The challenge of losing your spiritual path

When members of a Tibetan Buddhist group discover that their leader abused people, their reactions tend to fall roughly into the following categories:

  1. Those who deny or ignore the abuse or explain it away according to their belief system (thinking it’s genuine crazy wisdom) and remain committed to their religion and their group;
  2. Those who accept that the abuse happened and know it was wrong, but stay in the religion and the group, believing that the group will genuinely change such that abuse can never happen again;
  3. Those who leave the group but not the religion;
  4. Those who leave Tibetan Buddhism but remain a Buddhist;
  5. Those who leave Buddhism.

Retaining the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual path

In four out of five of those broad categories, the student retains their TB spiritual path. Those in group 2 or 3 will make some adjustments to how they view the religion or the group in order to accommodate what happened; they will convince themselves that the abuse was an aberration, and that they can find other lamas who don’t abuse his or her students. They continue with Tibetan Buddhism either with another group or with getting teachings from a variety of teachers.

They may will find it very hard, if not impossible, to trust a guru fully again, and they may be very suspicious of all gurus. They will feel adrift for a while, until they work out how to move forward with their religious path. Moving forward for them may entail reading books and/or seeking a new guru and will likely entail some strengthening of their trust in their own discernment. They may be reticent to join another group and will be more aware of cult warning signs, but they can continue with (or eventually return to) their religious practice. They can go back to their Ngondro (many lamas use the Longchen Nyingtik Ngondro) visualising Guru Rinpoche or the Buddha or even the letter Ah as the guru. This continuity of practice will give them some stability, a sense that they have not lost their spiritual path, that this difficulty is just a challenge they will overcome and continue on. For them, it’s not a matter of finding a new path, it’s a matter of developing a new relationship with the religion.

‘I think so many people tend to think of faith as blind adherence to a dogma or unquestioned surrender to an authority figure, and the result is losing self-respect and losing our own sense of what is true. And I don’t think of faith in those terms at all.’

Sharon Salzberg

Retaining a general Buddhist path

Those who give up Tibetan Buddhism but continue with Buddhism can still feel that they’re on some kind of spiritual path – it’s not Tibetan Buddhism anymore; but it’s still Buddhism, and there is a prescribed path. Even so, they struggle with the loss of community, loss of innocence, loss of a set shape to their daily practice and loss of continuity of practice. But if they are willing to retain some Buddhist practice in their life, then they’re not set entirely adrift. After a period of feeling lost, they will eventually find their way back to incorporating some form of Buddhist spiritual practice in their lives.

They may return to basics, study the Theravaden teachings and practice uncontrived meditation only, or study from a variety of sources and focus on compassion practices. There are many options for those who can still engage in some kind of Buddhist practice.

No matter which group you presently fall into, you’ll experience some sense of loss as you adjust to changed circumstances. But those who leave Buddhism entirely, face the most uncertain future. They face the greatest challenge, but also the greatest opportunity for genuine freedom of mind.

Adrift

If you’ve lost your spiritual path, you tend to feel adrift, lost, directionless, floating, groundless. You have no idea where you’re going in terms of your spiritual path. This is particularly difficult for those who followed the structure of the Tibetan Buddhist practices in their daily life. Such students were used to being told what to do each day—for example; one hundred and eight one-hundred-syllable mantras; 3 of a certain prayer, and/or a certain number of accumulations of a vajrayana practice. If now they can’t face doing any of those practices, they feel completely adrift.

How do you progress on your spiritual path when you don’t have one anymore? Are you faced with a life time of not fulfilling your spiritual yearning? That’s a scary prospect for those who have been committed to living a ‘spiritual’ life.

Spiritual path or religious path?

The first thing to realise in handling this situation is to differentiate between a religious path and a spiritual path. One’s spiritual path may include following a religion as part of it, but the spiritual path continues before and after, as well as during, one’s involvement with a religion or cult. We may not always be or have been part of a religion, but we’ve always had a spiritual path, even if we didn’t know we had one – don’t we keep growing simply as part of life? And now, even if it doesn’t feel like it, even if we feel at a loss, we are still on a spiritual path. We are on our own spiritual path, and if it doesn’t look like anyone else’s spiritual path, that’s not because it’s wrong or misguided; it’s because we are unique and so is our spiritual path. Even if on the outside our path looks similar to others, it will never be the same path.

‘The spiritual path – is simply the journey of living our lives. Everyone is on a spiritual path; most people just don’t know it.’

Marianne Williamson

What is a spiritual path?

I couldn’t find a definition of spiritual path that didn’t use a religion’s frame of reference, but Wikipedia did provide a modern version of the word ‘spirituality’:  

Modern usages [of the term spirituality] tend to refer to a subjective experience of a sacred dimension and the “deepest values and meanings by which people live”, often in a context separate from organized religious institutions, such as a belief in a supernatural (beyond the known and observable) realm, personal growth, a quest for an ultimate or sacred meaningreligious experience, or an encounter with one’s own “inner dimension”.

wikipedia.org/wiki/Spirituality

Characteristics of spiritual paths are such things as prayer, meditation – the development of mindfulness and awareness – contemplation, ethical values, a belief or awareness that there is more to the world than what we perceive with our physical senses, deep self-investigation and conscious personal growth, a commitment to service to others and to ‘truth’ – whatever we perceive that to be. Engaging in such things gives a spiritual dimension to our lives even if they aren’t ordered into some kind of path with a beginning, middle and end. (Our life provides its own beginning, middle and end.)

Is there an end?

The word ‘path’ gives us a sense that there is an end point, something we will achieve at the end of the path – enlightenment, Christ consciousness, satori, nirvana and so on – but I find that idea problematic because it suggests a static state, free of mental suffering perhaps, but is there any point at which we cease changing and growing? The nature of the universe is that the only constant is that everything changes all the time; was the Buddha exempt from that? How can there be an end point past which there is no more growth?

The wisdom of not seeking

As I see it, the spiritual path is not about getting to an end point; it’s about how you live your life in every moment.  It’s not about seeking some attainment in the future, but about fully being now and trusting that your very desire to live attuned to what is real and true will naturally move you forward.

Something I’ve found transformative is dropping the idea of seeking enlightenment. It’s held up as such a high state that one is only ever likely to fail to achieve it unless you’re some very special rare individual – so most of us, in seeking this rarely defined state, are setting ourselves up for failure. I’m better able to be focused in present awareness without that constant striving for the unachievable.

We turned to Buddhism probably due to some yearning to connect with a ‘spiritual dimension’ in ourselves and our world, but we can do that by simply tuning into our present awareness. And there are many secular tools we can use to assist us to do that – meditation, yoga, gardening, walking in nature, engaging in art and craft, listening to or creating inspiring music, singing, reading something inspiring, or just sitting quietly and watching the world go by.

‘The practice of being on a spiritual path isn’t about being the best meditator or the kindest possible person or the most enlightened. The practice is about surrendering to love as often as possible.’

Gabrielle Bernstein

The role of teachers

Of course we do need spiritual teachers at some point in our lives to give us pointers for how to work with ourselves, but those of us who’ve had decades of Buddhist study and practice should be able to trust our inner guide by now – that is the point of the path, after all.

Teachers that illuminate our inner beings in some way don’t even have to be a ‘spiritual’ teacher. They could be our yoga teacher or our swimming coach or our counsellor or therapist. There are many different layers to our ‘self’ and many different ways we can learn about them.

Different teachers can teach us different things at different stages of our life, and options will appear to us even if we aren’t looking. If we’re toying with the idea of taking teachings from someone, we just have to examine that someone and their community carefully, trust our gut feelings, and not buy into hopes and projections born out of our of our insecurities.

The trick, I think, of relating to teachers and religions is not to fall into the idea of thinking that they’re ‘the one’ and that they’re all you’ll ever need, all the way to the end of your life. That idea just closes one down to opportunities. The idea that we only need one perfect teacher is untrue and could be dangerous.

