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

8 Replies to “Time to Move On? Or not?”

  1. Thanks for another great posting, Tahlia! As far as Rigpa is concerned, I really think that for the organization and its victims to be able to “move on,” Sogyal Lakar will have to be put in jail. That way, the people he’s harmed will see that there’s at least a little justice left in the world, the Rigpa faithful will see that actions have consequences and that no one is above the law, and the Orgyen Tobgyals and Dzongsar Khyentses of the world will be given something useful to think about. Nothing short of this is really going to work.

    1. I totally agree.He should at least be arrested , answer the investigators’questions and sent to court.There is no other way out.

  2. I have to agree. They had a chance to do the right thing and they haven’t, so it has come to the point where nothing else will get the message across that this behaviour is against the law, and they just can’t behave like that in the West. However, it’s not an easy thing to undertake and the statutes of limitations really work against it. By the time victims feel strong enough to take such action, the window of opportunity has passed.

  3. Following up on Tahlia’s last question, whether any of us feels that we’ve been able to move on, and if so how did we do it, I thought I might say something about my own experience of this. First, I do feel that I’ve moved on from what I went through, but it took almost 20 years and I can’t pretend that any of it was easy. The passage of time helped a lot, but what finally helped the most was realizing that I had to drop my end of the stick and let it all go — that being even in an adversarial relationship with the group was still maintaining a relationship, and I just didn’t want those people living in my head anymore. I might not have been able to do this in a way that made a real difference in the earlier years, though, since I still had a lot of anger. Healing seems to come with time.

    1. I think this is a process that many can relate to. You get to a point where you no longer want to think about those who hurt you or the hurful situation. I rarely do now. My interest is in the wider issues. Sogyal and Rigpa are just a symptom of a much deeper problem.

      1. Is not one aspect of the problem ‘seeing the guru as a living buddha’. This is made so black and white and absolute and this aspect is an easy road for abuse.
        Perhaps this view has a purpose or function, but I can imagine that it should not be a exaggerated. And the way it is taught in Rigpa might be biased, just for the bennefits of a select group. How did this view evolved and are there Indian commentaries on this subject. Does this view apply under all circumstances or only when teachings are given?
        This view is an easy way to exploit people, but I realy cannot believe that Buddha Sakyamuni had any intention to exploid people.

      2. Dear Tahlia: I completely agree! It’s the wider issues, the dynamics of these groups, that need to be better understood now. Rigpa is not the only group like this out there.

  4. Private, unverified, fear packed workshops that I’m sure any connection with Sogyal would be in conflict from which ever side. From Sogyals point of view to say anything negative about the culture of abuse he created is samaya breakage and they fear losing some blessing or access to higher teaching from him. From the professional duty to protect students and the public from a serial abuser, financial criminal … they have to refresh the staff or they aren’t serious. They are accomplices most of them in criminal activities. So their workshops are more like therapy or damage control business meetings that are totally opaque and inner circle only. The inner circle is what creates the cult environment it is the part that needs to be abolished but on the other hand they see themselves as “the organisation” – they have ego issues they have label issues – their roles are static and unflowing unless they propagate the same culture of loyalty so what appears to be a false lineage, fraudulent claims to be a holder, unqualified teachers who tried to create the illusion of qualification by inviting as many lamas to empower them until the CV of empowerments was thick. That is also something they used to lock people into more Samaya. The culture of samaya is also their culture of abuse.

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