Authentic Experience with an Inauthentic Guru?

Can an unrealised teacher induce a genuine spiritual experience in his or her students? This is something we’ve talked about before here, but for me, up until now, my examination has been very much informed by beliefs instilled in me by Tibetan Buddhism. In fact the whole quandary is due to the dzogchen teachings insistence that one needs a realised teacher for any genuine transmission of the nature of mind to occur.

‘So in Dzogchen, the direct introduction to rigpa requires that we rely upon an authentic guru, who already has this experience. It is when the blessings of the guru infuse our mindstream that this direct introduction is effected. ‘

Dzogchen, Heart Essence of the Great Perfection, HH Dalai Lama

Now I’d like to step out of the Tibetan Buddhist framework of beliefs and look at this question from a different perspective.

The quandary

Given this kind of teaching,

  • When you discover that your dzogchen teacher is abusing people and so isn’t a reliable/authentic/realised guru, does that mean that what you experienced that you thought was the nature of mind, couldn’t have actually been the nature of mind after all?
  • If you did experience the nature of mind, does that mean that the teacher must be authentic/realised/reliable despite evidence to the contrary?

These two questions – posed due to the dzogchen teachings emphasis on the importance of the teacher having some realisation – leave students in a bind. It means that any student who had a taste of the nature of their mind in the presence of their guru, when faced with revelations of that guru’s abusive behaviour, either has to believe that their teacher did have some realisation, or they have to deny their own experience, thinking that a fake guru means a fake experience.

The first option is the one taken by those who deny or minimise their teacher’s abuse. The second option is the one taken by those who declare that all Rigpa students wasted their time and couldn’t possibly have had any genuine taste of the nature of their mind.

But there is a third option. It’s just not the option the religion wants to emphasise because it diminishes the importance of the teacher’s qualifications.

The other ‘uncomfortable’ option

The other option is that one can have a genuine spiritual experience with a fake teacher.

Those invested in holding to either of the first two options might find this option uncomfortable because if you accept this possibility, you’re questioning the truth of the religion’s insistence on the necessity of having a realised teacher. And examining how such a thing might be possible leads one to see the whole religion in the stark and unromantic light of open enquiry.

To really be open to this option, to see what the video below is showing us, you need to step completely outside of the belief structure of Tibetan Buddhism. You’ll need to ignore, or put aside with a question mark, the opening quote in this article .

Watch this video with an open mind and suddenly you can see all those rituals, the words the lama says, how he says it, the gestures he uses, and the environment in which is occurs for what they are: the manipulations of a skilled mentalist. Realisation is not a requirement so long as you follow the procedures set down by the previous skilled mentalists in your lineage.

In this video, Derren Brown demonstrates how he can induce a ‘religious experience’ in an atheist. He reproduces a number of well known psychology experiments which show how even non-believers are ‘hard-wired’ to be susceptible to suggestions of super-natural (and religious) presences.

Note that when he tells the woman how he induced her experience, he states that her experience was genuine. It was ‘her’ experience, something real, not something he gave her. All he did was set up the conditions where it was likely that she would experience some kind of spiritual opening. Just like a lama induces experiences in us and calls it ‘introducing us to the nature of mind’.

But is it the ‘real’ thing?

When I first watched this, the Tibetan Buddhist indoctrinated part of me wanted to say that such an experience wouldn’t be the nature of mind, that it would be some other ‘lesser’ state. Then I realised that I’d fallen prey to the elitist cult tactic, the ‘we have the answer that no one else has’ belief. The point here is not what kind of spiritual experience can be induced in this way, the point is that a spiritual experience can be induced by someone who willingly admits that he is not a guru and has no special powers, just the knowledge of a mentalist.

What this video is showing is that what kind of spiritual experience we might have when the right environment is created through chanting, meditation, tone of voice, gestures, belief in the power of the guru, suggestion, and so on depends entirely on us, not on the guru. That’s the point. All the guru does is set up a situation where we are most likely to have some kind of spiritual experience. What we actually experience is individual, and could be any of a variety of mental states.