Sogyal taught us to abhor the spiritual supermarket – picking a bit of teachings from here and there – but perhaps that is exactly what we need right now. Perhaps that is our path for now. Yes, we could get confused, but once we realise we’re confused, we’ll find some way to move on from that confusion. Certainly, there is a lot to pick from from within the Buddhist path itself, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t avail ourselves of all those different options.

The greater the loss the greater the opportunity for awakening

Steve Taylor in his book The Leap: The Psychology of Spiritual Awakening talks about the research he did into people who exhibit characteristics of awakening. What is clear from his research is that awakened people, or people who show some degree of awakening, are much more numerous than Buddhism would have us believe. Taylor considers awakening as the inevitable future of the human race, the result of the inexorable march of evolution. And he discovered that the thing that causes awakening most often is some major crisis in one’s life where you experience great loss, some time when the rug is ripped out from under you – such as the death of a loved one, a serious accident or illness, anything that sets you adrift, where your old ways of being simply don’t work for you anymore.  

He discovered that though long term religious practice helps one wake up from the ‘sleep’ state experienced by the majority of people, it’s a slow process and it is most transformative when an extended period of religious practice is followed by some traumatic event that changes everything for you – perhaps like the loss of one’s religion.

Don’t despair

So don’t despair. Trust in the natural process of life as spiritual practice. All we have to do is turn up for it and pay attention to ourselves, others and whatever life presents us with. If we stay open, curious, and aware, we can trust that we’re still progressing on our spiritual path. The very yearning that brought us to Buddhism in the first place, is still there, still directing us towards whatever will help us wake up even more. We just have to be open to it and realise that opportunities for growth might not look a bit like how we expect them to.

Don’t worry if you feel lost, directionless, bereft, rudderless, and so on; those states are full of potential for transformation. Being adrift is also being without reference, and that’s something we aimed for as dzogchen practitioners, so let’s embrace our new state, whatever it is. We don’t need to know where we’re going in order to appreciate the journey. We’re on a pathless path, a journey without an end.

You also might be more awakened than you think you are. When you read the qualities of awakening laid out in the above book, you might be surprised just how many of those qualities you already have. And honestly, does it really matter where you are on the ‘enlightenment scale’? Isn’t the important thing not where we’re heading but how we live each moment?

I went to a yoga class yesterday. The first one since I joined Rigpa. And oh, how I enjoyed it. I’ve also been doing some art and craft, and gardening.

What activities do you find are an outlet for that part of yourself that yearns to connect with the ‘spiritual dimension’? And please share any thoughts you have on walking a pathless path?

Image by Jim Semonik from Pixabay

Time to Move On? Or not?

The idea of moving on as an indication of healing from a distressing situation can be applied to both individuals and to organisations. In this post I look first at how Rigpa is using the idea of Rigpa Moving Forward, and then at how a narrow view of the concept of moving on can be counterproductive to our personal healing.

Rigpa Moving Forward

Rigpa has a web page called Rigpa Moving Forward on which they list all the things they’ve done and plan to do following The Lewis Silken Independent Report on the allegations made in the July 2017 letter by the eight Rigpa students. Though it reads if all the right things are being done – and their transparancy is admirable – if they follow the pattern they’ve established so far in dealing with the abuse issues, the results are likely to fall short of their assurances, as they did with the Rigpa Code of Conduct, and what Rigpa are referring to as ‘apologies’.

What we see in their communications to the sangha is a desire to move on as soon as possible from a situation where the embarrasing issue of abuse in Rigpa is in the public spotlight. They want everyone to forget about it and get back to business, but isn’t it a bit premature to be pushing for moving on when the issues at the core of the problem haven’t been solved? Everything they have done, which they proudly list on the Moving Forward webpage, have been the equivilent of putting a Band Aid on a cancer.

Band Aid on a cancer

Why is it like a Band Aid on a cancer? Because their spiritual advisors apparently believe, as Sogyal did, that once a student has taken a lama as their tantric guru, they cannot criticise, must obey him or her without question, see their teacher as a living Buddha, and see his or her every action as the beneifical actions of a Buddha no matter what they do. These are the very same beliefs that created the Rigpa culture that enabled the abuse, and no matter what a code of conduct says and no matter how good they get at listening to their acolytes, while they still cling to these beliefs, nothing fundamental has changed. And just as cancer ignored will only fester, an organisation that makes only surface changes when the cause of the issue runs deep will never be truly healthy.

Ripe for reoccurance

It’s a situation ripe for reoccurance of abuse, even with a lama who has signed their code of conduct. How can that be? Because the code, though it sounds good on the surface, uses vague terminology open to different interpretations and does not catagorically rule out sexual relations between teachers and students other than during an actual teaching event. It does not rule out grooming a student during an event for a sexual relationship after the event nor does it define what kinds of actions constitute harm.

And the section of the Rigpa Shared Values & Guidelines document titled ‘Entering the Vajrayana Path’ says that when students make ‘a formal request for this level of spiritual guidance’ that constitutes ‘consent to this level of spiritual guidance.’ Given the beliefs mentioned above that are still in play about ‘this level of spiritual guidance’, that consent could mean consent to what some would call crazy wisdom and what others would call abuse.

Moving forward or putting on a good front?

The Moving Forward page is a handy resource for Rigpa management and instructors since they can point to it to assure anyone who raises the issue of Sogyal’s abuse that it’s all being taken care of. But is it?

The page says, ‘The teams managing Rigpa internationally and nationally, including the Vision Board, have been reflecting on the culture that enabled this situation to take place, and continue to do so. Workshops specifically addressing this topic will continue to take place in the coming months.’ This sounds wonderful –
as I pointed out above, getting to the root of the problem is exactly what they should be doing – however, sources inside Rigpa have told me that they have heard nothing about such workshops. But even if they do actually work out what beliefs enabled the abusive culture, will they be prepared to actually go against their advisors views and change them?

Given all this, isn’t the idea of Rigpa truly moving on from an abuse enabling culture at the vajryana level at the worst impossible and at the best premature?

When moving on is counterproductive

A popular idea is that healing from any distressing situation requires one to ‘move on’. Though some kind of alteration of one’s relationship to a distressing situation needs to occur for us to heal, the idea of the necessity of moving on as soon as possible can be misused. It can be a way of saying, ‘Shut up I don’t want to hear about it any more,’ or ‘the problem is solved, everything is now okay,’ even when it isn’t.

In the following video I talk about the importance of not moving on prematurely and not having a narrow view of what is meant by ‘moving on’. The ‘issue’ I refer to here is, of course, that of abuse in Tibetan Buddhism

Do you feel that you have ‘moved on’? In what way? And what does ‘moving on’ look like for you? Let’s talk about this in the comments.


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’.

Image by Stafford GREEN from Pixabay

Can You Still Take Sogyal as Your teacher?

It’s okay to leave

Many lamas have said that if you discover, even after making a commitment to them, that a lama is not who you thought they were, or if they are not good for you, or if the relationship has broken down for whatever reason, then one can walk away from one’s vajra master without an issue with samaya, so long as one retains respect for the good one gained from the relationship.

And HH Dalai Lama said in Dharamsala 1993, “If you have already taken tantric initiations from them [a guru], you should not develop disrespect or antipathy. In such cases, the Kalachakra Tantra advises us to maintain a neutral attitude and not pursue the relationship any further.”
Chokyi Ngyima Rinpoche told a friend of mine, “If you can no longer see your tantric guru as a Buddha, then you should leave quietly.”

The usual advice is to leave quietly, but both His Holiness Dalai lama and Mingyur Rinpoche have said that when serious abuse has occured if a teacher does not respond to private requests for the behaviour to stop – as is the case with Sogyal – then it is necessary to make the abuses public in order to protect others and the purity of the dharma.

