Update 4th Nov 2018. Please note that we are no longer taking signatures.
Do any of you want to sign this email some of us are sending to as many lamas as we can think of and find email addresses for? It’s going out at the end of the month so they’ll get it before the meeting with HHDL in late November. The aim is to encourage as many lamas as possible to make public statements as to their position on abusive behaviour by lamas and to provide specific material for their discussion on this matter at their meeting. The results will be published here on a special page as something students can use to assist them in evaluating potential teachers.
We are students of Tibetan Buddhism concerned by revelations in the past year that some lamas have harmed their students (most notably, the abuse of students by Sogyal Rinpoche of Rigpa and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche of Shambhala). We find it highly problematic that so few Tibetan lamas have spoken out against such behaviour. We are writing now to ask you to please clarify your position regarding the kind of unethical and harmful behaviours committed by Sogyal Lakar/Rinpoche of Rigpa. It is our hope that we will gain sufficient replies to reassure students that Tibetan Buddhism is a religion that never strays from its fundamental principle of non-harming and maintains the highest ethical standards
In July 2017, eight former, senior Rigpa students wrote a letter to Sogyal Lakar/Rinpoche detailing his abusive treatment of them and other students. We have enclosed a Tibetan translation of this letter so you can be clear on the details of the harm he caused, the reason why the students spoke up, and how Sogyal’s abusive behaviour affected the students concerned.
We are also enclosing a report from Lewis Silkin, the law firm commissioned by Rigpa to investigate the allegations in the letter. This report found that, based on the evidence available and on the balance of probabilities, the behavior outlined in the letter did occur and “some students of Sogyal Lakar have been subjected to serious physical, sexual and emotional abuse by him.”
The behaviours described in the letter are not only harmful but are also morally and ethically unacceptable. Most of them are illegal in the countries in which they occurred. However, aside from HH Dalai Lama, Mingyur Rinpoche, and Tsoknyi Rinpoche, no other Tibetan lama has made a public statement condemning these kinds of actions.
We are writing to ask you to break the silence and provide a statement reassuring all Dharma students that the abusive behaviours outlined in the attached letter and confirmed by the Lewis Silkin report are unacceptable to you. Not only do students want to avoid being harmed themselves, but also they do not want to support or learn from a lama who harms others, or who supports harmful behaviour. We believe that the teachings from such a lama cannot be reliable and that a lama should provide an ethical example for adults and children alike. We also do not want to follow someone who might ask us to compromise our ethics by accepting abusive behaviour without complaint or criticism—as Sogyal Lakar expected.
Many students are now questioning whether or not they can truly trust any lama to behave ethically if he or she has not made a public statement that makes it clear that they do not see abusive behaviour as acceptable. Also, parts of the Vajrayana have been used by Sogyal Lakar and other lamas to justify his abuses, which has caused some students to question the legitimacy of the religion. We are seeking clarity about this. Some are leaving the religion altogether.
So please read the translated letter and send us your statement in reply to this question: Do you think the behaviour of Sogyal Lakar/Rinpoche as described in the 2017 letter by 8 close students and confirmed by the Lewis Silkin Report is ever an acceptable way for Tibetan Buddhist teachers to behave towards their students?
When considering your reply, it may be helpful for you to refer to Mingyur Rinpoche’s examination of the issues in his Lion’s Roar article: https://www.lionsroar.com/treat-everyone-as-the-buddha/
We will publish all replies to this question on the What Now Blog. Thank you very much. We look forward to your reply.
We are no longer taking signatures.
The list of lamas
You can view the list of lamas who will be receiving this email by clicking here. If you have additions or can provide email addresses where we don’t have them, please send us a message via the contact form here. This email is only for native Tibetan speakers ( it will also be translated into Tibetan), so don’t include anyone who doesn’t have Tibetan as their primary language.
86 Replies to “An Email to Lamas”
Hi – I wish to sign but cannot – please help! 🙂 Jeremy (Mingyur) Schanche
I’ve added your name for you.
Done and forwarded on.
thank you for creating this.
Reblogged this on Pdlyons's Explorations.
Pouvu que les lamas agissent de manière responsable et claire.
Hi – I’m glad this is happening and have signed.
I see Namkai Norbu is on the list. He has very recently passed away. As someone who as far as I know was not implicated in this, it might be upsetting for his family to receive the letter.
Also, there is a question re the mother tongue of Tsultrim Allione. Although he name is Italian, she is an English speaker.
I may have missed their names – and can’t go back to check on the form – but Chokyi Nyima and Tai Situ Rinpoche too?
The email goes beyond those implicated in abuse- as far as I understand it, it’s intended for lamas who teach westerners or have a public profile.
There is also Lama Yeshe of Samye Ling, Scotland.
Samye Ling has also regrettably become embroiled in criticism.
Wow …. I think you people really have lost your minds. This is no longer finding healing for the people that have been abused. This is a witch hunt for Rigpa and SR. Have you people no shame at all? Even putting lama Yonten on the list? Like he is clueless without your letter? Mayum-la on the list? Have any of you recently seen her? You people should know better then this …
What has Lama Yonten said about the situation?
Hahaha. Are you serious? Cause if you are …maybe I can provide you with a lot of information and join the witch hunt.
Right? …. I don’t think so ….
You seem scandalized by asking direct questions.
HHDL has no problem speaking clearly and directly about abuse.
No problem whatsoever.
Maybe his lead should be followed.
Oh no .. I am a huge fan of direct questions. But this email is not a question. Its trying to put peoples mind in a certain direction. Forcing people through media pressure to speak out. This is straight forward manipulation with the main focus on bringing SR and Rigpa down. What if some people just don’t feel to speak out? And even more important … why would they speak out? Every word will be used against them by people who think are protecting the Dharma. But I see you only bringing destruction here. You are taking this too far. Yes there has been abuse in Rigpa. And yes this is wrong. I totally agree on that. But this does not mean that everybody needs to have an opinion about it and speak out in the media. Whomever wants to get involved knows by now where to find you people. I am sure. And the people who dont … maybe they are just not interested to know you people.
Thank you Nyima, this is an interesting response.
Allow me to resond fully.
“But this email is not a question.”
Well, I hope we agree that it culminates in a question – let me restate it:
“Do you think the behaviour of Sogyal Lakar/Rinpoche as described in the 2017 letter by 8 close students and confirmed by the Lewis Silkin Report is ever an acceptable way for Tibetan Buddhist teachers to behave towards their students?”
“its trying to put peoples mind in a certain direction. This is straight forward manipulation”
Ok, yes. In a sense, that is the purpose of every question.
“The main focus on bringing SR and Rigpa down”.
That’s an assumption . The main focus is actually spelled out very clearly. Beyond that, Rigpa and Sogyal will either continue, or reform, or destruct, by their own actions.
“You are taking this too far.”
There are several more, very direct questions, that could be asked. And actually, maybe should be asked.
Here are a few.
In what kind of Buddhist organisation can young women be ordered to undress and suck the teacher’s penis, then be passed onto another teacher for sex?
In what kind of Buddhist organisation can students be left unconscious or with bleeding wounds after being assaulted by the teacher?
