Update on the Saga of Dagri Rinpoche’s Sexual Abuse

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:With_Dagri_Rinpoche.jpg

Below is the update posted by the group of FPMT senior nuns who set up the petition asking for an investigation in the allegations of abuse by Dagri Rinpoche of the FPMT. Also see the article on this on the Buddhism Controversy blog .

The FPMT are managing this much better than Rigpa in that they admit what he has done and apologise. In the update of Nov 20th, they say, ‘We accept that, according to the standard applied by FaithTrust Institute, Dagri Rinpoche committed sexual misconduct, which also qualifies as spiritual abuse given his position as a spiritual teacher’, and at the end they say they ‘apologise again to the victims for the suffering experienced’. Rigpa couldn’t even manage that much.

 In October, 2019 the FPMT Board hired FaithTrust Institute (FTI) to conduct an independent fact-finding assessment of allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of Dagri Rinpoche. A confidential mailbox was set up so anyone who experienced or witnessed harm by Dagri Rinpoche could make a report.

·      On Sept. 19, 2020, FaithTrust delivered to the FPMT Board the final report of their almost year-long assessment, and the FPMT Board promised to publish the FaithTrust summary report within 30 days (i.e. by Oct. 19). 

·      That date came and went without any report being published. We learned that the FPMT Board planned to publish their report on Nov. 6, but that plan was reversed at the last minute, with no explanation given.

·      On Nov. 9, the women who reported the allegations, with the help of an Advocacy Group, sent an email to many Dharma friends and centers, asking them to write to the FPMT Board and request them to release the report. This email included their own report on some of the allegations. You can read this report here: https://storage.ning.com/topology/rest/1.0/file/get/8160341693?profile=original

·      Between Nov. 6-12, the majority of the members of the FPMT Board resigned.

·      On Nov. 13, the FPMT Board posted an update on their website about the findings of the assessment, and stating “we accept that, according to the standard applied by FaithTrust Institute, Dagri Rinpoche committed sexual misconduct, which also qualifies as spiritual abuse given his position as a spiritual teacher. We have unanimously determined that the temporary suspension of Dagri Rinpoche from the list of registered FPMT teachers (from which FPMT centers can choose to invite to provide Dharma teachings) is now permanent.”

·      You can read the full FPMT update here: https://fpmt.org/fpmt-community-news/statement/nov-13-2020-update/

We wish to reiterate that our motivation for this petition and campaign was not to damage the reputation of Dagri Rinpoche or any other Lama, nor to interfere with the virtuous activities of the FPMT. On the contrary, we wish to create the causes and conditions for the Buddha-Dharma to flourish throughout the world and benefit as many people as possible. But in this degenerate age when people are losing faith in leaders and in social and religious institutions, it is of great importance to reaffirm personal and institutional integrity. Without this, trust disintegrates and ethical conduct drastically declines. In addition, the loss of trust in spiritual leaders will damage Buddhist followers for many lifetimes.

And just to be clear: the report of the women’s allegations mentioned above was not written by us, but by the women themselves, together with the Advocacy Group, whose names appear at the end of the letter.

We are pleased that the FPMT Board conducted an impartial independent investigation as we requested. We are also pleased that after this investigation, it has accepted the truth of the allegations, acknowledged that Dagri Rinpoche’s behavior towards these women constituted both sexual misconduct and spiritual abuse, and clearly stated that such behavior is unacceptable. We request the FPMT to now fulfill its commitment and publish the complete and unedited summary report prepared by Faith Trust.

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Update from the FPMT Nov 21

https://fpmt.org/fpmt-community-news/statement/nov-20-2020-update/

In our last announcement on November 13, we stated we would publish “a summary report on the fact-finding assessment” into the claims of misconduct by Dagri Rinpoche “after we complete our remaining work with FaithTrust Institute.” 

We received a DRAFT of the Summary Report last month (October 2020), and we had hoped and expected to have the opportunity to contribute to the draft with FaithTrust Institute (FTI).  However, FTI  has recently informed us that they consider their work for FPMT Inc. to be completed. 

Therefore, as we had committed and in a spirit of complete and utter transparency, FPMT Inc. is releasing the complete, unedited draft of FTI’s Summary Report to you now. 

It is essential to note that FPMT does not agree with some of the points included by FTI in their Draft Summary Report. 

We will be providing a further update explaining and clarifying our main concerns about this Summary Report.  These comments will in no way call into question all that we acknowledged in our previous statement. We will also update about the work we are already doing, and still need to do, to fulfil the recommendations.

We want to take this opportunity to apologise again to the victims for the suffering experienced.

DRAFT Summary Report from FaithTrust Institute

Are We Really Helpless or Do We Just Think We Are?

If you’re anything like me, you’d like to see a world where everyone genuinely respects and cares for everyone else (including the earth and all its inhabitants), a world where ethical integrity is valued more highly than fame, fortune, pleasure or power, and where objective truth is valued as the basis of our shared reality – even though we know we see it through our own subjective lenses. And if you’re like me, then you’re willing to do your bit to help bring about such a world.

But when the world doesn’t move in this direction as much or as fast as we’d like it to, when our leaders are heartless, selfish people who pray at the temples of fame, fortune, pleasure and power, and whose policies speed us ever faster towards the extinction of the world as we know it, we can easily feel helpless, depressed and anxious. And we can give up.

But are are as helpless as we think?

In the last post I shared a video on how I handle feelings of helplessness, and the surprising thing is that how I process such feelings leaves me not feeling so helpless after all. Not only because I ‘feel’ more powerful after connecting to the vast clarity of my mind, but also because once I’ve got out of my helpless state, I find that even on a practical level, I have achieved more than I thought, or I can do more than I thought I could. A refreshed mind allows me to find fresh inspiration. And when I realise/remember just how intimately everything is connected, I see truths and possibilities where I couldn’t see them before.

Abuse in Tibetan Buddhism

Despite all our outrage, all out efforts, Tibetan Buddhism hasn’t changed – at least not that I can see. Rigpa, in setting up a code of conduct and grievance procedure, has appeared to make a few concessions to the idea that non-vajrayana students, at least, should be safe from abuse. But that code makes it clear that within Rigpa, once you’ve agreed to a vajrayana relationship with a teacher, you’ve consented to whatever is involved in that teaching. Sogyal thought his abuse was ‘teaching’ vajrayana students, and those running Rigpa thought the same thing – myself included, until I realised I’d been brainwashed. Rigpa international management have not admitted that Sogyal abused people, have not apologised for their enabling of the abuse, nor stopped gaslighting their students into thinking they’ve changed when, in reality, they’ve held tight to their fundamental belief that Sogyal was a crazy wisdom master of the highest calibre.

