The Belief at the Root of Abuse in Tibetan Buddhism

I’m going to start writing some positive posts for those who are leaving Tibetan Buddhism behind, but before I do, I think it’s important to make the root cause of abuse in Tibetan Buddhism very clear. The purpose of this post is not to put people off Tibetan Buddhism, but to educate them so they can choose not to subscribe to the beliefs that are the root cause of the abuse and can avoid groups and teachers who teach such beliefs. For example, Rigpa, Shambala & NKT.

The root cause of the abuse in Tibetan Buddhism is usually hidden from view, particularly from beginners. By the time the beliefs that allow such teachers as Sogyal Rinpoche to physically, emotionally, psychologically, financially and sexually abuse students with impunity become stated overtly (if they ever are), the student is likely already indoctrinated to this view. By laying it out up front as I’m doing here – should any Tibetan Buddhist student bother to read this – students can be aware of when this kind of belief is being laid on them, and they can reject it.

Why some Tibetan Buddhists think basic Buddhist ethics don’t apply to the guru

This quote from p131 of the The Torch of Certainty, a revered text by Jamgon Kongtrul says it all. It’s the most extreme statement I’ve seen of the belief at the root of the abuse issue, but though I never saw this particular verse while in Rigpa, the belief it elucidates is at the core of the Rigpa, Shambala and TKT culture, a culture that permitted the abuse and still stops the Rigpa Vision Board from admitting that Sogyal’s behaviour was harmful and inappropriate.

“From the sayings of the great Kagyudpas:
Everything this precious perfect guru does,
No matter what it is, is good.
All his deeds are excellent.
In his hands a butcher’s evil work
Is good, and benefits the beasts,
Inspired by compassion for them all.
When he unites in sex improperly,
His qualities increase, and fresh arise,
A sign that means and insight have been joined.
His lies by which we are deceived
Are just the skilful signs with which
He guides us on the freedom path.
When he steals, the stolen goods
Are changed into necessities
To ease the poverty of all.
When such a guru scolds,
His words are forceful mantras
To remove distress and obstacles.
His beatings are blessings,
Which yield both siddhis,
And gladden all devout and reverent men.”

Jamgon Kongtrul, The Torch of Certainty

Is this Buddhism?

The Buddha seemed to see ethics as the basis of the spiritual path. The Vinaya Pitaka is all about ethics and is one third of the Tripitaka, the Buddhist canon – along with the Sutta Pitaka (on meditation) and the Abhidhamma Pitaka (on wisdom). He encouraged people to use their own wisdom in ascertaining what kind of ideas to follow and his criteria was whether something caused harm or benefit.

“Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another’s seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, ‘The monk is our teacher.’ Kalamas, when you yourselves know: ‘These things are bad; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,’ abandon them.’

The Buddha, Kalama Sutta

If the Buddha wouldn’t condone this idea that unethical behaviour by a guru is good, then how is it Buddhism?

Rigpa’s view on the belief that everything the guru does is good

I recently sent this quote to the national director of Rigpa Australia and asked, ‘How does Rigpa see the following teaching from the section on Guru yoga in The Torch of Certainty.’ I received no reply. My guess is that they don’t want to admit that they believe this nonsense. If they don’t believe it, then surely they would have had no reticence in telling me so. The fact that Rigpa management and senior students accepted Sogyal’s abusive behaviour is proof that they do follow this kind of teaching – and it’s the same for Shambala and other similar groups.

And the fact that the Rigpa Vision Board have never admitted that Sogyal did abuse his students – despite the results of the Lewis Silkin report – and the fact that they have not denounced his behaviour as harmful and inappropriate proves that they still believe that ‘Everything this precious perfect guru does, no matter what it is, is good.

Sogyal may be dead, but this damaging belief remains in place to define Rigpa students’ relationship with whatever guru they take vajrayana empowerments from – including dzogchen and mahamudra introductions to the nature of mind.

One of the core texts for the Rigpa sangha A Guide to The Words of My Perfect Teacher – a commentary on Patrul Rinpoche’s commentary on the Longchen Nyingtik Ngondro, the main Ngondro practice for Rigpa students and many other Tibetan Buddhist groups – tells students that:

‘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.’

Khenpo Ngawang Pelzang, page 261 A Guide to The Words of My Perfect Teacher

Here is the ‘scriptural authority’ that guides Rigpa students in the matter of their guru’s behaviour. When I read this during my studies, I never thought a lama would actually do such things. I assumed it was overstated for effect and that the aim of the words was simply to encourage students to open themselves up to their teachers, not to suggest it was okay for the lamas to behave in such a manner.

Those two quotes came from books written in the 19th Century, but Dzongsar Khyentse wrote his book The Guru Drinks Bourbon? this century, and on page 19 in a section headed ‘Liberation Through Imprisonment’, he admits that in the student teacher relationship as traditionally laid out 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. He says:

‘However, once you have completely and soberly sur-rendered, 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?

Dzongsar Khyentse (DZK) is one of Rigpa’s spiritual advisers. At least he is being honest and open about his commitment to teaching this kind of thing. That honesty helps students make an informed decision about whether or not they want to enter into a student teacher relationship with him.

Just as those who take the bible literally are called Christian fundamentalists, so, too, DZK and the other Rigpa advisers who take these kinds of teachings literally fit the label of Tibetan Buddhist fundamentalists.

The fundamentalist view

The following quotes from Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, written as part of his 10,000 word public Facebook opinion after the July 2017 letter state the fundamentalist version of Vajrayana. The whole thing can still be read here: https://www.facebook.com/djkhyentse/posts/2007833325908805

Recently, it was alleged by some of Sogyal Rinpoche’s students, who also consider themselves to be practitioners in the Vajrayana tradition, that Sogyal Rinpoche regarded abusive behaviour as the ‘skilful means’ of ‘wrathful compassion’ in the tradition of ‘crazy wisdom.’

However you describe Sogyal Rinpoche’s style of teaching, the key point here is that if his students had received a Vajrayana initiation, if at the time they received it they were fully aware that it was a Vajrayana initiation, and 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. (By the way, ‘initiation’ includes the pointing out instruction which is the highest Vajrayana initiation, known as the fourth abhisheka.)

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.



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 Rinpoche, Facebook Post, Aug 15 2017.

In an age when teachers can’t be trusted to behave ethically or in accordance with the Buddha’s teachings, we need to re-evaluate the relevancy of these teachings/beliefs/ideas. And since we can’t make or trust the lamas to do it – especially not the fundamentalist lamas – the students must do this re-evaluation for themselves.

You don’t have to believe or follow such teachings

Just as plenty of Catholics don’t follow the Catholic Church’s teachings on not using birth control, and don’t believe everything in the bible, so people can follow Tibetan Buddhist teachings without believing the above. You don’t have to, or need to, take on board the superstition that pervades the Tibetan culture either, or buy into fear tactics such as ‘break samaya and you’ll go to hell’.