Given that as part of a pointing-out-mind instruction we would’ve had teachings on the nature of mind, the likelihood that those who are ready would experience the nature of mind would be quite high. And if we were following the instructions on what to do – or not do – with our mind, there is no reason to believe that such a thing would be a ‘manufactured version of the real thing’. If you believe that the teachings and instructions are a true guide, then why would we not experience it if following those instructions?

The point is that during pointing out instructions, the guru is nothing more than a catalyst to help us experience our own nature, and he doesn’t need any qualities other than knowing the procedure to follow to induce a spiritual experience in his followers. The religion has a reliable system in place that has worked for centuries. They’re not faking it; their religion simply works based on lineages of skilled mentalists. The delusion is the idea that these lamas are anything other than skilled mentalists.

Views on this issue from within Tibetan Buddhism

“It is possible to gain genuine realisation even when the teacher later proves to be unqualified. If the student has a direct realisation of the nature of the mind, then that is so, whatever the status of the lama who gave the pointing out instruction or facilitated this insight. Some teachers have the ability to open the minds of the students even when in other ways the conduct and wisdom of the teacher may be questionable. This is one reason for the confusion nowadays with lamas who have helped so many students yet have been shown to be unworthy of their role. Still these students were helped….”

Tenzin Palmo. 30th December 2018 (Email response to a question)

Sogyal often told us the story about the woman who achieved realisation through praying to a dog’s tooth because she thought it was a relic of the Buddha. He told the story to us to show us that what was important wasn’t the quality of the teacher, but the quality of our devotion. I even heard him say on a couple of occasions that he might be ‘just a dog’s tooth.’

But don’t forget the most important part of the dzogchen teachings. The part that tells us that the lama doesn’t actually give us anything, and that realisation of the nature of mind is up to us:

‘What we have been looking for—the true nature of our mind—has been with us all the time. It is with us now, in this very moment. The teachings say that if we can penetrate the essence of our present thought—whatever it may be—if we can look at it directly and rest within its nature, we can realize the wisdom of buddha: ordinary mind, naked awareness, luminous emptiness, the ultimate truth.’

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche from the“Wild Awakening” lecture series , February, 2004.

The power of suggestion

In Tibetan Buddhism we practice ‘seeing the lama as a buddha’; what’s that if not using the power of suggestion? In the following video, the people gathered – all declared atheists – have been told that Derren has the power to convert people instantly. See what happens …

What you see in this video shows what is actually going on in Tibetan Buddhism when the lama introduces us to the nature of mind. There’s nothing magical or mystical about it. Our expectations simply make us highly suggestible. We want to experience something, so we do. But that doesn’t mean that what we experience is somehow ‘fake’. It’s a real experience of a real mind state.

Do we create something or do we drop our defences and allow something to arise? I expect that would depend entirely on our training. If you’re trained to drop everything and see what’s left, that’s what you’ll do. Hence, a genuine experience of the nature of mind can come from a guru who does not have the qualities of a realised being.

If this is hard for you to accept, why? What beliefs are holding you back? How do these videos make you feel about your experience with Tibetan Buddhism?

ALL ROADS DON’T LEAD TO THE SAME PLACE!

This week we have a guest post by Brielle Love Eden. She posted it in a Facebook group called Grounded Spirituality a discussion group for Jeff Brown’s new book of the same name, and she allowed me to republish it here. Given the behaviour we’ve seen in our Tibetan Buddhist cults, I thought you’d find it interesting. Perhaps some of you have come, or are coming to the same kind of conclusion. Please share what you think of this view in the comments.


DEAR FRIENDS- Because I want you to be completely free of the undeserved suffering you have been struggling with your whole life, I am about to say something which is both “spiritually incorrect” and essential to reclaiming your birthright of happiness.

Despite the bland and comforting saying about the wide array of religions and spiritual paths- that they are all equally liberating and therefore “all roads lead to the same place”- the honest truth is that they actually don’t!

Or, you might say that they do all lead to a common destination….

Which is a dead end.

Because none of them are grounded in, and sharply focussed upon, what will really heal your pain and set you free.

Allow me to explain why this is so!

In my years as a Core/Bioenergetic Psychotherapist and teacher of unconditional self-love, I have had the honor of working with many brave people- true spiritual warriors- who had invested decades of their lives into their religious and spiritual beliefs.

Many of them were brilliant and accomplished teachers of these paths.

