After Tibetan Buddhism, after you’ve left the religion, what happens to your spiritual life?
I was a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner for 20 years and left the religion 5 years ago when I discovered that my teacher Sogyal Rinpoche was abusing his close students and those running the organisation not only enabled it but also saw his abuse as a beneficial teaching, not something harmful. In the video below, I reflect on what of value has remained with me and how I view the religion now in light of my knowledge of abusive gurus/lamas, the cult dynamics they often employ, and the teachings that enable abuse.
Joanne Clark’s article about Dzongsar Kyentse Rinpoche and Mathew Remski’s recent article on him inspired this video, so I do mention Dzongsar Kyentse, and if you’re one of his followers, be warned; I don’t hold back on my opinion of him. I’ve never said anything against him before, despite him ridiculing me in one of his teachings in Rigpa centres after the letter revealing Sogyal’s abuses became public.
It’s a long video (40 minutes) because I cover a lot of ground, so I hope you can take time to watch or listen to it.
The answer to the question of what remains from the tradition after Tibetan Buddhism and your perceptions of Tibetan Buddhism and its lamas after you’ve left will be different for different people, so please note that this is only my personal opinion and evaluation of my own experience. I know that some have been left with nothing but trauma after Tibetan Buddhism, and some are still struggling to sift through their experience and find anything worth keeping.
Though I share my understanding of dzogchen practice, please don’t take anything I say as any kind of teaching. My purpose in sharing my perspective is to provide the stimulation for you to reflect on these matters for yourself.
Please like the video and share it as it helps get it to more people.
If you were a Tibetan Buddhist and have left the religion, what has remained for you?
5 Replies to “After Tibetan Buddhism, What Remains?”
What remains? A curiosity in learning from analysis. Your 3 points were also useful. Part of your video reminded me that the Catholic Church put unordained (they were not priests but called Christian Brothers) and unqualified people in charge of educating children from age 4 – 14 / 16 / 18. No one fully understood that or questioned it. At one time, children for minor offences eg skipping school, stealing or even being an orphan or illigimate, were incarcerated in places called industrial schools. This system allowed horrendous abuse in all types of schools run by male and female so called religious. No one in the structure of the church challenged, changed or stopped it. Instead it was hidden, denied, covered up. Just thought it ironic that, despite the teachings they are supposed to have access to, TB is similar. Except it transferred to adults looking for teachings, guidance, a path. It just shows if the foundation of learning, leadership, guidance and governance is not sound the organization / structure won’t be either. Of course this doesn’t just apply to religious structures.
Yes, one can’t help drawing comparisons. And when I firt met Buddhism, I thought they were better. I was wrong!
It’s a good video to be patient for Tahlia to get to the point. Taking a new approach like a communication I had with Rigpa where I didn’t point the finger as much but I just told how it all impacted me and how I made my way after – just to see if it made a dent. So to be honest about what works for you in the Dzogchen and what doesn’t. Within the story’s from that lineage it has random people meeting teachers who introduce them and devotion doesn’t seem to come up. So … that always has some way of being turned into a new “oh but that person was ripe” and the devotion in some stories was the effect of being introduced and the person was really grateful for seeing in that way. So it didn’t have to be forcibly created in those stories … and so whatever rules they make are about based on the authority and twisting the truth of it conveniently.
The Vajrayana seems to try to say that embracing all the greed, desire and hunger for more can be transmuted from poison. Well, that didn’t seem to work did it. Not for these cult leaders … who make the lamest excuses why its important to treat them like gods “to teach you how to take care of visiting teachers” for example so they can extract fame and reinforcing praise to give their cult group more power to attract and retain its workforce and monetary lifeblood. Literally demanding that visitors give speeches telling people to trust this local lama and they love to have places they can stay and be fawned over.
When people want to break out of it they have to work out that almost every single visiting lama was corrupted or fooled. Yet there were clues – those who wouldn’t heap praise and didn’t come back who detected something was off. You find that they have given their own messages about the deep corruption later when you find out what happened to them. So yes, the danger of staying too long where the teachings get more obscure and strange and belief oriented. Eventually pushed into a blind faith religion running in parallel to Buddhist philosophy.
So I’ll be waiting to see what troll comes and says that my long time staying in a dharma center and familiarity with the personal lives of these lamas doesn’t match their blind faith delusion.
Thanks for continuing your excellent work Thalia!
I left the Rigpa organization in 2005, in my early 20s after 4 very intense years of involvement. I made it into the “Dzogchen Manadala” in that time and received Dzogchen teachings in Lerab Ling. I discovered very believable accounts of Sogyals abuse on the internet and in Tibetan Buddhism more broadly. It was very hard to leave as all the cult shackles had to be broken through. I was alone in that fight.
It was so disillusioning that for about a decade I didn’t really get back into a spiritual path. I was still a seeker and kept my mind open. It was the mental suffering around my wife’s and my first child that got me asking deeper questions again. I began reading Huston Smith and the Perennial Philosophy. Something about this philosophy struck me deeply and I still believe it. Of course my favorite “color” of the philosophy was Buddhism.
Huston Smith said that religion is “institutionalized spirituality”. It seems a necessary part of keeping a “revaluation” alive. Jesus very deliberately set up his Church and Buddha his Sangha. But we humans tend to muddy the waters after that, to make an understatement. It is up to us to stand up for the truth and sort the wheat from the chaff. No easy task, but it must be done.
Back to some specifics about Tibetan Buddhism. I still consider myself a Mahayanist, but one thing I have found very helpful in discarding the dross within TB (authoritarianism, feudalism, superstition etc) is reading the Pali Cannon. The Dhammatalks.org website is a great free resource. Near the end of the mahaparinibbana sutta the Buddha says that he has not held back any teachings and has freely given them to all. Contrast this with the tight hold of the Tibetan Lamas around the “highest teachings”. It makes me think this is a power play rather than concern for the student. There are Pali suttas that have strong hints of Dzogchen.
The second point I want to make is that whenever Buddhism has transplanted to another culture it has adapted. So I believe after a century or two this will happen with tantra and dzogchen. China gave us Zen. The West will give us….
Thanks for your comment. I agree that reading the suttas are a good antidote to the worst of TB. A lot of us did that to various degrees in the year after the revelations. Now that know about cult dynamics I can see that a lot of the structure and secrecy around the ‘highest teachings’ are indeed just a method of control. Even some of the teachings are suspect in that they demand servitude. To me now they seem more designed to keep the lamas on their thrones with wiling slaves and lots of money coming in.