In what kind of Buddhist organisation can students be subjected to serious physical, sexual and emotional abuse by the teacher?
In what kind of Buddhist organisation can senior individuals be aware of some of these problems, fail to act, and leave students at risk?
What kind of Buddhist organisation refuses to publicly accept the findings of its own investigation that such things have happened?
What kind of Buddhist organisation refuses to publicly condemn such behavior?
What kind of Buddhist organisation refuses to publicly promise to implement the recommendations of its own investigation? Recommendations which were made to try and prevent a repetition of such harm.
I would like to see those questions in the letter, but for the sake of brevity, they are left out.
And I’m not even one of those who wants Rigpa destroyed – I believe it needs to come clean and reform itself.
One of the strengths of buddhism has been its ability to adapt to the needs of the locals. Because, it relies on logic. On examination of evidence. On wisdom.
Let’s see those strengths in action, and it will be amazing.
Bravo. Yes indeed.
This is really sad …The part “is ever an acceptable way ” forces the question into a direction where it is clear that the answer that is asked for is a confirmation of what you people wrote. I wonder if you truly want answers, honestly? Cause I think you dont. You just want your ways to be confirmed. And want Rigpa to be changed according to what you people believe is right, according to your values. Already that shows a lack of understanding and mostly a lack of respect. The world and human kind do not work in that way. Every religion has been through this. No religion is perfect and clean from abuse in some kind of way. And no human is perfect. This does not mean that its ok to sacrifise a few for the saks of many. However .. I think you people are not fully aware of the incredible harm that you are doing here. At least I am happy that you admit there is manipulation going on here. The purpose of a question is to receive information. The purpose is not to manipulate and get whatever information you want for your own goals. There is always a bigger picture. And the bigger picture right now is that you people did not just tried to seek healing for the victims. But you are hurting the buddhist world over something that for you seems so important. But if your aim in this life is enlightenment for all sentient beings (i doubt it) then this is very harmfull. And even I myself dont believe in hell …. for now I make an exception and agree with OT that you all will end up there. These are my last words here. I better spend my time practising … and if you people really want to protect the Dharma …take an example here and sit your ass on a cushion and practise. Nyima out.
Wow! We’re all going to hell, eh? You sound like a fundamentalist, Bible-thumper from the south! Are you from Rigpa by any chance?
How is it “hurting the Dharma” to ask the lamas to make a CLEAR statement on what they think about actual abuse? If the Dalai Lama and Mingyur Rinpoche can speak clearly about it, then why can’t any of the others? I guess the Dalai Lama and Mingyur R. are also going to hell too, according to your philosophy.
I will add that the Dalai Lama and Mingyur R. were really LATE about speaking out about it, but at least they said SOMETHING.
Other people can have a different voice without being ridiculed, some people come from a place of reconciliation and healing …. is that acceptable here?
Are all the 8 now trying to bring Rigpa down, no, the people trying to bring Rigpa down (this is a relatively new phenomena) …. are mostly hangers on with no direct experience of the organisations in question, a sort of ‘time in your hands group’ does anyone in this group represent anyone in the LS report or the majority of the 8 ? this is appearing to many watching this blog as just cult like behaviour, witch hunting is just that !
“…some people come from a place of reconciliation and healing …. is that acceptable here?”
Telling people they are “going to hell” is not my idea of “a place of reconciliation and healing” as far as I’m concerned. There’s room for different views, but all the hell-fire and brimstone talk invites a bit of ridicule, especially when coming from so-called “rational and scientific” Buddhists.
Also, asking lamas to make a clear statement isn’t “witch-hunting” at all. People misuse that term without knowing what “witch hunting” means. “Witch hunting” means to persecute those who hold certain beliefs and views, or to trick them into saying something for the purpose of tracking them down and persecuting them. In this case, nobody is going to persecute the lamas who refuse to make a statement. Nothing will happen to them, except that potential students may make an informed choice not to go to teachers who refuse to make a statement. Nobody is going to be hunted down, so stop misusing the term “witch hunt” to make a point.
I would “like” your post if I could. Bravo!
I would like to add one more question: What kind of lama would just sit by and say nothing, especially after getting a sincere letter form students asking for a public statement in what is and what isn’t acceptable in Vajrayana?
I really want an answer to that question too. As religious leaders, they need to make it CLEAR what their position is because right now it’s looking like the whole bunch of them, or at least many of them, secretly support abuse because they say nothing when it happens.
Repeating something endlessly does not make it true, implementing the recommendations of a report doesn’t happen over night, and from what I can see, Rigpa has acted consistently in accordance with the report’s recommendations from the outset, what specifically do you feel Thanet should move faster with? All this waffling gets tedious. Please explain why you would email a dead lama? and Mayum-la ? That’s where you lost me, you apply standard to others and don’t seem to have the basics if humanity
Where did I say anything about emailing dead lamas? If there are any lamas on the list who have passed away, then of course they should be removed.
I was commenting on asking the LIVING lamas what their position is on “crazy wisdom” in Vajrayana. I don’t think that’s asking too much. Even if they don’t want to name names, what’s wrong with simply saying what is and what isn’t acceptable within a guru-student relationship? Isn’t that something they should be clarifying ANYWAY during their teachings? Isn’t it important to teach newcomers to Vajrayana about HOW to practice Vajrayana and what kind of relationship they should be cultivating with their teacher?
Also, if they clarified enough then no one would have to ask them to explain this issue in the first place, lol! 😀
They do not have to reply. That’s entirely up to them. And this is not aimed at bringing anyone down, simply at finding out which lamas we might want to consider as a potential teacher. I can’t see anything wrong with that. Examination of the teacher is a vital first step in Vajrayana, after all, and this is a vitally important question for those of us who are signing.
“What if some people just don’t feel to speak out? And even more important … why would they speak out?”
Um….why would they NOT speak out? Do you think that the lamas are actually helping the Dharma if they just remain silent? It makes them look like they are secretly supporting the abuse as a “crazy wisdom” tactic. People need to hear LOUD and CLEAR exactly what these lamas actually believe about whether abuse is acceptable or not. If they don’t have the decency to make a CLEAR, unambiguous statement without sounding like a waffling politician then I don’t see any reason to go to any of them for any sort of teaching. (I will be curious to see how many really have a good response and how many sound just like DKR.)
I don’t think you understand. This is a simple request for lamas to let potential students know what they think about abuse by lamas. There is no witch hunting. We are just asking them a question we really want to know the answer to and giving them an opportunity to make their position on the matter clear.
Thats the problem they don’t know better, this whole process is gaslighting … The very thing that Buddhist organisations are being accused of and shows no element of basic human kindness, Mayum-la …… Namkai Norbu … really. It has all become so desperate in its attempts to destroy that it has been become implausible – for some here moving towards reconciliation is the only way forward but those voices are not heard ! (Sound familiar?)
Thankyou for organising this. Will english speakers be mailed at a different date? I am thinking of people like Elizabeth Mathis Nyangyal who uphold Tibetan Buddhism and also need to make a statement against abuse.