Sogyal had us believe that at a certain point, if we really wanted enlightenment, then we had to get rid of our doubts and follow the tradition to the letter. He said that picking and choosing was fine for beginners, but not for older students. This, however, is in direct contradiction the Buddha’s advice:

Do not accept any of my words on faith,
Believing them just because I said them.
Be like an analyst buying gold, who cuts, burns,
And critically examines his product for authenticity.
Only accept what passes the test
By proving useful and beneficial in your life.

The Buddha, from the Jnanasara-samuccaya

Should a Buddhist follow a Tibetan Lama or the Buddha as their primary source for authentic Buddhist teachings?

One thing is for sure, the idea that ‘everything this precious perfect guru does, no matter what it is, is good‘ has been proven to be not ‘useful or beneficial’. If you don’t believe me, read the Lewis Silkin Report into Rigpa.

Gurus don’t have to teach such ideas, either

 ‘The problem with the practice of seeing everything the guru does as perfect is that it very easily turns to poison for both the guru and the disciple. Therefore, whenever I teach this practice, I always advocate that the tradition of “every action be seen as perfect” not be stressed. Should the guru manifest un-dharmic qualities or give teachings contradicting dharma, the instruction on seeing the spiritual master as perfect must give way to reason and dharma wisdom. I could think to myself, “They all see me as a Buddha, and therefore will accept anything I tell them.” Too much faith and imputed purity of perception can quite easily turn things rotten.’

HH Dalai Lama, The Path to Enlightenment

I showed the above quote from Jamgong Kongtrul to someone who has been a student of Tsoknyi Rinpoche for 15 years. She said that she’d never heard him teach on anything like that in all that time. He and his brother Mingyur Rinpoche don’t talk about devotion much either, and never in relationship to students being required to have devotion for them. Contrast that with Sogyal’s insistence that without devotion to him no realisation was possible. And don’t forget Mingyur Rinpoche’s take on unethical behaviour published by Lion’s Roar that he wrote in response to the abuse allegations against Sogyal.

Tibetan Buddhist teachers won’t reject outright any teaching with scriptural authority behind it. It’s just not their way. The most we can hope for in terms of change is that they cease to teach such ideas.

The massive contradiction

The traditional advice for avoiding an abusive guru is to not choose them in the first place. The same book from which our first quote came from today also says this:

In particular, you should absolutely avoid [a master who commits the following misdeeds], for such a master can only confer the “blessing” of Mara:
1. Explaining or demonstrating to a crowd of common fold [such practices as] Tsa-Lung or Mahamudra meditation, those which employ mantras, or the essentials of the Fulfillment Stage;
2. [Boastfully claiming to possess] instructions others lack and spreading instructions in the profound philosophy and practice of the Mantrayana in the marketplace;
3. Behaving in an undisciplined manner;
4. Verbalizing the ultimate philosophical perspective (footnote: Since it is not subject to verbalization, any attempt to do so is pure distortion).
5. Greatly coveting money or property belonging to the Precious Ones;
6. Being highly deceitful and hypocritical;
7. Giving empowerments and instructions which do not belong in any tradition;
8. Indulging in the pleasures of liquor and sex;
9. Teaching a doctrine which conflicts with the Dharma, in words of his own invention, because he does not know how to teach the true path.

Jamgon Kongtrul, The Torch of Certainty p 134

If you follow those guidelines, you cut out all those self-styled dzogchen gurus that are popping up all over the place as well as all those lamas who indulge in sex. But note the conflicting teachings here. On the one hand we’re not to choose a teacher who ‘indulges in the pleasures of liquor or sex’ or ‘who behaves in an undisciplined manner’, but on the other hand if you do happen to choose someone who ‘unites in sex improperly,‘ lies, steals, scolds and beats you, you’re supposed to see ‘all his deeds’ as ‘excellent’.

In addition, given that gurus hide their ethical failings, it’s impossible for anyone to choose teachers with any confidence, especially when all you know about them is the nice stuff written on a glossy website. Clearly, you can’t trust any guru not to abuse their power; you can, however, not give away your power.

What does a student wanting Tibetan Buddhist teachings do?

‘The only way out of this mess, I think, is for students to vow to never compromise their personal integrity, to take responsibility for their own spiritual path rather than handing control over to another, and to keep their critical thinking faculties engaged at all levels of the path rather than blindly accepting every pronouncement by a lama as wisdom. To give any of that up in the name of devotion is neither wise nor in line with what the Buddha taught.’

Tahlia Newland. Fallout: Recovering from Abuse in Tibetan Buddhism

Image by ArtTower from Pixabay

How Rigpa isn’t Reforming

Rigpa’s gaslighting skills are making a strong showing in the wake of Sogyal’s death. Gaslighting is a nice term for what some might call outright lies. It’s a way of obscuring the truth and manipulating people to perceive things in a way that suits the gaslighter’s agenda. Rigpa needs students to deify Sogyal, to keep the fantasy alive so they can keep the money rolling in, so they’re doing everything they can to assure their devotees that Sogyal was truly an enlightened master – and therefore, according to their beliefs, he didn’t harm anyone.

Report recommendations being followed?

The Rigpa website has a page titled Rigpa Moving Forward on which they list all the ways they are instituting the recommendations of the Lewis Silkim Report on Sogyal Lakar/Rinpoche’s abuses. If you raise the issue of Sogyal’s abuse with a Rigpa devotee, they will point to this page to show that they have changed. But if you look closely at the recommendations and at what is written on that page, you’ll see a vast discrepancy between the actual recommendations and what they’re doing, and between what they say they are doing and what they have actually done.

If they were actually working systematically on each recommendation, why have they organised their page in a way that doesn’t relate to the recommendations? To check if the recommendations are actually being followed, you have to go to the report and try to check whats on the Moving Forward page with the recommendations, and who is going to do that? Not your casual reader, and not the devotees who only want to be reassured that the right thing is being done. The page organisation acts as a smokescreen.

For instance, for the recommendation, “Rigpa leadership in each country (being the trustees or equivalent) and the Vision Board should, as necessary, be refreshed in order to ensure that; its members are unconnected with the harmful events referred to in this report and so can credibly lead the programme of changes required; …” But Rigpa have removed from management only 3 of those who enabled the abuse for decades. The Vision Board and management in various countries still contain people well connected to the harmful events. This is typical of Rigpa’s approach to the recommendations – do enough that it looks like you’re making changes, but not enough to actually make a change.

And then there’s the look-how-wonderful-we-are language they use to distract readers from remembering that the man they are devoted to was the perpetrator of serious physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Apart from the usual important-lama name dropping and insistence that Rigpa offers “a complete and authentic path of Buddhist study and practice”, their words make it sound as if they’ve done more than they actually have. For instance, if you click on the link on the word ‘apology’ you’ll find only a pseudo apology. They look like apologies to anyone who doesn’t look closely, but despite using the word ‘sorry’, Rigpa and Sogyal have never actually apologised for hurting anyone; they’ve never said, ‘we’re sorry we hurt you’ only sorry that people ‘feel hurt.’

Their apologies aren’t for those they harmed, they’re to gaslight their devotees into thinking that they actually have apologised. And they’re still doing it.

