“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.  

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

  1. Good for you for writing this. You were able to stay the ground with Sinsi and keep going with your sound arguments, to which he could not reply.

  2. People in control always dictate what you are allowed to talk about and what you are not allowed to talk about. This is an example of being trained to remain in control but also revealing a lot of cognitive dissonance by applying examples in a fallacious double standard way. Karma is bad only for bad people, bad karma for good people is what? We all have results to our actions – most of them play out in ways we can see and they are also karma. Karma that is always from previous lives is a real lynchpin of control. The point of it should be that it is beyond understanding much like nobody knows the mysteries of why “God” decides it is our time to die. Assuming you accept that god makes decisions or that karma happens to bad people.

    What about when good things happen to bad people. Sogyal Lakar explained that this is them burning away their merit – wasting it on the pleasures of life. Merit is apparently only meant to be spent on chasing after a lama and getting trained. Yet for me “getting” is the problem – Buddha talked about “working hard on our own liberation”. It is even bizarre that mahayana flips that into working hard on others liberation but then of course double bind you into the fact that you can’t really do that without being enlightened so give me all your time and money and I’ll benefit them (i the lama who is apparently enlightened even though I avoid saying it).

    So having lived there, known Sinsi – who thought I was an asshole – i mean its just how it was except I had to live with it and try to change it. I did escalate from asking about problems, to trying to solve them, to debating and discussing until eventually I just saw too much harm and it broke my heart. I also saw the harm of a fellow monastic such that when they left they refused to really answer emails. They cut off from the Rigpa people and that included me … but I was more open to hear the realities. Yet, it took a long time for me to learn those realities – but I did and then I left. This thing about “free to leave” makes no sense – of course I was free to leave and I left. I had reasons to – and I was taken in by very complex system of false logic and induction such as starts with reading their books and taking their meditation classes.

    Rigpa acts as a business defending it’s income stream and instructors have to sell the product as trained. One has to really learn how cults or “high demand religious groups” function. Rigpa loves to avoid being a religion but then after induction you get pushed hard to live religiously and do more and more ceremonial type rituals. Life turns into ritual and people like Sinsi have put enormous time and effort into that – so the sunken cost, the investment is meaningful to them. For him he is somewhere on the gameboard where you move your token along and get cards and one day you hit the enlightenment square. I am not on that gameboard and I feel more enlightened by far because I’m not confused by all these strange nonsensical arguments.

    Beings, confused by fallious logic go around and around
    may the find correct logic and reasoning
    and be free’d from the suffering and confusion of delusions
    which are dispelled by correct and valid perception – using logic and reasoning

    This is a translation of a prayer of a great logician Dignaga or the best I can do to remember it. He is a great person in from Indian tradition and his methods were taught and added to the studies of the Dzogchen Monastery students at one point because, they apparently lacked in logic and reasoning. Yet it is not taught so much in Rigpa – only to a few by people who are compromised like Sinsi is, or financially corrupted and afraid to speak out. At the same time Dzogchen Rinpoche taught logic to some people in Rigpa but said “you are pathetic, i can’t teach you this, you don’t even know how to ask a question or answer one. That was to the elite students too … so he gave some reading transmission and left. That is the caliber of students and yet they are beloved to these teachers because of their devotion and stupidity. Intellect is not a quality that is rewarded in Rigpa unless it is subverted into greed and acquisition to get favor of the lama and be given prophesy and promises of your enlightenment. Obviously his prophesy is not good because he gave good promises of great futures to all of his closest students and I wasn’t super close but I was told many times that I was. I was invited to the special things for my work and how they valued me.

    Rigpa people like Sinsi devalued me, the community devalued me because I wouldn’t comply and so that is why … I am an asshole. It was not my intention to bother them – it was my intention to help them but the truth hurts. It felt in the words that you were upsetting Sinsi … but you were just confronting him with the truth.

  3. @Anonymous

    Thanks, you’ve made an interesting window into the current condition of the Rigpa organisation.

    After the first scandal broke with the article in the Telegraph well over twenty years ago, some of us understood immediately what kind of a person Sogyal really was and why he wasn’t fit to teach, others took time to understand, some were confused and distressed, and some refused to understand, but in the end it came down to who walked away and who stayed.

    I had quite similar discussions to the one you describe and I came to the conclusion that it’s a question of intelligence……I know that seems like a very harsh judgement, but I would qualify true intelligence in the more rounded sense as being inclusive of kindness, compassion, humanity, empathy and moral responsibility to others and importantly some ability to see the longer term collective consequences of selfish indifference.