Shambala, despite some abusers facing legal action, is back to business as usual, and NKT has been carrying on for some time. Other instances of abuse in other sanghas have come to light and the pattern is the same: the lamas support each other no matter what they do. When an abuser is called out, they speak of how realised and precious he is, and they assume that the victim was not adequately prepared for or is not suited to vajrayana. If there is any fault, it’s because we Westerners don’t get it! That’s the usual refrain. The religion is stuck in superstition and feudalism.

So we could be forgiven for thinking that we had no effect. And a sense of powerlessness or hopelessness over our inability to make change would be an understandable reaction.

But those of you who spoke out about abuse in your sangha, (such as the eight Rigpa students who wrote the letter in July 2017 that exposed Sogyal’s abuse) have had an enormous positive effect on a lot of people. Though many of us were resistant at first, you opened our eyes with your persistence in sharing the truth. You educated us. And though the religion may not have changed in any obvious way, the ripples you set in motion are still moving underneath the surface. By educating students on the dangers of the teacher-student relationship as it appears in Tibetan Buddhism, you’ve changed the teacher-student dynamics for many students, and in a religion where that relationship is such a central pillar of the teachings and practice, that’s huge. We can’t see the changes yet, but they’re happening all the time. It’s as impossible for your words and activities not to contribute to change as is for change to not occur in every moment in the world.

The pattern is that we speak, then when we’ve expended our voice, we fall silent, and perhaps our interest leads us elsewhere, but others who’ve heard our voices take over the speaking. And so the ripples of awareness lead ever outwards from the first word spoken out in disgust. Every word we say has power far beyond the moment in which we speak. And our actions even more so.

I only feel helpless about this when I forget how intimately we’re all connected. The truth is that, though it sometimes doesn’t appear that way, we have made a difference. Every one of you who even knows in your own heart that the abuse in TB is wrong has made a difference, simply by knowing that and by trusting your own knowing.

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Image by Capri23auto from Pixabay

Climate Change

When my property was threatened by wildfire in January 2020, I felt truly helpless. I lived with that feeling of helplessness for a while, and so I became very familiar with it. But I was determined not to repress that feeling, and eventually it pushed me to find some way to ‘do something’. I researched what I could do as an individual to help in the effort to save our planet from human-made destruction, and I found plenty. The most comprehensive list had 101 things you can do to help stop climate change.

Click to access 101-things-you-can-do-climate-change_1.pdf

Though the effect of one family or business lowering their carbon footprint is very little on its own, the effects of many families and businesses doing what they can cannot be discounted. It’s easy to give up because you feel helpless, even easier to give up if you think you’re helpless to make a difference, but it’s only when you do nothing, that you’re truly helpless.

The greatest threat to our planet’s health is apathy.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

I live a low carbon lifestyle anyway – I live off the grid, completely on solar power, with just a little bit of gas as back up – so all that advice on what ordinary people can do to help stop climate change I’m pretty much already doing. It’s been how I’ve lived for a long time. But I really wanted to do more. For my mental health I needed to do more – I was suffering from eco-anxiety – and so I found a way. My feeling of helplessness demanded it of me .

So my family and I undertook to make our property more resilient against drought and bushfire, and to increase its contribution to offsetting carbon emissions. We put in larger water systems – including roof sprinklers – and planted around 20 trees and many understory plants to make a permaculture food forest, which besides making us less dependent on supply chains for our food also sequesters carbon in the soil. It becomes a carbon sink.

Yes, a fire could burn down all those fruit trees I planted – though fruit trees are less inclined to burn than eucalypts – but there’s no point in worrying about that because that’s something I really can’t do anything about. Nor is there any point in not planting an orchard just because there’s a chance it might burn down – just as we don’t not cross a road because we might be hit by a car!

We might not be able to personally stop the coal-fired power stations spewing out their Co2 – so no use being unhappy about that – but we can lower our carbon footprint and we can even help reverse climate change by turning our lawns and gardens into carbon sinks. But we can only do that if we stop thinking it’s all hopeless.

Kiss the Ground: a truly nurturing solution

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https://www.netflix.com/au/title/81321999

I recommend watching the Netflix documentary titled Kiss the Ground. It stops you feeling helpless about climate change because regenerating our soil so that it naturally sequesters carbon in the soil will not only stop climate change worsening, it will also wind it back! And we can all help simply by:
– Stopping using synthetic fertilisers and pesticides on our lawns and gardens;
– Leaving our lawns to grow longer & leave the ‘weeds’ in it. Better still plant some clover to it to make it a multispecies area;
– Turning as much of our property as we can (even if it’s just a balcony) into a biodiverse garden. Imagine all those suburban lawns and gardens managed to maximise their ability to sequester carbon. That’s a lot of land area;
– Composting your food scraps and garden waste (why wouldn’t you?) and put it on your garden. According to modelling by Project Drawdown, worldwide adoption of composting could reduce emissions by 2.3 billion tons over the next 30 years – as well as help us feed the world on less land by boosting soil productivity;
– Planting lots of different species together so you have a polyculture of foodcrops and flowers in the same bed. Following the permaculture food forest system will sequester lots of carbon. Google it.
– Covering any bare ground with mulch.
– Spreading the word. Get your neighbours doing the same.

“There is so much we can do ourselves [to sequester carbon], in whatever space we have. If we all did it, imagine the impact that would have!” Botanist Ginny Stibolt, co-author with landscape architect Sue Reed of the practical guide Climate-Wise Landscaping.

Anyway, if you’re feeling helpless about climate change, if you think we can’t reverse it, watch Kiss the Ground.

Click here for some written back up on the matter.

Governmental ignorance

It’s easy to feel that we’re helpless to change a government that doesn’t share our vision for the world because we’re only one vote, but lots of votes together can kick out a government. Even if it’s not this time. Then next time. Or the time after that. Sometimes things have to get really bad before people will wake up.

We can’t all be activists, but we can all speak with others, and it’s not just what we say or do that has an effect, it’s how we are, what we believe in. And anything we say or do that inspires others to a wholesome vision for the world contributes to creating that vision. Small or large, obvious or hidden, makes no difference; the point is that you have an effect simply by being you. A positive outlook has a positive effect on the world.

In democracies, we have a vote. Be grateful for that and use it. It may be only a small way to help, but it is a way. Our vote will only be pointless if we don’t use it.

Both helpless and not helpless

We have little effect as a single person to change things for the better on the macro level, and that makes us feel helpless. But dwelling on that feeling of helplessness (as distinct from acknowledging it and allowing it to pass naturally) closes us off to the power we have to effect change on the micro level. And since the macro level is made up of lots of units at the micro level, we do actually have more power to bring about change than it appears if we’re only looking at the macro level.

Think of it in Buddhist terms:

On the conventional level of reality, we appear helpless to make significant change, but that’s just how things appear, not how they truly are. In truth, everything exists interdependently, which means that we are so intimately connected to everything else, we have far more power to bring about change than we perceive on the conventional level.