@ex la la It’s a huge undertaking to do this, so I’ll not be doing it again for English speaking teachers. The point of asking the Tibetan Rinpoches is that they are the the precious ones that students look up to the most, and all the English speaking teachers have one or more of them as their teachers. Also English speaking teachers know how to make a public statement if they want to. They don’t need to be given an opportunity to do so.
@ Moonfire, but students also look up to many English-speaking Tibetan Lamas. I think they also need to be prompted to publicly condemn abuse as there’s such a strong cultural imperative working to silence them from criticising their spiritual colleagues. If we can create a momentum going in the opposite direction, i think some of them may be sufficiently moved and impressed by your efforts & our support that they will then speak out.
You’ve mentioned that this email letter is a huge undertaking. Would it be that much more onerous to send it off to more recipients? 🙂
Given the fact that most lamas cheerfully endorsed Sogyal for so long, either implicitly ( almost all of them including Mingyur and Tsoknyi who were his protegees ) or even explicitly, ( the Dalai lama) and the remarkable silence that has ensued from the rest since the recent scandal, I can understand the reasoning behind this as a kind of attempt to get some clarity and commitment on their part.
But that being said, I’m concerned that it might be rather futile for the simple reason that ( like many people ) what Tibetan lamas say is not necessarily indicative of what they really believe: the only true indication of that being how they actually behave……as we all know by now, surely?
All lamas who sincerely believe that abuse ( which we should remember also includes the principle of psychological dominance and subservience) has no place in Vajrayana, will say so……but so too will those who believe it does, but have finally realised that times have changed and they can’t say so without losing students.
Apart from a couple of old-school fruitcakes like Orgyen Topgyal and Kenchen Namdrol and hypocrites like Dzongsar Khyentse who just try to hedge their bets with doublespeak, that probably takes care of just about everyone.
So as a way of helping people decide who to avoid it seems quite good in theory but it still depends on pre-emptive trust and taking a lot at face value.
I don’t want to labour the point, but I remember someone asking Sogyal what exactly constituted improper sexual conduct for a Vajrayana practitioner……to which he replied: “Any relationship where someone is harmed.”
Unfortunately, you’re right. But I still think it’s worth doing. Though I suspect we will get little response, and though any responses we do get may in some cases be mere words not backed up with belief, if they read it, they will at least be forced to consider the question for a moment, and since everything is interelated, who knows what result that might contribute to eventually.
I also think it will be easy to distinguish those lamas who are just mouthing platitudes and those who give it some thought and speak with sincerity. Because really, the answer isn’t totally simple, totally a yes or no answer. A reflective teacher might discuss the more difficult subjects like how to recognize and what to do when a Vajrayana master crosses a line and what this trouble with Rigpa means for Dharma in the West.
There’s a lot that can be said if a lama is legitimately concerned about the welfare of students. And for me, if the lama responds in that politically nice and vague way, I would not take much note of it. We’re not stupid.
But I’m also not holding my breath and if the response is dismal or nonexistent, then that is closure that some of us are needing. We can move on with that knowledge.
“…I’m concerned that it might be rather futile for the simple reason that ( like many people ) what Tibetan lamas say is not necessarily indicative of what they really believe: the only true indication of that being how they actually behave……as we all know by now, surely?’
You’re absolutely right, Pete! You have to watch how they act, (if that’s at all possible, since some of them are very hard to access). Still, Moonfire is right that it’s worth at least trying to get SOME sort of public statement from as many of them as possible.
@ Moonfire & Catlover
I see your point: that at least it’s worth trying and maybe it will help underline how seriously Western students take this. It’ll be interesting to see how much response it generates.
Nyima’s criticism has been comprehensively rebutted, but the tone of the criticism itself highlights the persistent difficulty that many people have accepting that Tibetan Buddhism should be subject to the same norms as everything else and can’t claim any moral or behavioural exception or evade scrutiny by calling it a “witch hunt”.
It’s easy to dismiss this as just a kind of defensive posture, but after reading so much of it here that’s obviously expressed with a lot of sincerity and passion, I’m starting to believe this way of thinking is actually the heart of the problem.
A large part of the cosmology, history, philosophy and practices of Tibetan Buddhism, the lives of its lineage holders past and even beliefs about those alive today, are based on this very exceptionalism, a kind of other-worldliness that underpins and pervades its world-view.
Right from the outset, students are taught to aspire to this and told clearly that without this view there can be no real progress on the path to enlightenment ( itself the goal and most exceptional other-worldly element of Buddhism ) so is it any wonder that when confronted with evidence of the very sordid worldly behaviour that calls all this into question, that the first and often lasting, instinctive response to the shock and dissonance is to apply what’s been taught as a means of denial and rationalization?
I don’t have any idea how this exceptionalism, which is a form of magical thinking, could be disentangled from Tibetan Buddhism, or what would remain if it were, but on the other hand as many people have repeatedly pointed out: Buddhism has already mutated and been adapted to very different cultures, so perhaps it has the potential to be adapted to the modern world.
Perhaps the irony is that rigidly clinging to ( religious and cultural ) forms as permanent will make this difficult or even impossible. But as you say, you believe it’s worth trying and no one can criticize that.
Georges Dreyfus has written some interesting papers on Tibetans’ sense of collective identity and Tibetan ‘proto-nationalism’.
Similar patterns may well inform Tibetan lamas’ projection of exceptionalism—particularly in the West.
The counterpart, of course, is Westerners’ projection of ineptitude and inferiority to such Tibetan lamas, which may well reinforce their sense of superiority.
For those who are interested in Dreyfus’ papers, see:
@ Rob Hogendoorn
Many thanks for the link.
Your last point about Westerners’ projected inferiority reinforcing the lamas sense of superiority is undeniable and that acceptance of a social, economic and political imbalance of status and power seems almost in-built in societies, ( in the UK the number of people who think the monarchy is wonderful is disturbing )……maybe it’s a mammalian thing.
It’s definitely human. In fact, it’s exactly what you would expect to happen.
That’s why it’s remarkable that so many Western Buddhists seem completely unaware of their codependency with Tibetan lamas.
Especially since so many of them take so much pride in their critical faculties, which has turned the saying ‘O bhikshus and wise men, just as a goldsmith would test his gold by burning, cutting, and rubbing it, so you must examine my words and accept them, but not merely out of reverence for me’ into a tiresome cliché.
In other context, I’ve coined the term ‘autosuggestive overcommitment’ (source: https://www.mdpi.com/2077-1444/5/3/522/htm): Westerners tend to commit themselves to more than is even expected of them, perhaps to make themselves feel as ‘chosen people’.
I think that this is what the Dalai Lama means when he says that Tibetan lamas are being “spoiled”.
Thanks for the link to your article: one of the best in-depth analyses on the subject I’ve read to date. It’s a fascinating read and it seems to me that its implications extend far beyond the immediate subject and have wider implications for the encounter between Tibetan Buddhism and Western society.
I would guess that your view of the value of religion per se is probably rather more benign that my own, but in terms of Tibetan Buddhism and the Dalai Lama’s interaction with Western scientific thought you’re obviously much better informed than myself or most people.