The gaslighting continues with another psudeo apology for the faithful

Rigpa put out a statement on Sept 5th, a few days AFTER the petition asking for the lamas to retract their homages , presumably to make it look as if they actually cared about those who objected to their hideous display of hypocrisy. In Rigpa’s statement they use the word ‘deepest apologies’ to make it look as if they’re apologising and ‘again’ as if they have apologised before, but now instead of talking about people who have ‘felt hurt’, they’re talking about members of the Rigpa community who have ‘experienced hurt’. Still the passive voice that makes it sound as if the hurt happened without anyone actually causing it. Still they’re not admitting that Sogyal and Rigpa management and culture actually did hurt people, still not saying, ‘we’re sorry we hurt you’. The expressing our ‘deepest apologies’ doesn’t even say what the apologies are for!

Rigpa acknowledges that this may also be a difficult period for past and present members of the Rigpa community who have experienced hurt, and wishes to express again our deepest apologies. We continue our process of healing and reaching out, and the reforms that Rigpa has taken over the past two years.

Rigpa Statement, 5 September, 2019

And they have the gall to say that they’re continuing the process of ‘healing and reaching out’. Their efforts at ‘reaching out’ were extremely limited and misguided, and last I heard, the communication set up with two of the victims has stalled. To even talk about ‘our process of healing and reaching out’ as if it’s some ongoing initiative is highly misleading.

Parinirvana? Really?

The Rigpa website has a page called SOGYAL RINPOCHE’S PARINIRVANA in which they say, “Sogyal Rinpoche entered into parinirvana on 28th August, 2019.” Parinirvana means “The final passing beyond suffering manifested by buddhas and highly realized masters at the end of their lives. ”

Just using that word gaslights the gullible. What actually happened was that a serial abuser died. Yes, he did some good stuff, but people who hurt others – and he hurt hundreds of people – are surely not real candidates for parinirvana. If your belief system allows a serial abuser to be enlightened, then that belief system must be seriously flawed.

Thugdam? Really?

“On behalf of Sogyal Rinpoche’s private office: From the time when he passed away on August 28th, Sogyal Rinpoche has remained in a state of meditation (thugdam) at his residence in Thailand. Yesterday, Tulku Rigdzin Pema, a close disciple of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and a highly accomplished and knowledgeable master, arrived and confirmed Rinpoche’s profound meditation. Today, three days after his passing away, Rinpoche left his meditative state, and Tulku Rigdzin Pema performed all the necessary rituals and prayers. He also noticed a gentle fall of rain at that time, which he considered a very auspicious sign.

We are being guided by a number of eminent lamas. The two most important considerations now are creating an opportunity for as many students as possible to pay their respects to the kudung sometime in the coming weeks, and making arrangements for the cremation, to be performed according to the authentic Tibetan tradition. We will soon have clarity where and when these events will take place and will share more news.

Sogyal Rinpoche’s private office team

The Facebook notice that Sogyal was going into hospital was dated Aug. 28, 4:47 am, It told us that there was a team of doctors working with him and he was in and out of intensive care and no visitors. The message telling us that he had died was the same day, August 28, 8:27 pm, 16 hours later. In that message, again the team of doctors working to save his life was mentioned, and it’s clear that he died in hospital. That message was from Jackie Lee, but now, the message about his remaining in thugdam – written by Sogyal Rinpoche’s private office team – states, “On behalf of Sogyal Rinpoche’s private office: From the time when he passed away on August 28th, Sogyal Rinpoche has remained in a state of meditation (thugdam) at his residence in Thailand.”

According to Tibetan Buddhist belief, if you touch the body in the first 3 days, the consciousness will leave the body at the point where it was touched and so make ‘resting in meditation’ after death (thugdam) impossible. Sogyal’s corpse was moved from the hospital. Rigpa’s story doesn’t hold together at all. But the devotees won’t notice or care, and so Sogyal’s last day was spent, as so many others have been, in deception.

And they’re even going to let people view the kudung – the sacred body of a great master who has passed away. Have they trussed him up to sit in the right position? For sure he didn’t die sitting in meditation.

Do any of the devotees question this story? No, they’re fed what they want to hear to keep them happily in their Rigpa fantasy.

Ugh. There’s something really disgusting in all this. Why not just be honest? I guess that just isn’t Rigpa’s style.

The Homages

Rigpa asked as many lamas as they could think of to write a homage to Sogyal Rinpoche. In accordance with Tibetan culture, most of them wrote glowing accolades, as if Sogyal had never done anything wrong. This brought an outcry of disgust from Western students more familiar with the kind of obituary we saw in The Telegraph that acknowledges both the good and the bad. In response to the outcry, and some letters written to the offending speakers, some of the ‘homages’ were taken down. Read the Tricycle article for details.

Some of the lama’s responses, however, merely gave condolences and advice for students, but Rigpa still posted these as if they were homages on a page titled Paying Homage to Sogyal Rinpoche. Isn’t it dishonest to post messages of condolence as if they are homages? The unquestioning follower will look at the page, see all the photos and names and, without reading and evaluating, think that all these masters have actually paid homage. Look at Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s one for instance. It isn’t a homage; it’s advice for students.

And yet, many of the lamas who’ve taught in Rigpa have said nothing publicly. In a culture where one is expected to say nice things about someone who has just died, to say nothing says a great deal. It’s the old ‘if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.’

Notably, wrote nothing, and neither did HH Dalai Lama. Others who have remained silent are Dzogchen Rinpoche, (previously joint Spiritual Director of Rigpa and is SR’s brother); Dodrupchen Rinpoche; HH Sakya Trizin; HH Karmapa XVII and Gyalwang Drukpa Rinpoche. Even Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, one of Rigpa’s main advisers, has no statement on that homage page. And those are just some of those who have remained silent.

Just as it’s a basic courtesy in the Tibetan tradition not to mention a deceased person’s bad deeds when expressing condolences, it’s also traditional to express disapproval by not saying anything, even if asked. Of course, Rigpa would not draw attention to the silences.

Edited addition 15th September.

Mingyur Rinpoche has now written a message of condolence, but like his brother says nothing good about Sogyal and acknowledges those students who have left Rigpa. At first Rigpa placed it on its Homage page, but some of the Tergar students protested and Rigpa took it down. This is what he said:

In the past weeks I have been approached by many of Sogyal Rinpoche’s current and past students who have asked me to offer guidance for how to practice at this time.

I was saddened to hear of the passing away of Sogyal Rinpoche. I have known him for many years and have a close connection to many of his students. Of course all of life is subject to impermanence, but it is always a surprise when we lose someone we have known for a long time.

I am aware this has been a very painful time for Sogyal Rinpoche’s students, his present students and those who have decided to leave the community. I am thinking of each of you and dedicating my practice to your well-being.

Death reminds us that there is no certainty in life and calls to us to open our hearts wide enough to hold whatever arises. It is my personal wish that all of you, wherever you find yourselves, keep each other in your hearts at this time. You are in my heart and in my prayers. Please remember that regardless of whatever happens, the teachings of the Buddha are always completely reliable. This is the time for us to dedicate ourselves to the path. By practising the teachings that we have received, we can free ourselves from the bonds of duality and merge with the luminous nature that never dies.