How to we access this power? By meditating until we learn to recognise and remain in the absolute level/ true nature of our mind – that wide-open, clear and inherently loving space of mind, the level of mind where your connection to everything is no longer theory, but something you know with every fibre of your being. In that state, your intention alone has power, even without ‘doing’ anything. That power may manifest as providing you with new inspiration to actually do something in the conventional world, or it may be sensed as light and/or sound frequencies that naturally manifest from your deepest being.

And in true vajrayana fashion, you can use that inner light as a vehicle for sending out specific visualisations to manifest in the world. After all, everything has that clear light. Everything is that clear light. Once plugged into that level of reality, we’re connected to it all, and so we’re no longer helpless to bring about change.


I love to hear your comments, so please share your thoughts.

Have you watched Kiss the Ground? What did you take away from it?

Feel Helpless? Good. That Means You’re Feeling!

I recently recorded a video in which I shared what I do when I feel helpless. I shared it because I figure that I’m not the only one feeling helpless, at least occasionally, when we look at the world situation, particularly climate change and the dire predictions for our future. In the video I share how the way I deal with such an emotion takes me from a place where I feel helpless to a place where I realise that I’m not actually as helpless as I think I am. In the video that’s a kind of esoteric place – for want of a better word – but that’s not the end of the story. What I find interesting is how the sense of empowerment gained through working with an emotion in that way can help me find ways to help on the level of action in the physical world.

Emotions in Buddhism & Rigpa

This story begins with allowing myself to truly feel that helplessness, trusting the wisdom in that and allowing the results of feeling deeply to naturally unfold. Too often in the past, I’ve given no credence to my emotions and not taken note of their message. Aspects of Buddhism can be misused or misunderstood in a way that diminishes the importance of paying attention to our emotions.

There’s a lot of helpful advice and teachings in Buddhism about dealing with emotions in a way that trains us not to get caught up in them, but if we’re someone who comes to Buddhism with a childhood training in repressing emotions, then these teachings can be used to continue that repression – especially if it’s in the interest of your teacher to stop you from listening to or acting on what you emotions are telling you.

In Rigpa, for instance, we were trained to watch Sogyal abuse others without having a reaction. If something ‘arose’ in us in reaction to his bullying, we were taught to ignore it, told to just ‘let it go’. Never were we allowed to consider that that feeling might have an important message for us – like, ‘Hey, wake up; this guy is abusing those people.’ No; emotions were to be mistrusted. Essentially, we were taught to ignore our emotions and see their expression as an indication of a lack of spiritual progress.

That isn’t what the Buddha actually taught, however. The basic meditation instructions are to neither repress nor indulge thoughts and emotions, but to simply watch and they will naturally pass. Some teachers – such as Tsoknyi Rinpoche – teach you to acknowledge feelings as part of the process of letting them go. In Rigpa, that part was missed out, and so ‘letting go’ easily became pushing them away or squashing them.

The mindfulness of feeling is an important part of Buddhist training, but it wasn’t something we spent much time on in Rigpa. We learned about it, practiced it for a bit and then ignored it, probably because having us all aware of our feelings wouldn’t serve Sogyal’s purpose. More of us would have left earlier had we listened to the feeling in our gut telling us that what we saw wasn’t kindness; it was verbal abuse.

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Having emotions doesn’t mean you’re stupid

Even this wise quote from Shantideva can make you think – if you’re someone with a tendency to repress – that being unhappy is a problem. That you’re stupid because you’re unnecessarily feeling helpless or sad or whatever.

“Why be unhappy about something if it can be remedied? And what is the use of being unhappy about something if it cannot be remedied?”

Shantideva. Chapter 6, vs 10 of Bhodicharyavatara

I know that quote well. I’ve used it as a guide ever since I first heard HH Dalai Lama say it. It’s very useful in reminding us that there are simply some things that we can do nothing about, and accepting that fact is necessary for our own happiness. I can’t help vote Trump out and that doesn’t make me feel helpless, and I can’t stop a wildfire racing towards me, but that does make me feel helpless, no matter how pointless that feeling is according to Shantideva.

So to break out of the tendency to repress, I need to remember that it’s okay to feel something uncomfortable or even get upset, and HH Dalia Lama demonstrates this – I saw him weeping on a video when he heard about the way some teachers were abusing their students. I have to remind myself that it’s not only okay to feel however you feel, it’s also healthy and even wise – if you pay attention; it’s not foolish if it’s over something you can’t do anything about.

I can’t do anything about Trump, but I can still weep for all those people who died because of his negligence. If it throws me into a deep depression, that’s something else, but if we have a way to express our feelings in a healthy way – even if it is over something we can do nothing about – then they will naturally pass. It’s going over and over the same issue in our minds that will keep those emotions around and cause long term issues, not simply feeling it in the moment without indulging or repressing. And the feeling of it doesn’t mean you’re paralysed by it, not if you watch it with awareness, then it can lead to surprising realisations. Not allowing ourselves to feel, however, that is a problem. Now I’m learning the wisdom of acknowledging what I feel.

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

Breaking the pattern of repression

I have to consciously make an effort to pay attention and overcome my training from childhood and Rigpa in order not to rush to the ‘letting go’ stage. I have to allow myself to feel it and acknowledge it and then allow it go, rather than actively ‘letting it go’ which becomes more of a pushing it away. And if anyone suggests that there’s something wrong with me having a feeling of any kind, I have to remind myself that whatever I feel is okay, no matter what it is, and no matter what caused it. My psychologist emphasises this point – she also teaches the grounding techniques I mention in the video.

It’s interesting how insidiously the application of the teachings we received infiltrates our way of being. To overcome that warped application, we have to:
– know the actual teachings (neither indulge nor repress our emotions, and pay attention to them with mindfulness);
– understand in what way we were taught to apply them was twisted – it became repression/dissociation in the service of enabling an abuser;
– watch for negative attitudes – that displaying emotions indicates some lack of spiritual maturity – and habits – such as the habit of ignoring them – when they arise in ourselves;
– and notice when and how other’s reactions to our emotions affects us – perhaps making us feel bad about ourselves.

So that’s the background for this video. For me to be so public about feeling a feeling was quite a challenge.

Feeling helpless can lead to action

If you watched the video, you’ll see that the process of feeling and watching that feeling with awareness takes me to a place where I recognise that I’m not quite as helpless as I might feel. But even on a relative level, sometimes being unhappy about something that you think you can’t remedy pushes you to find a way to actually do something.

But since this post is long enough already I’ll go into that in my next post.

Does any of this resonate with you? What’s your relationship to your emotions these days? Has it changed since your time in Rigpa?

