Rigpa Australia Apologises & Admits Sogyal Rinpoche’s Abuse was Wrong

After being prompted by Joanne McCarthy, a journalist for The Newcastle Herald, Kathryn James, the chair of Rigpa Australia, recently publically gave the kinds of statement that we’ve been wanting to hear from every Rigpa organisation.

Journalist Joanne McCarthy isn’t someone that can be put off with platitudes and deflections. She won a Gold Walkley award, the most prestigious of the Walkley Awards for Australian journalism, so her writing holds weight. She’s experienced in dealing with religious groups and their methods of deflecting, minimising and covering up, due to her reporting on child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, as well as other cult and corruption issues, such as the pelvic mesh scandal.

McCarthy did her homework, interviewing several Australians and getting confirmation of what they told her from a second source, so she knew exactly what to ask to push for some kind of admission of the truth. She wrote three articles on Sogyal and Rigpa for The Newcastle Herald (Newcastle is the biggest city in the Hunter region where the Rigpa Australia national retreats were held each year.) At least one of the articles (the first one) was also published in The Canberra Times.

The articles

The first article gave the general story of Sogyal’s abuses – nothing there we don’t all know already – but she called Sogyal a ‘mindfulness’ guru, which is not a designation Sogyal would ever have accepted, and it unfairly tarnishes the mindfulness movement. I don’t know why she didn’t use the word ‘meditation’, but perhaps it’s because mindfulness tends to be used as a secular word for meditation as if interchangeable with it. For Buddhists, mindfulness is a specific Shamata practice not an alternative term for meditation, which encompasses a wider range of methods. And we know that Sogyal rarely taught on the mindfulness practices. That aside however, she was careful to get her facts straight.

The second article is the one of most interest to those of us in the What Now? group, and contains the content to which this article refers.

In this article Kathryn James showed a rare honesty by admitting that they had a way to go to fully implement the recommendations of the Lewis Silkin report. Mind you, the journalist already knew they hadn’t implemented them properly, so denying it would have been seen as lying – not a good look. Nevertheless, it was good to see someone speaking honestly about it. My own effort to get such an admission from Rigpa Australia via email received no reply!

The third article, written after the Herald apparently received a cease and desist order from Rigpa’s lawyer, spoke about the workers compensation claim made for one of Rigpa Australia’s National Directors who had an emotional breakdown. The article restricted itself to quotes on the matter from Rigpa Australia’s communications with members. The suggestion was that Rigpa Australia, having lodged the claim, accepted some level of responsibility for the man’s breakdown.

Report findings accepted

McCarthy asked James some tricky questions that pushed James to admit (after discussing with the Rigpa Australia management team how she should answer) that Sogyal had hit her – McCarthy already knew this to be true – and that Rigpa Australia accepted the findings of the Lewis Silkin independent report into Sogyal’s abuse.  

Rigpa Australia accepts the allegations of abuse and the findings and recommendations of the Lewis Silkin Report.

Kathryn James, Rigpa Australia

In contrast, the Rigpa Vision Board only said, ‘We acknowledge the gravity of the independent report.’ By using that wording, the Rigpa Vision Board never admitted that the report was a true account of Sogyal’s behaviour and their cover up. So good on Rigpa Australia for actually accepting the findings. That means that they agree that the contents of the Lewis Silkin report are true.

Finally, we have some honesty! Go Australia!

Mind you the wording of her admission is problematic in that she said Rigpa Australia accepted the ‘allegations’ of abuse, not that they accepted the truth of the allegations. Maybe their lawyer wanted to make sure her admission didn’t open Rigpa up for a legal action, because her next statement made it clear that they do accept that Sogyal abused people.

We believe this abuse was wrong.

Kathryn James, Rigpa Australia

Hallelujah! It’s a relief to have someone in a major role in Rigpa who not only realises that what Sogyal did was wrong but also is prepared to say it publically.

A real apology

Later in the second article, James shares a genuine apology made in an email to the Rigpa Australia members after the release of the Lewis Silkin report. Unlike the communications from the Vision Board that refuse to admit any responsibility for their role in enabling Sogyal’s abuse – saying only that they apologise for the ‘hurt experienced’ or that they failed to educate students properly – this apology is the real thing.

The investigation report has laid bare the pain experienced by those students and the failures within Rigpa to adequately protect, respond to and support them. We, in Australia, acknowledge that pain and apologise for our own failures to listen, understand, accept and protect our students.

Rigpa Australia in a message to the Rigpa Australia Sangha

How wonderful to see something real, something not in the language of minimisation or denial favoured by the Vision Board.

The apology was apparently sent to the Rigpa Australia members, but it is not available to the public on their website, nor was it sent to those who Sogyal did abuse in Australia or Australians he abused elsewhere. They didn’t send it to me to distribute to those harmed, either, and they have my email address and the addresses of the Australian members of the 8. What a pity they didn’t take that next step and deliver the apology to those who most need to hear it. Sending it only to those remaining in Rigpa makes it seem as if the purpose of the apology was only to appease their members. What use is an apology if you don’t make it to the ones you’ve harmed?

The statement on Rigpa Australia’s website about the Lewis Slikin Report is the one put out by the Vision Board, the one that does not accept the findings of the report, only the gravity of it. To make this apology, admission of the truth of the allegations and that Sogyal’s abusive behaviour was wrong a real gesture of healing, Rigpa Australia needs to take a couple of further steps.

Can Rigpa Australia make this a step for genuine healing?

Rigpa Australia could take a real step towards healing by:

  • Making what James said into a public statement – one that includes the apology, admission of the truth of the allegations and their belief that Sogyal’s abusive behaviour was wrong – and putting it on their website in a prominent place.
  • Sending that statement to the 8 letter writers and all those who have left Rigpa since July 2017.

Doing these two things would be a game-changing positive step, and it would pave the way for other National Rigpa teams to do the same. Does Rigpa Australia have the courage to make their own decisions on this, though? Only time will tell. If they do do it, I hope they will send me an email to let me know.

How great would that be!

(That’s an in joke for Aussies)

Further steps that would go a long way towards healing:

  • Rigpa members have maligned, abused and attacked the integrity of the 8 letter writers and others who have exposed the truth about Sogyal’s behaviour. I suspect that apologies for such attacks on behalf of those who perpetrated them would constitute a genuine offer of reconciliation that would far exceed the bumbling attempts at ‘reaching out’ made to the 8 by a member of the Vision Board.
  • Making sure that the person who is supposed to be dealing with grievances for Rigpa Australia actually replies to all emails detailing grievances and deals with them with due respect and consideration. (I put one in and never received a reply!)

On a personal note, I would appreciate an apology to me for not allowing me to attend the 2018 retreat without discussion or explanation, and for the Rigpa Australia members who treated me unkindly at the Sakyadhita Conference in June 2019 or abused me on social media. One of the saddest things about all this that remains for me is that Rigpa and I didn’t part on good terms, that the cruelty of some members has so overshadowed the good times, and I expect this feeling is shared by many. I remember the day I put the phone down, my hand shaking, after being told not to contact anyone in the organisation again. Such things may seem petty, but the hurt is real. I can drop it from my mind, but it remains in my heart.

That aside, I would love for Rigpa Australia to show some courage and leadership by making a statement as suggested above, and publishing it on their website.

What do you think of this development?

Photo of the new Rigpa Australia National Centre as shown on the Rigpa Australia Website.

Sogyal Rinpoche’s Last Tour

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

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

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

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

Rinpoche’s last tour

Thanks to Sel Verhoeven for the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rigpa email

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

Turning the victim into the offender

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

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

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

Dismissing the abuse

They also write:

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

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

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

As someone in the What Now group worded it: 

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

What Now group member

The repercussions for Tibetan Buddhism

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

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

Sel Verhoeven

Can a cult stop being a cult?