Mingyur Rinpoche.

A conflict of interest

So this is how Rigpa keeps on behaving like a cult, how they continue to gaslight their students, manipulating their perspective in ways that will confirm their idea of Sogyal as enlightened. Any student who wasn’t sure about Sogyal, given this manipulation will now likely be thinking, “Oh, he must really be enlightened. He’s resting in meditation; Tulku Rigdzin Pema even confirmed it and said the gentle fall of rain was a very auspicious sign. And lamas are calling him a great master. “

I’ve heard that Tulku Rigdzin Pema is Rigpa’s stupa builder. The greater the master, the bigger the stupa, the more money for him, so it’s in his financial interest to make Sogyal out to be a great master. But most Rigpa students wouldn’t know this, and if they did, they certainly wouldn’t allow the knowledge to put a crack in their blind devotion. Nevertheless, there’s a conflict of interest here, a reason for him not to check too carefully.

Personally, I don’t believe a word Rigpa says anymore.

Can Rigpa reform?

As many of you know already, the BBC focused on the Rigpa debacle on a couple of their recent Sunday shows. The first interview was on the 1st of September with Mary Finnigan and she spoke of Sogyal’s history as presented in her and Rob Hogendoorn’s book, Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism. She mentioned, among other things, how important success and supporting success was for the Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy, another reason why lamas are so keen to support what he’s done.

Mary Finnegan on Sogyal and Rigpa, BBC interview Sept 1st. (edited to just the relevant part)

The next week on the 8th of September, the Sunday show interviewed several exRigpa students, including me, and the focus was on whether Rigpa could be called a cult and whether they could reform. I think I made my perspective on that quite clear. As I said n my book, Fallout: Recovering from Abuse in Tibetan Buddhism, Rigpa can never be considered a safe organisation unless they denounce Sogyal’s behaviour as wrong and inappropriate for any teacher. Unless they do that, they don’t know the meaning of the word harm, and that makes their code of conduct worthless.

BBC interview on Sogyal and Rigpa, Sept 8th (edited to just the relevant part)

The question also arose in the talk I gave at the Cult Information and Family Support network’s meeting in Sydney on the 28th August. They hosted my book launch, and I talked about how Rigpa operates the same way as all cults operate. People in the audience with experience in a wide variety of different cults were nodding their heads; they knew the cult markers and recognised them when I spoke of how we were brainwashed and how I woke up from my naive trust in Rigpa as an organisation.

“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’.

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

Compassionate Anger and Why it Must Continue

This post is inspired by a blog post on compassionate anger by Sandra Pawla of the How Did it Happen? Blog and a recent post by Tenzin Peljor of the Buddhism Controversy blog

The power of compassionate anger

As Sandra notes in her recent article ‘Get Angry! The Dalai Lama on Compassionate Anger’, the Dalai Lama has spoken about compassionate anger in his books Be Angry and Beyond Religion, Ethics for the Whole World. The quotes she shares in her article are so wonderfully sane and bring much-needed common sense into a Buddhist worldview that usually simply declares anger bad. Thank you, Sandra for writing that helful article. (For a detailed look at the difference between negative and positive anger read the whole article and feel free to discuss it in the comments here.)

“There are two types of anger.  One type arises out of compassion; that kind of anger is useful.  Anger that is motivated by compassion or a desire to correct social injustice, and does not seek to harm the other person, is a good anger that is worth having.’

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

In assertiveness training, you learn how to recognise when a situation calls for a strong, clear response, and you learn to do that without getting angry. This, like compassionate anger, is using the pure energy of the anger – mirror-like wisdom – to drive your actions rather than getting caught in the destructive/unenlightened side of anger. Assertiveness can look angry to others, but no one other than the person being assertive can know whether they are consumed by anger or driven by the energy inherent in it. Dismissing people as ‘just angry’ is a particularly Buddhist and new age way of discrediting people that speak up about injustice, but those who continue year after year are more likely to be driven by compassionate anger – the other kind is far too exhausting to maintain.

His Holiness also makes it clear that it’s not enough to sit in our caves and meditate, rather that, ‘ When faced with economic or any other kind of injustice, it is totally wrong for a religious person to remain indifferent.  Religious people must struggle to solve these problems.’

When I learned what had happened to people in my sangha, I felt angry, but it was anger infused with a desire to protect the victims, support them in their healing and help make sure it would never happen again.

“To be angry on behalf of those who are treated unjustly means that we have compassionate anger.  This type of anger leads to right action, and leads to social change. To be angry toward the people in power does not create change.  It creates more anger, more resentment, more fighting.”

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

Compassionate anger and the bodhisattva vow

In the early days after the letter by the eight Rigpa students detailing Sogyal’s abuse came out, someone asked me why I was breaking my samaya and making myself a target by speaking publically ‘against’ my lama, and I told her that, as I saw it, such action was part of my bodhisattva vow. His Holiness agrees, and it’s wonderful to find a lama that understands this.

If one is treated unfairly and if the situation is left unaddressed, it may have extremely negative consequences for the perpetrator of the crime. Such a situation calls for a strong counteraction. Under such circumstances, it is possible that one can, out of compassion for the perpetrator of the crime—and without generating anger and hatred—actually take a strong stand and strong countermeasures. In fact, one of the precepts of the bodhisattva vows is to take strong countermeasures when the situation calls for it. If a bodhisattva doesn’t take strong countermeasures when the situation requires, then that constitutes an infraction of one of the vows.’

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

And in this situation, it goes far beyond Rigpa or Shambala. I continue to speak on these matters because of my concern for Tibetan Buddhism. If the lamas don’t address the issue of abuse in Tibetan Buddhism is will, and already is having extremely negative consequences for all the lamas and their sanghas. They are all tainted by association and, for most of them, by not speaking out against abuse.

Why we must continue our vigilance

‘Anger toward social injustice will remain until the goal is achieved.  It has to remain. ‘

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

Tenpel had given up writing for his blog, but something happened that inspired him to write again, and it reminds me of why we cannot stop our endeavours until our goal is achieved – which I assume is the same for all of us, to protect people from cults and abusive lamas and to remove abuse and the potential for abuse from Tibetan Buddhism. If we let things pass, we are allowing the situation to continue unabated, and instituting code of conducts doesn’t achieve this aim. Only examining and changing the abuse-enabling beliefs will do that.

In an article called ‘Buddhism is not a Cure for Mental Health Problems – or is it?’ Tenpel raises the issue that even after an abusive guru has been exposed and some response made, the cults of abusive gurus continue to exist and continue to draw in unsuspecting people.

The abuse scandals become history. They fade from the news and people who know nothing about them or don’t care because it was in the past and they believe the organisation has changed, go to the cult’s classes and are drawn in in the same way that all cults draw in their members. No one sets out to join a cult, but these organisations don’t look like a cult. On the outside they are glossy and sweet, and they do offer something of valuable – meditation . People’s first experiences with them are wonderful, and before they know it they have been subtley brainwashed into a belief system that eventually makes them slaves to the guru or gurus the cult follows.

