3 Years After the Fall: How Do You Feel Now?

The letter written by 8 students detailing Sogyal Rinpoche’s abuse of his students was sent to the Rigpa Sangha in July 2017. Three years on, we can look back with some distance. I contemplated my feelings in this video, but I’d like to hear how you all are feeling these days? What are you up to now? What do you think/feel about all that has happened? What do you see for your future?

Featured image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

11 Replies to “3 Years After the Fall: How Do You Feel Now?”

  1. Hi Tahlia,
    Thanks for thus blog and for the book. It has really helped me in the last 3 years. I got so much out of following Rigpa for years but I was disillusioned and uninspired with the path before the letter came out however I still went through alot of grieving and bewilderment after the publication. Rigpa had been such a big part of my life for so long and I met so many wonderful people. Coming across this blog and your book has helped me not feel so alone in my confusion. I know and like alot of people in my Rigpa centre but I dont know what their feelings are as they appeared to be loyal to Sogyal and I had to distance myself. I am occasionally in touch but do not mention the elephant in the room. I have the feeling it would not be welcome. I am only an occasional practitioner of meditation and have bern totally turned off Tibetan Buddhism even though another part of me still has great appreciation. I receved such support and care during my parents death that I am forever grateful to those in my local Rigpa centre for that. When I first came to Rigpa I met the loveliest people and fostered friendships. It changed as the years progressed and we were separated into different mandalas. I was not part of the Dzogchen but the Ngondro. I could not ignore the abuse that was propagated by SR. Alot of people in my local centre(Dzogchen mandala) were quietly supportive of SR and still are I suspect. This has been so confusing. I suppose I need to separate the teachings from the teacher and the organisation.

    1. Many people have had similar experiences. There is something in those of us who have left that refuses to allow our sense of right and wrong to be eroded by any belief system. We know abuse is wrong, no matter how many articles people write with titles like ‘no right, no wrong.’ Deep in our hearts, we know that something has gone very wrong when abuse is glorified as a blessing. And yet, as you say, there is benefit in the teachings. I think some wisdom did come through despite the bullshit. It’s as if the true teachings – those that are in alignment with the way things truly are – have a life of their own, and they shine through even the worst teachers (assuming they have some knowledge of them) at opportune moments.

  2. 3 years on. For me it has been a real journey. I am grateful to Talia for this blog which has helped me feel less alone and confirming my feelings and helped with understanding.
    When the letter came out I was becoming really entrenched in Rigpa so I am enormously grateful to the 8 for telling us the truth. After the letter I have had the whole range of feelings denial disbelief,nausea,realising, isolation,betrayal, anger grief. I left Rigpa, I miss people the people who I was very fond of,but felt upset that our views became so polarised. I struggled with existing Rigpa members, their tolerance of abuse and delusion and denial.So have found the easiest path is not to relate to anyone who attends Rigpa even if they say they are critical.

    In some ways the new start after leaving was exciting. I now had time and energy to do what I wanted. I set about reconnecting with old friends and family,going out having fun and expanding my horizons. I discovered podcasts!Some friends i had lost because of my involvement with Rigpa which was sad but it has been so lovely to reconnect with others.
    However I felt pretty traumatised. I had been believing in someone and something so passionately for 17 years and then being completely betrayed by Sogyal and Rigpa and Tibetan Buddhism. It has messed with my head!
    I set about reading books on trauma, having therapy (including cult recovery therapy)and generally working on recovery. As the years have gone I become more authentic, I like myself so much more and I feel much better physically.( I joined Rigpa when I was very ill and vulnerable).
    I am no longer a Buddhist and feel quite anti religion.
    I have reconnected with politics particularly feminism. A highlight this year was stewarded on Million Women Rising March to end violence against women.

    The grief bit was tough. The loss of what I thought was an ethical teacher, belief system, loss of certainty and the feeling that that I was a right, the loss of being part of a group of what I thought were like minded people. Also I grieved the time I had wasted in Rigpa, not all the time, but the time we were betrayed and the truth hidden and the brainwashing devotion stuff.
    But the recovery of joy, of reconnecting with people , with my body, with nature and the world has been wonderful.
    It has been hard not having ‘The Answer’ to suffering so generally i feel others suffering strongly with no pat answers.
    I feel so much more alive now.

    1. My experience exactly! I also feel more ‘me’!
      I don’t think it was all a waste of time though; some authentic teachings came through that impure vessel.

  3. Yes not all wasted time. Love the emptiness and kindness stuff and looking inwards and calming the mind. Since leaving I have just found online and books so many interesting and compassionate people who are neuroscientists., academics, political activists, therapists, artists and scientists that I regret being stuck in one perspective only. Some also have an awareness of emptiness but express it in different ways. I love the richness of a range of human beings perspectives. Now I am able to think more for myself these views feed my better self.
    For example although I am not a Buddhist I listen to Tara Brach. She brings in the Buddhist stuff and combines it with psychology equality issues and trauma. She is much more embodied and less dogmatic.

  4. My biggest disappointment is that so few other teachers have spoken out and of those who have, more than half of them have not said clearly that Sogyal Rinpoche did anything wrong. That leaves a big question mark for me. Rigpa has not said anywhere that I have seen that Sogyal Rinpoche did something wrong, so what are they going to do if it happens again with another teacher? What about the unnamed teacher who was described in the July 2017 letter as accepting offers of sexual partners from Sogyal Rinpoche? The 2018 Lewis Silkin report upheld this particular allegation and almost all the other allegations.

    It has become clear that some Tibetan Buddhists regard absolutely anything their teachers do as pure, even serious crimes such as sexual assault. This is a dangerous belief and the public should be protected from people who think like this. The Charity Commission for England and Wales has disqualified two of Sogyal Rinpoche’s oldest students from being trustees of any charity because they knew about the abuse but didn’t do anything about it, but there are a lot more like them.

    I can’t see how Tibetan Buddhism is going to survive if those responsible for Tibetan Buddhist organisations see as pure behaviour everyone else sees as abusive and the law defines as criminal. Of course they will continue to keep it secret that’s what they think, but it comes out when they cover up abuses and crimes, discredit victims and whistleblowers, and promote their gurus.

    1. It is dangerous. I agree, and see our last post about one of those who the charity commission disqualified – he’s teaching again.

  5. Thank you for posting this. It shows a high level of maturity to ‘leave the boat behind’ and face life directly without the comfort blanket a tradition provides. In many ways your blog has provided support and pointers for this process, difficult and emotional as it has been for the many involved. I was not connected with Rigpa but to other Tibetan teachers who were fortunately not abusive. It was me who interviewed Karma Yeshe Rabgye about ‘Crossing the line of trust’ that you put a link to in an earlier blog post.
    When Sogyal’s mental illness was publicised along with the institutional response that ensued, it was greatly disturbing and disappointing to me and probably many others connected to the dharma. It has been difficult for me to read the stories, and understand the pain, the disappointment and disillusionment suffered by so many, I only wish one or two of these Lamas had got off their thrones for a bit and read or engaged with the victims themselves, only then would they have seen clearly the carnage left behind by Sogyal and his enablers. But as you say, it is easier for them to engage intellectually and parrot dogma rather than get their hands dirty on the front lines of any real suffering. You could say the lamas are victims of their privileged lifestyles, but this has just amplified the chasm between them and the rest of us normal folks. The repercussions of this are still been worked through and I am still hopeful that effective changes will materialise. But perhaps it is too much too expect change from the Tibetan side. Thanks again for sharing your compassion and wisdom.

    1. Thanks for sharing Stan. Yes, indeed, if only! Personally, I’ve given up on the hope of any change coming from the Tibetan side. Life is just too cushy for the lamas the way it is and for many of them, their pride is too strong to allow them to even consider the possibility that Westerners might know more about how we should be taught than they do.

  6. Thanks Tahlia – love your videos and your light-hearted, but no BS way of dealing with a heavy subject! I think Australian culture may be best placed for such a light but deeply cutting analysis (being Australian myself)! Kind of like the deft touch of the surgeon’s knife!

    I can very much relate to the themes of betrayal and truth.

    I left Rigpa in 2005 and it’s been a long journey since then. I started a very intense involvement my early 20s and got into the Dzogchen Mandala after about 3 years or less (in the bad old days!) and left Rigpa a year after that. You say you were very grateful to the authors of the letter of 8 for opening your eyes to the truth; I was very grateful to the authors of a few very genuine emails on Sogyal’s abuse published on the American Buddha website, and grateful to the owner’s of that website. And to June Campbell (interview with Helen Tworkov) who first opened my eyes to the possibility that Tibetan Lamas were not fearless bearers of truth – they just wanted sex! OK it was a bit darker and more complex than that.

    I was searching for and valued truth, as you say in your video, which led to a strong sense of betrayal when I found I was duped and exploited. Truth is very good and it eventually leads you out of the mire, or a cult! I suppose I followed the American Buddha model of being very angry for a few years and discarding religion/spirituality. I think it’s safe to say that Tara Carreon, the site’s cofounder, was fairly angry (for anyone who’s read American Buddha)!!

    I think the search for truth/meaning stayed in the background and I attended a couple of Stephen Batchelor’s retreats in 2011 and 2012. Then about 4 years ago I got back into religion/spirituality in a big way and became a fan of Huston Smith and the Perennial Philosophy. When I found your blog 3 years ago it brought back the anger and betrayal which I hadn’t fully processed. But somehow it’s all processed now! I think a combination of continuing on my path back into religion (sans dogma), understanding more about it and reading your blog and people’s experiences has done that. So thank you and all contributors!

    I suppose I would describe myself as a Mahayana Buddhist but haven’t connected or become involved with a sangha – the most troublesome of the the three jewels!

    1. I think the greatest tragedy in this whole Sogyal/Rigpa saga is that it has largely turned very good people away from the true religion of Buddhism. We either have remaining members cooped up in a cult or escapees (like myself) who were so disgusted with it that (in my case) didn’t rediscover the true religion for another 10 years. I don’t mean at all to say that the sexual/physical/emotional abuse wasn’t a part of this grand tragedy.

      I wish I hadn’t been so angry and had rediscovered (true) religion sooner. Although a complete break may be necessary in order to come back to it for the right reasons, with eyes wide open and with none of that desperate naivety that made us such easy prey. I am reminded of Huston Smith’s book “The Soul of Christianity”, when he said that the traditional Christian view, in modern parlance, of living in our world (samsara) is that we are living in occupied territory – territory controlled by the devil, it is his domain. The devil or mara or the three poisons, whichever conception you prefer, has contaminated everything from our own minds to religion, politics, inerpersonal relationships – the whole world. So we should have been more wary.

      I suppose I wanted to say “Hey! These great religions are true.” but they get corrupted, in every possible way. It has to be our own journey. So I respect that many people have cooled right off on religion – as I did for 10 years!

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