A Message for Rigpa International and National Rigpa Organizations on Handling Allegations of Abuse

Listening
Dear Senior Students, Instructors and Administrators,
What you say and do right now is of upmost importance, given the current crisis surrounding allegations of abuse.  Many people are waiting and watching to see how Sogyal Rinpoche, Rigpa International and National Rigpa organizations respond after SR’s initial letter to the sangha, to decide whether to remain a Rigpa student or to leave.
Silence, denial, and exclusion of certain voices may very well tip people further and further away from Sogyal Rinpoche and Rigpa or cause them to leave entirely.
For example, here’s feedback offered by one student after the first delayed stream of the Ngondro Retreat in Lerab Ling:

“Not once in recent weeks had I lost interest in being a part of the Rigpa Sangha. I consistently felt optimism about the possibility for connection and renewal offered by the cracking-open that is underway.

That came crashing down when I saw ‘The Important Message Regarding the Delayed Streaming’ at the outset of the delayed streaming of the Ngondro Retreat.

My body heaved, as if I would be sick when mention of Bodhichitta was not included when the Ngöndro practices being held during the retreat were listed!

How symptomatic, emblematic.

I felt ill, sad, disappointed, stunned. Nothing in all the letters, published articles, Facebook posts and personal discussions of recent weeks has discouraged me as much as that 4-minute video. And then for it to be followed by a (symptomatic, emblematic) sudden shift to re-runs of old teachings interspersed with business-as-usual commentary by a smiling senior student.

I was incredulous initially, to receive the same-old-same-old. But then I realized, this is what is.

As I listen carefully to the teachings in this stream, and listen carefully to the student commentary, and see no evidence of how these teachings are integrated and embodied and then applied to the current situation, I find it unskillful, inept and insane. Listening to so many words like ‘when you learn them, they become part of you’ is such a perversion when this golden opportunity to be creative and present the embodiment of the teachings was squandered.

What is left of the Rigpa team that is putting together the streams is doing what it knows, what it can. No doubt. So be it. But oh how much more the same-old-same-old stings in this current context.

May the team be happy; may the team be well. May the team be filled with loving-kindness. May we all be happy; may we all be well. May we all be filled with loving-kindness.

Grateful for the lineage and the teachings, the universal sangha of teachers and practitioners everywhere, grateful for the The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying and the access that Rigpa International has created for the intensive option home retreat, The AEPE, and the delayed streaming of retreats, I am for the first time, ever, truly considering whether to continue to be affiliated with Rigpa.”

Feedback from Marilyn Babcock, published with permission.
Please, senior students, listen to, care for, and include everyone.  Please remember, people who have left and people who feel harmed are unlikely to attend formal discussion groups organized by Rigpa.  You cannot get the full picture without considering how to open up more widely.  How will you do this?
Perhaps you need a neutral third party to assist you?  Consider the Olive Branch:

“An Olive Branch brings the calming influence of a neutral third party, inspired by the tradition of Buddhist teaching that stretches over 2500 years.”

Some are wondering why, after promising to go into retreat, Sogyal Rinpoche presented at the 7th World Youth Buddhist Symposium today and streamed a Facebook live with Khenpo Sodargye.  Will he keep his promises to us? (You can see photos and the FB live in Khenpo Sodargye’s FB stream.)
Thank you for listening.

-o-

To whoever is reading this, let YOUR voice be heard too.  Send your thoughts, feedback, and requests for Sogyal Rinpoche and Rigpa International to share@rigpa.org
If you have any thoughts to share here, let us know in the comments. Please use initials rather than full names when referring to teachers and organizations.


More personal and private support for current and previous students of R 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.

 
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22 Replies to “A Message for Rigpa International and National Rigpa Organizations on Handling Allegations of Abuse”

  1. I am part of the Ngondro Mandala USA. I have so many conflicted feelings. I feel blessed to read the thoughts of other members of R and RI. Today I watched a small part of SR presenting at the 7th WYBS and a flood of feelings of love and gratitude came over me. I have learned so much from the teachings. And yet I still feel adrift on ocean waves, wandering somewhat aimlessly. Each day I sit and just listen. Not knowing, settling my fears…just being present. I thank all those who have shared their thoughts and feelings.