Tenzin talks about an article in The Atlantic called “Why So Many Americans Are Turning to Buddhism] where the author goes to one of these cults and writes about her wonderful experience with no knowledge that her writing is promoting a dangerous cult. Tenzin says:

‘I want to highlight some of the dangers. I want to highlight a group which has such a toxic setting, that your mental health might very likely be harmed in the long run if you join this group. The group is the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) – or more precisely, the “Kadampa Buddhism” movement. Yes, the group whose two meditation classes and the good experiences the author had joining these classes formed the beginning and end of The Atlantic article. ‘

So it’s important to keep organisations like Shambala, NKT and Rigpa in the spotlight so people know to stay away, because at the very least they’ll be supporting an organisation that fosters abuse-enabling beliefs, and at the worst, they run the risk of not only being abused themselves but also of accepting the abuse without complaint.

And so the compassionate anger remains and appears as action (such as Tenzin writing this blog post) when circumstances require it, and I hope it will continue until people are safe from dangerous TB groups and their gurus.

(Do read and watch the videos onTenzin’s blog post.)


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’.

What Now Rigpa?

What now Rigpa? Building on the past

The What Now? blog, no longer wishing to be defined by our relationship to Rigpa and Sogyal Rinpoche / Lakar and his abuse, has changed its name to Beyond the Temple . We want to write more about where we go from here with our spiritual lives, instead of only writing about Sogyal’s abuse and Rigpa’s gaslighting tactics. But just as when we grow from a child into an adult, our childhood shapes us, so too does our experience of spiritual abuse shape our outlook moving forward, and our interests.

And so as an important reference area for all students of Buddhism, we have in our Abuse in Buddhism Reference area all the links to articles of interest and support that we’ve found helpful and collected over the last 18 months – though better organised now. It’s all great reading for anyone wondering if they’ve been abused rather than blessed or if they’re in a cult instead of a sangha. We have links to excellent articles on all facets of the guru abuse issue, from cult education to links to what lamas have said about lama abuse.

In keeping with this acknowledgement of where we’ve come from, this first post with our new name and URL http://beyondthetemple.com is a kind of ‘where I am with this spiritual abuse stuff now’ kind of post.

When I think of Rigpa or Sogyal these days, I just have a gentle sadness, one of those bittersweet sadnesses that recognises the good, which makes the bad so much sadder.

Abuse-enabling beliefs

I don’t think Rigpa will ever have healthy beliefs around following a Lama for so long as they listen the Orgyen Tobyal, Khenpo Namdrol and Dzongsar Khyentse. They are just too rigid on the ‘once you’re properly prepared and have taken me as your lama, shut up, don’t complain, and do as you’re told’ angle. That’s what it comes down to. (Even their code of conduct has a special section for your relationship with a tantric guru.) The way they enterpret their religion the power is still squarely with the lama, and the student is still expected to be totally submissive to and uncomplaining of his or her every action no matter how harmful. If people are clear that that’s the deal in Rigpa, (at least at the tantric level) then they can be sensible and stay away. And that’s what I’m doing – staying away.

Sogyal Rinpoche, Rigpa & abuse

I feel that Sogyal is just a sick man (mentally as well as physically) with illusions of grandeur and other symptoms of a narcisitic personality disorder along with a special ability to channel the transformative power of his teachers to give genuine introductions to the nature of mind. And Rigpa is a devious organisation, who never mentions the word abuse, despite the abusive behaviour of their lama, Sogyal Rinpoche, being the cause of their problems. The organisation is run by people who seem to have lost their way and become stuck in bad habits and skewed beliefs – though I suspect many are simply trapped by codependent tendancies and some come from abusive backgrounds that made the abuse seem ‘normal’ to them.

That Rigpa still talk to their members like a PR firm doing damage control – directing their members perception away from the truth of ‘the situation’ to a distorted version that makes them think their problem is an attack by ‘disgruntled students’, not the abuse and it’s enabling – is highly manipulative, and it isn’t care. It’s ‘we must keep our membership at all costs, so let’s direct their attention away from the nasty truth that our lama beat people, sexually harassed and used them, and kept them trapped in an abusive relationship through trauma bonding. Let’s pretend everything is right now and get back to earning money, even though we still hold the same abuse-enabling beliefs as we did before.’

Dzongsar Khyentse & the bottom line.

That’s the root of the problem with Rigpa, that they still don’t think that Sogyal did anything wrong in terms of vajrayana even though they know that he did all those things in the report. They won’t say it publically, but Dzongsar Khyentse – their main advisor – does. In his latest comments on the topic in Chile still made it clear that he hasn’t changed his bottom line that once you’re ‘properly prepared’ and you take a lama as your tantric guru, then you have to ‘continue with this practice of pure perception’, something that for many in Rigpa simply means you have to see everything the guru does as beneficial even when it’s clearly harmful.

‘And what I have basically, among other things that I’ve said, if Sogyal R had applied the correct procedure and if the students also knew what was happening, then if they had taken him as a vajrayana master, that’s it, then you have to continue with this practice of pure perception.

But if SR haden’t taken the correct procedure, and I have said that that time and I say now, that I doubt that SR had taken the correct procedure. This is my personal thought. You know the correct procedure … someone says you do my chores for 3 years, these are the correct procedures. If SR didn’t apply the correct procedures, students didn’t know what was happening and students also don’t know was happening, it is totally wrong for Sogyal to demand whole-hearted pure perception so that he can do what he likes; it’s totally wrong.’

Dzongsar Khyentse, Being Savvy at Following the Guru, Santiago, Chile, January 20, 2019. https://youtu.be/A0HGS_iP0No

I gather being ‘properly prepared’ means being warned about how you’ll be treated – like anyone is actually going to tell you the truth when they’ve been sworn to silence as part of their ‘preparation’ and they see whatever their guru does to them as a blessing anyway. It seems to me that he’s saying that it’s still okay for a teacher to abuse a student, just so long as the student knows they’re going to be abused before they take him as their tantric guru.

At least he has admitted that what Sogyal did was ‘totally wrong,’ but only for those not ‘properly prepared’, and I suspect that some of those who were abused were actually ‘properly prepared’ when they asked to be trained. He doesn’t tackle the actual question of the appropriatness of Sogyal’s behaviour even for the ‘properly prepared’, he doesn’t state as Mingyur Rinpoche does, that abuse isn’t a teaching method.

Pure perception & abuse

How, I wonder, does he interpret pure perception here? Because the suggestion is that it means we see the abuse as okay, which isn’t pure perception, it’s the ignorance of not recognising the interdependence between the absolute and the relative. My studies tell me that, pure perception does not mean seeing abusive behaviour in your lama as somehow ‘good’ or ‘beneficial’; it’s simply seeing that the abusive behaviour is empty of inherent existence. It’s still abusive; it still causes harm, even when you see its true nature, which is, of course, beyond any concepts of anything – including benefit and harm. But despite an actions ultimate emptiness, on a conventional level, through interdependence, there is benefit and harm. There is only emptiness because there is form and visa versa. Yeah, it’s hard to get your head around. No wonder there’s so much confusion.