I’ll definitely re-read the article because it contains so much that needs detailed consideration, but my most salient reaction was to his ‘Caveat’ which is similar to yours: ( “The caveat permits a Buddhist or anyone else to believe pretty much whatever they want.”)
“He reminds us not to conflate the two processes of not finding something and finding its nonexistence. For example, through current scientific analysis so far we may have not found evidence for rebirth, but this does not imply by any means that science has somehow negated the existence of rebirth.”
Since the context is the encounter between scientific thought and traditional buddhist belief, I think this is quite pivotal because it totally ignores the accepted logical position that a by definition a negative cannot be proved and the entire onus in terms of the burden of proof rests on whoever posits a proposition in the first place.
So Science doesn’t have any obligation to negate the existence of rebirth, but Buddhism does have an obligation to provide evidence for it. In any case “non-existence” cannot be “found” and so this argument comes across as sophistry, which doesn’t indicate so much an honest unqualified desire for scientific discovery and knowledge, so much as a a need for a convenient fall-back defensive position to deal with anything that calls dogma into question.
This is a very familiar refrain from many current Tibetan Buddhist teachers who know that fully engaging with modern thought would lead to irrepairable damage to the centre of that very appropriate ” Web of belief” that you reference, so they will always hide behind Tsongkhapa so to speak, until they think the danger has passed.
Unfortunately this otherworldly reality provides a refuge from threatening dissonance for not only highly trained scholars such as the Dalai Lama who are sincere and may be benign (for most people at least) but also other lamas who use it as a justification for abuse even if like Sogyal, they lack any real familiarity with the scriptural complexity of it.
It’s not at all neutral in terms of real harm.
Your section on the disparity between the Dalai Lama’s popularly perceived scientific understanding and commitment to rational enquiry and his actual understanding and what you aptly term his “Elusiveness” as a thinker also throw up many questions, but the insufficiently critical attitude of Westerners, scientists and non-scientist students of Buddhism alike, to the inconsistencies and disparities certainly do indicate what you call “autosuggestive overcommitment.” Basically one huge problem in just two words.
It’s important to note, as you do, that the disparity between his lack of scientific education on one hand and western scientists’ lack of traditional Buddhist education on the other is substantial. But my take on that is that any thought system whether secular or religious should be assessed on how much tangible benefit it has brought to the greatest number and what it can provide in the future in terms of the problems facing us.
In that respect I don’t see Tibetan Buddhism as a shining example, given that over a millenium it continually underpinned a reactionary feudal order, nor does it seem to be generating any great benefit for humanity at present. If we can avoid the many disasters that threaten the planet it will be through scientific rationality rather than religious mysticism.
From that viewpoint it seems far more worthwhile traditional Buddhist leaders making a true commitment to rationality that rational people spending valuable time delving into the labyrinthine depths of complex religious belief, which has a dismal record when it comes to thwarting human progress. Your recounting of the imprisonment and destitue death of Gendun Chophel is an all too familiar indicator of the collision between religious orthodoxy and dissent. There are currently similar parallels even today.
Having suffered from this “autosuggestive overcommitment” myself for far too many years and at some personal cost, I really hope as many people as possible will take the time to read your article carefully.
Thanks Pete, I’m glad you found my article helpful!
There’s another problem, which I haven’t discussed in my article: with ‘The Universe in a Single Atom: How science and spirituality can serve our world’, the Dalai Lama wrote a book he can’t read. If he were to do a live interview on the contents of his own book by science journalists, it would make for a highly embarrassing spectacle.
There’s a huge disparity between the persona and understanding that emerge from this book and the real life person: the Dalai Lama is not its ‘author’ in the common sense of the word.
This means that Western Buddhists who take their cue from works such as these, and many of them do, run a risk of appropriating a very distorted image of the (supposed) compatibility of Buddhism and science.
I’m currently in the process of finishing a paper that I’ll present during the upcoming meeting of the American Academy of Religion in November in Denver, titled: ‘The Making of a Lama: Interrogating Sogyal Rinpoche’s Pose as a (Re)incarnate Master’.
For more details and an abstract, see: https://papers.aarweb.org/program_book?keys=A18-105&field_session_slot_nid=All
Thanks Rob, it would be good if you can put a link here when the paper has been presented next month, I’m sure many of us would like to read it.
I like the title by the way, there’s definitely the material for a movie script in this, a classic tale of hubris and nemesis, rise and fall….just a few chapters that haven’t written themselves yet.
I think this disparity you mention is important because it seems to be a recurrent feature whenever there’s an attempt to co-opt modern scientific understanding to give credence to pre-scientific beliefs without the real grounding that can only come from a lifetime of professional experience: ( in online discussions the most extreme version being the casual use of “Quantum” by people who probably think Isaac Newton was a soul singer in the 60’s.)
In the case of Tibetan lamas, it’s not difficult to see why this happens: the disorientating experience of coming abruptly from a medieval world into the modern one and discovering the existence of a vast sophisticated scientific culture of which you know next to nothing, but also finding an eager audience for your own religious tradition, is inevitably going to make someone as intelligent and shrewd as the Dalai Lama realize that the incompatibility between rational thinking and faith is a potential threat that will eventually undermine the status of religion even if there does exist an audience some of whom are currently uncritical to the point of credulity.
It’s ironic that while the Dalai Lama with his traditional erudition has been working hard to bridge this divide and promote his religion, a lama like Sogyal who is traditionally ignorant and uneducated, has been (unwittingly) working hard to make that divide painfully obvious and undermine its credibility.
Endorsing Sogyal while being aware of his destructive behaviour was a spectacular miscalculation and one that puzzles many people a great deal.
I think religion and science are ultimately incompatible and the conceit that Buddhism is a ‘science of the mind’ in any real sense, is only tenable if you choose to remain deliberately ignorant of one or the other.
In some ways it might be easier for people who are single minded in their committment to religion not to attempt to justify their faith in rational terms and just be content with Tertullian’s “Credo quia absurdum est,” providing that they concede that when religion intrudes into secular society in a transgressive way, then belief without evidence can’t be used as a get-out-of-jail-free card.
Very nice paper Rob.
Raising these kind of issues and different perspectives could encourage the kind of dialogue that western students might have engaged in all along.
“maybe it’s a mammalian thing….It’s definitely human. In fact, it’s exactly what you would expect to happen.”
And perhaps we must keep questioning ourselves, too. To relegate historic behaviors and attitudes to “a mammalian thing” or “only human” seems to fall into another kind belief system that also seems somewhat auto-suggestive.
I know what you mean, but is it a belief system when it’s grounded in scientific method? Ok, I was being a bit facetious, but we’re mammals and the research on mammalian behaviour patterns is well established, so for me it helps to have as many perspectives from differing areas as possible when trying to understand why our particular species is so spectacularly good at “fucking shit up”…..as Konrad Lorenz probably never said.
Thanks for your post.
“but is it a belief system when it’s grounded in scientific method?”
Yes, it is still a belief system. Using beliefs based on science, seems a good way to go as long as the belief is a) acknowledged as such b) fluid and c) understands it is a partial view that continues to develop. All these caveats are also part of science.