Art as Meditation & Contemplation

In this video I talk about creativity as a form of meditation, art as meditation, and personal art as a focus for contemplation. I talk about visual art and craft – including flower arranging – but it also applies to the performing arts, of course. And even to creating gardens and home decorating, anything where you can put aside your thoughts and tune into the deep well of creativity inside you, the creative mind that, in my experience, is the same as the ‘meditative’ mind.

I know quite a few in the Beyond the Temple community who find a refuge in creativity and who create art of some form. Some of them do use art as meditation and contemplation. I mention colouring in in the video, but I also know a painter, two photographers, several musicians and many who create beautiful gardens and homes or who simply appreciate looking at something beautiful.

As I see it, everything we do is self-expression, but by focusing on self-expression in the form of something that we find aesthetically pleasing, we nurture the light that is specifically ours and help it shine forth to lighten the darkness for others.

So, please, if you’re someone who creates and has a photo of the results that you can link to in the comments, please do. I think we can all gain inspiration from what others are doing to reclaim their spiritual life.

Do you do any conscious creating? Or use art making as meditation. If so, please tell us what you do and any special way you do it, and if you have any image or recording of it online, please put a link in the comments.

(You could also try right clicking on a Facebook photo, choose copy and see if you can paste it into your comment. )

What Shall We Talk About Now

Some of you will have already seen this video, but I’m posting it here so we can talk about it in a more ‘private’ setting, and also so more of you can see it and give me your ideas. As I say in the description for the video:

The Beyond the Temple community is primarily made up of people who have left a Buddhist cult like Rigpa or Shambala. In the past few years, we’ve made friends and deepened existing friendships based on our shared disgust with abusive lamas and the people and organisations that protect and enable them. Now, as we go on with our lives, and don’t want to talk about abuse anymore, we can still foster those relationships based our shared values as we look at the world around us and our shared experiences of creating our own spiritual path free of dogma.

It’s these shared values – and where we diverge – and challenges that we all face that can be the basis of on ongoing conversation. I really enjoyed our discussions about the lama abuse debacle and I’d love to see those lively conversations continue. I figure that if I just follow my inspiration, as I did with the Tibetan Buddhist failings that drew us together, then something worthwhile might come out of it.

These videos are part of my spiritual path – believe it or not – because I took a vow to live according to my deepest nature, and inspiration is that deepest nature guiding me.

And if you’re wondering about the change of name for the You Tube Channel and my Facebook page from Living in Peace and Clarity to Beyond the Temple. I tell you why in the video above.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, covid hair refers to the shaggy look some of us are getting because we’re not visiting the hairdresser. Are you letting your hair grow? Or not having it cut so often?

So this is me mulling over the question of what we can talk about now that we’re all pretty much over the Buddhist bullshit, but I’d like to hear what you think in the comments below.

Here’s one person’s suggestion for you to bounce off.


It would be nice to talk about ethical, psychological and philosophical topics that people struggle with in everyday life. Topic could be ‘what to do with a narcissistic colleague’ or ‘how to determine goals in your life’. I think you are good at bringing heavy subjects lightly, without compromising the seriousness. Ask viewers to give their opinion by commenting under the video. Take interesting answers and comments again as a starting point for another video. And so on. Maybe this will create a lively interaction between you and viewers. Together we gain more insight than worrying about things on your own.

S De Wijk Comment on the You Tube video.

So what would you like the Beyond the Temple community to talk about now? What questions and challenges are close to your heart?

Sexual Abuse framed by Faith or Belief

This is a topic we all know a lot about, yes? But it’s great to see Inform have a seminar on the issue.

The video below is a recording of the Inform seminar on: ‘Sexual Abuse framed by Faith or Belief – Exploring boundaries and contexts’ held on Wednesday 22 July 2020 7-8:30pm BST. The seminar considered the issue of sexual abuse occurring within religious contexts in hopes of identifying new ways of considering the problem and potential ways of mitigating harm.

See below the video for information about the content and speakers, but our Beyond the Temple friends Damcho and Mary participated in the seminar, so you may like to listen to their part if not the whole thing.

Michelle Tonkin/Damcho begins speaking towards the end of the 33rd minute, and Mary Finnigan starts speaking towards the end of the 42nd minute. Eileen Barker responds at 59:25.

Warning: Some of the information covered in this seminar is like to be upsetting or triggering for some. If this is the case for you, you could look up some of these specialist services : in the UK look at this resource list: https://www.bustle.com/p/13-resources… In the USA: https://www.rainn.org/national-resour… In Australia: https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/s…

If you are looking for other kinds of support or help in a different geographical area, Inform may be able to point you in the direction of other support organisations. Send them an email at Inform@kcl.ac.uk and see www.inform.ac for more information.

Info

Many of the cults and new religious movements of the 1970s were assumed to be awash with abusive behaviour. However, high profile cases of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church have highlighted the pervasive potential of religious groups to be affected by behaviour understood as sexual abuse. This is a problem not confined to any particular religious context. The dynamics of sexual exploitation of minors have now been well explored and safeguarding frameworks are becoming more standard. Are there lessons that can be learned from working with children which can be applied to situations involving adults?

In many cases abuse appears to be incidental to the theological and ethical frameworks; in other cases, the sexual activity has explicit justification within a belief framework that is later framed as abuse by outsiders or ‘survivors.’ Does the framing of the behaviour make a difference for understanding the harm caused? To what extent are concepts like ‘spiritual abuse’, ‘fraud’ or ‘moral injury’ helpful in understanding the dynamics of adult sexual abuse in religious contexts?

Speakers and respondents

*Eileen Barker, professor emeritus of sociology with special reference to the study of religion, London School of Economics
*Leethen Bartholomew, head of the National FGM Centre at Barnardo’s
*Mary Finnigan, journalist and broadcaster – co-author with Rob Hogendoorn of Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism – the Rise and Fall of Sogyal Rinpoche.
*Amanda Lucia, associate professor, University of California-Riverside, USA
*Gordon Lynch, Michael Ramsey professor of modern theology at the University of Kent *Lisa Oakley, associate professor of applied psychology at University of Chester and chair of National Working Group for child abuse linked to faith or belief
*Michelle Tonkin, Rigpa whistle-blower and former Buddhist nun
*Theo Wildcroft, visiting fellow, The Open University and alt-ac.uk
*Belinda Winder, professor of Forensic Psychology at the specialist sexual crime unit at Nottingham Trent University
*Linda Woodhead, distinguished professor, department of politics, philosophy and religion, University of Lancaster

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

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

Featured image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Minding our own business – and Rigpa’s unfinished business…

Despite the recommendations of The Lewis Silkin independent investigation into Sogyal Rinpoche’s abuse and the ruling of the UK Charity Commission, Patrick Gaffney is teaching an online retreat for Rigpa.