Root of the problem

So for me, as long as at the top levels of Rigpa there’s this idea that for the ‘properley prepared’ student whatever their lama does to them is okay and they care more about keeping their business running than their members or those they harmed, Rigpa is not a healthy place to be.

The what now? question will always remain because we never know what will happen next – because of emptiness anything can arise – but without awareness of our actions, people do tend to keep behaving the same way – organisations have karma just as individuals do – and so when a pattern is established over time, it’s likely it will continue. Unless a great deal of awareness and honesty enters the picture. Anything is possible.

If management ever actually admits that Sogyal did wrong, gives a genuine apology, and stops their gaslighting then I’ll reconsider my opinion, but pointing out their failures has become a bit like flogging a dead horse, so I’m happy to walk away and leave that horse to rot. I don’t want their stink on me.

The future

Now I’ve got that clear. What Now? What Next? Watch this space …

About the new site

And now, some information you might want to know about the new site:

  • This blog contains all posts and pages from the original What Now blog. It is the same blog, just with a different name and URL and with better organised pages optimised for search engines to make the information easier to find.
  • Apart from URL changes to the reference pages, all internal links should send you from one page to another here on this site, but links you’ve posted elsewhere to the What Now? blog will still go to the old site. Those links will still work, but won’t get any updates, so it’s best if you point your links here.
  • The old blogsite will not be updated. There’s a post stuck to the front page of the old site that will send people here.

I’d love to hear what you think, so please leave a comment.

If you’d like a more private place to chat, you can join the Beyond the Temple Facebook group for discussions related to our ongoing spiritual path, or the secret What Now? group, for Rigpa students only, which focuses on Rigpa and related abuse issues, (apply via the contact form here), or if you’re not a Rigpa or ex-Rigpa person and need support specifically related to abuse in Vajrayana try 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, please click the relevant link to ‘Like’ and ‘Subscribe’.

Victim Blaming Disguised as Dharma

Bob Thurman recently did a podcast on abuse in Buddhism, and though he said some  things that some may find helpful in the examination of the issues raised by abuse in Buddhism, I think we need to talk about the part where he fosters one of the ideas that enabled abuse and victim blaming in Rigpa. By talking this way, Bob has shown that he has no idea of the toxic culture that arises around abusive lamas or how some teachings/beliefs/ideas can be misued to enable abuse and so need a very careful balancing of polarities if they are to be taught responsibly.

The problematic idea

Below is a rough transcript of the section in question. It is not word for word, but close enough for you to get the gist of what he was saying.

Someone who was more or less ready for the teaching and it was given by someone who was somewhat abusive but not perfectly enlightened and gave it to a disciple enough that the disciple was able to go beyond that teacher, then that disciple will still be using that lama who had faults as if he were a Buddha in order to transform their own faults. So we can say that it is still okay for that disciple that they don’t have to join in on rejecting that lama. In their mind they could stick with that guru, and they actually might go beyond.
What was harm to one might not be harm to another because they had an advanced level of something from something they obtained from previous lives such that it is possible that they could use something dished out to them from an impure vessel to go beyond. It is possible. It isn’t so black and white.” Robert Thurman  https://bobthurman.com/abuse-in-buddhism/

What teaching?

“Ready for the teaching’? What teaching? We’re talking about abuse here. Is Bob suggesting that abuse is a legitimate teaching method? Unfortunately it appears that way.
“Given by someone who was somewhat abusive but not perfectly enlightened.” Not perfectly enlightened? Is Bob suggesting that someone abusive could be even a little enlightened?

Actual harm and feelings of harm

“What was harm to one might not be harm to another …” This is subscribing to the idea that harm cannot be objectively determined, that if you don’t ‘feel’ harmed then you actually haven’t been harmed. But when someone has been knocked unconscious, pulled by the ear until it bleeds, beaten so that you can see the bruising, or punched in the stomach such that they have a hematoma, it’s clear to anyone that the vicitm has been harmed, and certainly a medic could attest to that in court because the evidence of harm is clear to see.  Anyone who experienced such things and then said that they didn’t ‘feel’ hurt, indicates that they have not only been physically harmed but are also so under the sway of trauma bonding and gaslighting by their abusive lama that they protect him and fully subscribe to his version of reality. Not feeling harmed in these circumstances most likely does not indicate some advanced spiritual level, but rather that the poor person is trapped in a web of lies and delusion created by their abuser for the purpose of control and exploitation.
Bob either doesn’t understand or simply neglects to point out that not feeling harmed doesn’t mean that you weren’t actually harmed – not where blood, bruises, scars, and ptsd are concerned. Not recognising or admiting to the symptoms of ptsd in yourself, for example, doesn’t mean that you don’t exhibit those symptoms for the objective observer to see.

Advanced level?

“… because they had an advanced level of something from something they obtained from previous lives …” Advanced level, really. You’re going with that? This idea did so much harm in Rigpa. One of the reasons students stayed and kept taking the abuse was because they wanted to be at that ‘advanced’ level, and they wanted to prove to themselves, other students and their lama that they were such an ‘advanced’ student. How did they prove it? By not complaining about the abuse, by trying really hard to “use something dished out to them from an impure vessel to go beyond.”
When they finally saw the abuse as abuse, this idea that if you’re at an advanced level you can use abuse by your lama to benefit you spiritually was used by others to blame the victim. That the victim ‘felt’ hurt was seen as their fault, not the fault of the lama who actually hurt them. Sogyal said he felt sorry that people ‘felt hurt’. He never said he was sorry that he hurt them. This idea that a good/advanced student would be able to ‘transform’ the suffering they experienced at the hands of the lama allows abusive lamas to not take responsibility for the harm they have caused – something that is karmically inadvisable – and it also results in some students continuing to see abuse by lamas as an acceptable teaching method.
It’s true that people can use all sorts of difficult situations in a way that contributes to their spiritual growth, but what Bob neglects to make clear, and what needs to be made clear in relationship to abusive lamas is that this does not give anyone the right to abuse people with the expectation that that abuse be used for spiritual growth.

Physical, sexual, and psychological abuse are not teaching tools.” Mingyur Rinpoche https://www.lionsroar.com/treat-everyone-as-the-buddha/ 

Correctly identifying responsibility

The major issue with this kind of thinking is that it takes the responsibility for harm away from the lama and places it on the student, making the issue a perception of harm, rather than actual harm that can be seen by an objective person. And so it bypasses the issue of the lama’s wrong doing, but actually the lama’s wrong doing is the issue here, not whether the student can ‘handle’ it or not.
They shouldn’t have had to ‘use something dished out to them from an impure vessel’. The kinds of behaviour Sogyal regularly exhibited should never have occured – especially in a spiritual setting – and the fact that he hurt people was his fault, not theirs. Abusing students is not teaching them dharma. It’s teaching them how to be a bully and get away with it by twisting the teachings such that they lay the responsibility for the harm on the student for their perception of harm rather than on the lama for causing actual harm.
We shouldn’t be judging the student here. It’s the lama we should be judging – preferably in a court of law. He’s the one in a position of power with a responsibility to his students to do them no harm.
This is what Bob Thurman neglected to make clear and what other proponents of this idea also forget, so the idea that students can use abusive behaviour to ‘go beyond’ becomes a justification of the lama’s behaviour, but even if there is some truth to the basic concept, justification of the lama’s behaviour is not a logical inference.