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

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

What is a cult?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The issue of beliefs that enable harm

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

Dzongsar Khyentse, one of Rigpa’s main advisors admits, in his book The Guru Drinks Bourbon?, that in the student-teacher relationship in Tibetan Buddhism, ‘The potential for abuse of power exists.’ Then, in the very next sentence, he speaks of a fully submissive relationship in which if the student wants to be enlightened, they can’t even call abuse abuse:

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

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

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

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

“Frankly, for a student of Sogyal Rinpoche who has consciously received abhisheka and therefore entered or stepped onto the Vajrayana path, to think of labelling Sogyal Rinpoche’s actions as ‘abusive’, or to criticize a Vajrayana master even privately, let alone publicly and in print, or simply to reveal that such methods exist, is a breakage of samaya.”

Dzongsar Khyentse, Guru and Student in the Vajrayana

And further, from the same essay:

“The bottom line here is: if both student and guru are consciously aware of Vajrayana theory and practice, I can’t see anything wrong in what Sogyal Rinpoche then does to his so-called Vajrayana students – especially those who have been with him for many years. Those students stepped onto the Vajrayana path voluntarily; it’s a journey that they chose to make. At least, I assume they did.” 

Dzongsar Khyentse, Guru and Student in the Vajrayana

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

Ethics and commitments specific to vajrayana and Dzogchen

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

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

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

Longchen Nyingtik Ngondro

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

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

A Guide to The Words of My Perfect Teacher page 261

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

Rigpa’s version the vajrayana student-teacher relationship

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

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

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

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

The Lewis Silkin recommendation on risk assessment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does Rigpa still exploit and psychologically damage students?

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

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

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

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

Are these not the beliefs key Rigpa figures hold?

Are they not still what Rigpa teaches their vajrayana students?

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

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

The court in Montpellier wasn’t fooled.

Is there still a risk of abuse to Rigpa students?

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

Lerab Ling open day

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

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

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

A meditation class

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

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

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

Broaching the topic of abuse

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

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

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

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

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

Attitude towards those who broke the silence

Then came something I really hadn’t expected.

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

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

“YES!! They were arseholes!”

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

“Even the monastics?” I asked.

 “YES!!”

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

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

In Tibet it’s normal for students to be hit

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

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

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

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

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

Minimising the issue

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

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

Culturally subjective ethics

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

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

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

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

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

Women enjoyed the sex

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

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

It comes down to karma

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

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

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

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

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

How do you feel about this?

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

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

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

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

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

Rigpa’s Vision is Still Missing the Vital Point

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is meant by ‘guiding appropriately’?

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

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

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

What Now? group member

What constitues ‘adequate preparation’

The statement goes on to say;

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

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

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

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

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

All these aspects need to be made clear.

What isn’t being made explicit

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

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

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

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

Dzongsar Khyentse, Rigpa spiritual advisor.

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

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

Dzongsar Khyentse, p 19,The Guru Drinks Bourbon?

Is abuse really acceptable in vajrayana?

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

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

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

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

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

Mingyur Rinpoche, When a Buddhist Teacher Crosses the Line

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

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

Jetsumna Tenzin Palmo

The vital point

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

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

How cult induction works in Rigpa

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

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

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

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

The bottom line

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

On Dzongsar Khyentse’s Letter to the Rigpa Sangha

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

Cult issues

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

Listening, hearing, and deep examination

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

Don’t forget the importance of critical thinking

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

Raising up, not bringing down

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

Slander or truth?

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

Genuine practitioners

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

Don’t be Fooled

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

An Email to Lamas

Update 4th Nov 2018. Please note that we are no longer taking signatures.
Do any of you want to sign this email some of us are sending to as many lamas as we can think of and find email addresses for? It’s going out at the end of the month so they’ll get it before the meeting with HHDL in late November. The aim is to encourage as many lamas as possible to make public statements as to their position on abusive behaviour by lamas and to provide specific material for their discussion on this matter at their meeting. The results will be published here on a special page as something students can use to assist them in evaluating potential teachers.