The event is, perhaps aptly, called ‘Minding our own business’.

It’s a relevant question for us: why do we, who stepped away from Rigpa, still mind Rigpa’s business? Why not let them do their thing and get on with our lives?

The answer is simple: because Rigpa is still passing on the harmful beliefs that enabled the abuse that took place during decades in Rigpa. That’s the bottom line. If your belief is harmless and only concerns yourself, there’s no problem. However, if it could harm or endanger others, then there is a big problem.

How is it that Patrick Gaffney is teaching again? He – or Rigpa for that matter – never expressed any apologies for covering up the abuse. Nor did he or Rigpa International show any sign of understanding that covering it up was wrong. As far as I’m aware, Patrick never said something like: ‘I realise now that I have harmed people by letting Rinpoche carry on with his abusive behaviour, even though I was  aware of it – multiple times people came up to me and shared their experiences and concerns and sometimes I was present while the abuse took place. I was blinded by the belief in a ‘perfect’ teacher. I now realise that real harm has happened and that I have dodged my responsibility – not only as a Buddhist, but as a human being – to care for and protect my fellow human beings.’

No. He has not done that.

And yet he teaches Buddhism, a religion that has the doctrine of non-harming at its core.

The finding of the Charity Commission for England and Wales

The Charity Commission for England and Wales found that, “Mr Gaffney had knowledge of instances and allegations of improper acts and sexual and physical abuse against students at the charity. Mr Gaffney failed to take appropriate action in response to this information and is therefore responsible for misconduct and/or mismanagement in the administration of the charity.” 

As a consequence, Patrick Gaffney has been disqualified from being a trustee or senior manager of any charity in England and Wales. 

The Lewis-Silkin report’s findings and recommendations

The Lewis-Silkin report on the abuse mentions Patrick’s name (‘witness P.’) over a hundred times. Pages 25, 36, 43, and 45 give a good impression of his role in relation to Sogyal Rinpoche’s abuse. Here Karen Baxter, who conducted the research, speaks of manipulation of students, telling others that complainants should not be believed and pro-active covering up by Patrick.

The Lewis-Silkin report recommends, among other things:

“Rigpa leadership in each country (being the trustees or equivalent) and the Vision Board should, as necessary, be refreshed in order to ensure that its members are unconnected with the harmful events referred to in this report and so can credibly lead the programme of changes required”

Rigpa’s highest leadership role

In Rigpa the most senior role is that of teacher. By continuing to have Patrick Gaffney in such a high profile position – as one of the organisation’s main teachers – Rigpa is ignoring the Lewis Silkin report’s recommendations. This is despite a statement at the very top of the ‘Moving Forward’ page on the Rigpa website that says, ‘We acknowledge the gravity of the independent report and have committed to act on its recommendations.’ This, and the rest of the words on the page, suggest that they are following the recommendations, but Rigpa is clearly saying one thing and doing another.

Patrick Gaffney taking a teaching role in Rigpa seems like a complete denial of the seriousness and extremity of the abuse that took place. It is hard to take seriously their stated desire for ‘learning’, ‘healing’ and ‘reconciliation’ when there is such a blatant disregard for the report’s very-well-considered recommendations.

Another nail in the coffin of restorative justice

A few months ago, someone from Rigpa contacted Karen Baxter of Lewis Silkin, who did the independent investigation into Sogyal Rinpoche’s abuse and wrote the report, and asked her to invite all those who participated in the investigation to participate in a Restorative Justice program.

Restorative Justice is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behaviour.’ Sogyal Rinpoche is dead and so cannot repair the harm he did to his victims, but Patrick and the other senior Rigpa people mentioned in the Lewis Silkin Report as actively covering up the abuse are still alive. But they and Rigpa international have never admitted their and Sogyal Rinpoche’s criminal behaviour.

Requesting our participation in a program based on repairing the damage done by a crime without admitting that any crime occurred heaped further hurt on Sogyal Rinpoche’s victims. It appeared that – like with most of Rigpa’s actions since Sogyal Rinpoche’s abuse was revealed – the initiative was designed merely to make them look good. Patrick Gaffney’s teaching with blatant disregard for the LS report’s recommendations that Rigpa professes to be ‘implementing’ is a further insult. Especially with the chosen title suggesting that people (who might be inclined to comment) ‘mind their own business’.

A restorative justice program aims to get offenders to take responsibility for their actions, to understand the harm they have caused, to give them an opportunity to redeem themselves and to discourage them from causing further harm. For victims, its goal is to give them an active role in the process and to reduce feelings of anxiety and powerlessness.

Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restorative_justice

There can be no restorative justice without admission that a crime has been committed or while Patrick Gaffney or any of the others implicated in the cover up of Sogyal Rinpoche’s abuse has a teaching role in Rigpa.

Minding our own business

Some of the What Now? group wrote a letter to the Vision Board explaining all this. Fifteen (mostly ex-) Rigpa members signed it. The problem in getting more signatures wasn’t finding people who agreed with the content of the letter, it was finding co-signers who wanted to engage with Rigpa. Most people now have come to the conclusion that Rigpa isn’t really listening and isn’t really changing, and so it’s futile to engage with them anymore. People are stepping back.

The only thing left for us to do is warn others to stay away from Rigpa.

So now we’ll mind our own business again…until Rigpa’s unfinished business needs calling out again. 

Article by Sel Verhoeven and Tahlia Newland

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

How Do We Know What’s True? A major problem of our time

What brought this community together back in July of 2017 [under the name of What Now?] was our search for the truth about Sogyal Rinpoche/Lakar and his organisation, Rigpa. So it seems fitting that my first post after a period of silence is on the topic of truth, albeit in a more general application. Anyone who uses the internet has likely been touched by the avalanche of misinformation, outright lies and conspiracy theories, so much of this post won’t be news to you, but I have included copious links to some excellent articles that are well worth a read if you want the full grubby picture.

You may have noticed that the manipulation of people through the distortion of truth that we’re seeing in the world, particularly in the USA, is eerily similar to how we were manipulated in our cults. Scary shit, indeed. I’d love to hear in the comments how you handle this pandemic of misinformation and any experiences you have to share on the topic.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Given the amount of misinformation around, how do we know what’s true?

The proliferation of misinformation and people’s willingness to believe outright lies and unfounded theories is a major problem of our time. People no longer know what’s true. They don’t know what or who to believe, and when voters don’t know what’s true and politicians are manipulating them to further their own agendas, our democracies are severely compromised. So how do we know what’s true?

Social media is the tool for spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories. Misinformation can be propagated in all innocence by ordinary people, less innocently by people with a personal agenda, knowingly by those seeking power and influence over others, and even by a new breed of PR and marketing firms ‘ready to deploy fake accounts, false narratives, and pseudo news websites for the right price’. The result is the widespread, targeted manipulation of public opinion.