Different responses

Certainly in any shared situation people will respond differently, some will be more bothered than others by being yelled at by their boss for instance, but that doesn’t mean that their boss should yell at them, thinking that he is giving them a great opportunity to not let it upset them. The boss is still a bastard and abuse is never an acceptable or effective management method.
Also the person who yells back might actually be handling it on a more healthy way for that person than the person who walks away thinking to themselves ‘I will not let him get under my skin’ or ‘he’s just a really unhappy person.’ To assume that one person is somehow more spiritually advanced than another because they ‘handled’ it better is simply not true, because the guy who yells back may have seen that the boss needs to be yelled at for his own sake, or for him yelling back might be exactly what he needed for himself for his own psychological health at that moment. And the person acting all meek may be simply enabling behaviour that is very bad for everyone and increasing their own sense of worthlessness. Of course, if the guy who yelled back yells at everyone, then it’s a different matter, but either way, it’s a toxic situation those people should never have been put in in the first place.
Could someone being in a bomb blast and seeing all that carnage use that as a means of liberation? I doubt that very much. There is a point at which a situation is just too toxic for people to be able to avoid some kind of trauma, no matter how well they ‘handle it’ and trying to ‘handle it’ well, thinking that means not showing any signs of trauma can be highly counterproductive for their healing, a repression rather than a facing of the reality of their feelings.

Similarity to abusive families

And when the abuse is coming from someone who professes to love you, the situation becomes even more traumatic. This is where the situation of those who were abused in a Buddhist community cannot be compared to those of the yogis incarcerated and tortured by the Chinese. Their tormentors never professed to love them or be torturing them for their benefit. And they didn’t betray any deep spiritual trust, because the yogis hadn’t  placed any trust in them. The yogis still had their devotion to their own guru to sustain them, but the abused students were abused by the very person in which they had placed their trust.
The sense of betrayal and confusion that comes from being abused by a spiritual teacher adds a whole other layer of trauma. The inner circle culture in Rigpa had all the dynamics of a family with an abusive father, so the closest situation that can be used for comparison is that of domestic abuse, not incarceration in prison. The more the spiritual seeker in this instance relates to their lama in a way similiar to how a child relates to their father, the more traumatic the situation would be for them, and a child-like adoration of and complete faith and trust in Sogyal was definitely encouraged in Rigpa. The betrayal of trust and neglect of duty of care is similar to that experienced by the child of an abusive father.
An abusive husband makes his wife feel like it’s her fault, but we all know it isn’t. She loses her self esteem in such an environment, which makes it hard for her to leave and keeps her always trying to do ‘better’ (even to the degree of apologising for causing him to hit her), and it was the same in Rigpa, just replace ‘husband’ with ‘lama’. But the situation in Rigpa is worse because the general culture is supportive of the abuser by giving a philosophical, so-called spiritual, reason to blame the student for their trauma. This attitude only increases the trauma, and anyone who professes any kind of idea that contributes to this culture of victim blaming is enabling abuse, just like the neighbour of a family where she knows there is excessive violence, but instead of reporting the abusive father to social services, she tells herself that it’s just a parent disciplining their child.
Even if adults have been given tools to make the most of an abusive situation, having those tools does not take responsibility for the abuse away from the perpetrator. And it certainly isn’t an excuse or a reason for a lama to abuse people with impunity thinking he is giving them an opportunity to grow. And that applies regardless of the lama’s level of realisation. Permiting someone to hurt someone else on the grounds that it is good for their spiritual development is just twisted thinking that allows violence to be perpetrated in the name of teaching dharma.

Not a failure

My understanding of how it was for people is that they tried for years to transform the abuse into something beneficial for them, but eventually they saw the situation for what it was – a culture of abuse – and then they left. That was the point where their wisdom kicked in. Any suggestion that leaving, or ‘feeling abused’ was some kind of failure on the student’s part is simply a cult control mechanism, thought manipulation, nothing more. It is most certainly not true.
It’s like in family abuse where speaking up or leaving is seen as a betrayal of the family. The idea just keeps family members stuck in the cycle of abuse. In Rigpa fear of being seen and treated as a failure was one of the things that kept people stuck in that toxic situation.
That people struggled for years under the expectation that they transform the abuse into something beneficial, just made the whole situation more toxic and more traumatising.

Misplaced attribution

One can separate oneself and ostracise a lama who abuses the sacred trust of being a spiritual teacher to abuse students using spiritual things as an excuse and method. It is ethical to do that. It protects yourself and protects others, but if there was some genuine learning, then one cannot hate that miscreant. One works with compassion towards people we hate, so why not apply that to the lama as well. So we still love even the bad gurus if we learned anything from them. We love the teachings, we love them, we consider them no longer qualified and we ask them to try to rehabilitate themselves, and if necessary we use law and media and reason to do that.” Bob Thurman. Abuse in Buddhism podcast.

Bob suggests that we remember the benefit we gained from a lama and honor him for that even while we reject them. This is the usual dharma teacher’s response to leaving a teacher,  and being good little Buddhists, we immediatly assume that any benefit we gained from our time as an abusive lama’s student is due to the qualities of the lama.
But what if it was all a performance? All of it. Even what we felt as love. The idea that Sogyal was nothing more than a consumate performer is something that has been suggested to me by many of the people I’ve spoken to who were directly abused – and they should know better than anyone. What if the good qualities we see in our disgraced lama are just a projection of what we want to see? What if by holding onto the idea that he did have some good qualities we’re just making ourselves feel better about the situation? I guess that’s an okay reason, but we should be willing to accept that it may only be wishful thinking on our part, and if we are to see truth directly we need to drop all our attachment and aversion related to our seeking out the benefit.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to see some good in our experience, or that some of us didn’t gain some beneift – clearly we did or we woudn’t have stuck around – just that we need to be careful that we don’t attribute that benefit all to the lama or hold onto our idea of benefit as an excuse not to examine our ‘realisation’.
Those who remain, still thinking they weren’t abused, and those who did feel some shift from something Sogyal did are likely not more advanced spirituality, but rather more able to manufacture or convince themselves of ‘results’, blind to the truth of the dynamics that keep them trapped, ignorant of the teachings on what a crazy wisdom master actually is, and are erroneously laying the benefit they gained on the lama, not on themselves, which is where they should be placing it. It is their devotion, their openess and trust that allowed understanding to arise, not any quality of the lama. Anything they experienced in a positive way was because of them, not him. The point we should not forget here is that the lama was not fit to be in his position.
Anyone who honours Sogyal for any transformation they may have felt from being abused by him (or taking teachings from him) is actually misplacing their attribution of benefit. Given his almost complete lack of qualificiation for the role he took on, any benefit we received was more likely to be despite Sogyal than because of him. It is more realistic to attribute any benefit we gained from our time in Rigpa to the variety of causes and conditions present rather than to one man.