Motivation is the key: speaking out of hatred or desire for revenge is wrong. However, if we know that by not speaking out, their negative behavior will continue and will harm the Buddhadharma, and we still remain silent, that is wrong.” HH Dalai Lama. Dharamsala 1993.

That’s why people have spoken out publically or have spoken to Karen Baxter as part of the independent investigation into the allegations raised in the Letter to Sogyal Lakar 14-07-2017

A master of serious physical, sexual and emotional abuse

The results of the independant investigation confirmed that the behaviours outlined in that letter are true:

Based on the evidence available to me, I am satisfied that, on the balance of probabilities: a. some students of Sogyal Lakar (who were part of the ‘inner circle’, as described later in this report) have been subjected to serious physical, sexual and emotional abuse by him;

Karen Baxter in the Lewis Silkin report  details  widespread evidence that members of Sogyal’s inner circle – who catered to his every need, including providing massages as he fell asleep – were subjected to repeated acts of brutal violence. The lama’s wooden backscratcher was a favoured method for beating people, as was punching them in the stomach. Baxter says she has been provided with evidence of one individual being knocked unconscious, others being left bleeding and concussed.

She also outlines “significant” first-hand evidence of young women being coerced, manipulated and intimidated into providing sexual favours. One witness, a teenager who arrived at a Rigpa retreat seeking respite from depression and self-harm, was asked to strip a week after coming to work in the lama kitchen. When she refused, she alleges, she was beaten and then later forced into sex.
If you are a student of Sogyal Rinpoche and haven’t read the full report, you need to. Until you do, you have not fully investigated your teacher.
And you need to try to understand the depth of the harm that Sogyal caused, that the harm was not only in the event that caused the trauma, but also in the resulting Post Traumatic Stress that plagues survivors for decades (if not their whole life) afterwards.
Rigpa communications pay lip service to compassion, but their actions show no real compassion towards survivors of Sogyal Rinpoche’s abuse and no understanding of the long-term results of the trauma they experienced. Research Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the dynamics and results of domestic abuse, and you might start to understand the depth of the harm, and begin to see just how sick the Rigpa culture is in the inner circle. The trauma is similar to that experienced by children with an abusive family. And what you read in the report is only the tip of the iceburg.

Now that you know the truth, can you still take him as your teacher?

So, with that in mind, how can anyone possibly still take Sogyal as their teacher now? I think we can try to rationalize staying faithful with all sorts of philosophy, but it’s likely to be be the same philosophy that allowed it all to happen in the first place – the Rigpa-speak party line of crazy wisdom, pure perception and devotion all slightly skewed to enable the abuse. That’s what we were fed, after all, and it’s what we’ll still believe unless we’ve examined those beliefs in light of what happened and seen how they were used to manipulate, control and silence us.

If you’re trying to hold onto your belief in Sogyal’s worth as a teacher, then ask yourself why, against all evidence to the contrary?
You may have had only good interactions with him yourself, but does that make up for the serious harm he caused others? No it does not, just as in the Jimmy Saville case. No one would say that the good that he did makes up for the harm he caused.
Over the last year I have heard many more stories such as those in the report. This didn’t happen to only a few people, and a lot of people are too scared to speak out. Some are too scared to even consider that they were abused in the name of training. The long-term results of that denial is not good for their mental health. If you’re having flashbacks to your ‘training’, particularly ones associated with a feeling of fear or anxiety in your body, then you have been traumatised, and your mental gymnastics to tell yourself that it was love, not abuse, is the result of the brainwashing you were subjected to that made you ‘take’ it and see people ‘taking it’ without complaint. Listen to your body, not your mind on this, and if you are unsure if what you experienced was abuse or love, then don’t talk to someone in Rigpa (because they’ll pretend to be open but their agenda is likely to be  to try to convince you it was love), find a councilor from outside and have a chat.
Fear is not a good motivation for remaining with a teacher – fear of hell, of being shuned or shamed, of losing one’s practice and so on – but you can leave without breaking samaya. You just say thank you for the good you brought me, but my trust in you is now broken, so I must move on. And there are other lamas who you can go to so your practice need not suffer if you’re afraid of it falling apart. Just substitute one lama for the other. After all, the focus of our practice was supposed to be Guru Rinpoche, the embodiment of the love and compassion of all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
I handle this situation by thinking – he was my teacher and I gained much from my relationship with him. I’ll always be grateful for that, but now he is no longer my teacher. I could not possibly take him as my teacher now that I know what I know. He is, as HHDL says, “Disgraced.”

Were the teachings as pure as we thought?

Now I believe that his teachings on devotion and pure perception, though not incorrect, were subtly distorted in order to set himself up at the centre of our spiritual life, to make us dependent on him, and to make his inner circle his virtual slaves, just as in any personality cult. I doubt this was intentional; it is, however, what happened.
It’s hard to accept that you were, or are, in a cult, but after studying what characterises a cult, and seeing how Rigpa management persists in using cult tactics for manipulation of student’s perceptions, I can come to no other conclusion. Once I accepted that, I found the literature on recovering from a cult very helpful. Here on the blog, we looked at some of the key beliefs we were taught and saw how they had been used to manipulate and control us, and to give Sogyal permission to behave as he liked. Once you see that, there is no going back.

The yes-or-no question

But whether or not you want to use the cult word, and whether or not you want to stay and try to help Rigpa reform, you still have to ask yourself: Is this a man I can follow as my spiritual teacher now? And the answer to that for this moment in time has to be yes or no.
For so long as you avoid asking yourself that question, and for so long as you avoid making a decision, you will be in a state of confusion, and your spiritual life will suffer. So I encourage you to decide. Can you still take Sogyal as your teacher now that you know what he is really like?


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.

If the Mental Disorder Fits, Wear it.

When a cult leader has a mental disorder

When a cult leader has a mental disorder, (Anti-social Personality Disorder (psychopathy) and Narcissistic Personality Disorder are comon ones), devotees will find all kinds of ways to downplay it or call it something else. And when the leader abuses his or her students, devotees may even justify the abuse as being for the benefit of the student – certainly this is the case in the Tibetan Buddhist sangha of Rigpa. A devotee in a cult cannot be convinced that there is anything wrong with their leader. On the contrary, they spiritualise their damaging behaviour as ‘crazy wisdom’ or ‘beyond the ability of ordinary beings to discern’ and so forth.
A Bagwan Shee Rashneesh follower told me back in the 80s that Bagwan had 100 Rolls Royces because he was free of attachment, and the fact that this was an illogical stance since the very opposite appeared to be true – he appeared to be very attached to Rolls Royces – made no difference to the devotees conviction. In the same way, you cannot convince those in Rigpa and other Tibetan Buddhist communities who think that assaulting students, coercing people into sex, and emotionally abusing them is enlightened behaviour that it is in fact trauma-inducing abuse delivered by a person with a mental disorder. And yet, maintaining this stance that there is nothing wrong with the perpetrator of the abuse, which they do as a mark of their devotion and allegiance to their leader, does not help the leader at all. What such leaders need is to be made aware of their disorder and encouraged to seek help, for the leader’s sake and the sake of those who are devoted to him or her.