That’s us. You and me. Do you want to be manipulated? Do you like being manipulated?

Just like you were in your Tibetan Buddhist cult.

‘If disinformation in 2016 was characterized by Macedonian spammers pushing pro-Trump fake news and Russian trolls running rampant on platforms, 2020 is shaping up to be the year communications pros for hire provide sophisticated online propaganda operations to anyone willing to pay. Around the globe, politicians, parties, governments, and other clients hire what is known in the industry as “black PR” firms to spread lies and manipulate online discourse.’

Craig Silverman, Buzzfeed, Disinformation For Hire: How A New Breed Of PR Firms Is Selling Lies Online

The Buzzfeed article quoted above is vital but scary reading, not only because of the software that aims to manipulate people, but also because of the complete lack of morals of the people who create, sell and run the programs.

Even if we’re not being outright lied to as blatantly as Trump does it, our politicians are all involved in marketing and hire PR firms to run their social media campaigns . And what are marketing campaigns if not a way to manipulate people’s emotions such that they buy something we want them to buy—or vote for someone we want them to vote for? All marketing is selective in what they show the viewer and in how they present it.

Just like Rigpa, NKT and Shambala. They presented us with only the side of their gurus that they wanted us to see. Sogyal never missed a photo opportunity with HH Dalia Lama to help give him legitimacy. Perception can be skewed without outright lies. It can be done merely by cutting what doesn’t fit the narrative. It all depends on how you edit that clip!

Are the lies that bad?

Yes, they are. Trump, for instance, is gaslighting on such a scale that whole sections of the population subscribe to an alternate view of reality, even to the extent that they lose touch with reality.

McKay Coppins, reporter for the Atlantic, shares his experience of being targeted by the Trump campaign in an article titled The Billion-Dollar Disinformation Campaign to Reelect the President

‘There were days when I would watch, live on TV, an impeachment hearing filled with damning testimony about the president’s conduct, only to look at my phone later and find a slickly edited video—served up by the Trump campaign—that used out-of-context clips to recast the same testimony as an exoneration. Wait, I caught myself wondering more than once, is that what happened today?

As I swiped at my phone, a stream of pro-Trump propaganda filled the screen I was surprised by the effect it had on me. I’d assumed that my skepticism and media literacy would inoculate me against such distortions. But I soon found myself reflexively questioning every headline. It wasn’t that I believed Trump and his boosters were telling the truth. It was that, in this state of heightened suspicion, truth itself—about Ukraine, impeachment, or anything else—felt more and more difficult to locate. With each swipe, the notion of observable reality drifted further out of reach.’

Reality drifting out of reach is the result of gaslighting. And we, as ex-Rigpa cult members, have experienced gaslighting ourselves. We saw Rigpa’s guru abusing someone, then that person stood up before us and declared that it wasn’t abuse at all, but love. That was then reinforced by instructors and by the guru himself in subsequent teaching sessions. No, we were told, that wasn’t abuse, that was teaching through ‘crazy wisdom,’ an expression of great wisdom love. And we believed it. We trained ourselves to see it as love, not abuse, until such time as the full extent of the harm Sogyal was causing came crashing down on us and we woke up.

What will wake up those in Trump’s cult?

 Coppins continues: ‘What I was seeing was a strategy that has been deployed by illiberal political leaders around the world. Rather than shutting down dissenting voices, these leaders have learned to harness the democratizing power of social media for their own purposes—jamming the signals, sowing confusion. They no longer need to silence the dissident shouting in the streets; they can use a megaphone to drown him out. Scholars have a name for this: censorship through noise.’

We saw this in Rigpa, too, in the way they communicated, stating the party line at every opportunity and in every email and video so that those who pointed out an alternative view of events were simply drowned out. How can those who only listen to Rigpa’s version of events know what is actually true?

Trump’s campaign manager used social media to sway the 2016 election in the USA, and he’ll do it again if people don’t wake up to how they’re being manipulated.  Facebook does not fact-check their adverts, and why would they bother when adverts containing lies are not prohibited on Facebook.

 “Obviously the formula that they used in 2016 is something they’re going to try to duplicate in 2020, which is really the tactic of using social media to try to distort the truth and mislead the American people and con themselves back into the White House. “That’s part of the reason why he [Brad Parscale] was made the campaign manager. It shows how much of a priority their misinformation digital strategy is to the re-election campaign.”

Kurt Bardella, a former spokesman and senior adviser on the House of Representatives’ oversight committee quoted in Meet the Social Media Master who Could Win Trump a Second Term, David Smith, The Guardian US.

Making it worse is the double twist.

Donald Trump refers to the journalistic sources that I trust—ones that have long had integrity and a name for quality journalism and writing the truth—as spreaders of ‘fake news’. The New Yorker, the Atlantic and the Washington Post are his targets because they publish the truth, and the truth threatens Trumps lies – just as the truth about Sogyal threatens Rigpa’s angle on events.

Trumpism is a cult. His followers act like people in cults do. They believe whatever he says.

This double twist is like the bully at school declaring that his victim actually bullied him. ‘It wasn’t me, Miss,’ they used to tell me. Referring to the victim they’d say, ‘He bullied me.’ They tried to make me believe that they were the victim not the perpetrator. It’s the DARVO response: Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender. Trump declares that it’s not him that’s lying, but those who tell the truth.

No wonder people are confused.

Doctored images and the algorithms that spread them.

And you can’t even trust the images you see, not only in photographs but also in videos. You Tube is responsible for the spread of a lot of misinformation and conspiracy theories.

‘Fabricated videos will create new and understandable suspicions about everything we watch. Politicians and publicists will exploit those doubts. When captured in a moment of wrongdoing, a culprit will simply declare the visual evidence a malicious concoction.’

Franklin Foer, The Era of Fake Video Begins, The Atlantic

Conspiracy theories

We are presently experiencing not only a pandemic of covid-19, but also a pandemic of conspiracy theories about it.

‘As the coronavirus pandemic has unfolded, conspiracy theories about the origins, threat and basic nature of the virus have become an increasingly visible and consequential element of the timeline. Conspiracy theories have tangible consequences for individuals and society, especially when they are sanctioned by trusted members of society, such as political, business and religious leaders. They can decrease people’s willingness to get vaccinated or comply with social distancing directives; they can also negatively impact people’s view of scientific findings and political out-groups. That means a pandemic is an especially dangerous time for conspiracy theories.’   

Adam M. Enders and Joseph E. Uscinski, Conspiracy theories run rampant when people feel helpless. Like now. Washington Post

When some of my Facebook friends started sharing conspiracy theories as if they were truth, I re-evaluated who I considered a friend and pruned by friend list accordingly. Like cult members, you can’t convince someone who subscribes to a conspiracy theory that your sources of ‘truth’ are the truth, as they don’t trust your sources and you don’t trust theirs.