    1. I completely understand, Jane. It’s understandable to feel so much inner conflict. We’ve all received so much goodness via the teachings from SR. It can seem unbelievable that harm is taking place at the same time. But there are too many reports of harm now for me to believe otherwise, in addition to what I’ve seen for myself. My heart is constantly breaking too. I’m hoping SR will reflect as he’s promised and refrain from harmful behaviors. Sending you love and support as all this continues to unfold for you.

  2. Thank you for this post. Thank you, Marion, for your feedback that could be shared. It’s really time for a sea change. In terms of how, that’s the question. An Olive Branch, the organization, has helped many sanghas deal with this kind of ethical situation. I really urge R national and local teams to use their services to reconcile the sangha.

  3. This is all in light of sl being ‘on retreat’ while actually teaching at a youth conference that’s being streamed on fb. Without oversight I’m afraid he will do the same thing he did after the lawsuit…

  4. this is what I have just sent to share@rigpa etc
    I was a member of Rigpa Sydney for more than 12 years and attended 10 Myall Lakes retreats.
    I’m glad I was given TBLD around 2000, and I’m glad I read it and Patrul Rinpoche many times. To me TBLD is a modernisation of Patrul Rinpoche so I find the teachings sound. I admire SR for his hard work and inspiration. I never became a member of the inner circle or succumbed to blind faith. I left as a Ngondro student who was stepping into Dzogchen. I’m glad I went to the retreats.
    My malaise was more generalised. As the years went by I found Rigpa to operate more and more as a business machine. I have never been partial to the patriarchy and I found no shift in Rigpa to a flatter, more egalitarian structure. Increasingly SR made it plain he was more interested in his followers sexual relationships than their spiritual wellbeing. I found HHDL’s very clear writings to do with questioning the teacher disregarded.
    I left slowly and with some regret. There was no debrief and there has been no contact with anyone unless I deliberately initiated it. I was not surprised when I read the letter to SR by the 8 concerned students. I was saddened. I have found the responses by Rigpa to date unsatisfactory.
    I have seen all this before over the decades and my view is that Rigpa will disintegrate unless it reforms, leaving a few people who cannot see SR’s behaviour for what it is. Just because traditional Tibetan culture may have allowed or turned a blind eye to the physical and sexual abuse of vulnerable people does not make it right.
    Rigpa needs to wake up and look very seriously at the relative world we all live in.
    Best wishes Judy

  5. Rigpa needs to find new masters to teach. It is said that no one could entain enlightenment without a master. We don’t have a master anymore.
    Many many people worked with pure motivation for the sake of Rigpa without knowing all these secret bad events. The lessons from the dog tooth apply here.
    But now we now the real nature of the tooth. Therefore Rigpa and we all need to adapt.
    The infra structure to teach is there, so on behalve on the pure motivation it was build another master or masters cloud accept us a student.
    Best wishes Jan

    1. Yes, I agree, it would help to have guidance from other teachers. I believe Rinpoche said he would ask other lamas to teach in his letter to the sangha.

  6. Below is the response from RI to my email to the share email address which can be seen above:
    “I hear your feedback and of course it saddens me to hear your experience. SR was always urging us to be more thorough in our care for each other and I don’t think we quite got it until now when many students are speaking out with their different experiences. 
    RI actually started a change process about 18 months ago. As part of this process frank discussions were starting to be held at round tables in several countries including Australia to hear from the grassroots about what needed to change. I’m sorry your voice wasn’t hear properly heard before. Change can be so slow in volunteer organisations.   I’m compiling all the feedback that comes in via this email address and will feed it back into the change process. ” [end of email’]
    My observation to the above message is – it’s not about me; my leaving RI is a very small part of the bigger picture which has to be dealt with. I appreciate the speedy response from RI but… Love to everyone on this blog

    1. Love to you too, Judy. Thanks for sharing this response. I like that this person acknowledged that they didn’t “get it” that so many people have different experiences.

    2. While I appreciate the empathy in RI’s response to Judy’s email, I find the second sentence concerning: “SR was always urging us to be more thorough in our care for each other…”. The person writing the reply is blaming themselves and other senior students for not providing enough care to students, as though this is the primary problem. There is no acknowledgement of Sogyal’s harmful behaviour and it being the direct cause of students’ “different experiences”. This appears to be one of Sogyal’s tactics – to get the students to blame themselves.

  7. RI drags its heals – the so called change for 18 months ago was just a few people who got attacked by Sogyal for insulting him when they presented 6 months of hard work. That is change in Rigpa = it is shit upon from the top.