The email

Dear Rinpoche
We are students of Tibetan Buddhism concerned by revelations in the past year that some lamas have harmed their students (most notably, the abuse of students by Sogyal Rinpoche of Rigpa and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche of Shambhala). We find it highly problematic that so few Tibetan lamas have spoken out against such behaviour. We are writing now to ask you to please clarify your position regarding the kind of unethical and harmful behaviours committed by Sogyal Lakar/Rinpoche of Rigpa.  It is our hope that we will gain sufficient replies to reassure students that Tibetan Buddhism is a religion that never strays from its fundamental principle of non-harming and maintains the highest ethical standards
In July 2017, eight former, senior Rigpa students wrote a letter to Sogyal Lakar/Rinpoche detailing his abusive treatment of them and other students. We have enclosed a Tibetan translation of this letter so you can be clear on the details of the harm he caused, the reason why the students spoke up, and how Sogyal’s abusive behaviour affected the students concerned.
We are also enclosing a report from Lewis Silkin, the law firm commissioned by Rigpa to investigate the allegations in the letter. This report found that, based on the evidence available and on the balance of probabilities, the behavior outlined in the letter did occur and “some students of Sogyal Lakar have been subjected to serious physical, sexual and emotional abuse by him.”
The behaviours described in the letter are not only harmful but are also morally and ethically unacceptable. Most of them are illegal in the countries in which they occurred. However, aside from HH Dalai Lama, Mingyur Rinpoche, and Tsoknyi Rinpoche, no other Tibetan lama has made a public statement condemning these kinds of actions.
We are writing to ask you to break the silence and provide a statement reassuring all Dharma students that the abusive behaviours outlined in the attached letter and confirmed by the Lewis Silkin report are unacceptable to you. Not only do students want to avoid being harmed themselves, but also they do not want to support or learn from a lama who harms others, or who supports harmful behaviour. We believe that the teachings from such a lama cannot be reliable and that a lama should provide an ethical example for adults and children alike. We also do not want to follow someone who might ask us to compromise our ethics by accepting abusive behaviour without complaint or criticism—as Sogyal Lakar expected.
Many students are now questioning whether or not they can truly trust any lama to behave ethically if he or she has not made a public statement that makes it clear that they do not see abusive behaviour as acceptable. Also, parts of the Vajrayana have been used by Sogyal Lakar and other lamas to justify his abuses, which has caused some students to question the legitimacy of the religion. We are seeking clarity about this. Some are leaving the religion altogether.
So please read the translated letter and send us your statement in reply to this question: Do you think the behaviour of Sogyal Lakar/Rinpoche as described in the 2017 letter by 8 close students and confirmed by the Lewis Silkin Report is ever an acceptable way for Tibetan Buddhist teachers to behave towards their students?
When considering your reply, it may be helpful for you to refer to Mingyur Rinpoche’s examination of the issues in his Lion’s Roar article: https://www.lionsroar.com/treat-everyone-as-the-buddha/
We will publish all replies to this question on the What Now Blog. Thank you very much. We look forward to your reply.
Sincerely

Sign here

We are no longer taking signatures.
 

The list of lamas

You can view the list of lamas who will be receiving this email by clicking here. If you have additions or can provide email addresses where we don’t have them, please send us a message via the contact form here. This email is only for native Tibetan speakers ( it will also be translated into Tibetan), so don’t include anyone who doesn’t have Tibetan as their primary language.

Missing the Connection

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

Verbal abuse

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

The omission of compassion

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

 Staring into the abyss

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

Recommendation vs Implementation

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

The guru of non-apologies

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

A friendly little raid

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


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

‘Rigpa’ Reborn? What a Viable 'Rigpa' Might Look Like.

