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

Why Sogyal Rinpoche’s Lineage Should Die With Him

Rigpa is not a reliable organisation from which to learn Buddhadharma, not if it’s your sole source of tuition and not if you believe everything your teachers say without examination or question. Yes, I learned meditation from Rigpa, and yes, I learned a great deal of authentic Buddhadharma, but I also studied many of the original texts and gained most of my subtle understanding from them. Rigpa only provided the basics and an understanding of the nine yanas, a framework into which I could ‘slot’ the other teachings I studied.

The big curriculum issue

The big lack in the Rigpa curriculum was that it was completely devoid of Madyamika, the teachings on the ’empty’ nature of reality that you really need to not only understand but also have some experience of before you begin vajrayana. And yet, vajrayana was practised (with very few and very light weight teachings on what you were supposed to be doing) by anyone after they’d been studying the preliminaries for a couple of years.

I assumed that at least the senior instructors would have this understanding, but after Ian Maxwell died, I rarely found anyone who could satisfactorily answer my questions on either study or practice at the vajrayana level. I had to find my answers elsewhere.

When some of the madyamika teachings appeared for the Dzogchen Mandala, they were highly inadequate, and yet kept ‘secret’ for the Dzogchen Mandala only, yet the study was nothing more than a summary; one could learn more from reading any one of the many books available on the subject.

Why did I study with Rigpa and Sogyal, then? Convenience. They had a solid presence in Australia where we lack the choices of teachers available in other parts of the world. They made the teachings available to me. And I found Sogyal’s teachings inspiring back when it was all new to me. That faded well before the letter written by eight students exposed his abuse.

I am extremely grateful for my wall of dharma books!

I requested an update on the curriculum from Rigpa Australia, hoping that they had rectified this issue, but they ignored my request.

Even at a beginner level you can’t be sure

At a beginner level where you’re just learning basic meditation, Rigpa tuition should be fine – after all, it’s just meditation, right? But you might be being taught to spiritually bypass the very issues you should be looking at in order to be a mentally healthy person. This depends on the instructor, of course. But when I was an instructor, I didn’t know about spiritual bypassing, and yes, I did it in my own practice and I taught it, following what I had learned in Rigpa.

Might this have changed? Might the instructors that remain in Rigpa have become aware of it such that they know how to safeguard against students misunderstanding meditation in this way? Unfortunately, because those still in Rigpa appear to be uninterested in re-evaluating anything in terms of their beliefs and teachings, it’s highly unlikely. I suspect that, like me before I started investigating cult tactics, many have still never heard the term. Unless they have followed this blog or read Fallout: Recovering from Abuse in Tibetan Buddhism. Indications are, however, that rather than use this blog as a way of understanding the perspective of those who have left Rigpa in disgust, most of those who remain in Rigpa choose to ignore the blog’s existence.

And when it comes to compassion? Well, those of us who have been treated with disdain or barely veiled hatred, even by Rigpa instructors , who have had our attempts to communicate consistently ignored, been misrepresented and even vilified as demons know that even though some may speak all the right words when it comes to the compassion teachings, they cannot actually practice compassion in life. Those making the decisions in the organisation have consistently shown an inability to behave in a compassionate way towards victims of abuse and institutional betrayal.

Management’s latest indication of this lack of ability to connect with those they and Sogyal harmed is them setting up a restorative justice process ( a theory of justice that emphasises repairing the harm caused by criminal behaviour) without consultation with those Sogyal abused (to see if they would welcome this or see any point in it) and with the perpetrator dead, and without having admitted that any crime was committed.

You might say that at least they are trying to do something towards genuine healing, but considering that the lawyers they’ve engaged to undertake this restorative justice will require payment – and lawyers don’t come cheap – I feel that money would be better spent following recommendation 10 in the Lewis Silken Report on the independent investigation, which says, ‘So far as is consistent with the wider financial responsibilities of Rigpa, a fund should be created to provide professional counselling to those affected by abuse.’ Given the way the whistleblowers and their supporters have been treated by Rigpa people, I feel that this latest move is more about making them look good than any genuine attempt to hear what we’ve been trying to tell them for a couple of years.