    1. 18 months is a very long time for a vague change process. How can it be complete if it doesn’t take into account people who have felt harmed or have left?

    2. By the way, on the LL webpage was till a few days ago a picture of the monastic sangha, including sangye and damchö.
      Now, updated: sangye was removed. looks like someone has printed it out, took a scissor and removed sangyes picture, worked with photoshop on it, and back to webpage.
      Not so important, but it seems to express something.

  8. Hello there,
    What about total insight into the finances of Rigpa ? Past and future ? Open books, and a commitment of the Shanga about futur expenses ….So, no more sigars dear S.L …

  9. RI and national organizations really, really, need to be keenly aware – there’s no easy way out of this.
    The organizations can be saved, by being open and honest. I believe there’s still enough love for that. There’s still enough love to allow a complete confession, to allow corrective action to be taken, and to allow healing to happen.
    But there may not be enough love to allow continued business-as-usual, stonewalling and PR-type non-responses.
    That amounts to a denial of the difficult and brave testimonies. That amounts to an open admission that there is zero tolerance for criticism, even that made with the best intentions and legitimate issues.
    Such a strategy may work well in the East, but things are quite different here in the West.
    It will need to be another lesson from us, to the lamas.
    I haven’t heard if there been a response to the second letter?
    Of course, one must allow a reasonable amount of time for a genuine response.
    Maybe national organizations need to make their own collective responses available publicly.
    Personally, I’m tremendously grateful to Rigpa, and its amazing instructors, for providing a place for me to be introduced to mindfulness meditation, to loving kindness, and to the Ngondro itself. And, for introducing me to many other wonderful teachers. That open connection with others made Rigpa not be a “cult”, even if it’s clear now there were aspects of a cult involved.
    In my mind however, Matthieu Ricard’s comments have closed the door on SL, as being a qualified Rinpoche and true spiritual friend. It was as direct as Matthieu could be…
    Also, senior instructors I admired considerably have given hard distance from SL – among them, Olivier Raurich (and one other who some of us remember as being closest, but no longer wants to be even named as being associated with Rigpa). I value their judgement maybe even more than mine, on the subject at hand.
    Not that I hate SL of course – no! But I’m very disappointed, as I would be with a relative whose behavior fell far from expectations.
    HHDL said we should always mention the positive aspects.
    So, without being an apologist, and even with the pain I feel for those who made the revelations, and my own pain: even allowing for SL being a complete sexaholic, sadistic narcissist(!), I think he couldn’t have done what he did, if he didn’t also really love the Dharma, and love Buddhism.
    Even if he was actually a terrible scholar and student himself, his efforts for the dharma were still significant. One of his major goals was to bring Tibetan dharma texts to the West, to translate into English (and French, and German etc.). The organization sponsored translators for many works, the teaching of mindfulness meditation was remarkably clear and effective for me, and he tried to translate into English everything he found inspiring. Just like a glass of muddy water, if you don’t stir it, the dirt will settle. So it is with the mind.
    I can’t express how grateful I was for those teachings – they changed my life. He used his charisma to push those kinds of teachings, which is a positive use of that personality type.
    However… I feel like I have been programmed in a certain way that I no longer believe was fully authentic dharma, and I’m not even fully certain which parts. Maybe I can view it as the dog tooth story – maybe there’s a secret reason SL taught us that one so much. Because he knew his own failings would catch up eventually.
    Like other posts here have mentioned, my own personal discernment and wisdom wasn’t strong enough to just know things weren’t quite right immediately, even at retreats where I saw things I shouldn’t have accepted. This makes me sad (but not too sad – there is a silver lining. I now have much greater understanding of, and empathy for, people who get sucked into cults).
    Like many others, I’ll take time to re-evaluate and contemplate carefully. How to be a more authentic dharma student myself. I had a strong interest in Buddhism before Rigpa, and I will afterwards too.
    I guess, brutal honesty, I also have gratitude that I didn’t have the resources to be more intimately involved with Rigpa. Because I probably would have, and I probably would have even stronger feelings than I do now if I had.

    1. “I think he couldn’t have done what he did, if he didn’t also really love the Dharma, and love Buddhism.”
      By which I mean, he couldn’t have done his *work*.
      Not the negative actions described in the letter.

    2. Your response shows the complexity of all this. I am grateful too for all the remarkable teachings from Rinpoche and other masters. I don’t think he’s a fraud. I think something has gone terribly wrong. Too many people feel harmed.

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