Tough love?

The idea that a student should be able to transform abuse into some kind of realisation also contributes to the idea that tough love is part of vajrayana, and if you can’t ‘handle’ the tough love then you shouldn’t be a vajrayana student.
Is this really the kind of idea we want to propagate for Tibetan Buddhism? A religion where abuse is seen as part of the deal?
No matter from where this idea came, it was used in Rigpa, and can be used in future for so long as its propagated by lamas such as Dzongsar Khyentse, as a cult control mechanism to keep students taking the abuse and in slavery to the whims of the lama. Though some people may need to be treated firmly sometimes, we’re not talking about a sharply given reprimand here, we’re talking about what Karen Baxtor called ‘serious abuse’. There’s a huge difference between the loving parent who shouts at a child to stop them running onto the road in front of a car and then explains why they had to yell and the parent who grabs the child by the hair, drags them off the road and then beats them while they scream, leaving them bruised and traumatise. The second is abuse. The parent is merely releasing his frustration on the child. In the first instance the child learns not to run onto the road without looking. In the second instance the trauma of the beating obliterates the intended learning. They learn only to fear their father, not to take responsibility for checking for cars before stepping into the road.
Physical, emotional and sexual abuse is not love, is never skilful, and is not a teaching method. It’s been proven through educational studies that people learn better in an environment where they are rewarded for learning, not punished for their failures. That Sogyal did not see and apply this is another indication that he is certainly not enlightened, and that he went so far as to inflict this extreme behaviour on his students indicates that, despite whatever benefit anyone gained from their time in Rigpa, Sogyal and other lamas who hit, humilate, or ask sexual favours of students are not fit to teach. That’s the main point, and it should never get lost in talks on abuse in Buddhism.

Personal realities and community responsibilies

Trauma arising from abuse by a lama is NOT the student’s fault – even given their role in their perception of harm – and anyone who suggests that it is by using this idea that an advanced practitioner could benefit from an abusive lama shows a lack of understanding of the dynamics of the situation – particularly that the lama has broken his part in the teacher student relationship and therefore the required dynamics for transformation in a teaching sense are not present. They are also particularly ignorant on how such ideas have been distorted and used as a cult control mechanism.
The idea that students of any capacity can benefit from violent behaviour on the part of the lama must be discarded from Vajrayana, or at the very least, not emphasised and where it is mentioned, taught with a warning for how the idea is not an excuse or justification for harmful actions on the part of the lama. It does not bypass the lama’s responsibility to behave ethically and should not be used to make a student feel that they are a failure if their lama abuses them and they feel hurt by it.
Spiritual abuse is the worst kind of betrayal. To not feel hurt by it, rather than indicating some kind of realisation is more likely to indicate spiritual bypassing and supression of normal healthy human emotion. So don’t assume that feeling blessed rather than harmed, or experiencing what you interpret as a transendent state, indicates some kind of advanced spiritual capacity, it may just brainwashing and the kind of dissasociative state people commonly enter as a response to trauma. Or it may not.
Only one thing is certain in this play of personal realities: whatever you believe will be what you experience as truth, and only by dropping all beliefs will you have any chance of seeing reality directly. If you are brave enough to drop all beliefs and look directly at what actually is, rather than assuming that the truth is what you want it to be, then you are a true dharma practictioner.
Stopping abuse requires community participation. If we are to root it out, it is up to all of us to become educated, and Robert Thurman is not behaving responsibly by propagating this victim blaming disguised as vajrayana.
However, to his credit, he did also make some good points about teaching tantra and made it clear how unscrupulous lamas use the teachings on pure perception to faciliate abuse:

So lamas dish out initiations and then use the aspect [of the teachings] that ‘I’m now a Buddha in your eyes, and anything you see about me that doesn’t look like a Buddha, you have to imagine it is’, and then they abuse you. And worst of all they cripple your learning ability, they make you helpless.” Bob Thurman. Abuse in Buddhism podcast.

So watch out for any lama who suggests that anything you see about them that doesn’t look like a Buddha, you have to imagine it is. That’s a misuse of the pure perception teachings.

The Importance of Outrage

When the Lewis Silkin Report detailing the results of the independent investigation into Sogyal Lakar/Rinpoche and the cover up by senior Rigpa management came out, it reawakened my outrage over Sogyal Rinpoche’s abuse of his close students. This video is a rant that includes satire of Tibetan Buddhist beliefs as taught in Rigpa and a call for people to do whatever it takes to make sure that the kind of abuses detailed in the report never happen again anywhere.

Why this took so long to post

I wasn’t going to post this video at first because I felt the outrage expressed in it might retraumatise or upset people or inspire them to negative actions, so this is a warning for those who are feeling tender or sick of all this, that maybe this isn’t the video for you.
In the end, I decided to post it because I realised that there is nothing wrong with outrage, so long as we don’t allow it to govern our actions. There is wisdom in outrage; it tells us that something is very wrong, and so it can motivate us to change things which can and should be changed. If we forget our outrage, we might become complacent, and spiritual abuse is not something we should ever be complacent about. The challenge in acting on something that outrages us is not to act out of anger or hatred or for revenge (acting that way doesn’t get the best results), but to act out of a genuine motivation to improve the world for the better.
The full  Lewis Silkin report can be read by clicking this link.

Destroying or preserving?

A comment left on the You Tube channel for this video says a lot: “A straight talking lady who fearlessly spells out the distorted views being taught in certain Tibetan Buddhist sanghas by inept Lamas and their senior students who are destroying the pure authentic wisdom lineage of Tibet.”
Though it’s nice to be called “fearless”, what struck me about this comment was the understanding that the kind of behaviour shown by Sogyal and Rigpa (and is still being shown by Rigpa) is destroying Tibet’s “pure authentic wisdom lineage”, not saving it.  We were taught in Rigpa that we were being taught the true vajrayana, but it’s a distorted interpretation of the teachings that allows abuse, fosters mindless lama worship, encourages manipulative cultish tactics, shores up the fuedal power structure, and treats students as slaves and women as sex objects.
Interpretations of the religion that lead to these kinds of things in practice are – despite what some lamas say – not vajrayana, and they certainly aren’t Buddhist – given that the essence of Buddhism is non-harming.  Sticking to beliefs that foster these sorts of things is only being true to the worst of Tibetan culture, the parts that both Tibetans and Westerners need to leave behind.
See this great article The 7 Worst Excuses for Ignoring Women’s Rights by Kunsang Dolma in which she talks about the attitude to women in traditional Tibetan culture and the need for Tibetan society to grow, not remain stuck in the past.


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.

Missing the Connection

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

Verbal abuse

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

The omission of compassion

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

 Staring into the abyss

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

Recommendation vs Implementation

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

The guru of non-apologies

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

A friendly little raid

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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