Tibetan Buddhist Teachers’ Views on Abuse in Vajrayana

This page is not a comprehensive list of teacher’s views, just the ones directly relating to the abuse issue that have come to our notice since July 2017. We have not separated them into ‘for’ or ‘against’ because we only want to list information that helps students to choose their teachers; we don’t want to make value judgements about them. We believe that it’s up to every person to decide for themselves which teachers they feel they can trust.

See also Responses to Our Emails for teachers’ responses to the emails we sent requesting statements.
And a list of Tibetan Buddhist Teachers Accused of Abuse. This is a limited list compiled according to the parameters outlined on the page.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama

His Holiness the Dalia Lama has always supported students speaking out about abuse in Buddhism. He even said that lamas who break the law should be sent to prison. A brief summary of HHDL’s position can be read here: https://www.lionsroar.com/dalai-lama-denounce-ethical-misconduct-by-buddhist-teachers/ and here: http://howdidithappen.org/dalai-lama-sogyal-rinpoche-abuse-allegations/

To get a full picture of His Holiness’s position on the issue of unethical behaviour by lamas, Click here to read a transcript from his meeting with Western Dharma teachers in Dharamsala in 1993.

At the National Seminar on Buddhism in Ladakh held at the Central Institute of Buddhist Studies (CIBS) in Leh, Ladakh, J&K, India on August 1, 2017, His Holinessmade reference to Sogyal Rinpoche and the letter from his former students.  The relevant excerpt and transcript is herehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wP4rsM7AZQOn the 6th of Sept 2017 He mentioned Rigpa in a talk to students from the University of California. He was very clear on the need to have courage to ‘topple’ ‘rotten’ institutions, and said that “If [institutions] use dharma for exploitation, they themselves not properley practice dharma.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2fWZWwSSkXs&feature=youtu.beSeptember 14, 2017 during his visit to Germany he answered a question about Buddhist communities’ right attitude towards sexual abuse by Ursula Richard of ‘Buddhismus Aktuell’ Once again, he referred to Sogyal Lakar and Rigpa. http://blog.buddhistische-sekten.de/dalai-lama-mahnende-worte-zum-thema-missbrauch/
A translation from the German can be read here:https://buddhism-controversy-blog.com/2017/10/10/the-dalai-lama-on-abuse-by-buddhist-teachers-or-gurus/

23rd September in Riga
“So, Sogyal Rinpoche was disgraced recently in America and so he may be learned but without any practice and experience of the teaching. Therefore being… abusing disciples… deceiving them. And so there were people in Taiwan and other places, in Tibet also this happens.”
The talk is archived on YouTube and you can find the quote above if you watch from 2:24:00. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46kukFKFJrM

Mingyur Rinpoche

“Physical, sexual, and psychological abuse are not teaching tools.”
Mingyur Rinpoche wrote an article for Lions Roar Magazine on Aug 9th 2017 about unethical behaviour in lamas. https://www.lionsroar.com/treat-everyone-as-the-buddha Though it does not mention Sogyal by name, he wrote it in response to the request of the 8 letter writers for him to make a statement. His is the most comprehensive statement for clarifying what is a healthy interpretation of the teachings on pure perception, guru devotion and samaya.

Matthieu Ricard

http://www.matthieuricard.org/en/blog/posts/a-point-of-view–2?t=1&cn=ZmxleGlibGVfcmVjc18y&refsrc=email&iid=04845430281545c1a85aaabda8f4dfd9&uid=633755800&nid=244+276893704

Namgay Dawa Rimpoche

On his Facebook page in reply to a question from a student. “I can only speak for myself when I say to those who have taken refuge with me or to those who hold me in their high regard , If you see me cause injury to others , mental or physical it becomes your sacred duty to protect yourself and your Varja brothers and sisters. Don’t let anyone suppress your free will to reason . Don’t be afraid to question me if you feel my actions and speech are not in accord with the Dharma.”

Alan Wallace

Alan made his stance on the matter clear in answer to a question posed as part of an  Awakin Call interview. http://www.awakin.org/calls/402/alan-wallace/blog

When asked, “Given the evidence of recent misconduct by certain Rinpoches, what would you (Alan) like to see written in stone in large Tibetan Buddhist organizations to safeguard students from abuse by lamas who incorrectly think they are practising crazy wisdom.” He replied immediately without hesitation, and firmly. Beginning, “This is very serious.” Then went on “No Rinpoche or lama whatever their status is above the law. Worst of all they betray the Teachings it is their duty to transmit. It must stop!”

Robert Thurman

In a podcast he spoke about what abusive teachers got wrong, saying that they have a nihilistic understanding of emptiness: https://bobthurman.com/demon-ghost-cave-bad-gurus-abuses-of-power/#
A later podcast (Dec 2nd 2018). https://bobthurman.com/abuse-in-buddhism/  however, had a couple of issues – see this commentary on it:  https://whatnow727.wordpress.com/2018/12/10/victim-blaming-disguised-as-dharma/

Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo

A clear statement from Tenzin Palmo on pure perception, guru devotion and samaya in relationship to the issue abuse was published on What Now? on Nov 21st 2018. Among other things, she says, “Spiritual teachers cannot use the Dharma as an excuse for licentious or abusive behaviour.” Click here to read it all.

She also signed this petition:
Petition To the FPMT Board of Directors by Senior Buddhist Nuns – May 16, 2019

Lama Tsultrim Allione

Has a long history of supporting women in vajrayana. She talks here with Tenzin Palmo about Sakyong Mipham and Shambala  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=elzlih71RH0

Lobsang Rapgay

Tibetan psychologist Lobsang Rapgay spoke about what goes wrong in the student-teacher relationship that enables it to turn abusive:
https://tricycle.org/magazine/what-went-wrong-tibetan-sex-abuse/?utm_source=Tricycle&utm_campaign=8d6cff9ff7-Winter_2017_Issue_Release_11_06_2017_NS&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1641abe55e-8d6cff9ff7-307286241

Erik Pema Kunsang

Though he doesn’t mention the situation in Rigpa specifically, this article is highly relevant as it talks about the real meaning of root guru.
http://levekunst.com/club-nondualite/

Martine Bachelor

Talked about cultural issues related to sexual abuse by lamas: https://youtu.be/S8DfH6BYZ3w

Venerable Thubten Chodron

In August 2017, Thubten Chodron, abbess of Sravasti Abbey and student of Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa, gave a series of talks in response to the attestations of abuse in Rigpa. It’s clear from her talks that she understands exactly what students are going through in processing the reveations and the misunderstandings Westerners tend to have on certain aspects of the teachings.
When things fall apart. https://youtu.be/WxucVpOV2FY
How could it happen: https://youtu.be/njY9kwgOXpA
Confusion in Tantra: https://youtu.be/b88r4NdHZVU
What it means to see the teacher as a Buddha: https://youtu.be/H9UVSw-OnDU

She also signed this petition:
Petition To the FPMT Board of Directors by Senior Buddhist Nuns – May 16, 2019

Tsoknyi Rinpoche

“I do agree fully with what Mingyur Rinpoche wrote and the importance of ethics in dharma by teachers and students, including the need for teachers to practice ethical behavior. What he said is very important:
. . . the violation of ethical norms needs to be addressed. If physical or sexual abuse has occurred, or there is financial impropriety or other breaches of ethics, it is in the best interest of the students, the community, and ultimately the teacher, to address the issues. Above all, if someone is being harmed, the safety of the victim comes first. This is not a Buddhist principle. This is a basic human value and should never be violated.
Full statement published here: https://whatnow727.wordpress.com/2017/12/28/tsoknyi-rinpoche-responds/

Dagpo Rinpoche

Replied 19th Nov 2018 to our email request for a statement saying he agrees with HHDL. Full response here.

Ato Rinpoche

Replied 21st Nov. 2018 to the same letter, stating that the abusive behaviour outlined in the letter by eight Rigpa students was not acceptable to him. Full response here.

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche

In response to the request for a statement on the contents of the letter by 8 students detailing abuses by Sogyal Rinpoche, Dzongsar Khyentse wrote a 10,000 word Facebook post in which he said, ‘The key point here is that if his (referring to Sogyal Rinpoche) 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.’

On page 19 of his book The Guru Drinks Bourbon, he says:
‘Once you have completely and soberly surrendered, you may not interpret certain manifestations and activities of the guru as the abuse of power. If you want to be fully enlightened, you can’t worry about abuse.’

For a testimony of his behaviour see the comment here by Ms Elegance:
http://matthewremski.com/wordpress/dzongsar-jamyang-khyentse-minimizes-clerical-and-institutional-abuse-in-christmas-message-to-rigpa-students/#comment-51219

Khenpo Namdrol

See his response to the letter exposing Sogyal’s abuses in this teaching at Lerab Ling in 2017. https://youtu.be/X4PDyeXYNaY

Transcript here:
https://tibetanbuddhistmusing.music.blog/2018/12/29/palyul-khenchen-namdrol-supports-sogyal-lakar-shaming-sexual-abuse-survivors/

Orgyen Tobgyal

Orgyen Tobgyal told one of the letter writers that he was wrong to speak out and that he would go to hell. In the Paris Rigpa centre in 2018, he said about spiritual teachers, “Such great beings, whether it corresponds to western ideas or not, if they kill someone, it’s fine.” And, “Beating hard increases wisdom.” Click here to see notes on the full talk.

Lama Zopa

His response to the allegations of misconduct against Dagri Rinpoche:
https://fpmt.org/lama-zopa-rinpoche-news-and-advice/advice-from-lama-zopa-rinpoche/lama-zopa-rinpoches-advice-to-students-of-dagri-rinpoche/