The abuse issue hasn’t died with Sogyal

As long as Rigpa management, lineage holders, teachers and instructors don’t recognise and admit that Sogyal committed crimes, and for so long as they think that ‘crazy wisdom’ as modelled by Sogyal is acceptable behaviour, there is a danger that those most abused will become abusers.

Research has shown that ‘children who are abused are much more likely to become adults who abuse (between 30% and 40% of people who are abused as children go on to become abusers themselves)’ We are talking about adults here, of course, but certainly some of those in Rigpa’s inner circle were abused as children, and even if not, if victims of abuse never face the fact they have been abused, they may unconsciously repeat the pattern, particularly in a situation where such behaviour has been modelled by something they look up to as a spiritual guide.

Look at Shambala! The abuse in that organisation is widespread and inter-generational and it started with their founder Chogyam Trungpa. Why would Rigpa be any different when they, too, don’t recognise abuse as abuse?

Those who take charge after the death or removal of the abuser may not be as bad as their abuser – we would hope – but a friend of mine who did sewing at the annual Myall Lakes retreat had a boss who used to scream at her for no apparent reason, every year. Every year my friend told me about it and about how she never wanted to work with this woman again, but every year she came back and did it again. Why? She considered that it was up to her to learn to handle it, that being able to put up with it would be a mark of spiritual achievement.

That’s the dysfunction in Rigpa that had everyone putting up with Sogyal’s abuse, and until they recognise how that idea has been used as a reason for people in power not to moderate their worst impulses, that dysfunction will remain.

Emulating one’s teacher

We were taught that a good student comes to know their teacher’s wisdom mind and that, in order to facilitate that development, we should try to think/be like him. I have read in a Tibetan Buddhist text somewhere (The Words of my Perfect Teacher I think) that realised students emulate their teacher, so those who believe every word they read without examination and who still believe that Sogyal was genuinely a Mahasiddha will supposedly be aiming to emulate him – even if they don’t admit it, since beliefs direct people’s behaviour even if they aren’t aware of it. This idea that one should emulate one’s teacher is alone a good reason for ending the lineage.

Do they really understand the teachings?

In section 2 of my book Fallout: Recovering from Abuse in Tibetan Buddhism – a fully referenced section drawing on the work of respected scholars and masters – I explore the misunderstanding and misuse of Buddhist beliefs that enabled the abuse in Rigpa. Widespread misunderstanding of the most subtle aspects of certain teachings at the highest level is at the core of Rigpa’s inability to admit that Sogyal committed crimes or even actually did wrong (apart from Rigpa Australia whose representative did publicly admit that Sogyal did wrong), and this impedes any possibility of genuine change. Unless management and instructors examine these beliefs using their critical thinking faculties, they will remain stuck right where they were when Sogyal was alive, and all they have done in their Rigpa Moving Forward will remain as nothing more than window dressing.

Those who misunderstood the teachings such that they saw nothing wrong with Sogyal’s behaviour will pass on their misunderstandings. So Rigpa is a lineage with misunderstanding of the teachings and dysfunctional behaviour at its core. What better reason is there for ending this lineage?

Unfortunately, however, it continues, with those who were most abused and most responsible for the enabling and cover up still running the show. The three most responsible have stepped aside from management roles, yes, but PG is teaching, and PP appears in many Rigpa photo opportunities right at the heart of things. The majority of those in the Vision Board were also complicit in the cover up, as well as at least some of those teaching at national levels

Who is checking their understanding? Their spiritual advisers all seem to think that beating increases wisdom. Now the abused who think they were blessed not abused become the teachers, since those who recognised the abuse as abuse have surely left.

The core of healing is confession

Another indication that they don’t actually understand the teachings, or at least don’t practice them is that the healing practice of Vajrasattva that we accumulate 100,000 recitations of as part of the vajrayana preliminaries (ngondro) is quite clear on what is needed for healing. They call them the four powers. This is from the Rigpa Wiki (an excellent resource btw) on these four powers.

