. The only reason why this word, which unecessarily emphasises the fact of his retirement, would be included is to make the reader think that this is the separation suggested in point 2 of the report recommendations – “Rigpa should take steps to disassociate itself from Sogyal Lakar as fully as is possible.”
Full dissociation is not him retiring, it’s Rigpa no longer taking him as their teacher. It’s them denouncing his behaviour and ceasing using his teachings as the core of their programs. It certainly isn’t having him give a streamed teaching to a retreat.

Rigpa has already undertaken a number of significant steps in the last twelve months:

  • A new Vision Board was appointed, guided by spiritual advisors, and Rigpa boards have agreed a new decision-making and governance structure;

The Vision Board was appointed in consultation with teachers, Khenpo Namdrol and Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche, who have made it clear that they think Rigpa students who have spoken out are samaya breakers and possessed by demonic forces. The Vision Board was then approved by Sogyal Rinpoche himself.  It is contains students who knew about and enabled the abuse. It should be disbanded.

  • Our community has taken part in an international process to put in place a strong Code of Conduct published in June 2018. We have also just completed our grievance procedure, that includes an independent Grievance Council of senior western Buddhist teachers that will receive complaints brought by Rigpa members and the public;

The Code of Conduct is weak. Amongst other things, it allows sexual relationships between teachers and students and makes vague reference to a different unspecified code for Vajrayana and Dzogchen students which students will have to agree to if they want teachings at this level.  No grievance procedure has been published.

  • And we set up this independent investigation for complainants to come forward, and be listened to in an open, impartial and sensitive way.

Rigpa was forced to set up the investigation due to the seriousness of the complaints.  It was also forced to agree to make it public because witnesses refused to participate otherwise.  This was not a voluntary Rigpa initiative, and yet they list it as if it were an achievement on their part.

We are committed to continuing the process of healing, reconciliation and change. To acknowledge the importance of this process of healing and change, senior members of management are stepping down from their positions of governance.

This is another key paragraph.  It only refers to positions of governance.  Senior Rigpa Individuals identified in the report as having been, “aware of at least some of these issues and failed to address them, leaving others at risk”, have many roles in Rigpa, not just governance.  Rigpa received this report on August 22nd.  Witnesses P, N and O should have been removed from all their positions, or at the very least suspended, on August 23rd, at the latest. That is what would have happened in any properly run organisation.
Again it is vague. Who are these senior members of management? What positions are they stepping down from? And what ones will they retain?
Update from Sangha connection newsletter sent out 30 mins ago:
“Patrick, Philip and Dominique will no longer hold any position of governance in any Rigpa entity by the end of November. Patrick and Philip will also step down from the Vision Board. The next elections of the Chapter of the Lerab Ling Congregation are scheduled for November this year. Dominique Side has decided to retire as Superior of the Congregation so she will not be a candidate in these elections.
These steps will come into full effect by the end of November, 2018. All three remain committed to supporting the sangha and Rigpa’s vision in whatever way may be appropriate and helpful.
Patrick sent the following message to share with the sangha:
“I have read the report of the independent investigation and I am deeply troubled by its findings. I feel a real and genuine concern for anyone who feels hurt or damaged by their experience in Rigpa. For the last forty years, I have tried my hardest to serve the Rigpa community responsibly and with integrity, and the best interests of the Sangha and Rigpa’s work have always been foremost in my heart. I have done my best to help support anyone experiencing difficulties or problems of any kind. If there have been any failings on my part to understand the nature of complaints that were made, or to listen or to act, I am truly sorry… ” and there is more.
These three are not the only people that should be stepping down, however.
Now back to the statement:

Rigpa’s goal has always been, and continues to be, to offer a complete spiritual path, to invite many teachers, especially from the “Ancient” Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, and to offer the Buddhist teachings of meditation, compassion and wisdom to the modern world.

If Rigpa had addressed the problems, laid out clearly and forensically in this excellent Report, when issues were first brought to Senior Rigpa Individuals’ attention, as described in some detail in the Report, then Rigpa would still be in a position to achieve this goal.  Due to not addressing these problems in the past, Rigpa now has to consider, as stated in the Report’s recommendations, if it will be “possible for the organisation to move past these events and operate sustainably and successfully in the future.”
It may not be possible. Particulary when we have a conflict of values between this “Ancient” fuedal tradition and the modern world. Do they really think that reverting to a fuedal system of masters and slaves that we gave up in the West centuries ago is what’s best for the modern world?
Finally, the statement is from the “Vision Board, Rigpa Boards, and the boards of Lerab Ling and Dzogchen Beara.”  If any of you still trust the members of these boards to tell you the truth, to act with integrity, or to have your best interests at heart, remember this: these boards still include individuals who were identified in the Report as “senior individuals within Rigpa who were aware of at least some of these issues and failed to address them, leaving others at risk.”


Current and previous students of Rigpa can participate in private discussion on this and other 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.
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.