Too often we take our views as ‘the way things are’ and therefore become dogmatic and certain.
“for me it helps to have as many perspectives from differing areas as possible when trying to understand why our particular species is so spectacularly good at “fucking shit up”…..”
Me too.. That’s kind of what I was poking at a little, a reduction of our problems to a single perspective of “just being human.” Perhaps we can discover what seems to be going askew with us, we can watch this slow moving train wreck as it happens. Just imagine if those of us on this blog were in power, might we make a pretty big mess, too?
A wide range of perspectives seems like it might include ourselves (as Rob’s paper does.)
On a blog where we are the only ones here, it seems like we could spend much more time seeing our role in creating the trouble. There’s a good chance our attitudes haven’t changed all that much (even if the target of our attitudes has dramatically shifted) That seems a great environment for a scientific exploration of our little microcosm. We could have taken up that challenge while in the Rigpa Organization and we still have that same opportunity now.
Perhaps, we just need as much energy in asking ourselves questions as we are demanding those in power answer.
Just published: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/25/magazine/bruno-latour-post-truth-philosopher-science.html
Thanks for the link Rick, I haven’t had time to finish reading the article yet but I got as far as : ” Alan Sokal, who was under the impression that Latour and his S.T.S. colleagues thought that “the laws of physics are mere social conventions,”(Sounds a bit Vajrayana Buddhist to me.)…… invited them to jump out the window of his 21st-floor apartment.”
That would be the same guy who wrote a spoof post-modernist text that was taken so seriously it won an award. The title alone is superb: ” Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” Possibly it was computer-generated.
As to my “role in creating the trouble”, well I think it was pretty minimal, but if I created trouble it was mostly for myself and after I left the whole shit-show seemed to manage quite well without my contribution, in fact it got worse and worse.
At least in the UK, the people who left at around the same time as me also had a similar British sense of humour that tends to take the piss and never takes anything really seriously, or at least solemnly. Back then Sogyal was hoping to copy Trungpa and when he suggested we should wear uniforms, some of us started laughing because we thought it was a joke……..but it wasn’t of course. I like to think we may even have been a moderating influence, but I think maybe he was just getting into his stride when we bailed out.
Thanks for your reply.
The rest of the article might be worth your while. Latour describes in some detail what goes into science, and by extension what goes into the creation of any institution and how those in power may be inclined to set themselves as “above the fray.”
“Latour realized he was witnessing the beginnings a seismic rhetorical shift: from scientists appealing to transcendent, capital-T Truth to touting the robust networks through which truth is, and has always been, established.”
The current disbelief in science maybe based on the same skepticism you now feel toward Buddhism. Because the inner workings were hidden and the outer form appealed to the transcendent capital-T Truth. When the messy network producing Buddhism is exposed there is a natural revulsion. But what if that messy network was exposed all along as part of the inquiry?
“Back then Sogyal was hoping to copy Trungpa and when he suggested we should wear uniforms, some of us started laughing because we thought it was a joke…”
We had a lot of power, that kind of questioning and pushback might have worked in other areas, too
@Pete, Rick and Rob “I know what you mean, but is it a belief system when it’s grounded in scientific method?”
Maybe rebirth is beginning to be grounded in scientific method? Is it a belief system or science? When is the line crossed? Republicans are still calling man-induced climate change a belief system- when was that line crossed? Scientists have been collecting data on climate for decades. Each decade makes their conclusion more likely. That’s how science works. Scientists never say “it is absolutely proven, absolutely found.”
HHDL’s statement about how not finding something to exist doesn’t prove its nonexistence is a perfectly acceptable statement in scientific method. Scientists would agree! If you read the article above, and other articles, proper scientists are gathering evidence regarding rebirth. None of them are claiming that this proves the existence of rebirth– but as the evidence grows, certain conclusions become more likely. This is what scientists do! In my mind, you are using a narrow lens to viewing science. Scientists keep their minds’ open.
And as far as Rob’s “caveat” idea, there seems to be some confusion. The meaning behind the statement “not finding something to exist doesn’t prove its nonexistence” is not “anything goes, believe what you wish.” Not at all. It is simply about keeping scientific objectivity, not concluding something when there isn’t sufficient evidence to conclude either way. To say that this leads to a situation where people can believe anything they wish is a little silly– because the main purpose of his statement is to sharpen the critical faculty by challenging assumptions.
If you read Buddhist works from Nagarjuna and others, they teach at length on the different kinds of phenomena, evident, slightly obscure and very obscure. For each of those types of phenomena, they demonstrate ways in which we gain confidence in their truth. And definitely, in that regard, the line between what one would call science and religion is very clear. There is a point where students simply rely on the truth of a teaching because of the reliability of the scripture and of the individual teaching it– and that type of faith is left out of the Dalai Lama’s discussions with the scientists. So in that regard, and I have listened to many hours of those dialogues, I don’t see any blurring between religion and science.
I think we may have had a discussion about this before, but I can’t remember, so no hope of my recalling past lives either……( that doesn’t exclude their existence of course.)
Firstly I’ve got to admit to what I might call, ‘a conflict of interest’: that is, I’d be very happy to believe in reincarnation…….if only I could.
Like most humans, the awareness of impermanence and especially death is a heavy psychological burden: the thought of myself, everyone and everything I love ceasing to exist, makes me uncomfortable and although I’ve always had that awareness, with age it becomes more acute, because by now I’ve seen quite a lot of it close up and I even can feel and see impermanence at work in my own mind and body.
So yes, if there was still something……anything, that I could in all conscience believe in, something that made that easier, I’d sign up as enthusiastically as I signed up to Tibetan Buddhism all those years ago.
I can see the “why” of how you would believe but not the “how”. I can’t accept something without evidence just because a religious authority or tradition tells me to…..which was the Buddha’s advice wasn’t it? I don’t understand why nobody ever applies that rigorously in Tibetan Buddhism.
Sure, there’s a lot to be said for all these charming scenarios, the description of Amitabha’s paradise in the Powa always sounded wonderful and identical to the best experiences of LSD, and Al Khaf, the ‘Highest Gardens of Paradise’ described in the Qu’ran sounds even more fun,………”sitting on the right hand of God” not so much.
Anyway according to most scholars, Buddhist, Muslim and Christian alike , I just don’t have the entry qualifications these days.
Even being reborn as a human is itself a nice idea, some continuity to offset the essentially limited short lived existence I quite enjoy, kind of eternal life really but not in heaven.
But in fact, in even the more benign interpretations of Tibetan Buddhism, my behaviour over the past twenty years is apparently going to consign me to countless rebirths in some unpleasantly hot place with a tongue the size of a soccer pitch that’s being regularly ploughed by demons. Now, I love the heat and I’m not averse to a spot of gardening, but what’s on offer doesn’t really appeal.
I think that’s the difficulty here: that for some people the idea is so extraordinarily seductive that there’s bound to be an enormous amount of confirmation bias in the examination of what is interpreted as evidence for rebirth, and the problem is that the people who bother to research it are looking to prove it. Why would anyone expend so much time and energy otherwise?