I admire those who can patiently engage with those who have fallen prey to misinformation, gaslighting or brainwashing and gently try to direct them towards the truth. Truth as in what actually happened or is happening before one right now—when viewed without the overlay of beliefs. Despite the viewer of any phenomena playing a role in how something manifests, events still do either happen or not happen. Facts are either verified by qualified people or not. Repeating a lie enough times does not make it true.

We can dismiss conspiracy theorists, but when they grow in numbers until they are a sizable portion of the voting public, then we’re in trouble. And we’re in double trouble when those in power feed the tendency, as we’re seeing in the USA today.

Trump’s logic

Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post compiled a list of 5,000 false or misleading statements Donald Trump made during his first 600 days in office.

James P. Pfiffner (a university professor in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University) wrote a paper titled The Lies of Donald Trump: A Taxonomy published on SSRN (an online database of early scholarly research) concluded that Trump’s lies are ‘detrimental to the democratic process, and that his continued adherence to demonstrably false statements undermined enlightenment epistemology and corroded the premises of liberal democracy.’

Knowing what’s true isn’t only vital for our own mental health, it’s also vitally important for the health of our societies and our democracies. Trump’s [illogical] logic is one followed by those most vulnerable to believing lies, fake news and misinformation. According to James P. Pfiffner, it goes like this:

  • Trump makes a false statement.
  • His followers believe it, and others hear it from a source credible to them.
  • When asked how he could make a claim with no evidence, Trump says “a lot of people agree” or “many people are saying.”
  • Trump’s logic: He makes a false claim; people believe him; Trump concludes it is true.

Trump isn’t the only one who thinks like this.

What can we do? Media literacy – methods for uncovering the lies

So what do we do when almost everything we read online (particularly social media) could be misinformation? We have to become aware of how we’re being manipulated, find out the truth and champion it. Just what we did with our TB groups.

We have to uncover the lies and make sure we don’t spread them. And for that we need to become media literate.

A Google search for ‘How do we know what’s true on social media’ will bring up many excellent articles that give us the kind of media literacy we need in order to not fall prey to manipulation online. To protect individuals and society, media and information literacy needs to be taught in schools.

‘The process and ability to be able to evaluate and separate fake news from real news is a part of media literacy and, on a broader level, information literacy.’

Enoch Pratt Library article

The following guide to uncovering fake news and misinformation is from the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions. It’s from a pdf you can download and print and pin on the wall for you and your family to refer to.

  • CONSIDER THE SOURCE: Click away from the story to investigate the site, its mission and its contact info.
  • READ BEYOND: Headlines can be outrageous in an effort to get clicks. What’s the whole story?
  • CHECK THE AUTHOR: Do a quick search on the author. Are they credible? Are they real? Do they have an agenda?
  • SUPPORTING SOURCES? Click on those links. Determine if the info given actually supports the story.
  • CHECK THE DATE: Reposting old news stories doesn’t mean they’re relevant to current events.
  • IS IT A JOKE? If it is too outlandish, it might be satire. Research the site and author to be sure.
  • CHECK YOUR BIASES: Consider if your own beliefs could affect your judgement.
  • ASK THE EXPERTS: Consult a fact-checking site – and check the site is legit.

I also recommend reading this detailed article on how to fight lies, tricks and chaos online by Adi Robertson on The Verge. His initial warning is something to take particular note of: ‘If a story grabs your attention for any reason, slow down and look closer.’ The very things that make you want to respond in horror and share immediately are the posts of which you need to be most cautious. The warning signs according to Robertson are:

  • You have a strong emotional reaction
  • A story seems totally ridiculous — or perfectly confirms your beliefs
  • You’re going to spend money because of it
  • You immediately want to amplify the story

Social media algorithms for what a media platform presents to you are all based on engagement. The more engagement a post gets, the more it gets shared, not just by people, but by the media platform itself. Those suggested videos in You Tube are the ones that cause the most ruckus. They are the ones that get lots of comments, get viewed a lot and get shared a lot, but the algorithms in all social media platforms do not ascertain whether or not the engagement is positive or negative. A video with thousands of comments saying that the video has no basis in fact will still be favoured in an algorithm that pushes what gets the most engagement. So if you have a strong reaction to a post, likely many others have had as well, and you may be seeing it simply because it is controversial, not because it’s true.

An article in The Conversation on the role of social media algorithms in the spread of conspiracy theories concludes that ‘The theory that social media algorithms lure people into conspiracy theories is difficult to definitively prove,’ due to the role of human behaviour and personal choice, but social media algorithms do favour the controversial and sensational, so use your strong emotional reaction as a warning sign.

And don’t forget to check if what you’re reading on Facebook is a ‘sponsored post’. A sponsored post is an advert. It’s a legitimate business tool, but it can also be used by anyone seeking to manipulate you for their own agenda – be particularly wary of political advertising. Remember that they only show you what they want you to see.

When your mind reels from all the nonsense

When I used an Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) article to back up something I said on Facebook, and a Facebook ‘friend’ told me that she didn’t see the ABC as a reputable news source, I was flabbergasted. What had she been reading? The ABC is the gold standard for news reporting in Australia. They don’t go in for sensationalism and they’re not privately owned nor under the control of the government. And their fact-checking service is excellent. I wondered who she’d list as a reputable source? Perhaps The Australian, Rupert Murdoch’s flagship newspaper? A paper known to have spread misinformation during the Australian Bushfires. (No, the majority of the fires were not started by arsonists!)

How can you know what’s true when the sources you use to tell you the truth are actually telling you lies? What if the one that you think is telling lies is actually telling the truth?  My head hurts just thinking about it.

At times like these, I look out the window, clear my mind of its conceptual and emotional filters and tune into reality as it actually is. Here. Now.

That little trick keeps me sane. It clears away the bullshit and grounds me in reality. [And I have to thank my many years of Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice for that skill.]

How do you stay sane in a world of lies?

Stay safe, everyone.
Tahlia

What is the Point of a Spirituality Divorced from the World?

I’ve noticed that just about everyone I know who has left a Tibetan Buddhist cult has moved more into the world than they did while a Tibetan Buddhist. During our decades of Tibetan Buddhist study and practice, we focused very much on ourselves and our own ‘spiritual progress’, despite the teachings on love and compassion where our focus was supposed to be on others.