 O Maitreyabodhisattva mahāsattva, if you possess four factors, you will overcome harmful actions that have been committed and accumulated. What are these four? The action of total rejection, the action as remedy, the power of restoration, and the power of support.[1]

The Noble Sutra of the Teaching on the Four Factors

The action of total rejection, also known as the power of regret, is recognising that you have done wrong, understanding that it was harmful and owning up to it. In other words, confession.

Confession (Tib. བཤགས་པ་, shakpaWyl.bshags pa) — the process of admitting or ‘exposing’ one’s misdeeds before a witness or support, feeling regret for them and vowing not to repeat them in future.

Rigpa Wiki

And yet, Rigpa communications to their sangha speak of healing without having either admitting their misdeeds, shown any indication that they feel regret for anything other than the damage done to their reputation by those misdeeds being publicly exposed, or that they vow not to repeat them in future. They have made half-hearted attempts to sound sorry and say they will do better, but you can hardly vow not to repeat harmful actions if you don’t recognise exactly what you did wrong.

Rigpa teachers and instructors taught this practice of Vajrasattva, but did they ever actually truly practise it? If so, how did they miss this vital point? And if they did get this point, then why do they not apply it as their guide in life? Isn’t the point of studying Buddhadharma and practising meditation that we live it? Isn’t it reasonable to expect that a ‘spiritual’ organisation would behave in accordance with what they teach?

Postscript

I know that some Rigpa people feel that I have done a lot of damage by saying these kinds of things and they feel hurt by my behaviour. They feel that I have turned against them – and I understand that it looks that way – but actually I only bother to spend time to write this kind of thing because I care. I care that they actually practice in life the dharma they are supposed to be teaching. To not do that, to not live what you preach, is a tragedy.

I am aware of the upset this kind of thing will cause, but I do it in order to wake Rigpa people up. They have ignored or sidelined my attempts to speak to them on these matters – as you’d expect from cult members – and that leaves me only this way to try to help clean out the rot that infests the organisation. My criticisms are a direct result of Rigpa management’s failure to genuinely communicate. They speak of reaching out, but no one from Rigpa has contacted me or followed up on my efforts to communicate with them. They speak of listening, but they do not hear.

Rigpa can rise from its ashes, but healing can only happen if they recognise and confess their negative actions, and I don’t think they can recognise those actions on their own. Rigpa needs members of the What Now group to help heal Rigpa. We don’t need them to help heal us. We healed each other, and how we did it, and what we, as a group, came to understand is all laid out in Fallout. If they can’t manage to read that book with an open mind and a willingness to reflect on what it contains, then we can’t help them.

I find it helpful to remember that likely all Rigpa and many ex-Rigpa students share a concern for the future of Tibetan Buddhism in the West. The letter exposing Sogyal’s crimes would never have been written without that concern. What connects us is stronger than what divides us.

Without a concerted effort to act in accordance with the Buddha’s teachings and examine the beliefs that enabled the abuse, all of the factors I’ve spoken of above will remain and will be passed on, either consciously or unconsciously. All they will be doing is propagating their misunderstanding. This is why Sogyal’s lineage should not continue.

Image by Bernhard Renner from Pixabay

Climate Revolution Requires a Shift in Consciousness

Changing the world requires a change of consciousness. Think about the big shifts in human development – the French Revolution; the abolishment of slavery; voting rights for women; equal opportunity for all regardless of race or gender – when these ideas first appeared, the mainstream thought them extreme and they met a lot of resistance, but eventually enough people saw the importance of breaking out of old patterns that our civilisation made these changes, changes that benefitted a huge number of people.

The shift in consciousness required now is essentially one that changes our pattern of plundering the natural world (e.g. burning fossil fuels) to one of caring for it (e.g. using renewable energy sources).  

‘Humanity needs a transformation of belief – a drastic reshaping of human values. People around the world must come to see the planet as our “common home,” one that we share with other countries and other species.’ 

James Engell Professor at Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences English Department

The reshaping of human values of which Engell speaks is one based on an understanding of interdependence, impermanence and, at the deepest level, the compound nature of all phenomena. Sound familiar?

But there is enormous resistance in some quarters to making that shift. In Australia our government is practically a puppet for the fossil fuel mining companies, whose greed outweighs any sense of responsibility they might have to future generations.  And yet the climate science is so clear. So why can’t those in power in Australia and the US, and those who support them, see what’s right in front of them? Why can they not embrace the necessity of change?

Answer: Essentially they lack the necessary level of mental awareness to be able to escape the fear-driven machinations of their own minds.

Blinded by attachment, aversion and ignorance

“I used to think the top environmental problems facing the world were global warming, environmental degradation, and eco-system collapse.. but I was wrong. The real problem is not those three items, but greed, selfishness and apathy. And for that we need a spiritual and cultural transformation.”

James Speth, former head of the Council on Environmental Quality and a top Washington policy maker.

In other words, the reason some cannot see the evidence before them is attachment to money, aversion to anything that threatens oneself and one’s comfortable life (selfishness), and ignorance or lack of concern or interest.

‘The transformation that Speth speaks about is a shift to a higher level of attention and seeing the world from a more objective vantage point with a witnessing or reflective consciousness.’ … it’s a ‘shift from an “embedded consciousness” that is locked inside the habits of our thinking mind to a more spacious “reflective consciousness” that enables us to become a fair witness or objective observer of our lives. … A reflective or witnessing consciousness also promotes a feeling of connection with the rest of life. We begin to see and sense our intimate relationship with all of life and this, in turn, naturally fosters feelings of compassion and caring.’

Duan Elgin, Climate Change Consciousness, Huffington Post

A reflective consciousness uses the skills we developed through meditation practice and that millions of others around the world are developing in secular mindfulness programs.

If we care about our children and future generations, both human and animal, and about our planet, we will care about doing our bit to halt climate change, and for some of you this might mean working to assist people in making this shift in consciousness by teaching meditation in your local community hall.

Thoughts and beliefs give rise to speech, and action follows thoughts and speech.

Mind is the master. Change starts there.

Mental revolution

As Buddhists or ex-Buddhists, we should have learned a bit about how our minds work. The idea of being able to look at our own thoughts and beliefs without getting involved in them is not just something for us to do on a mediation cushion; it’s something to apply to our lives. We practice so we can apply that skill of being non-judgmentally aware of our mind to our life.

We also, if we’ve studied a bit, have learned that, according to Buddhism, in order to see reality directly, we have to be able to drop (if even only for a moment) the four things that obscure us. These are cognitive obscurations (our concepts and beliefs), habitual obscurations (our habits), emotional obscurations (the emotions we get caught up in), and karmic obscurations (the actions we take without awareness that are driven by past actions).

We can only truly see reality without these overlays. If we can recognise these concepts, habits, emotions and impetuses in ourselves, then we can start to let them go, or at least step outside of them enough to see without filters for a moment or two.

In meditation we practice doing exactly that. We practice simply seeing, without commentary, without becoming distracted by whatever rises in our minds. We practice seeing reality as it is without the overlay of concepts and beliefs about what we see, and without habitual or karmic reaction or getting carried away by whatever emotion whatever is in front of us might evoke. This makes the skills learned in meditation essential for this shift in human consciousness to occur.

What causes denial and inaction?

We saw the result of Buddhist practitioners not applying their meditation skills to life when many in our old communities refused to believe that our ex-gurus abused people, despite being presented with solid evidence to the contrary. Instead of seeing the evidence as it was, they let their concepts, emotions, habits, and unconscious reactions blind them. Those who made no decision as to the truth or untruth of the accusations of abuse misused the madyamika concept of emptiness and the meditation instruction to not get involved in risings as justification to not act.

Those who thought, ‘It didn’t happen to me, so it doesn’t affect me,’  or ‘Hitting transformed me, so those who felt abused simply weren’t able to work with it in the right way,’ allowed those ideas/concepts to blind them to the truth. They didn’t look with an open mind. They looked with a heavily conceptually and/or emotionally obscured mind (habitual and karmic obscurations would be in play as well). So they didn’t see the evidence as it was.

And most likely these reactions were driven by fear of change and the results of accepting such an uncertain future. Accepting the evidence would mean they would have to re-evaluate their beliefs, their actions, and their place in the world, and likely certain beliefs and the emotional support they give would crumble as a result – a scary prospect. No one wants to have to do that. As human beings we tend to cling to our comfort zone and do whatever we can to protect it. Only a great shock will jolt us out of our torpor of ignorance.

It’s easy for people to reject the evidence of climate change because up until now it appears to have happened fairly slowly or it hasn’t impacted on us directly yet, because media propaganda has made some think that climate change is not real, isn’t as serious as the majority of scientists say or is a matter of belief not fact, and because it suits us to ignore the signs – just as we ignored the signs that Sogyal wasn’t actually the person we thought he was, and we were brainwashed by the Rigpa party line. And it’s easy to reject predictions for the future because they seem too extreme, the same reason some rejected the ‘stories’ of Sogyal’s abuse; they just couldn’t believe it could be that bad.  And in the same way, we don’t want to believe that our future could be as bad as predicted. It’s just too scary.

They [climate change deniers] reject the knowledge because it’s incompatible with their worldview, their sense of identity, their anti-government and governance bias, and with all they would have to do and be if they were to take in these truths. 

Psychiatrist and historian Robert Jay Lifton

If practicing Buddhists can’t manage to accept clear evidence, to see without obscuration, is it any surprise that ordinary people can’t do the same when it comes to climate change? Is it any surprise that they/we react with fear (emotional obscuration), disbelief (cognitive obscurations), resistance to change (habitual obscurations) and that we continue to be driven by the four hopes and fears – hope for happiness, fame, praise and gain, and fear of criticism, loss, pain and suffering – (karmic obscurations)

The mental health challenge

Of course, acceptance of what the climate science research is telling us is a challenge for our mental health. Anxiety and depression are on the rise – and no wonder. This is why it’s important for us to find out what we can do in our own lives to help and then do what we can.

If we fall into despair, dwelling on the worst-case scenerios and thinking there is nothing we can do, or that we, as individuals, can’t do enough, then it becomes another reason not to act and that only compounds the problem.

The Australian PM, Scott Morrison (aka Scomo or ScottyFromMarketing) often says that Australia only contributes 1.3% of the global total of carbon dioxide emissions and he uses that as an excuse to not cut emissions more. His thinking is, ‘Why bother, if we lack the power to do anything that makes a difference?’ But apart from that figure giving a distorted picture by leaving out some important factors (like that our per capita emissions rate is one of the highest, along with the USA), if we put together all the countries responsible for less than 2% of total global emissions they make up something like nearly 40% of the global total. Imagine what a disaster it would be if they all took the same attitude as the present Australian government. The point being that everything helps. Even if it seems like very little, if enough of us do it, it will have a huge effect. For instance, imagine if all of us put our superannuation into an ethical super fund that doesn’t invest in fossil fuel companies and instead funds renewables.

My key to mental health this year is telling myself, ‘I will not fall into despair.’ Remembering that when I feel really down about it all, stops me from getting depressed and keeps me focused on what I can do, not on what I can’t do. Despair is debilitating. Action is empowering – even if it’s small.

Watch out for distorted truth in this discourse

Near the bottom of a comprehensive article on climate change by Warm Heart Worldwide is a section that warns of how people’s reactions can distort the conversation around climate change. I quote it below. You’ll notice that it’s very similar to the kinds of reactions we saw to the accusations of abuse by our Tibetan Buddhist gurus.

‘Fringe environmental groups, right-wing internet blogs, politicians of all stripes have spread falsehoods far and wide or distorted the truth to serve their own ends. Beware three particular versions of “science” abuse:

My cause is so critically important that a little exaggeration/a few lies are no sin’: This is the most common version indulged in equally by left and right. Environmentalists feel that “life on earth” or whatever is worth any price; the hard right believes that the “climate myth” is simply another internationalist plot to impose government control on free people – whose freedom must be protected at all costs. In both cases, attention to the truth takes a back seat.

The sky is falling – Oh, give me a break’:
Here the divide is between the doomsayers (“Climate Change Impacts Could Collapse Civilization by 2040” report)  and the perpetually disengaged (“Americans don’t worry much about climate”). The doomsayers will find any excuse to believe the worst; the “whatevers” see no reason for concern about anything. To put these contending positions in context and observe the misuse of science in action, remember, first, the 1970s and the gloom that surrounded the impending exhaustion of world oil resources that led to a policy of “pump America dry first” and then, second, the “oh, give me a break” reaction to the efforts that ultimately led to the 1970 Clean Air and Water Act.

”They only believe in/deny climate change because they are [dumb, insane, evil, deluded, godless, terrorists…]’:
This is such a common type of “argument’ that it must be mentioned, although it is so illogical an “explanation” that it is hard to consider. Most people learned in primary school that such ad homonym attacks do not constitute compelling refutations, but such assertions form such an essential part of what passes for global “public discourse’ today that it bears repeating that any such contention only bears tossing out.’

We all know how frustrating it is to deal with these kinds of responses, but if we are to help shift consciousness, we must restrain our anger when we’re trying to have a conversation with those who use these tactics. When you’ve finished talking, go yell into a pillow, not at the object of your anger; it only polarises people and causes them to be even more protective of their own beliefs.

Anger feeds a divisive politics that cannot help us to address our big collective challenges. By retreating into social media echo chambers where mockery and disrespect are the norm, we risk losing entirely the social cohesion and trust needed for democracy to work.

A whole-of-society discussion about our collective future is urgently needed. Now is the time to reinvent how we communicate about climate change, particularly with those who don’t see it as an urgent concern.

theconversation.com/not-everyone-cares-about-climate-change-but-reproach-wont-change-their-minds-118255

Not everyone cares about climate change, but reproach won’t change their minds. We know that all too well from trying to converse with those who don’t care about guru abuses. This article from The Conversation gives some excellent pointers for communicating with those who simply don’t seem to care enough.

The good news

The good news is that by merely accepting that we need to make major reductions in carbon emissions and radically up our level of environmental care, we contribute to the necessary shift in global consciousness. Just that awareness and understanding, even with no other immediate action on your part, contributes to a positive future. Why? Because you’ll naturally transmit that understanding to others, and it will eventually have an effect on your behaviour and the behaviour of your friends and family.

But we need more than acceptance of the facts to deal with the plethora of issues involved in turning this around, we need a level of genuine awakening, the kind that many of us who have studied and practiced Buddhism for decades already have, one based on an understanding of interdependence, impermanence and the compound nature of all phenomena.

Climate change is not the concern of just one or two nations. It is an issue that affects the whole of humanity and every living being on this earth. This beautiful planet is our only home. If, due to global warming or other environmental problems, the earth cannot sustain itself, there is no other planet to which we can move. We have to take serious action now to protect our environment and find constructive solutions to global warming.

When we see photographs of the earth from space, we see no boundaries between us, just this one blue planet. This is no longer a time to think only of ‘my nation’ or ‘our continent’ alone. There is a real need for a greater sense of global responsibility based on a sense of the oneness of humanity.

HH Dalai Lama. Message to Delegates to the COP24 UN Climate Conference December 5, 2018.

More good news is that this shift in consciousness is already happening. The Beyond the Temple community is evidence of that in the way we support each other on this journey of awakening, and our communication technology supports us in those efforts, enabling us to share ideas with others across the globe. The amount of information and opinion open to us through social media is enormous if we’re interested enough to access it.

With the combined power of our communications technologies, we are fostering a new level of collective consciousness that can overcome our apathy, selfishness, and greed and enable us to discover a common future of sustainable prosperity. We are a witnessing species. Assisted by the communications revolution, we are becoming more fully awake and able to respond to the supreme test of climate change from a higher level of perception and understanding.

Duan Elgin, ‘Why Climate Change Requires a Consciousness Change.’

In his new book, The Climate Swerve: Reflections on Mind, Hope, and Survival, Psychiatrist and historian Robert Jay Lifton argues that we are living through a time of increasing recognition of the reality of climate change, a psychological shift he refers to as a “swerve,” driven by evidence, economics, and ethics. “It’s becoming more and more difficult to take the stand of climate rejection,” he says, “because there is so much evidence of climate change and so much appropriate fear about its consequences.”

Compassion is another means to facilitate the shift

Like Australia, Bangladesh is also feeling the disastrous effects of climate change and so is Indonesia – for them it’s trial by water not fire. And like Australia, Indonesia also faces government inaction even though 60 people died in recent floods. People in these countries are already suffering from climate change, and their poverty makes it all the more harder for them to takes the necessary steps to cut emissions and to deal with the results of not doing so. All the more reason why we, the affluent nations responsible for the majority of the emissions, do more.

As the huge generosity of people in supporting bushfire victims in Australia shows, many people find it hard to stand by and do nothing when people and animals are suffering.  The suffering they witnessed in their own backyard, or in a culture so similar to their own has been the impetus for many to find out more about climate change and its role in what we actually are experiencing now. I have seen a shift in my own friends and family to a consciousness that wants to actually do something to help thwart the gloomy picture of the worst-case scenario future. Because of my raised awareness of the issue, I am looking into what changes I can make in my life, and no doubt others are doing the same.

As people with a greater understanding of mind than the average person, I believe that we have a role to play in facilitating this shift of consciousness. How that will play out in our own lives and actions, I have no idea, but if we are true to deepest ourselves as experienced without obscurations , I’m pretty sure we’ll naturally have a positive effect on the climate change discourse and therefore the future of the planet and its species. Caring is key.

“We have to make an effort, so that even if we fail we have no regret. Ultimately this is a matter of our survival. … Taking care of the planet is taking care of our home.”

HH Dalai Lama

Do you have any additions, comments or suggestions on this Buddhist perspective on the consciousness change required to thwart climate change?

If you need facts of climate change, click here to read a post I wrote on Medium.

Image by Sumanley xulx from Pixabay

Climate Change: The Challenge of the Decade

I have lots of ideas for posts for this blog that take the idea of ‘beyond the temple’ broader than it has been, but it could take a while for me to get around to writing them. Those who are my friends or followers on social media will know that I’ve been consumed by the bush fire crisis facing my home state, NSW. I even had to evacuate one day. But today we have a little rain, so perhaps we’ll dodge the bullet this time. The nearest fire is about 20 kilometres away, but it hasn’t moved towards us for a week now, so the ever present anxiety has eased.

The expected rain isn’t enough to put out the fires, though, just slow them down, nor is it expected to be enough to fill the dams and break the drought. Ferns and trees are dying. Kangaroos are coming into the garden to get water and vast areas of Australia are burned and/or in severe drought. Wildlife is devastated. I read somewhere that scientists predicted that Australia would be one of the first countries to feel the effects of climate change, and here we are.

So discussions around Tibetan Buddhism all seem rather inconsequential and even indulgent in light of the fact that if we don’t act in the next decade to lower carbon emissions, we truly will be facing the extinction of life as we know it.

We are truly, all of us, facing the great impermanence.

Ah, back to Buddhism. Wait, no. That’s simply a statement of truth. Life is impermanent. That’s a fact, not a belief. But let’s not let be distracted …

Civilisation as we know it is dying. I can see it in the destroyed forests just south of me, and in the dead animals lying in the paddocks. We will not be able to feed ourselves if we don’t have sufficient water, and the fighting over water has already started here. It isn’t machetes or guns, it’s protests and angry voices, but it’s still a fight because it’s unjust, ordinary people’s rights are being ignored in favour of the rich.

We either change or die out along with all those other species going extinct through humankind’s negligence.

At times I’ve had to wear breathing apparatus to go outside. I felt as if I was living in an apocalyptic world.

Oh, wait. I am living in an apocalyptic world,

We can’t grow food without water. It’s that simple.

The Garnaut Review concluded that unmitigated climate change would be “bad beyond normal human experience”, both due to the extreme weather and the consequences that those extremes would have on the safety of our societies. Even with immediate action, the impacts on Australia will be far more severe than they are now. It is likely that, even if we do everything we can to cut emissions, the Great Barrier Reef will be dead, or close to dead, if temperature rises reach 2 degrees. Such a path may become inevitable by 2030.

“Without mitigation, the best estimate for the Murray-Darling Basin is that by mid-century it would lose half of its annual irrigated agricultural output,” says the Garnaut Review. “By the end of the century, it would no longer be a home to agriculture.” Since then, the temperature rises driven by rising emissions have been causing impacts that are tracking at the more dangerous end of scientists’ forecasts.

smh.com.au/national/what-is-real-action-on-climate-change-20200115-p53rok.html

The challenge we face

The challenge of the decade is lowering carbon emissions and dealing with the environmental issues arising out of our lack of care of our earth since the industrial revolution. But there is a lot of resistance from the Australian government and in right wing sections of governments all over the world. In Australia, our politicians are virtually dictated to by the coal industry. The coal industry gives both major political parties huge amounts of money. Corruption is rife in water management, too, with the interests of big business being deemed more important than the right of ordinary folk to water to drink, wash in and farm their land.

It’s been a miserable start to the decade for me. Climate change has become very real. And the old ‘righteous anger’ has returned, but this time it’s not because of a corrupt guru and the system that supported him, it’s because of those morally bankrupt and corrupt politicians and big business who are actively destroying this planet. Now that we know what is coming, to do nothing or not enough is worse than negligent, it’s criminal.

If emissions aren’t cut drastically before the end of the decade, my daughter will face starvation at some point in her life. Her children, if she has any, will not be able to go outside for much of the year because the heat will be higher than a human can survive.

If you aren’t joining protests asking for greater climate action, it’s time you did. And yes, I’m telling you that you should do this because if you don’t, you’re being someone who sits by, saying nothing while evil proliferates. I doubt any of the readers here want to be that kind of person. Perhaps you are already out on the streets and gathering your friends to join you. If so, tell us what you’re doing.

“The bushfires have shown that doing nothing is itself a choice,” says Herd, “with radical implications as Australia is highly vulnerable to the frontline effects of climate change. As such, we are choosing to lock-in climate change and the damage it will bring rather than reduce the emission intensity of our economy. And the extent of this damage will worsen the longer we choose not to act and the more temperatures increase.”

https://www.smh.com.au/national/what-is-real-action-on-climate-change-20200115-p53rok.html

What can we do?

We can live a life with the lowest carbon footprint we can manage. And we can educate ourselves with the facts on climate change and share what we learn. But don’t forget to check that you’re sharing from reputable sources and not sharing misleading information or outright lies – there’s a lot of that about, unfortunately. And we can join the protests, email our local MP and vote for politicians committed to saving the planet.

Some people find the sharing a bit much doom and gloom, but it’s only gloomy if we fail to act. We have a decade to save our future from the worst predictions. If we don’t recognise just how gloomy that future is if we don’t severely cut emissions ( to near zero ) by 2050, we likely won’t act in time.

It’s just like all the stories of abuse in Rigpa; we had to know just how bad it was. We had to know the truth. It’s the same here. We have to come down from our lofty spiritual mountains and see what’s happening in the real world. We can’t spiritually bypass this crisis!

Luckily there are stories of people doing good things.

And here’s another positive view about what we can do.

Waking up has never been more imperative

Waking people up is not just a spiritual imperative, it’s a survival imperative. The following video created by my husband Chris Newland who wrote the music is designed to help wake people up.

Please do your bit to wake people up by sharing this widely. It’s a powerful statement.

If you need any more convincing as to the nature of what we’re facing, take a look at this article with its wonderful graphic. It lays it out really well.

What are you doing to fight climate change?

Image by Fuzz from Pixabay