Tucker for example, is a psychiatrist not a physicist or a neurologist, so when he uses that good old fall- back explanation of “Quantum mechanics” to explain how consciousness transfers after physical death, it should put up a red flag immediately. If Richard Feynman said: ” “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.”……..then there’s zero chance Tucker does.
When you say: ” HHDL’s statement about how not finding something to exist doesn’t prove its non existence is a perfectly acceptable statement in scientific method. Scientists would agree!” you’re ignoring that in scientific terms proof cannot be obtained of non-existence……by definition.
Of course colloquially, I can “prove” I wasn’t at the scene of the murder…..but only by providing irrefutable evidence that I was somewhere else at the time it took place, so what I’m actually doing is proving is my existence elsewhere; I’m still not proving my non-existence at the crime-scene (except in a very relative sense of the word that’s in common usage and that’s irrelevant here.)
Now try applying that to reincarnation……see what I mean? I can’t prove reincarnation doesn’t exist because that’s impossible, and it’s a meaningless phrase, but more importantly, I don’t have to because you and the Dalai Lama are saying it exists, so it’s solely your obligation to prove that it does.
Whether it’s Nagarjuna, Tsongkhapa, the Dalai Lama (or you) saying it doesn’t change that at all, and it carries no weight as confirmation that a religious belief is valid in scientific terms, it’s still straight-forward sophistry attempting to back-up faith without evidence. It’s a diversion and not even a very sophisticated one at that. Honestly, they should be ashamed of themselves…….
Now, if the only effect of believing in evidence-free things was positive: less anxiety about death, a sense of ultimate cosmic justice that helped accept life’s unavoidable suffering and so on, then I might dismiss it as a palliative or harmless eccentricity, but that’s not the case here is it?.
Reincarnation and the doctrine of Karma are essential to each other and it’s essential to understand the full extent of all the effects of believing in them.
The wider reality is that they function very efficiently as instruments of psychological, behavioural and social control; they have always and continue to support the most appalling inequality, caste systems where people are told their predicament is due to their actions in previous lives…..this is just archaic mystical victim-blaming for the preservation of elite privilege, and even we’ve all seen the results, admittedly on a minor level compared to the so-called “untouchables” living in the slums of Delhi, but the principle is exactly the same.
It seems massively dishonest to ignore that this seemingly anodyne doctrine says unequivocally that even the most innocent victims of every horror perpetrated by mankind, on itself and other species have brought it on themselves by “unskillful actions” in past lives, that the millions of blameless children, women and men driven into the gas chambers, gunned down, butchered or burnt alive were getting the results of this supposed cosmic system of cause and effect that transcends individual lives, time, space and the known limits of the material world and whose mechanism nobody can actually explain or even provide any evidence for other than the tales of a few toddlers and a lot of wishful thinking.
The ability to believe without evidence may help some people and it certainly props up archaic religious institutions and religious teachers, but the damage it does in real terms is infinitely greater. To you it’s a source of reassurance, but I”m afraid to me it’s dangerous nonsense and its implications are morally obscene.
I’m sorry to be so blunt about this Joanne, but it’s something I feel strongly about.
“The ability to believe without evidence…” Leads to all sorts of trouble.. Primarily it breaks down communication, creates a wall.
Just curious Pete how do you consider the four seals?
— All compounded things are impermanent.
— All emotions are painful. (in the long run)
— All phenomena are empty; they are without inherent existence. (as in science we are 99.999999% space) https://www.sciencealert.com/99-9999999-of-your-body-is-empty-space
— The fourth seal is that nirvana is beyond extremes. (beliefs/concepts of any kind)
Thanks for the link, sorry I’m not able to respond fully at the moment, but will as soon as I can.
Thanks for opening this discussion Joanne.
Tarthang Tulku in Time, Space & Knowledge is an interesting exploration of some of these issues. He opens the door to exploring a wide range of assumptions without adding beliefs of any kind and includes both science and western philosophy in the text and exercises.
Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist by Stephen Batchelor helpful in exploring other possible narratives in Buddha’s life story grounded in the early sutras.
Yes Rick. Before I was Buddhist, I was not much of a fan of science– but now I have become excited about a lot of what science is opening up right now. Quantum physics is really helpful in terms of understanding emptiness– and some of the studies of neuroscientists open up new ways at looking at subjective experience that I find really exciting. Sometimes it’s the modern language maybe that’s helpful.
Thanks for those references. I also enjoy listening to the Mind and Life conferences.
There is one… to clarify, to transform and to start healing…in public. For the sake of all beings.
Contact RINGU TULKU RINPOCHE via
Contact JIGME KHYENTSE RINPOCHE [SON OF KANGYUR RINPOCHE AND BROTHER OF PEMA WANGYAL RINPOCHE] via
Maybe the Lamas, just to cope a bit with western minds, should read the lyrics of “Sweet Dreams” by former Eurythmics singer Annie Lennox:
Sweet dreams are made of this
Who am I to disagree?
I travel the world
And the seven seas,
Everybody’s looking for something.
Some of them want to use you
Some of them want to get used by you
Some of them want to abuse you
Some of them want to be abused.
It’s funny you should mention this song I always think of the whole lama situation when I hear those lyrics! It is so appropriate. 😀
I do not appreciate the fake names. Whoever is adding fake names please stop. You are wasting my time. I get an email each time the form is filled in and I look through each one and manually add them to the list of email signatures, so the fake ones do not get through. If you’re not happy with the way we’re doing this, fine, but please don’t make it harder.
Also names without surnames are not added. You need both names.
Healing & Reconciliation is the way forward for many, the original goals of the 8 were exceeded – what’s come since speaks for the 8 ? Witch hunting ordinary students is unacceptable as is dragging the ill elderly and those who are dead into an arena.
@ripwaves, not sure how or which ordinary students are being witch-hunted, or what the context for your claim is that the “ill elderly and those who are dead into an arena”. Hope you can elaborate.
I think this is an unsupportable statement:
“the original goals of the 8 were exceeded”
To support it, can you, based on their letter (so in their words), can you please state exactly what the original goals of the 8 were?
Can you then describe how they were met and exceeded?
Many thanks, and let’s keep it civil please!
Someone explain to me why healing and reconciliation is so impossible I’m just not getting it – that everyone is shunning the possibility is concerning
Ok, assuming it’s not a rhetorical question…..
I’ll try to explain as well as I can, but this is strictly from my own experience, I don’t mean it to be any kind of authoritative blanket statement about healing and reconcilliation.
Firstly, I think you can ‘heal’ trauma to some degree by your self, without any involvement of the person who caused it. By this I mean coming to understand what happened, why it happened, how and why you got into that situation, your motivation and the real motivation of the other person or people involved and the degree to which they were also victims at some point and the events were part of a chain of trauma.
In this context it was very useful for me to understand the wider context, how the structure of Tibetan Buddhism itself and the beliefs that underpin it creates an environment conducive to destructive behaviour and contains a spurious rationale that sanctions it.
The embarrassing part was understanding my own naivety and the sheer credulity with which I accepted that rationale.