Self-focused spirituality

The ‘logic’ behind that was that we can’t really help others until we have sufficient wisdom and compassion ourselves to know what is the wisest course of action. This makes sense to me to a degree, but I saw the result of taking this attitude to its extreme point just after the truth of Sogyal’s abuse became public knowledge. A friend, who is still a Rigpa devotee and who remained faithful to the idea of Sogyal as a Mahasiddha, told me that though he felt sad for those who ‘felt’ they’d been hurt, he couldn’t do anything to help them at the moment because his focus was on gaining enlightenment ‘for the sake of others’. He felt that at some time in the future, once he’d gained enlightenment, then he would be able to do what was wise and compassionate. In the meantime, he just carried on with his self-focus. This is the epitome of a spirituality that is so inwardly focused that it is completely divorced from the world.

Christians tend to do all sorts of charitable activities. Social engagement in order to help those who are struggling is part of the Christian way. But Buddhists are not known for social engagement or charitable works. They build temples and monasteries, not homeless shelters, and they spend years in retreat completely cut off from the world, focused on their own mind and their own spiritual development.

The effect of the monastic ideal

This idea that spiritual progress cannot happen without being separated from the world is a hang-over from the traditionally monastic nature of Tibetan Buddhism and of Buddhism itself. Buddhism began as a monastic religion – the Buddha’s followers renounced the world, shaved their heads, donned robes and took to the forest – and monasteries have remained an important part of Buddhism in all areas of the world. Ordinary householder Buddhists go to the temples to pray and meditate, but the attitude in Asian cultures is that if you’re serious about enlightenment, you become a monastic. You separate yourself from worldly life. You can practice meditation at home, of course, but the householder’s life is seen as inferior to the monastic one for those wishing to gain enlightenment.

Vajrayana is supposed to be a way to remain in the world while progressing spiritually, but completing the practices requires a huge commitment to retreat, to separating yourself from the world, in some form or other – even if it’s just spending several hours a day in meditation while otherwise trying to earn an income.

Spending time each day in contemplation or meditation is a wonderful thing, and so is taking time for a retreat, it’s one’s attitude once back in the world that can be problematic. If, while living in the world, one’s main focus is on one’s own spiritual progress – even if it’s supposedly for the sake of all beings – then one’s ability to engage with the world and to help those who need assistance will be compromised to some degree.

The effect of the bodhisattva ideal

Of course, we were all supposed to be trying to be Bodhisattvas. We were taught that wanting to achieve enlightenment for the sake of others was the ideal, and that to seek enlightenment for ourselves alone is an inferior and slower path that leads not to enlightenment but rather some look-alike state from which we still need to progress in order to gain full enlightenment.(As if the Buddha wouldn’t have taught a path to full enlightenment!) But in practice, how many of us truly, despite saying our bodhichitta prayers, were focused anywhere other than on ourselves and our own spiritual development? I didn’t see it until I stopped trying so hard to be a good little Buddhist.

The compassion practices are supposed to be focused outwardly, supposed to be caring for others more than ourselves, and many of us spent hours doing the compassion practices, but they all involved sitting on a cushion doing mental gymnastics rather than going onto the street and taking a homeless person out for a meal.

Don’t get me wrong, the mental gymnastics are a great preparation for acting with compassion in the world. The issue is that practitioners tend to not take their training in compassion that step further and actually use their supposedly opened hearts to bring benefit to the world beyond their prayers and practices.

Those who make the decisions in Rigpa at the international level, for instance, have shown themselves quite incapable of acting with genuine compassion towards those who Sogyal abused. Everything they try with the aim of ‘reaching out’ keeps them safely in their bubble of beliefs with no need for them to actually look at themselves or open themselves up to the reality of those they think they are ‘helping’. Their actions come from a sense of superiority, as if they are grandly doing something ‘to help’ the victims. But they have proved themselves incapable of hearing what Sogyal’s victims and their supporters have been saying to them.

The bodhisattva idea is a noble one, but if you’re fooling yourself that you have bodhicitta when you’re really just concerned with your own spiritual progress, or you use that ideal as an excuse not to engage with the world, then you’ve failed to understand – let alone realise – the teachings on compassion.

Can we wait until we’re all enlightened to lend a helping hand?

One doesn’t have to be enlightened to see that the first step in helping others is to actually ask what they need, and then provide that, not just deliver something you think will help. In order to help others, you need to understand their needs, and in order to do that, you have to engage with that person, to hear their concerns, open your heart to them and put yourself in their shoes as much as possible. Believing that you can best help others by working on yourself keeps you remote from others and gives you a convenient excuse not to get your hands dirty.

What a copout!

Right now, our world and all the beings in it need us all to get our hands dirty. We all need to pitch in and do what we can to right the growing injustices, to clean up our act, and to help people prepare for an uncertain future.

One doesn’t have to be enlightened to help out with any of the charities in our areas, to join in a protest for the sake of the future. People are in need now. Our planet is in need now. What is the point of focusing on our own ‘spiritual’ development while the world falls apart around us?

Spirituality grounded in the world

The option is to turn our attention to working in the world, to using life itself, with all its challenges, to facilitate our spiritual awakening, rather than remaining outside of the world as we were while in our cults. And this is what I’m seeing in my friends that have left Rigpa and other Tibetan Buddhist groups. They are using all sorts of ‘in the world’ activities as their spiritual path –  work with homeless people, domestic abuse victims, children in disadvantaged areas and so on; growing bonsai as an aid to healing; environmental activities and activism; being advocates for those with disabilities; developing a permaculture farm and so on. And though these things can be a spiritual path, that’s not why they’re doing it; they’re genuinely doing these things for others and for the future of the world.

And then there’s the things we do in order to refresh ourselves and stay healthy; things such as walking in nature, exercise, yoga and gardening. My meditation these days has a large component of physical yoga in it. It helps keep my mind and awareness grounded in my body, something left out of the Rigpa version of spirituality.

Grounded Spirituality requires us to engage with what life presents to us, to act in as wise and compassionate way as we are able as well as spending some time in self-reflection. It needn’t be an either/or situation. The challenge those who are going beyond the temple have taken up is acting in the world while seeing with the vast awareness afforded us by our contemplative practice – be it in the past or the present.

One of the stories of the Buddha is of him telling a woman, an ordinary householder who could not become a nun because of her family responsibilities, to be aware of her every action as she did her work, and she became enlightened. Just by doing that. No removal from the world was necessary.

So there is no need to feel that by giving up your hours of Buddhist practice that you’re giving up your shot at enlightenment. If the ideal of enlightenment still matters to you, you can work on it every moment of the day just by focusing on what you’re doing in the present. You don’t need to separate yourself from the world.

And of course, the more you can look at your own awareness and peel away the layers of misperception caused by your beliefs and concepts, the more you’ll see your link to everything and everyone.  Once you realise that you’re not separate from anything, when the knowledge that we are all one in essence is a constantly lived experience, then acting in the world becomes akin to tending to our own sore toe. It simply becomes necessary. In the meantime, before we have that realisation, the job is the same – tending to the sore bits.

How has your focus changed since leaving your cult? Are you engaging with the world? In what way?

Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay