A Heartfelt Response to Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche on "Guru and Student in Vajrayana"

A number of  Rigpa students have said they resonate with Bernie S’s honest and heartfelt response to Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche’s 10,000 word Facebook post on  “Guru and Student in Vajrayana.”  Some feel he’s uncannily described their own experience and written what they have been unable to fully express themselves.
Bernie has studied with Sogyal Rinpoche for almost thirty years, and held various positions in Rigpa U. S., including Study and Practice Director and Director of the Distance Learning Program.  He also was an Instructor and an Instructor Training Facilitator.
This is how Bernie’s begins his message to Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche:
“August 22, 2017
Dear Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche,
I would like to thank you very much for taking the time to post your reflections about the “Guru and Student in the Vajrayana” on your Facebook Page on August 14. (Click here for Facebook post, or formatted version on Buddhistdoor.)
I did read your post several times, as you suggested, and reflected on it for a few days. I used to be someone trying to be a genuine Vajrayana practitioner, but after reading what you said, I am not sure if I ever was. In any case, I still do aim to be a genuine spiritual practitioner.
We met a few times. You might remember me most from when I was Sogyal Rinpocheʻs attendant when he visited your Sea to Sky Center in 1993. It might be a surprise to you that the same person you met then is writing this letter to you. But I suspect it will not come as a surprise to you that questions might come your way after writing your article. I would love to get answers, but please feel no pressure. It would be deeply appreciated, but is not expected. If anything in this letter sparks your interest, and you happen to get bored in a question and answer session with your students, I would love to get a recording.
You say you are not familiar with the Rigpa set-up, which makes it hard for you to say anything more definitive. So I thought it might be helpful to share with you my experience in Rigpa.

How I Was Introduced to Samaya

I met Sogyal Rinpoche in 1987 at a public talk held at the Rigpa London Center, which happened to take place one evening during the time I attended my first ten-week meditation course there. Towards the end of the course, I saw an announcement for an Easter Retreat at the center. I asked one of the senior students if that retreat was open to and would be suitable for beginners like me. The answer was: ‘Yes absolutely! Youʻll love it.’”
Bernie continues on asking genuine questions that arose for him when he read Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche’s piece, questions that will be of interest to many Rigpa students.
Read the full letter on How Did It Happen?, a new blog set up to explore how we can understand and learn from the crisis in Rigpa, in an atmosphere of open and respectful dialogue.

Be sure to check out the What Now? resources page and the sangha care resources page.
More personal and private support for current and previous students of Rigpa can be found in the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite. Include a link to your Facebook profile or the email address you use on Facebook.

28 Replies to “A Heartfelt Response to Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche on "Guru and Student in Vajrayana"”

  1. I am sorry I find this letter a little obsequious. I don’t mean to insult Bernie Schreck at all. If I could sit down and have a coffee with him I would probably be much more polite.
    But in the light of what has happened I don’t understand why we are still looking up to authority figures like DKR; who quite possibly told a Rigpa student to keep quiet after she reported SL’s abuse to him (see ZLA’ODs comment on the August 18th DKR post); who was closely involved with Rigpa while all this abuse was going on for decades; and who is quite possibly doing this as a “career” just like the Brahmins in old India (see email to American Buddha in my comment on same post).
    We are talking about possible rape with Sogyal Lakar’s behaviour.
    I personally feel utterly betrayed by these feudal Tibetan tyrants who parasitically feed off vulnerable students’ genuine needs for spiritual fulfilment.
    I am going to take at least a year to calm down over this.
    Meanwhile in India:

  2. I hear you Taxila and how you feel betrayed. Let me assure you I share your concerns. I am interested in communication between all those involved. What I have noticed is that a lot of exchanges on the internet just become an exchange of opposite perspectives. I understand that you want to say “You are a feudal Tibetan tyrant who parasitically feeds off vulnerable students and I feel utterly betrayed by you”. It might be a very healing experience for you to express this and if you feel this is where youa re at I support you expressing this but I donʻt think it will lead to a constructive conversation. So I chose to share my experience and perspectives with the hope of giving space for communication.

    1. Thanks Bernie, I skim read your letter and it produced a strong reaction in me. You are right about the internet in that way. I suppose where I am coming from is that I think we cut abusers like Sogyal too much slack. I think the letter from the 8 struck the right balance and I realise your letter is addressing a different aspect of the situation.
      The other thing is I have completely lost trust in lamas like DKR, who I feel were complicit in the abuse or cover-up of the abuse. And I have also lost trust more broadly in the Tibetan tantric system after reading the all the issues that were uncovered by June Campbell. So I struggle to see why we should trust someone like DKR for answers.

    2. I can see merit in quiet diplomacy (the better to reach out to victims), but I can also see merit in raising holy hell (because that’s the only thing lamas will respond to). Think of lamas as TV evangelists. Communication is generally one-to-many (an “audience cult”), with talk of magic and miracles, donations and fees. The lamas see each other as part of a clique, so when one is caught up in a scandal, the others back him up (maybe wait awhile if it’s really bad, then rehabilitate him). On this model the Dalai Lama would be Billy Graham–the one honest one, but a little out of touch.

    1. I’m not sure that Tricycle has any credibility here. They’re well-known for fawning over famous lamas. I don’t think a psychotherapy approach is appropriate, either. The temptation is to make the issue about “healing” (as if the problem were all in our heads) rather than justice / punishment, for example. And the fact that the author of this piece is affiliated with something called the “Nalanda Institute for Contemplative Science” does not exactly fill me with confidence.

      1. Thanks ZLA’OD and FRANZ I read the Tricycle article by the buddhist psychotherapist from the “Nalanda Institute for Contemplative Science”. I just can’t come at the conclusion of this article:
        “What is required to move forward is some degree of tolerance of cognitive dissonance that allows us to embrace a teacher’s awakened qualities while accepting and appropriately navigating their shortcomings. The middle way—that’s what the Buddha taught, and that’s ultimately what our practice is about finding.”
        So gross physical and sexual abuse is reduced to “their shortcomings” and we are asked to be tolerant of any cognitive dissonance that may cause. The Buddha’s middle way, as recorded in his first sermon (the Four Noble Truths), is a middle way between indulgence and self mortification. Are we now to equate sexual and physical abuse with sensual indulgence?
        The article talks of looking up to a guru as a parent figure for “optimal development”. In these cases of abuse I believe many students have been proven to be more mature and less harmful than the guru, so shouldn’t we follow them instead?
        ZLA’OD: I assume the “Nalanda Institue” is one of Chogyam Trungpa’s offshoot organisations and hence your reduced confidence in the author.

          1. It is His Holiness who is closely involved with the scholarship of Nalanda masters and science. Also, I found that article quite in line with most of the sentiments voiced here. The writer makes it very clear what is not acceptable behavior in a Dhama center, very clear that Vajrayana cannot be used to justify abuse. At least that’s how I read it.

            1. You people haven’t got a clue. Please don’t write mis-information.
              “Nalanda Institute for Contemplative Science was originally founded in 1998 as the Center for Meditation and Healing at the Columbia University Medical Center Department of Psychiatry in New York City. Developed by Dr. Joe Loizzo with the help of Dr. Ina Becker, its programs embody over thirty-five years’ experience integrating meditation and yoga with Western health science and health education.
              In 2003, the Center for Meditation and Healing joined the Center for Integrative Medicine at Weill Cornell College of Medicine in New York City to expand research and training. Nalanda Institute opened its doors in 2005 to make meditation and yoga-based health education and counseling more accessible to the public. In 2007, it was incorporated in New York State as Nalanda Institute for Contemplative Science, Inc., a not-for-profit educational foundation under Section 501 (c) 3 of the Internal Revenue Code.”

  3. PS. Are you guys aware of anti-abuse sites for other religions, like this one?
    Typical situations that they deal with are churches covering up child abuse by a pastor (Tibetan Buddhist scandals are more likely to involve adults, at least in the West), or networks of pastors who support each other for strategic reasons, and don’t care too much about scandal (much like Tibetan Buddhism). You guys should totally dialogue.

  4. @ Bernie, found your letter (well written) but didn’t understand why to add your ” spiritual bypas item” wich can invalide the first part in the eyes of D.K.R. Congratulations tough for having completed your n’gondro ! ( I didn’t )
    @ZLA’OD : I think the problem(s) can only be in the head, the way S.L behaved can only be cured through psychology. Predators have been often themself a victim, thus they have to repeat it, wich is a psychological law. I do agree though that there should be justice (court ) to but, not to punish, but to acknowledge the victims.
    @TAXILA : The bouddha considered himself as a physician, I don’t think he would allowed sexual and physical abuse in the name of tolerance, but would have cured first instead. ( or sent the agressor to a psychologist ).
    a non native English with greatings,

    1. Sogyal is an old man, who apparently doesn’t see much need to change. What would our therapeutic goal be? You can’t force him to be a better man, you know.
      Victims? Sure, therapy may well be helpful. Being a victim absolutely does not mean you’ll turn predator, though. While child molesters were often molested themselves (the reverse is not true), that doesn’t excuse their crimes. Anyway, Sogyal wasn’t a child molester, but a garden variety seducer of adults using his charisma as a guru.

      1. Yes, right, he can’t be forced. And I wouldn’t excuse, rather understand. And about his seducing, well, we don’t know yet if it is pathological or not, which can be the case with adults as well.

  5. When we drop the target of our adoration, can we work together?
    When we drop the target of our anger, can we work together?
    “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
    But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
    Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141)

  6. I just discovered this piece by Justin Whitaker:
    I see little in it to disagree with, although I distrust the messenger and suspect him of what the alt-right calls “virtue signaling.” (Where were all these people 20 years ago, when I first heard of the Sogyal problem?) Patheos is basically aiming at the Oprah market, and stocks its pages accordingly. (Compare with Tricycle, which is full of softball pieces and treats famous lamas like advertisers. Or Dharma Wheel, which puts “true believer” moderators in charge of the Tibetan Buddhist section, and treats criticism of particular lamas as a problem to be contained.) Whitaker in particular has ties to “mindfulness” workshop groups as well as the PRC Woodenfish Program, all of which deserve some old-fashioned investigative journalism.

    1. Zla’od, wondering what you mean by ‘true believer’ mods. There is an absence of women over there on Dharma Wheel.

      1. Dharma Wheel assigns Tibetan Buddhist moderators to the Tibetan Buddhist threads, East Asian Buddhist (I mean in terms of their religion, not their ethnicity) to the East Asian Buddhist threads, etc. (Theravada has an entirely separate board, Dhamma Wheel.) The idea, I suppose, is that moderators who follow some form of Tibetan Buddhism will be better able to impose Tibetan Buddhist values onto the discussion. For example, there is a tantra discussion section in which one may ask questions, but the answers (from moderators) are not displayed in order to maintain secrecy–something that wouldn’t be an issue for other forms of Buddhism.
        But what happens when Tibetan Buddhists disagree with one another, perhaps very vehemently? On one hand, one observes a great reluctance to allow criticism of popular Buddhist teachers on Dharma Wheel. In the case of the Sogyal affair, a thread was recently allowed, and grew to some size, but discussion was eventually closed by the moderators (as often happens) on the grounds that there was nothing more to say. As a result, the thread sank in the rankings behind other, active threads and became increasingly difficult to find without searching for it.
        On the other hand, a number of Buddhist groups are banned from being discussed on the grounds that they are inauthentic (e.g. Aro) and / or spiritually dangerous (like the Dorje Shugden groups). A couple of years ago, there were attempts to discuss the bona fides of Tsem Rinpoche of Malaysia. At first the moderators were reluctant to allow criticisms of him. However, as soon as he was confirmed as a Shugden worshipper, he was put on the list of taboo groups which could not be discussed at all. Around the same time, the site owner, David Snyder, banned discussion of “secular Buddhism” (think Stephen Batchelor).
        If you’re wondering who David Snyder is, see this wiki:
        From this we learn that he was born in the same way as the Buddha, surrounded by many auspicious signs, and that he lives in a replica of the Maha Bodhi Temple which he had built in Las Vegas.
        You can’t really understand Dharma Wheel without its predecessor, e-sangha, which was famously fractious. Much of the blame lay with certain moderators, who had strong opinions about everything, and little tolerance for what they considered a-dharmic heresy, even if it represented a mainstream view within some other Buddhist tradition. The idea that Tibetan Buddhist followers ought to be able to challenge their traditional teachings, or consider themselves as belonging to a different tradition than the assigned moderators (much like all Muslims in Malaysia are subject to the same sharia board), is just not on.

        1. PS. Yes, the participants seem to be predominantly male. I attribute that to the discursive or argumentative ethos of the site. Most of the internet was like this at one point.

          1. Thankyou, Zla’od. When time permits, I’ve a bit more to say about Dharma Wheel & in particular their Sogyal letter thread.

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