As for ‘reconcilliation’, well I think Catlover has already given you a very clear explanation of why that process hasn’t even begun yet and won’t, unless there’s a huge shift in attitude on the side of Rigpa and those who are still devoted students of Sogyal. Going on past experience, I have never believed that can happen and to date I haven’t seen anything to change my opinion.
If I’m right, then it certainly won’t be because of any lack of effort and good faith on the side of those here and elsewhere who sincerely want it to happen and are doing as much as they can to initiate it.
I don’t include myself in that: I’m interested in healing, but reconcilliation with people who aren’t honest enough to admit there’s a problem isn’t something I’d waste my time on. One-sided reconcilliation doesn’t make any sense, it’s actually forgiveness and in this case, much too Christian for me. Turning the other cheek is a kind of abdication of collective moral responsibility, it’s just inviting another slap and increasing the chance of someone else getting one too.
I hope that helps answer your question.
Thank you for your reply it did help, and will need a little time to ponder on what you’ve said. To me it seemed some of the 8 wouldn’t rest until specific people were out of the organisation, that has happened, so the majority of people people indirectly deeply affected now are Rigpa students. As a note I’m in no way saying turn the other cheek. There is no reason to turn the cheek … I’m talking about being heard l, what happened to the Olive branch thing in US, I don’t understand what has been done on either side to make reconciliation possible, ordinary folk wouldn’t get to hear that and mostly it’s difficult to trust everything you read on the web.
I see no “healing and reconciliation” in the hell-fire talk and excuses from fundie “Buddhists” who are telling everyone to shut up about abusive lamas. True reconciliation would be a sincere apology, followed by real action to stop the abuses and clean up their act. I see NONE of that happening. I just see smoke and mirrors, denial, excuses, non-apologies, and lack of sincere motivation.
What? What is your point?
‘Hear, hear is an expression used as a short, repeated form of hear him. It represents a listener’s agreement with the point being made by a speaker.’
What you’re talking about is fringe blogging nothing to do with anyone in Rigpa and let’s face it could be set up by anyone to be detrimental to Buddhist organisations – writing things nobody in Rigpa would say, I’m
getting very untrusting of this group as not feeling particularly able to have an open healthy discussion, it seems that distraction/destruction is all that’s wanted here, which says far more about this group than it does students of any other Buddhist organisation, I’m just glad I will never know what it feels like to want to destroy! If you can’t hear one person with a different mantra, I would say Rigpa is doing really well connecting with so many in the movement to change.
“I’m just glad I will never know what it feels like to want to destroy!”
Destroy what? The lamas are destroying their own reputation with their own behavior, through their own actions, and through their own silence and their condoning of abusive behaviors. What you’re seeing on this blog is disgust from people who witness this display of a lack of morality and character. There is no point in destroying something that is already imploding from within, nor is there any desire to “destroy” anything. There is only a desire to see an end to blind adoration of these fake “spiritual” guides, and a quest to find out if there are any who may be the real deal. All that’s happening is that the ugly side of a religious institution is finally coming under scrutiny, and it’s about time! It happens to all corrupt institutions eventually. It all boils down to impermanence…..and karma. The lamas have certainly created an abundant supply.
I made no mention of ‘if it bothers you so much that lamas would be asked to simply clarify what is acceptable in Vajrayana’ you did – as I said distraction. I wasn’t talking about the letter as haven’t read it nor am I likely to, as can’t see how this type of ‘round robin’ communication style serves any beneficial purpose at all
Stay blind then if you don’t read.
You must really be afraid of something if it bothers you so much that lamas would be asked to simply clarify what is acceptable in Vajrayana. I have always wanted to hear such clarification. If they can’t do such a simple task, then why should anyone even want to go to them for advice or guidance?
I have been following this blog since it began, since I’m a long-time practitioner and am concerned about the issues that have arisen in large, influential sanghas.
I am so deeply saddened by the harm that has been caused and experienced. I am glad to see these sanghas attempting to grapple with it — even if some see it as inadequate. I am also glad to see these conversations about harm occurring. It’s important that people know what can happen when things go astray. I hope with all my heart that all posting here, as well as all those affected, will find healing as soon as possible. I also sincerely hope that as a sangha member I will not perpetuate or cause harm such as this.
May you all be happy, free from suffering, and never separated from great equanimity. May the activities here only lead to benefit and may all harm be thwarted.
I am no fan of Sogyal or Mipham, or their organizations. However, in a letter like this, I feel it would have been more productive to ask such questions in a more general way, e.g. “What does Buddhism teach about a guru who physically abuses a disciple?” or “When is it okay for a guru to have sex with a disciple?” As it stands, the letter reads more like an invitation for unrelated gurus to pile onto the anti-Sogyal bandwagon, and most will probably be reluctant to get involved. I am also concerned that by focusing on these particular targets, other lamas who are equally deserving of criticism (coughcoughDzongsarcoughcough) will be off the hook. Anyway, this should be a discussion of principles, not of particular cases. I’m afraid the petition obscures this.
@beidawei, the question was in reference to how lamas felt about specific “behaviors”– because this will be the first time a Tibetan translation of the letter written by the eight will be seen. So, it is likely to be the first time that lamas are exposed to the full description of his behaviors. So in that regard, I think a response could be helpful.
However, I do understand what you are saying and you have a point. However, in this regard, I also think it is time for lamas themselves to be digging deep into questions about how they can be more skillful and trustworthy with Westerners. So I don’t think the responsibility is entirely on our shoulders how we frame this.
Actually, you may have a really good point about the way the letter is worded. I think the lamas might be more likely to give a more truthful answer if the questions had been worded in the more general way that you describe. Of course, it would be important to include “What does *Vajrayana* Buddhism teach….” rather than just “What does Buddhism teach….” because it’s the special Vajrayana rules that need to be clarified. We all know what basic Buddhism teaches about these subjects, and we wouldn’t want to give them a way to slip out of saying what they think Vajrayana teaches by focusing on what the sutric paths teach. What is more ambiguous is what the Vajrayana and Dzogchen teach on these subjects, so one would want to get them to address that specifically.
As for DKR, he has already given his statements, more than once, so we already know what he thinks. There’s no point in asking him again, but you’re right that he deserves scrutiny too, as well as others who are just like him.
“Anyway, this should be a discussion of principles, not of particular cases. I’m afraid the petition obscures this.”
However, I also think it’s important to know what they think of specific lama’s bad behavior, since Sogyal and Mipham are examples of that kind of behavior at its worst. So where does one find a balance between mentioning those particular individuals, or just trying to get a truthful answer out of them about Vajrayana in general?
Hello to all,
I would like to sign this e mail, but on the section Sign here
Use the following form to let us know if you want to sign, but please don't add your name here if you have already given it to someone else for this purpose.
I couldn't find the possbibility to sign.
would like to sign this letter to the lamas and would be grateful to get a tip for signing.
Daniel Utecht from Berlin – Germany, Rigpa Sangha
Gesendet: Sonntag, 21. Oktober 2018 um 06:56 Uhr Von: "WHAT NOW?" <email@example.com> An: firstname.lastname@example.org Betreff: [New post] An Email to Lamas
Moonfire posted: "Do any of you want to sign this email some of us are sending to as many lamas as we can think of and find email addresses for? It's going out at the end of the month so they'll get it before the meeting with HHDL in late November. The aim is to encourage "
Daniel, where it says “sign here” above you will see your name or ID in a box. Make sure that’s the name you want to sign as, then tick in the box where it says “please add my signature to the email to lamas.” Then click “submit.” That should do it.
And just to make sure, I have added your name to the list I am making by hand from Facebook groups.
Hope that’s clear 🙂
highly surprised to see that Namkha Rinpoche is part of the list ???!
Himself abused of severe sexual abuse during many years of encounter with western students.
“Rigdzin Namkha Gyatso Rinpoche is the name of the Tibetan lama in Lausanne sued by former student.
From SogyalTruth on Twitter:
Now we can add Namkha Rinpoche to the list of ill-named “Rinpoches” after Sogyal and Sakyong Mipham. We can also celebrate a brave woman who has spoken out to denounce him. This recent article from the Austrian press refers to all three lamas.”
With all due respect, I think this is a really terrible idea. I’m sorry for those who have been abused, traumatised, those who have been hurt and whose faith is now shaken. There is much to be done about what happened in Rigpa and Shambhala, but I really don’t think this is a constructive step in that process. I get that the intentions are good, but trying to publicly force people to speak on something that is not directly related to them, and then judging how/if they respond, reeks of bullying and entitlement. Those in positions of authority within Rigpa and Shambhala had an obligation to speak publicly, that obligation doesn’t extend to every Tibetan lama.
If you have a student/teacher relationship with a guru, he/she has not spoken about it, and that is an issue for you, then it is perfectly acceptable to go to him/her, to tell them your worries, ask why they haven’t spoken, and ask if they will. It’s then up to them if they wish to respond or not, and up to you, as their student, to decide what their response means to you. If there are a few in your sangha who feel that way, you can go to them together, and tell them that many of you feel strongly about this.
What seems to be the absolutely wrong approach is the entitled viewpoint of expecting a huge list of lamas, with no direct involvement, to speak publicly about a situation they weren’t involved in, in many cases occurred in a direct country, in a different sangha and even a different lineage to their own. Tibetan buddhism is not some monolithic organisation, lamas are responsible to themselves, their own teachers and to their own students, they are not responsible for everything some other Tibetan who also calls himself a teacher does. I don’t worry that a business may be ok with fraud just because the CEO hasn’t chosen to speak out against certain other CEOs that did commit fraud. If they chose to speak out about it on their own terms, and raise awareness of it, then that’s great, I would support it, but they should not be publicly cajoled into doing so.
Those on the list are perfectly entitled to deal with the whole situation however they see fit. Perhaps many have spoken to their students about it, e.g. those they are actually responsible to, but don’t see it as their place to be writing to the nameless crowd online about it. Trying to get large numbers of people unconnected to the lamas to petition them, and make it look like it is a fault of theirs for not responding online is entirely unfair.
The fact is Buddhism, and Vajrayana in particular, does teach extensively on what to look for in a teacher, how to assess them, and tells you to do so extensively. The commentaries teach repeatedly on this. Every teacher I’ve had has talked about it, long before the most recent scandals came out. What matters in Vajrayana Buddhism is your relationship with your own guru. If the Rigpa/Shambhala abuses have rocked your relationship with your guru, you need to talk to them about it, it’s between you and them. Whether a bunch of other lamas that you only know about through the internet, or have sat in front of once or twice in a public teaching, have said something online doesn’t matter one iota. Develop confidence in your own guru, do what you need to sustain/restore that confidence. If you don’t have a guru, do what you need to do to assess one that appeals to you. If you personally need one who’s spoken publicly about these issues, go to those lamas. If you’d be satisfied just with their personal reassurance, go and ask them about it. If they can’t satisfy you, they can’t satisfy you, but don’t go in with demands and expectations.
All this letter will accomplish is to further diminish the confidence of lamas in Western students, and their ability to take responsibility for themselves as serious Vajrayana practitioners. What other benefit will there be? Most won’t speak, then many students will be put off without having personally assessed that lama, probably quite unfairly. Turning people away from the Dharma and good teachers is to everyones detriment. A few might release a short statement, but what real benefit is a few lines on the internet, when if there is an unscrupulous, unqualified person on the list, calling themselves a lama, they could just as easily do the same. If you want to go to any of those lamas as a student, you will still need to do exactly the same extensive evaluation of each other as student/teacher, whether they respond to this letter or not.
@ C. Thanks for your post.
Perhaps a relevant conversation between Bruno Latour and Michel Serres
BL Let’s talk now about “philosophies of suspicion.”
“To press home my plea to dispense with judging, let me say a
word about the philosophies that, seen from afar, made me run
in the opposite direction — although they occupied my contempo-
raries, fascinating them for a long time. These are the philoso-
phies Paul Ricoeur classified in the order or class of “suspicion.”
I was turned off for two reasons. For one, these philosophies
took up a position like spying, like looking over the shoulder of
someone with something to hide. This position immediately in-
vokes a third person, who in turn looks over the shoulder of the
second, who now is also under suspicion, and so on, ad infinitum.
This argument, a renewed version of the third man, opens up a
vista of ongoing cunningness, like a succession of policemen and
felons. As a result, philosophy becomes like a police state; in fact,
every police force requires another police force to police it. When
a policing body is looking over a person’s shoulder, assessing his
heart and innermost workings, are we to suppose that this policing
body has neither a shoulder of its own, nor heart, nor innermost
workings? This launches us into a “detective” logic. And the best
detective is the one who is never interrogated, who places himself
in a position beyond suspicion.
The critic’s ultimate goal is to escape all possible criticism, to
be beyond criticism. He looks over everyone else’s shoulder and
persuades everyone that he has no shoulder. That he has no heart
He asks all the questions so that none can be asked of him.”
C I think the situation here demands more than simply business as usual and putting all the responsibility on students. The Vajrayana was and still is being used by teachers to justify Sogyal’s behaviors. Many teachers who have supported Sogyal Lakar are continuing to support him and have made no comments on his behaviors. He is continuing to teach in Rigpa from a distance, with their support it seems. In this regard, ex-Rigpa students are feeling uncertain if they can move on within Tibetan Buddhism. We are unclear where the boundaries lie. This is totally understandable. Yes, there are teachings on the qualifications of an authentic teacher available. However, much of Sogyal Lakar’s behaviors were not visible to the mainstream of students. So what is needed is more transparency and that is what is being asked for in this letter.
In the letter, we refer lamas to Mingyur Rinpoche’s article in Lion’s Roar. If you read this article, you will see skillful means at its best. He doesn’t name or shame any lama, but speaks in clear terms about the caution students need to use and about harm being harm. It is an example for lamas to follow who are uncomfortable with naming names.
Right now, there is a dangerous shade of grey happening in many Western Tibetan Buddhist centers about right and wrong in the context of lama devotion. I have seen it in centers where there is no visible abuse occurring– but the ground for abuse to occur is still present. I think in the current situation where many have been harmed and many are now struggling with their spiritual paths, it is perfectly legitimate to ask for greater transparency and commitment to ethical standards from lamas.