    ( That sounds a bit Buddhist coming from an apostate…… or as we’re called by Rigpa, “arseholes”, which I take as a compliment coming from cult members )

    I knew most of the people who stayed on to become the inner circle and I certainly wouldn’t describe them as unintelligent in the usual sense of the term, but from discussions I had I sensed a subtle kind of dullness, a pervasive mental fog, a blank refusal to face up to the meaning and consequences of Sogyal’s abuse because it didn’t affect them directly and to acknowledge its significance would have interfered with their personal ambition, pride and self-image.

    To put it bluntly, they all knew but because it threatened their plans they worked hard at ignoring or justifying it, so basically they didn’t care.

    I hesitated to call it stupidity at the time, but considering that now those same people can look back on decades of having dedicated all their irreplaceable time, energy, their lives in fact, to a mentally deranged, violent rapist, a spiritual fraud who deserted them and went into hiding to avoid even the vague possibility of prosecution…..well, yes, I will call it stupidity.

    From my own experience I know it’s uncomfortable to admit your own stupidity, to admit to yourself and others that you’ve been conned out of years of your life because of your gullibility….but it’s the only sure way to cure that kind of stupidity and the alternative is much worse.

    I hope everyone still in Rigpa might come to understand this and get out before they too have wasted too much of their lives….but I doubt that will happen, because from reading the account of your conversation, it seems that in terms of that particular type of mind-set….. and its inherent stupidity….nothing has changed at all.

  4. My little thought of this very interesting article about Rigpa after the boss gone into retreat.

    ” A picture of the Dalai Lama was prominently displayed, as it was in the temple below”

    I consider it quite schizophrenic to see HHDL as a teacher and hang his pictures as a legimitation and not to follow his advice at least a little bit and reflect deeply his words on Sogyal

    “When I asked if he was still her teacher she had gone silent and blanked me”

    Yes, a well trained technic to avoid critical thinking. I dont beg people to destroy their sanity by to much self-critical thinking, but without stressing that capacity to a certain level might no progress appear on any path.

    “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.”

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

    I never met a person from outside to come in to a Rigpa group or center to beg so much directly from the beginning.. I think its a kind of self-produced begging. They beg each to keep the game going on ?

    Quotes from Sangyes reply:

    ” Life turns into ritual and people like Sinsi have put enormous time and effort into that – so the sunken cost, the investment is meaningful to them. ”

    Yes, I remember a former friend, who, when discussing the Rigpaabuse with me, finally just shouted at me: “I have invested everything I have and I dont allow anybody to steal my merits away.”

    “At the same time Dzogchen Rinpoche taught logic to some people in Rigpa but said “you are pathetic, i can’t teach you this, you don’t even know how to ask a question or answer one. That was to the elite students too … so he gave some reading transmission and left.”

    I think I remember Dzogchen Rinpoches reactions a few times like this example. He seemed finally quite repelled by Rigpa.

    ” I am an asshole. It was not my intention to bother them – it was my intention to help them but the truth hurts. It felt in the words that you were upsetting Sinsi … but you were just confronting him with the truth.”

    The asshole factory. Yes, a subculture or cult as Rigpa is seen by many people needs always assholes for their social system.

    I could observe all my time in Rigpa what high demand on victims and assholes they had. The badly needed people to look down to, to project their stories on, people to humiliate in order to feel higher then those victims.

    Even every little Rigpagroup needed their own little victims in order to copy the big picture despite all those embracing and free huges orgies and whatever

    And each of all those “dissidents” that critizied or wanted to talk about tricky and delicate issues or just left had been called something dirty.
    For some it worked: they just kept the mouth closed out of fear.
    I remember especially those softspoken verbal artists who could skillfully talk bad about those who left, to make sure for the beginners not to touch such an hot iron.

  5. So I read this week in a science article that the rings of Saturn are degrading, raining down in particulate onto the planet. I felt a sadness that things were changing, a sort of melancholia, which was certainly misplaced. It is happening at the cubic rate of a swimming pool a day.

    This great landmark of the solar system is surely passing, even while majestic as a god who secretly has realized that his beauty and power not intrinsic. Though it yet makes him a god even in his time remaining, it is still but a mere manifestation of a not-self ever morphing into reality as a no self. Not a self at all. Never was.

    Such is karmic evolution for those who thought the forced diaspora becoming the migration of Buddhists west would buoy up the lamaism of the Himalayan Plateau, which the Brits rightly conveyed as possessing understandings beyond anything conceived of in the west as evident by rights, practices, and capacities. And while that lamaism carried the honorifics of the higher administrators of monasticism, it was too diluted in the very culture it targeted to appropriate. Except perhaps for the borderlands like Australia. The indigenous peoples there still have song lines, which profess a land harboring spirits of place as well as accompanying spirits of animals and unseen beings.

    It is hard to counter the forces of technology, wealth, and consumerism that define the psyche of the west. Those very forces that render westerners so pliable to tantra also seduced the renunciate monk and the master adept alike with its ocean of decadent pleasures and wealth in a seemingly never-ceasing supply. Humility of the high plateaus and mountains was lost, as devotion of those with more education than ever before available to a people as a whole – replete with indoor plumbing, beds, grocery stores, air conditioning, cars, stocks and bonds, credit cards, suits worn to work, refrigerators, airliners, telephones, vaccines, and movie theaters – laid it all at their feet as if they could always buy more.

    They could, and they did. And because what was so precious as difficult to obtain meant less to those offering it than those who received it, the market in lamaism tanked. There was no place to hide the little dalliances and indiscretions as met with eyes cast at the floor, as those used to be, if exposed in monastic chambers.

    So few seemed to care even if it did show. Healthy shame was a thing of the past. Despite the general level of education, the westerners were still superstitious sheeple, just like the people in the soaring reaches of Asia. They could be cowed into believing that bad things would happen if they questioned the guru lama, or saw his actions as impure.

    But no one seemed to notice that the westerners were appropriating the culture of easterners, either. This was the exact opposite of the plan. Prayer flags became decorations like wind spinners; mandalas became coloring book images; busts of Buddha became hallway decor for councilors’ offices; malas became surfers’ jewelry. Molloch ate it all and would not shit it out. The west was a trap; a Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island, where all the boys’ became such asses that their ears grew out long, covered in hair and when they spoke, they brayed obnoxiously.

    The mighty begin to fall – Saturn’s Rings; the office of the #POTUS; children seeking asylum, dead by drowning, or in jail or internment ; wildlife destroyed for crossing state lines, whales starving with bellies full of plastic; school, restaurant, and shopping mall shootings refuse to subside since the most precious is the easiest to obtain possession – a gun or a phone.

    Everything changes, all the time. No one’s fate is sealed. Yet Buddhist scholars now speak of “souls” and “destiny” as if an all-powerful god makes us and then breaks us.

    If so, that is for sure not the Guru.

    Buddhism is not Catholicism, yet it seems that Buddhist monks and lamas allow Samantrabhadra’s Aspiration to wander into any field to graze as the course of least resistance. The wages of laziness for the eastern mystic lama is at a far greater price than before.

    Here is the kicker. What Catholicism, Buddhism, Muslims, Protestants, Russian Orthodoxy, and about any other religion concur on – women are the asswipe of men. The wad sock. The BJ with a flat head to rest your beer and your pizza on. Something soft to kick when pissed, who no one in power will believe – not other men, nor other women fearing loss of their livelihood, social position, land, children, and probably a few teeth.

    That my Dharma Brothers and Sisters is the Constant – the Immutable Unchanging Truth. Religion is a convenience for men to hold women in bondage and servitude.

    How many times have we heard that if women and girls were educated and well-paid as men for one generation that war, poverty, famine, disease, homelessness, and decreasing happiness would end forever?

    All these problems, yet we refuse to try it.

    Instead, we build walls to drown daughters and fathers behind. We elect Donald Muthafocking Trump as Moloch for #POTUS. Beautiful, lush lands, with cultural heritages that date back millennia are travel destinations to purchase children as disposable sex toys. We work a hard day’s night for a reward at the end of life from a god that does not exist, while we take a pittance from the nation’s wealth, 85% of the wealth we generate goes to three people in America.

    Indigenous women and girls globally are disappeared in numbers so large so as to become meaningless.

    As Patti Smith used to scream at the top of her lungs, “WAKE THE FOCK UP PEOPLE!!!”

    As Stella McCartney’s t-shirt read upon the occasion of Paul *finally* receiving his place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, “It’s About Focking Time!”

    And as the caption under the Naga on the Revolutionary War Broadside, reads, “Don’t Tread on Me!”

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