Where psychology beats Buddhism

The Buddha had some profound insights into the nature of the human mind and its role in human happiness. When I found Buddhism, I, like many others, thought I’d hit the spiritual jackpot. This is it! I thought. Here is the truth. Encouraged by a teacher who put down psychology at every opportunity, I thought vajrayana Buddhism was way ahead of psychology, but it’s very clear to me now that in the area of personality and mental disorders Buddhism is lagging far behind psychology.
There is nothing in Buddhism about mental disorders. The system of thought is designed for people who are already mentally healthy, so there is no way for someone relying on that system of thought for their understanding of the mind to recognise a mental disorder when it’s staring them in the face. This is a problem when a teacher or instructor is faced with trying to help a student with such a disorder,  but it is even more of a problem when the guru themselves is exhibiting signs of a mental disorder. Not only does Tibetan Buddhism not recognise a mental disorder in a guru for what it is, the religion mistakes it for a special kind of spiritual achievement – crazy wisdom!
Talk about the snake and the rope! (In joke for Rigpa Dzogchen students: the rope is not only not seen as what it is, it is also mistaken for a snake. This is an analogy for how we don’t recognise reality for what it is, empty of essence, and instead mistake it for something solid.)
In a fuedal society and a religion with a fuedal power structure this turning an issue with a leader into something that adds to his or her power isn’t surprising. Keeping the power of the guy at the top is of vital importance in a fuedal system, so rather than admit that the guru has mental issues, the religion makes him out to be especially gifted.  It happens once, and then the concept of ‘crazy’ as a mark of great realisation is enshrined within the religion. How much of the stories told to back up the benefits of a crazy wisdom master are true? Did such behaviour really benefit the student or was it a white wash from the start? We will never know. I suspect that Tibetan Buddhism has been gaslighting devotees for centuries.
And even if Marpa really did assist Milarepa on his journey to enlightenment through ‘unconventional’ means, then we still have to ask how much has this story been used in service to a lineage of lamas who, generation after generation, suffered from the trauma of being abused as children.  They were brought up to believe, as Orgyen Tobgyal said in Paris last year, that ‘beating increases wisdom’ and that pain will wash away bad karma. This is awfully like what the Christian flagellents believed in the fourtheenth century. And guess what? We’ve come a long way since then, but some sects of Tibetan Buddhism are still stuck in that antiquated and unhealthy belief system.
Modern psychology recognises trauma and mental disorders and knows how to treat them, and the best thing students can do for their lamas and their sangha is to recognise the signs when they see them and help their lama to see that they need help. Easier said than done, I know. Some tried with Sogyal, but he never actually made it to a psyciatrist. What a shame!
Why am I talking about lamas as if they have mental disorders? Well, obviously some are quite sane, but others? If the cap fits, wear it, I say. Denying the issue does no one any good, and any student who gives unquestioning obedience to someone with a mental disorder, (even if he is not physically present with them) is not in a healthy situation.
I leave you to decide how much of the following applies to Sogyal Rinpoche and Chogyan Trungpa. Oh and maybe you should also consider Orgyen Tobyal and Dzongsar Khyentse while you read.  It’s from an Integrative Psychology article on institutional abuse.  https://integrativepsychology.net.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/institutional-abuse.pdf

Characteristics of Abusive Group Leaders

“One type of abusive group leader is the charismatic leader, common in cults. Such a leader possesses strong talent for self-expression coupled with the ability to sense and read the needs of followers. These needs are then normally converted into the form of seductive promises that slowly lure the individual into the personalised ideology of the leader. Cult leaders are often incredibly manipulative and whilst they spend a great deal of time creating an image for their followers the essence of their personality is predatory. Therefore, charismatic leaders exhibit many of the features required for formal diagnoses under the DSM ( Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders ) category of personality disorders. Two personality disorders in particular- Anti-social Personality Disorder (psychopathy) and Narcissistic Personality Disorder- share many of the characteristics of abusive group leaders (APA, 2014; Aron, 2011; Edelstein, 2011; Shaw, 2003).
In the text “Take your Life Back” by Lalich and Tobias (2006) they suggest a checklist to help individuals identify and demystify the traits of a psychopathic/sociopathic, charismatic leader.

  • Glibness and Superficial Charm: The charismatic leader is able to beguile and confuse and convince through the use of language; they are able to disarm and persuade with incredible proficiency. Tilgner, L., Dowie, T.K (Ph.D)., & Denning, N. (2015). 15
  • Manipulative: The inability to recognise the rights and needs of others enabling any self-serving behaviour to be permissible. They divide the world into (1) those who can be manipulated, (2) those who are one’s enemies, and (3) themselves. Many people involved in a cult have been allocated to the category of those who can be manipulated and anyone who objects to behaviours quickly finds themselves in the position of the enemy.
  • A Grandiose Sense of Self: Leaders have a tremendous feeling of entitlement, they by nature believe that they are owed and have the right to whatever behaviour they wish hence nothing is immoral or out of reach if it is in the quest to quench their insatiable desire.
  • Pathological Lying: The leader is able to lie and be untruthful without any sense of impropriety. The cult leader will often construct complex self-aggrandizing narratives, which will represent them as having special or unique powers. This kind of lying is connected to something called pseudologica fantastica, which is the term given to the complex belief systems and traditions which they themselves develop (eg., they are the manifestation of some supreme power).
  • Lack of Remorse, Shame and Guilt: The leader exhibiting sociopathic tendencies is unable to experience shame or guilt for their hurtful and damaging behaviours thus they see others as mere objects for the gratification of their needs. These needs are often carefully hidden and concealed within the subtext of some system of thought, which condones the lack of care and concern. They also tend to lack the capacity for genuine empathy but may disguise this with false displays of care and understanding.
  • Lack of Emotional Depth: The leader who is unable to express remorse is also likely to have difficulty with anything but shallow displays of emotion. Due to the power imbalance the emotional lack on behalf of the leader is often mistaken for some kind of profound equipoise gained through diligent adherence to the group values and practices. Much of the emotional display is designed simply to manipulate the followers.
  • Impulse Control: Leaders can exhibit problems with impulse control (otherwise referred to as acting out). This acting out normally takes a number of forms, the most common of which are sexual and physical abuse. This behaviour is often known only to a select few yet when it is publicly known complex explanations are offered. Usually this involves the leader behaving in ways that are simply beyond the understanding of their “less enlightened” followers. Thus there is often a claim to a special kind of teaching; this is particularly the case in sexual exploitation within spiritual cults. Spiritual cult Tilgner, L., Dowie, T.K (Ph.D)., & Denning, N. (2015). 16 leaders may claim they are passing on or helping their victim’s consciousness or spirituality. In the history of cultic studies it is usually the case that the sexual behaviour of the cult leader towards the followers is never truly consensual as it has arisen through sustained and deliberate degradation of personal will via threats of violence, control, and slow and surreptitious psychological manipulation over extended periods of time.

Conclusions and Key Recommendations: Profile of Abusive Leaders

  • Psychological abuse, a powerful weapon of abusive leaders, is usually insidious and highly corrosive of identity and sense of self. Being harder to detect than physical abuse, the victim may find themselves caught on the receiving end of a destructive cycle of “crazy-making”.
  • Authoritarian style personality is linked to abuse of power and control. Authoritarian personality characteristics: organise through hierarchy, move towards acquisitions of power and wealth, tendency to use people and see others as inferior or wrong, have a tendency towards sado-masochism, incapacity to be fulfilled and satisfied, suffer from feelings of paranoia and persecution.
  • Two personality disorders in particular- Anti-social Personality Disorder (psychopathy/sociopathy) and Narcissistic Personality Disorder- are found in abusive group leaders.
  • Characteristics of sociopathic group leaders: glibness and superficial charm, manipulativeness, a grandiose sense of self, pathological lying, lack of remorse, lack of emotional depth and impulse control.
  • We may expect such sociopathic characteristics in cult leaders but consider leaders of new age movements, that proclaim a superior way of life; and survivors of clergy abuse who have frequently described a process of “grooming”, whereby their dependency and powerlessness was used to abuse and threaten them into silence. People in power who abuse others may share some if not all of the characteristics of authoritarian personality, charismatic, sociopathic and narcissistic personality styles.
  • We recommend when dealing with individuals exiting an abusive group to appreciate the impacts of exposure to authoritarian and personality disordered group leaders and fellow members who may have emulated the behaviour of the leader.
  • We recommend fully recognising the extent to which psychological control and influence have been used to disempower the individual. Working with exmembers of abusive groups is a process of rehabilitation; the supporting and rebuilding of a person that has been violated psychologically and possibly physically, sexually, and financially.
  • Greater awareness, prevention and intervention of psychological abuse is required. Prevalence and impacts of psychological abuse across all levels of interpersonal relationship (ie., intimate relationships, schools, sporting, community and church) requires investigation and appropriate intervention.”

There’s a lot here to think about, not just about the teacher who may have a mental disorder, but also those who may have emulated the behaviour, and those of us in the process of recovery after exiting an abusve cult.
What jumps out of this article for you?


Private discussion on this and other related topics can be had on our Secret  What Now Facebook Group. It is only for current and previous students of Rigpa, however, and we do moderate it closely. If you’re interested in joining, please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
People from other sanghas can join the Dharma Friends Beyond the Temple Facebook Group . It’s a support group for anyone who has left their Buddhist sangha after hearing revelations of abuse by their teacher or after experiencing such abuse. It’s for people who see ethical behaviour, love, compassion and introspection as the core of their spiritual path. The aim of the group is to support each other in our spiritual journey wherever it takes us. 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.

Project Sunshine's Final Report and the Importance of Sharing Your Story

The Buddhist_Project_Sunshine_Phase_2_Final_Report is out and is something that anyone concerned about abuse in Tibetan Buddhist communities should read as it relates not only to the Shambala community but to any Tibetan Buddhist community where abuse, such as we saw in Rigpa, is perpetrated by those in power, facilitated by the way certain teachings are interpreted, and covered up by the inner circle.
If you were abused, particularly if you had sexual relations with Sogyal Rinpoche/Lakar that you were uncomfortable with, this report is a ‘must read’.
The report is well considered, well written, and has contributions by professionals working in relevant fields as well as stories by students who were abused.
The Buddhist Project Sunshine is a grass roots independent healing initiative started by second-generation Shambhalian, Andrea Winn, in February 2017 for the Shambhala Buddhist community and people who were forced to leave this community. She wrote the Phase 1 Final Report at the end of the first year of the project, and this caused the Shambhala leadership to publicly acknowledge the widespread sexualized violence in the community.

Chogyam Trungpa

This caused people to look more closely at the teacher many of us respected for his books. Most of us knew he was a womaniser and a drunk, but we didn’t know details of his behaviour until the stories of abuse started coming out.
Here’s one: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1881730772127723&id=100008724543238&hc_location=ufi
And here’s the story about him torturing a cat. https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1866927776941356&id=100008724543238&hc_location=ufi
By now, you’ve probably all read the story of the couple at the party being stripped and beaten.  (https://boulderbuddhistscam.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/the-party.pdf and http://www.litkicks.com/MerwinNaropa.)  It’s horrific behaviour from someone who has set himself up as a spiritual teacher, and like Sogyal Lakar/Rinpoche it’s the kind of harmful behaviour that, despite the attempts of those who consider these teachers enlightened, cannot be justified  by religious philosophy.  There is no justification for causing harm. None. Especially for a Buddhist who’s first vow is to do no harm.
If these teachers were enlightened, they would realise the results of their behaviour. The fact that their behaviour did cause harm, indicates that they are not enlightened. I’m not buying the ‘I’m a lesser being so how can I tell’ line. I have discernment, and the Buddha encouraged his disciples to use their intelligence, not follow in blind faith.
Sogyal Rinpoche and Dzongsar Kyentse and who knows who else in the Tibetan Buddhist religion look up to this guy!

Sogyal the disgrace

Sogyal Rinpoche is also mentioned in the report, along with a list of other Buddhist teachers who have also behaved in abusive ways:

“Sogyal Rinpoche has been among the ranks of the most famous Tibetan lamas in the world and his Rigpa community has been one of the largest Tibetan Buddhist communities in the world for many years. The first public revelations regarding Sogyal’s abusive behavior arose during the early 1990’s when Sogyal was sued by one of his female American students and settled out of court.
Over twenty years later, a group of eight of his senior students published an open letter decrying his “unethical and immoral,” “abusive and violent behavior,” “physical, emotional, and psychological abuse of students,” “sexual abuse of students,” and “lavish, gluttonous, and sybaritic lifestyle,” concluding that Sogyal’s “actions have tainted our appreciation for the practice.”nSogyal would be one of the first of several Tibetan lamas exposed for clergy sexual misconduct, including Lama Norlha, Thomas Rich, and others.
Although Rigpa attempted to do damage control, when an audience of thousands witnessed Sogyal punching a nun in the belly, a global public condemnation ensued. Sogyal and Rigpa became the paradigm case for abusive gurus and their circles of complicity and collusion, a model of disgraced dharma. The Dalai Lama himself has publicly denounced Sogyal as a disgrace, and vehemently criticized the conditions, beliefs, and behaviors which allow Sogyal-like behavior to fester and damage sentient beings.”

Why sharing stories is important

The report includes two anonymous survivor impact statements and a story submission that are people’s experiences.  These are very powerful because they show exactly how the teachings are used to facilitate abuse, how the inner circle students facilitated it, and how the power difference plays out to negate any idea that there is consent involved.
The stories tell the same kind of tale as those told by women abused by Sogyal. The pattern is the same.
These impact statements are very powerful. They cut through any preconceived notions you may have about the abuse, because the person’s own words as they describe their actual experience. It takes us from the realm of hearing into the realm of experiencing as our empathy kicks in and we identify with the survivor. That, were circumstances different, could have been us.
And we need to hear more of them. Why? Because the pattern is virtually the same regardless of the guru, and the more such stories that we hear, the more we are unable to ignore the fact that these stories tell us the truth. And once we have accepted the truth, we can no longer sit by and allow it to continue. Our sanghas may be reticent to look at the beliefs that allowed this kind of thing to happen, but the voices of truth will remain and the power of their truth will eventually result in change.
Project Sunshine would never have happened had Andrea M. Winn, MEd, MCS not been prepared to break the silence, and the Rigpa sangha would still be in ignorance of the true nature of their lama had 8 people not spoken up. And there are many, many more with similar stories to tell. Stories that people must hear if something is to change at a fundamental level: the level of behaviour of those in power and the power structures that give them total control.
I encourage anyone who has been abused to contact me and share their story anonymously on this blog. Doing so will be a healing process for you and for others with similar stories who read it, a great service to the development of a Vajrayana Buddhism relevant to the modern day, one where such abuses can never happen again.  When women know how they may be manipulated into a guru’s bed, they will be more likely to avoid it. Speaking up will save other women from the same trauma.
The #metoo movement showed the extent of sexual abuse in society in general, and only the same kind of unreserved breaking of the silence will show the extent in Tibetan Buddhism as well. And only once the full extent of it is known will the lamas be moved to do something about it from their end, so please, do speak up. Contact me now.
The report is dedicated to the women who have been abused by their guru. I know you have struggled alone, some of you for decades, and I hope you have found a way to come to terms with your experience. I also hope that our efforts in breaking the silence now will help you be able to finally finish with the repercussions of that phase of your life.

This report is dedicated with honour to the brave women who each found her own way to survive sexual abuse by her guru.
May each of these women find a true and lasting peace and benefit from the deep healing of the truth coming to light.”

An analysis of Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s essay on Sogyal Rinpoche & Rigpa

One of the appendices is an analysis of DZK’s essay on Sogyal and Rigpa and it is  brilliant. Andrea Winn states, with great clarity, what most everyone I have spoken to about that essay have observed as regards to it. It’s another reason to read this report.