With the results of the independent investigation into Sogyal Lakar/ Rinpoche’s abuse tabled clearly in the Lewis Silkin report, no one can deny now that “based on the evidence available to me [Karen Baxter of Lewis Silkin], 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; and
b. there were senior individuals within Rigpa who were aware of at least some of these issues and failed to address them, leaving others at risk.”
Karen Baxter recommendations include the following clear directions for Rigpa: 

  1. Sogyal Lakar should not take part in any future event organised by Rigpa or otherwise have contact with its students; 
  2. Rigpa should take steps to disassociate itself from Sogyal Lakar as fully as is possible (having regard to any legal arrangements which may for the time being connect the organisation with him);
  3. Rigpa leadership in each country (being the trustees or equivalent) and the Vision Board should, as necessary, be refreshed in order to ensure that;
    1. its members are unconnected with the harmful events referred to in this report and so can credibly lead the programme of changes required;
    2. its members are all publically committed to the concept that abuse will not be tolerated by anyone, or against anyone, within Rigpa (including teachers); and
    3. wherever possible, the leadership should include some members who are unconnected with the student body, for example lay trustees as such would be recognised in the United Kingdom.

And in their statement on the report Rigpa states that “Rigpa commits to act upon the report’s recommendations.” 

What acting on these recommendations means.

  1. Sogyal must be removed from course materials, and no more audio or video teachings by him should be shown at Rigpa events. Rigpa needs to publicly denounce Sogyal’s abusive behaviour and make it clear that they are no longer a sangha of his students.
  2. And ALL those who were in management roles up until this year need to remove themselves from their roles – not just the three stooges at the top, and they must not still in the background directing behind the scenes in an advisory or any other capacity.
    ALL those senior instructors who still believe and therefore will still teach the ‘crazy wisdom’ excuse for abuse, and ALL who participated in the cover up by delivering the ‘Representing Rigpa’ cover-up sessions need to go – unless they publicly denounce Sogyal Lakar’s behaviour, apologise for their role in the cover up,say that they realise that they were wrong to do so, and that they are now ‘committed to the concept that abuse will not be tolerated by anyone, or against anyone, within Rigpa (including teachers)’
  3. Is self-explanatory.

But what would a Rigpa without Sogyal  look like? 

Some people remain in Rigpa simply because they can’t imagine life without the support of the community and/or because they don’t want to see the infrastructure dismantled, but if you take away Sogyal and all those in management and teaching roles who are not willing to stand up in public and say that they now realise that Sogyal’s behaviour was abusive and that they are committed to not allowing anything like that to happen again, what is left?

Barbara van Schaik has a vision that she agreed to shared with us. I hope Rigpa management read it and take this vision on board, because it’s a vision that could inspire people who are presently terribly disillusioned. 

‘Rigpa’ Reborn

By Barbara van Schaik
There’s a lot of writing and thinking out loud about Rigpa at the moment. Most address the abuse suffered by so many, abuse of a power we all believed in and held in our hearts.
What the outcome will be no-one can say at present – bits and pieces appear, newspaper articles are ‘out there’ now and various people have various pieces of information that don’t amount to a real conclusion. Solution seems as far away as ever.

The big questions

But how CAN Rigpa continue? Really? Sexual abuse, charities seeing fraud, loss of funds as Rigpa is publicly denounced? Yet it seems those in charge are hanging in, hanging on, hoping against hope perhaps that it will all ‘blow over’ and amount to not much, as long as Sogyal stays out of the picture (at least as far as those outside the inner circle of devotees would be aware).
Can they re-form? It’s so hard to know where we stand at present.
But if they can’t, if they don’t – then what of all those physical remains – the centres around the world and the great Mother Ship – Lerab Ling.
Since someone has pointed out that all the centres operate separately it seems there may not be one outcome affecting them all in the same way.
But – RIGPA?? Surely the name is tainted beyond repair now. Another name? Possibly – but wouldn’t people, the ones who would be interested, know? It has to be more than that.
I personally feel the inner circle/devotees, including those who ‘stepped down’ will not give him up.  That is, if he is around and does regain his health. They will find some kind of different way of being with him – I once (jokingly) mentioned holograms.
But that leaves those buildings – if RIGPA as we know it were to disappear, ‘leave the premises’ to do something secretive elsewhere – what of them?  And in the case of Lerab Ling – so big, so grandiose, so decorated, so TIBETAN – hung and filled with all kinds of precious things – not to speak of the energy generated there – what of that? What could it become?
I was thinking about this and some thoughts did come up. Here they are, for what they might be worth.