They ranged from Buddhist meditation masters to world traveling yoga teachers, from devout Christians to devotees of various gurus or modern teachings like the Law of Attraction or A Course in Miracles.

What did they all have in common? Just this- they had put their faith and trust and every drop of effort they had into these worldviews and disciplines.

And yet they were still burdened by inner conflicts and relationship struggles, recurrent frustration and lingering unhappiness.

Most of these people were desperately struggling with anxiety and depression and haunting self-doubt. They felt far from being truly free.

Sounds familiar?

Their unresolved conflicts- which were primarily with their own honest feelings and Real Selves- had not been reached and released by the ways they had been taught to look at and work with themselves.

Certainly they had made valuable gains from their years of inner work and from the partial truths contained in the paths they had followed.

But they had not gotten to the bottom of their problems, and thoroughly broken the inner chains that bound them.

Each of them was wise, and desperate, enough to realize that they were never going to be free if they stayed strictly on the road they were on and kept on doing what wasn’t really getting them “unstuck”.

So here is what I helped them to wake up and see. And what I taught them to do to finally claim the grail of happiness they had struggled so long and hard to reach.

First of all they had to recognize- regardless of what they had been told by their traditions and teachers- that their anxiety and depression, their lack of fulfillment and genuine joy had its true origins in the dysfunctional treatment and negative conditioning they had suffered DURING THEIR CHILDHOOD.

For example it wasn’t their (non-existent) “Original Sin”, their “karma from past lives” or their Buddhist “ego” which was causing them to suffer.

And that to finally be free they needed to break through their emotional blocks and numbness, and thoroughly express/release the stored-up childhood sorrow and anger, pain and self-defeating attitudes (fear, guilt, shame, self-doubt) that were keeping them bound.

There is no substitute for this heroic and infinitely self-compassionate work.

To avoid becoming fully conscious of the impact of your childhood keeps you forever trapped in the darkness you are afraid to face.

The other essential healing task they needed to whole-heartedly embrace was to unconditionally love and accept themselves.

Learning to warmly understand and validate everything inside you- and see your own unique beauty and perfection through the eyes of love- enables a person to be at peace with Life and at one with their Real Self.

And in the end that loving relationship with YOU is the ONLY THING that leads to lasting fulfillment!

So if you are a practitioner of any religion or spiritual discipline I urge you to wake up now and realize that none of these can possibly get you all the way to where you need to go.

Why? Because they don’t keep you completely focussed on the real problem- your buried and unredeemed childhood suffering and the shame and guilt, fear and self-doubt you so undeservedly carry from the dysfunctional treatment of your developing infant, child and adolescent self.

And on the real hope- which lay in accepting/expressing/releasing every last drop of your stored-up anger and fear, hurt and grief.

All of this as you learn to unconditionally see, love and validate the Beautiful and Authentic You.

It’s time to open your eyes and realize that “you can’t get there from here”!

But if you seek with all your body and spirit and heart and soul to love and liberate the Real You, I guarantee that you will find your way home to the unchained aliveness and blessed life of happiness you have always deserved! LOTS OF LOVE- BRIELLE

P.S. I have developed a rich array of practices and meditations designed to help you face and release your stored-up emotional pain (especially from your childhood) and awaken the grace of your Unconditional Self-Love. These are available for your study and use in the Notes section of my Timeline and on my Psychotherapy page.

Be brave, move forward, work hard- and set yourself free! YOU CAN DO IT!


What do you think of Brielle’s point of view? Does it ring true to you or relate to your experience in any way?


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’.

Spiritual Practice or Spiritual Bypassing?


in the early 1980s, psychologist John Welwood coined the phrase spiritual bypassing to refer to the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with uncomfortable feelings, unresolved wounds, and fundamental emotional and psychological needs.  When I first came across this term, I didn’t think it applied to me, but when I looked at my reaction – or lack of it – to the verbal abuse I witnessed while in Rigpa, I realised that I had certainly been bypassing my discomfort – and in a very active way.