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche’s pseudo-apology”

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche’s ‘apology’ is included in this report, but, like Sogyal’s attempts at apology,  it is another pseudo-apology. I read the whole thing and at the end, I said to myself, ” Where is the apology?”
He says: “I have recently learned that some of these women have shared experiences of feeling harmed as a result of these relationships. I am now making a public apology.”
That’s it. He says some women have felt harmed and that he is making an apology, but there is nothing that says, “I’m sorry I hurt you. I really regret my actions. I feel ashamed that I behaved like that, and I will refrain from behaving like that again.” Why do lamas find this so hard to do?
Have they ever actually engaged in the practice of vajrasattva? If they had,  they would have internalised the importance for purifying negative karma of accepting responsibility for their negative actions, feeling regret that they caused harm (not just a feeling of harm) and vowing never to repeat the action.
Either they don’t practice or understand the teachings they give or they really don’t think they have accumulated any negative karma. If that’s the case, given all that we know now, their arrogance is incredible.

From page 266 of The Words of my Perfect Teacher.
Confessing without regret cannot purify them, for past misdeeds are like poison within; so confess them with shame, trepidation and great remorse. … Without resolve for the future there is no purification.

What kind of Buddhism do we want in the West?

The report also includes steps for the future on a personal and organisational level. It truly is a ray of sunshine in that respect. Some of us these days find it very hard to feel positive about the future of such organisations. I hope that Shambala has better results than Rigpa, but I can see from the report that similar dynamics are playing out. What they do have is the benefit of Project Sunshine. Well done, Andrea and the other contributors.
I found the section titled ‘Ahimsa: Envisioning A New Buddhism In The West’ by Dr. Elizabeth Monson inspiring. She basically asks what kind of Buddhism do we want in the West, and makes it clear that it is up to us to not settle for anything less. I include here an excerpts for your reflection:

It is important to bring our own misunderstandings and naivete, as well as the abusive behaviors perpetrated by teachers, into the light and out of the darkness of collusion and secrecy. This is not only to prompt teachers to take responsibility and stand accountable for their actions, but also to encourage all the practitioners who put their faith and love in a teacher who has triggered experiences of profound pain and suffering to participate in the processes of change that must take place. Whether we love and respect a teacher or not, we should recognize that anyone who serves as a Buddhist teacher and role model is responsible for upholding a standard of moral behavior and a vision of what true liberation, true compassion, and true wisdom really look like on a practical, daily level. Whether the teacher’s teachings are brilliant or not, his or her actions must be in accord with the view. As Padmasambhava taught back in the eighth century, “Though the view should be as vast as the sky, keep your conduct as fine as barley flour.” Ahimsa: Envisioning A New Buddhism In The West – Dr. Elizabeth Monson By Lopon Eli

We welcome Shambala students and other Buddhist students disenchanted with their teacher and their organisation to join our Dharma Friends  Beyond the Temple Facebook Group.  See description below.
What did you think of the report?


Private discussion on this and other related topics can be had on our Secret  What Now Facebook Group. It is only for current and previous students of Rigpa, however, and we do moderate it closely. If you’re interested in joining, please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
People from other sanghas can join the Dharma Friends Beyond the Temple Facebook Group . It’s a support group for anyone who has left their Buddhist sangha after hearing revelations of abuse by their teacher or after experiencing such abuse. It’s for people who see ethical behaviour, love, compassion and introspection as the core of their spiritual path. The aim of the group is to support each other in our spiritual journey wherever it takes us. 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.

Beliefs We Need to Examine

A major part of healing from the cult experience is deconstructing your experience in the cult to see how you were manipulated and examining the beliefs you subscribed to that kept you under the control of the leader and the group.
Below is a list of some of the beliefs that I and other devoted students of Sogyal Rinpoche subscribed to to some degree. I never examined those beliefs at the time, but now it’s important to do so.
This short vlog tells you why.

So basically, not examing the beliefs you held while in a cult is not good for your psychological health as you move forward with your life. And this is not just me saying it, it’s in the recovering-from-a-cult literature you can find by searching the web.
Here’s a list of beliefs that I and others will be examining in the coming weeks. We’ll also be looking at key teachings and asking whether or not we understood them correctly.

  • A great master acting in an unconventional (abusive) manner that would be unacceptable in normal circumstances can bring enormous spiritual benefit to the student;
  • A true vajrayana master points out your hidden faults and that’s what Sogyal Rinpoche is doing when he gives public dressing downs;
  • Everything a mahasiddha does brings benefit;
  • What appears as abuse is actually highly sort-after training that the students experience as love and find transformative;
  • You need a master in order to recognise the nature of mind;
  • Devotion is the key to ‘getting’ the nature of mind;
  • The degree of your devotion is a mark of your realisation;
  • Sogyal Rinpoche is Guru Rinpoche in the flesh;
  • You must see your master as the Buddha if you want the blessings of the Buddha;
  • Sogyal Rinpoche is a great crazy-wisdom master;
  • Great merit is gained by serving your master with your body, speech and mind;
  • You should never criticise your teacher;
  • To criticise your teacher is a breakage of samaya;
  • Breaking samaya is the worst thing you can do for your spiritual life;
  • If you break samaya you will go to hell;
  • If I see something the master does as wrong, it’s proof that I don’t have pure perception;
  • If I speak up about anything in his behaviour that I feel uncomfortable about, I prove that I lack sufficient devotion and so are unworthy of receiving the highest teachings;
  • Not having ‘risings’ (thoughts and emotions) about what I see is proof that the practice is working.
  • The intention behind an action makes it good or bad.
  • Sogyal is a holder of the prestigious lineage of masters in the Nyingma tradition.

Can you think of any other beliefs held in Rigpa that contributed to a situation where abuse could flourish? If so, let me know and I’ll add them to the list for examination. I think we have some interesting conversations coming up!
Here’s some additions that came to me privately or in the comments below:

  • The teaching ‘Let it go’ concerning your risings. Did this become repression of emotions?
  • Did we misuse the Lojong teachings?
  • If the teacher has been recognized as a tulku, they are, therefore, enlightened, and such a teacher’s behavior can only be beneficial, no matter how it may appear.
  • Sex between teacher and student is part of our lineage. Such sex is good for the lama’s health and for the woman’s spiritual advancement.
  • There is no truth, there is only individual perception.
  • The guru is the “face” of your enlightenment, so that if you doubt the guru, you doubt your own enlightened nature. And the paradigm behind this is: “You cannot trust your own perception, because you are deluded, neurotic, etc. I know better what is right for you than you. I know the way to your happyness, and therefore you must obey and trust me.”
  • Teachings on Karma such as:
    • If you don´t follow the master´s instructions you and your loved ones will suffer physical torture or even die.
    • Everything you perceive materially or in your mind is the result of your karma, the result of ripening karma.
    • When the teacher treats you badly it´s because of your karma.
  • devotion and pure perception mean blind faith
  • you can tolerate and hide breaches of the ethical conduct of a master for the better good of the propagation of the Dharma
  • any contact with the guru is beneficial

Private discussion on this and other related topics can be had on our Secret Facebook Group. Is is only for current and previous students of Rigpa, however, and we do moderate it closely. If you’re interested in joining, please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
Ex-Rigpa students and their Rigpa dharma friends who want to move on from the discussion of abuse in Rigpa can stay in touch through the Dharma Companions Facebook Group.
The What Now? Reference Material page has links to a wealth of articles in the topics related to abuse in Buddhist communities. For links to places to assist in healing from abuse see the sangha care resources page.
Those of you who are interested in ‘keeping Buddhism clean’ could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page.

Recovering from an Abusive Group

Whether or not the French Legal system determines that Rigpa is a cult, if you personally accept that you were in a cult, you can then apply the wealth of support material for cult victims to your own situation, and that can be very helpful for moving on with your life in your post-Rigpa experience. Whether you can bring ourself to use that word or not, however, you likely cannot deny that, according to the experiences described in the July letter from 8 long term students and other publically available testimonies made by ex-Rigpa members, abuse did occur in Rigpa, and therefore Rigpa could be called an ‘abusive group’.
Though many of us did not experience or see physical or sexual abuse ourselves, most of us who went to a retreat with Sogyal Rinpoche would likely have seen some form of emotional abuse. What we were indoctrinated to see as ‘kindness’ or ‘personal teachings’ ticks all the boxes for meeting the definition of emotional abuse. And how many of those who worked on retreats, particularly in national teams experienced or saw some form of abuse? Unless they remain stuck in denial,  everyone who has seen or experienced any form of abuse in an abusive group will need to go through a process of recovery.
So I’ve gathered some free resources to assist with this:
If you’re not sure if you were in an abusive group or not, try these checklists:
SPIRITUALLY_ABUSIVE_SYSTEMS
Emotional_Abuse_Checklist 
 Group_Psych_Abuse_Scale
And the following two books can help with recovery, no matter what level of abuse you saw or experienced.
Ford, Wendy_ Recovery from Abusive Groups
Herman_Trauma-and-Recovery 
The following is an excerpt from Wendy Ford’s book Recovery from Abusive Groups. Just noting at what point in these phases of recovery you are presently in will be of assistance to you.
 

Phases in Recovery

The recovery process can span any length of time and, basically, breaks out into three main phases. These three phases are:
1. Awareness and Exit
2. Understanding and Feeling
3. Rebuilding and Dreaming

Phase One – Awareness and Exit

This first phase varies in length, and is often dependent on the method of exiting. This phase is marked by the experiences that alert members to the danger of the group and result in the member’s exiting permanently. The key to an effective exit is to “jump start” the critical thinking process of the mind. This process has been on hold for much too long because the group has told the followers that to question and doubt the group is to betray God (or whatever) [in this instance we would be betraying the lama and would show our lack pure perception and devotion and prove ourselves to be a samaya breaker].
The price for questioning and doubting, they are told, is eternal death [or breaking samaya and going to hell in this instance]. This is a very powerful fear to overcome. Awareness of the insidious nature of the cult and the decision to leave comes slowly for some and quickly for others. For example, someone forcibly deprogrammed becomes aware and leaves the cult very quickly as compared to someone who walks out after reflecting over several months or years on “devilinspired” doubts. Even after leaving, some ex-cultists are not sure if they made the right decision and “float” in between their old cult identity and their new liberated identity or pre-cult self. (See Floating, p. 36.) The more information and support cultists receives during this phase, the better equipped they are to handle the pain and loss of Phase Two.

Phase Two – Understanding and Feeling

The second phase is full of ups and downs, of feeling as if you just returned from Mars, of exciting new freedoms and discoveries, and it is also full of rage and pain. It involves coming to terms with being raped, emotionally and spiritually. And for many, it involves coming to terms with being physically raped as well.
I don’t know how to convey the extremes of pain possible in this phase. Perhaps it is how you would feel standing by helplessly as some crazy person slowly murdered someone you loved. It seems so incredible to many that because they wanted to serve God and their country, [in this instance to become enlightened] wanted to help people, and wanted to make the world a better place-for this idealism (or selflessness) they were cruelly used. This is a very difficult aspect of the experience to reconcile.
“What ever did I do to be treated like this?” is a question that rings deep in the heart of any ex-cultist. The answer to this question resides in understanding how mind control techniques work. It is no wonder, then, that the rage and anger the ex-cultist feels is often overwhelming and frightening. So much so, that many tend to repress or deny the full expression of their emotions. But understanding and feeling one’s emotions in a nondestructive way, I believe, is critical to recovery.
This second phase can be an extraordinary journey through pain and loss to learning and mastery. It varies in length and is dependent on how able the excultist is to experience loss and how disciplined the ex-cultist is to study, think, and work toward a thorough understanding of the experience.

Learning to Trust Again

One of the truly tough parts about working through the experience is the very fact that it’s a very big job. The ex-cultist must learn how to trust life again, and learning to trust requires learning how to test reality. Because the cult phobias and teachings often touched on many aspects of life, such as family, government, education, religion, relationships, and economics, the ex-cultist often finds it necessary to examine and reality test most, if not all, of the teachings received in the cult for subtle, residual ideas that continue to manipulate the ex-cultist. In addition, it is in this phase that individuals must learn again how to trust themselves and their ability to make decisions. Learning to trust after you have been used and hurt can be very scary, but trust in yourself and in others can be rebuilt with disciplined thinking and courage. For those who come from dysfunctional backgrounds, recovering from the cult experience often means acknowledging and recovering from the effects of earlier patterns (Black, 1982), such as:
• Abusive parents, relatives, siblings, spouse
• Behaving abusively toward others
• Alcoholism, rape, incest, eating disorders, drug abuse
• Difficulties with intimacy, careers, law enforcement
If ex-cultists are willing to “roll up their sleeves” and “dig their heels in,” and to work through and out of the past, then they can move onto Phase Three, that of rebuilding one’s life and building toward a dream.

Phase Three – Rebuilding and Dreaming

To someone in the middle of the pain of Phase Two, the idea of having a dream again and building toward it is merely a sad, frustrating, and painful laugh. Having spent many years in Phase Two, I understand that despondent feeling very well. It is possible to rebuild your life. You will not be able to make up for all the years the cult has stolen from you, but you can make up for some of those lost years. I’ve worked very hard to recover from an overprotective and domineering family, seven years in a cult, a rape while in the cult, two forced deprogrammings each with conservatorships, a lawsuit for trying to help someone out of a cult, too many job changes, and too many unfulfilling relationships after the cult. If you are willing to stick with it, to work at it, to work through and let go of myths that look like truths, not only in the cult but also in society, and if you are willing to acquire new skills and improve others, you can build a healthy and well-functioning life with a dream you can work toward.
Do you recognise these phases? Where do you think are you in this process?


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

Best wishes for 2018.
This blog is by nature of its topic – in the wake of revelations of abuse in Rigpa – tied to what happens in Rigpa and how those affected are processing the revelations, so I don’t know where the journey will lead us. However, the moderators remain committed to a balanced and reformist approach to the issues raised by the letter written by the 8 students of Sogyal Rinpoche in July 2017.
I thought to start the new year on a contemplative note that might be of benefit to us all no matter what our opinion on the issue of abuse in Rigpa. Hopefully it will help us to see each other with eyes of compassion.
Concern for others helps to break down the barriers that separate us and soften our obsession with ourselves, thus opening our heart and mind so that we are more able to see things as they truly are.

Compassion in Buddhism

In the Buddhist Mahayana teachings, which include Vajrayana and therefore Tibetan Buddhism, genuine compassion of the highest level is not separate from wisdom. Wisdom here doesn’t mean knowledge; it means a realisation of the nature of reality itself, an understanding of the way things are, the way appearances are empty of inherent existence, and yet nevertheless do appear. This realisation of the nature of reality is absolute great compassion (or absolute bodhicitta) because in that state of awareness, compassion arises naturally. Compassion dwells at the heart of wisdom. It is simply part of the realisation, inseparable from it.
On the other hand, the practices of relative compassion help to open us so we are more able to realise the nature of reality. The very essence of great compassion is wisdom. In this way, the two aspects of relative compassion and absolute compassion or wisdom go hand and hand on the spiritual path. Someone with true realisation cannot act in a way that is not compassionate, and great compassion is an indication of one’s level of realisation.
This great compassion or bodhicitta may seem like a very lofty ideal, but we can all bring whatever glimpses of wisdom we’ve had into our relationships with others, and we can all practice relative compassion. The teachings abound in instructions for ways in which we can do that.

Checking ourselves

What is particularly relevant to us here, though, in light of the topic of abuse by a Buddhist teacher and its effect on the Rigpa sangha, is to notice how easy it is to evaluate others’ level of compassion and forget to check ourselves. Certainly when one is publically calling out an organisation for its apparent lack of compassion, it can appear that one has forgotten to turn one’s mind in and evaluate one’s own heart and mind. That those speaking out here have forgotten to do so is an assumption, of course, since we can’t know what anyone else has in their mind or heart. Since I’m pretty sure that no one would be interested in hearing my evaluation of my own failings, it is not the topic of blog posts; that doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t regularly check myself with uncompromising honesty. It also does not mean that I have no compassion for those I appear to malign. My aim is to be of benefit, and yet, I am fully aware of how that was also Sogyal Rinpoche’s aim, and look how that turned out!
Delusion is an insidious beast, and that’s why wisdom is so vital. Wisdom is what gives us the insight to see more widely than the view that comes from our own emotional pain, it allows us to respond rather than react. Wisdom allows us to see the myriad of interdependent causes and conditions that contribute to any single situation, and that view allows us to go beyond ideas of blame. We see that we are all victims of our circumstances, victims of our habits, our karma, our beliefs, and our emotions. We are all in the same boat, all rocking on the ocean of samsara. Once we see that, compassion for all flows naturally.
Such a view doesn’t excuse any of us from any negative actions we engaged in, of course—we still need to take responsibility for our actions—but it does ease our emotional turmoil and help us to act in a wise and compassionate way. And why should we aim to act in a wise and compassionate way? Not because Buddhism says that’s what we should do, but simply because it makes the most effective action.

When we do need to check others

Judging is not the same as discerning. Judgement includes a value judgement of something being better or worse than something else. Discernment, however, simply discerns what is what and how this is different to that. We don’t need judgement because it keeps our hearts and minds small and tends to lead to harm, but we do need discernment. We need to discern whether it is safe to cross the road, whether that food is healthy for us, whether that person is someone we should risk accompanying on a date and so on. And we need to discern whether or not a spiritual teacher is someone we can trust, whether his words constitute the truth and when a spiritual community is a healthy one.
The single most important quality that a spiritual teacher should have is compassion, and the same goes for the community of practitioners around the teacher. It is vital not only for our spiritual path but also for our mental health that we discern whether or not a likely candidate for spiritual teacher and community have this quality or not.
But as we check the following aspects of what compassion looks like, let’s not forget to check ourselves as well.

What does compassion look like?

Absolute compassion is practiced and realised through meditation, in particular meditation on the true nature of reality. Relative compassion is practiced in two ways: in aspiration and in action. Someone practicing compassion aspires to treat all beings with love and compassion. They aspire to see everyone as a friend, and not see some as enemies and others as friends, not see some as worthy of their love and compassion and others as not. They aspire to bring happiness and the causes of happiness to all beings, to help them all be free from suffering and the causes of suffering, and to rejoice in any happiness that anyone has. Aspiration is not easy to see in others, but it’s easy to check in ourselves. The first thing to ask ourselves is do we see everyone as equally worthy of our love and compassion? If our love and compassion are limited only to some, it’s better than having no compassion at all, but it’s expanding our love and compassion to all beings equally that will bring us closer to wisdom. It’s not easy to do in practice, of course, but we can at least aspire to treat everyone with the same love and compassion.
Aspiration is only a start, though. It’s easy to sit back on your cushion after a session of meditation on love and compassion and think that’s enough, to think that you don’t need to do anything other than feel compassionate, but the way to grow compassion and the way to see it in others is in action, in putting ourselves on the line for others – like the 8 authors of the July letter did – in actually putting yourself out for others.  Compassion in action in Buddhism consists of generosity, patience, ethical discipline, joyful diligence, meditative concentration and insight or discriminating awareness wisdom. Once again, we see the importance of wisdom, of actually using our discriminating awareness in our action so that we make the best choices in terms of action.
These 6 perfections as they are known can be broken down into subsections and examined at length. They can also be simplified into one word – kindness. A kindness that genuinely cares for the well-being of others.

Remember the boat

Everyone, unless they are a fully realised Buddha, fail to live up to these ideals all the time, which is why humility is also considered an important quality for spiritual teachers and practitioners alike. If one has true humility, admitting one’s failings is not an issue, and seeing the failings in others is a reason for compassion not hatred, because you recognise your shared humanity; you recognise that you are in the same boat on the same ocean, subjected to the same swells, troughs and storms. When someone falls overboard in danger of drowning in the ocean of samsara, compassion isn’t just praying they’ll be safe, it’s reaching out over the waves, putting yourself in danger to try to pull them back on board.
At least that’s my understanding. I might be wrong, of course. What do you think?
Post by Tahlia. 


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

Email sent

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

Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s reply

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

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

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

Relieved

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

Healing

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


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

Good News – An Olive Branch

A letter arrived from the Rigpa International Investigation & Reconciliation Committee to all the sangha providing details of the investigation. They have  chosen a UK law firm, Lewis Silkin, to act as a neutral, third-party investigator conducting fact-finding interviews. The letter came with two attachments, one the agreement with Lewis Silken and the other – and this is the good news – an agreement with An Olive Branch.
We are told:
“In addition, the Rigpa US Board has concurrently engaged An Olive Branch, a Zen-based reconciliation organisation, to help support the US and Rigpa Sanghas in all countries with healing and reconciliation. We consider this to be a crucially important part of the process we need to go through together as sangha. We will provide a more detailed report on the work with An Olive Branch and continue to update you in the Sangha Connection newsletter.”
This is something we asked for in this blog many times in the months immediately following the revelations of abuse, and in one post we looked at what An Olive Branch does. So, of course, we are delighted at this news, because we see in their approach and expertise in this area hope for genuine healing.
What will An Olive Branch do in this situation?

Community Reconciliation and Healing

This is an except from the An_Olive_Branch_Agreement.
“Rigpa US board and An Olive Branch will collaborate on the design of a two-day, face-to-face Community Reconciliation and Healing meeting. Members of the US sangha and leaders of Rigpa sanghas in other nations will be invited. We currently envision the following components:
Led by An Olive Branch, there will be opportunities at the meeting for attendees to:
 Hear the summarized information gathered in the Listening Post, (a way for individuals who have been harmed to tell their story to a neutral third party and to be heard in a safe, confidential manner).
 Process the events (raise additional concerns, share residual feelings, etc.)
 Learn about the new Code of Conduct and Grievance Procedure
 Receive training on sexualized spiritual relationships and misuse of power.
Led by Rigpa, there will be essential components such as:
 Spiritually-based opening and closing ceremonies
 Traditional ceremonies of reconciliation, forgiveness, and peace-making.”
An Olive Branch is a US organisation so they will be working primarly with the US sangha, but since the letter to sangha states that aim is to also help “Rigpa Sanghas in all countries”, I expect that those who go to the US for the 2 day meeting will return to their countries and repeat the process there.

Is it too late?

Is it too late to repair the damage done in the last few months? I hope not, but we shall have to wait and see. It depends on who management includes in the word ‘sangha’. For healing and reconciliation to be effective it needs to include all those who have left Rigpa because of this debacle. It may be too late for some to want to have anything to do with Rigpa in any way at all, but they need to be invited, personally, to whatever sessions are run based on advice from An Olive Branch. This is vital. Real healing cannot occur without inclusion of those who have left, especially considering that those who have been harmed are not the ones that have remained in Rigpa.

What about the investigation?

I’m not going to comment further on the letter to the sangha or provide details of the investigation in this post because the 8 students need time to look at it and make their response before the details are subjected to public scrutiny. Also there is much to consider in digesting the agreement with the law firm.
If you have access to the details privately, please do not discuss it here yet. A post on the topic of the investigation will follow in a few days.
Here, let’s just rejoice that something we asked for has finally happened, and let’s do our best to make it work for the benefit of all.


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