Lerab Ling as a true rime centre

Perhaps LL, with all its ‘Tibetaness’ could become a Centre for the preservation of Tibetan thought (Buddhist) and culture.  There would be a Library, bringing together ancient texts, their translations, published books, blogs and videos, articles written, articles about to be written – research materials.
A place where scholars from both East and West would come to sit and read, research, compare, be inspired and confer. There could be screens which would show films relating to TB (not of the ‘7 Years in Tibet’ variety) – although ‘Kundun’ might be an exception! Peoples’ journeys recorded, recent trips into Tibet as well as historical material. There could be lectures from Tibetan ‘experts’ and scholars, open to the public.
Beside the Library, LL could be seen as a meeting place of lamas, khenpos, wandering ngakpas (if they could interrupt their wanderings) lecturers and all involved in the serious study of TB. They would be from all sects, a true ‘Rime’ organization where perhaps new understanding between scholars could take place – debates too, along classical lines, although perhaps without the performance aspect!
Of course students would continue come –  to study (lots of accommodation), to listen to a lama expounding on a topic of choice, and more ‘open’ events where new people could come to hear and see.
There could be ‘residencies’ for various teachers, along the lines of artists’ residences, or writers’ residences. Anything from a few weeks to a few months.

A store house of Tibetan culture

Then I had the thought that LL (in particular since it is so Tibetan in every way) could be a storehouse of the culture of Tibet. Tibetan Medicine (my own particular interest) could be represented with visiting doctors from Asia – India, Nepal and Bhutan for example. They could hold surgeries, so helpful for people unable to reach them in their home countries. They too could hold talks about the basics of TM. And bring supplies of the marvellous little brown pills! I am particularly interested in those European plants which correlate to some of the Tibetan ones.  Plant-finding expeditions could take place and there could be a medical department.
There is Tibetan thangkha painting, artists could come and stay, too – holding classes and giving lectures on the subject. There is one Bhutanese-trained thangkha painter already living in France.
There is Tibetan food, dance, costume, jewellery… I remembered the magnificent ‘tormas’ made for pujas, sand mandalas, all that space to create these things, and involve groups wanting to learn more about their history as well as ‘how to make’. All these are of course subsidiary to the Library, but could provide a ‘way in’ for the public: held outside in the grounds in the summer months, a way to open the windows and let in the air, after all that secrecy and shutting away.
There are holy relics and all the paraphernalia of TB – I could see a Museum too  – there are already precious things at LL and this could be built up with people who have spent time in those countries where Tibetans have their culture donating their items as they might wish.
Open to the public of course – no secret ‘lama’s room’ any more.
So this is how I could see LL rise again, in a different form, but building on the best of all that energy over the years, devotion properly channeled, away from a charismatic leader who brought so much to so many, particularly in his youth, but in later years became a travesty of what he set out to be.

Other centres

The other centres could be more diverse in terms of their lecturers and focus – maybe a look at Buddhism from other sources, Theravada, Zen, the Pali canon from Sri Lanka. Each one could choose its own particular style. Certainly, they could invite teachers from all traditions and become, rather than a centre for the students of any particular lama, a centre for dharma teachings in general. True Rime.
… and a Board: Karen Baxter’s (Lewis Silkin) suggestions for a board, including some lay people, representation from charity – sounds excellent.

And – of course – a new name!

This has gone on longer than I thought it would.  Thoughts, sketches – let’s see what happens.
Thanks Barbara for sharing your vision.
Perhaps such an organisation could be called whatever the Tibetan word for Phoenix is. Certainly it’s time to put the word rigpa back where it belongs as a word meaning the true nature of mind/pristine awareness, not the name of a cult. To give up that name, and choose a new one and a new vision would be the only way I can see that Rigpa can survive this with any integrity. Their integrity as an organisation is as shot as that of their lama. If they are to survive, they need this kind of radical change, not bandaids and half-hearted attempts at appeasing the Charity Commissions.
Over to you my vajra brothers and sisters who still have some faith that there is something worth saving.


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.