Active repression

I had been taught to bypass any feelings of discomfort or disgust in response to anything Sogyal did. Remember being told not to think too much, to let our feelings just rise and fall away without paying them any attention, to not ‘go there’, to see our reactions to the verbal abuse we all witnesses as just our ‘judgemental mind’? Any kind of normal reaction, like horror, disgust or even concern, were seen as a lack of a stable mind – an attitude I’ve unfortunately also seen in the response of some lamas to those who speak out about abuse or show any kind of emotion due to the abuse.

Of course, we’re not supposed to repress our emotions, but that’s what I did, and I suspect that a whole lot of others did as well. Why else (apart from the brainswashing discourse of, ‘Oh he’s a crazy wisdom master, what you’re seeing is love, not anger’) did we sit unreacting and with blank faces?

Jeff Brown: Spiritual Graffiti

Meditation isn’t the answer to everything

My daughter used to say to me, ‘Oh, Mum, you think everything can be solved through meditation.’ I don’t think that way now, not now that I’ve seen it used to make people pliable so they can be more easily controlled and manipulated, and not now that I know that even with the right kind of instructions, it can be used to set aside issues that we really do need to face and deal with.

I also used to think that Buddhism was the answer to everything, and perhaps if we could hear the Buddha himself speak to us it might be, but not the way some teach it–especially in Tibetan Buddhism. Teachers talk about our emotions as ‘poisons’ and ‘enemies’ and refer to psychological methods of examining our problems as some kind of inferior activity, while teaching us to simply ignore our problems under the guise of ‘watering the seeds of joy’. But pretending issues don’t exist doesn’t make them go away. Look at Rigpa’s track record with Sogyal’s abuse. If we hadn’t tried so hard to ignore our feelings – the ones that were sending us a very valid message that something was seriously wrong – Sogyal would have been stopped a long time ago.

I think we need a more balanced approach. We need to be able to look at our issues, and sort them out without getting stuck in them. We need to honour the wisdom in our emotions – like physical pain, negative emotions are, after all, telling us something is wrong – but that doesn’t mean that we’ll roll around in our emotions ad nauseum or deny the role our own thoughts, beliefs and perceptions play in our happiness and suffering. It’s not an all-or-nothing thing. We can choose the middle way.

‘To me, spiritual bypassing is fundamentally about taking a so-called absolute truth — such as “everything is okay” — and using it to ignore or deny relative truths — such as the grief we feel when we lose a loved one, or the shame that arises when we fail at something important. On the personal and interpersonal level, sometimes everything isn’t okay. And that’s okay.’

https://upliftconnect.com/spiritual-bypassing/

Let’s not delude ourselves

When I discovered Tibetan Buddhism, I found it all so wonderful, inspiring, and heart-warming, and the practice made me feel so calm and just plain goooood. But if all we’re doing by buying into any religion is spiritually distracting ourselves from our feelings while thinking that we’re walking a healthy spiritual path, then we’re just deluding ourselves.

So what to do about it? Ask questions of any teacher who seems to be straying into this area in their instruction, and take control of your own path by tuning into your body and feeling what’s there to be felt. Your body doesn’t lie. It knows what you might be unwilling to feel.

‘We need to remember that spiritual practice and emotional growth are not about achieving a particular quality of feeling (“good”). Being a human being on a spiritual journey isn’t about getting cash and prizes all the time, it is about being in the present moment, whatever it happens to look like. What are you experiencing right now? And how about now? Can you be present to all of your feelings without any one of them defining you? ‘

https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/emotional-sobriety/201110/beware-spiritual-bypass
I filmed this a while ago, so I don’t remember exactly what’s in it, but it includes my experience of spiritual bypassing in the Rigpa context and a method for avoiding spiritual bypassing in our meditation.


What about you? What’s your experience? Do you think you might have used Tibetan Buddhist practices to spiritually bypass some issues? And what does knowledge of spiritual bypassing mean for our spiritual path going forward?


If you’d like a more private place to chat, you can join the Beyond the Temple Facebook group for discussions not about abuse but about your ongoing spiritual path, or if you need to talk about your experiences of and healing from guru abuse or about Rigpa’s ongoing bungling, ex-Rigpa students can join the secret What Now? group, (apply via the contact form here, and tell us about yourself and why you want to join the group). And if you’re not a Rigpa or ex-Rigpa person and need support related to abuse in Vajrayana you 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’.