After Tibetan Buddhism, after you’ve left the religion, what happens to your spiritual life?
I was a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner for 20 years and left the religion 5 years ago when I discovered that my teacher Sogyal Rinpoche was abusing his close students and those running the organisation not only enabled it but also saw his abuse as a beneficial teaching, not something harmful. In the video below, I reflect on what of value has remained with me and how I view the religion now in light of my knowledge of abusive gurus/lamas, the cult dynamics they often employ, and the teachings that enable abuse.
It’s a long video (40 minutes) because I cover a lot of ground, so I hope you can take time to watch or listen to it.
The answer to the question of what remains from the tradition after Tibetan Buddhism and your perceptions of Tibetan Buddhism and its lamas after you’ve left will be different for different people, so please note that this is only my personal opinion and evaluation of my own experience. I know that some have been left with nothing but trauma after Tibetan Buddhism, and some are still struggling to sift through their experience and find anything worth keeping.
Though I share my understanding of dzogchen practice, please don’t take anything I say as any kind of teaching. My purpose in sharing my perspective is to provide the stimulation for you to reflect on these matters for yourself.
Please like the video and share it as it helps get it to more people.
If you were a Tibetan Buddhist and have left the religion, what has remained for you?
Today we have a post by Joanne Clark inspired by the release of Dzongsar Khyentse’s latest book. Thank you, Joanne. It’s high time we challenged Dzongsar Khyentse for his support of abusive behaviour by vajrayana masters. Dzongsar Khyentse’s followers show all the signs of people caught in a destructive cult, which might tell us why Dzongsar Khyentse is so intent on supporting abuse as a legitimate part of his religion – at least for the varjayana student-teacher relationship. Read on for Joanne’s article.
It is possible that Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse has reached a point of realization whereby he can sit down to a meal of faeces and a drink of urine and consume it as if enjoying a delicious feast. It is possible then that he could rape a princess in the same manner that Tilopa killed fish, such that no harm would result.
In the same way, it is possible that his Vajrayana students, those who have taken vows of pure perception, are advanced enough in their own realizations that they are no longer at risk of confusing the madyamaka views on emptiness with nihilism—no longer at risk of failing to maintain a coherent view of conventional truth and karmic laws of cause and effect and failing to recognize harm as harm.
Why might you make a book into an NFT ebook? This video tells you about the first four books I wrote while inspired by the vision of Tibetan Buddhism. It also talks a bit about my journey as an author, how it relates to my journey out of Tibetan Buddhism and why you might want to invest in the Journey to Diamond Peak NFT ebook.
What I didn’t say in the video, but is actually quite important when it comes to NFTs, is that people buy them as investments. (You can buy and then on-sell them). One of the reasons for this is that they’re historical records. They mark and hold moments in time in the epheneral world of digital culture, and that gives them value that will acrue as time progresses, particularly if the digital art marks something of relevance for a movement of some kind – the beginning of a new art movement for instance. Journey to Diamond Peak is one of the first 14 NFT ebooks ever created, for that alone, it should one day give a return on your investment. If not for you, then for your descendents. The spiritual significance of the story, will also, I belive, be recognised one day.
We all have hidden beliefs. They’re ones we take as truth because they seem to be part of who we are. We don’t question them because we’ve always believed them or we’ve believed them for so long that we don’t doubt their truth. And we don’t see them because we don’t look for them. It’s like being in a cage and looking through the bars rather than at the bars. You don’t see the bars; you see through the spaces between them, so you don’t know you’re trapped, caged by your hidden beliefs.
You can find your hidden beliefs by asking yourself what you think about all kinds of things – women, men, marriage, science, religion, different races and so on. Whenever you ask yourself what you believe about something, you might uncover a hidden belief. But if they’re a core belief, they won’t be revealed by your first answer, not if you’ve held them since childhood. You may have more recent beliefs pasted on top, but core beliefs will always compromise the more recent belief because they’re stronger. A new belief, if it conflicts with a core belief, just won’t really stick. So you might think that you believe that all races are equal, for example, but deep down a belief in inequality might remain from childhood or from time in a cult. Until you uncover that hidden core belief and expose it to examination so it can fade away in the light of your adult or cult-free self, you’re holding conflicting beliefs and that will always bring some mental discomfort.
If we had known how to deal with a narcissist before getting close to Sogyal Rinpoche, would we have avoided the worst of him? Did those who avoided being abused by him do these kinds of things naturally? I’d love to read your answers to these questions.
I certainly kept my distance, even when I was asked to be national director many years ago. I said, ‘No,’ because I could see how it was for those in that role. I didn’t see anything other than the verbal abuse and the relentless driving of his team, but it was enough for me to know that I didn’t want to be in that role – no matter how much it was supposed to hasten my journey to enlightenment. Knowing what I know now, that Sogyal Rinpoche physically, emotionally, sexually and financially abused his close students, I’m really glad I stayed out of any role that would have brought me into his orbit.
Many weren’t so lucky! I hope these points on how to deal with a narcissist will protect you in future – even if the person trying to manipulate you might not fit all the boxes for narcissistic personality disorder. It’s not only narcissists who try to manipulate us.
One of the things I learned about in the year after I discovered that Sogyal Rinpoche abused his close students was narcissistic personality disorder. In order to avoid potential abuse, all spiritual seekers should examine the question, is your guru a narcissist? Or was he or she a narcissist?
Narcissists are everywhere, and they are dangerous people who manipulate others for their own gain. They are masters at coercive control and often become abusive. If you know what to look for, you can see the signs of narcissistic personality disorder in people around you. Donald Trump is a good example of someone with narcissistic personality disorder and so was Sogyal Rinpoche.
I think it’s vital that we all know how to spot a narcissist so we can avoid being manipulated by one. They are able to be very charming, loving and alluring when it suits them, so it’s easy to get sucked in.
Charlotte Ward and David Voas first coined the term “conspirituality” in 2011, to describe the merger of conspiracy theories and New Age spirituality. I like to put a hyphen between the con and spirituality because it is a con. Spirituality is conscripted into the service of gurus and influencers concerned only with their success in terms of numbers of followers, who can then be turned into paying customers. When these gurus start espousing conspiracy theories, their followers – if they’re not critical thinkers and misinformation resilient – tend to believe them, and so the theories proliferate. Fact or fiction, the more people share them, the more people believe them. It’s easy to share that meme or opinion because it seems okay on the surface, but not checking it carefully before sharing is dangerous, for us and for society.
Just look at Trump’s conspiracy theory about the 2020 election. The result is the destabilisation of American society and an assault on the Capitol building.
The Tibetan Buddhist teachings warn that where there is the greatest potential for enlightenment there is also the greatest chance of delusion. If you embark on the spiritual path without correct understanding of the subtle concepts involved, your desire to ‘wake up’ to your true self could lead you deeper into delusion. This is why they say that Vajrayana and Dzogchen should only be undertaken with a qualitied teacher who can make sure that the student doesn’t misunderstand the subtle teachings. But it also applies to any level of spiritual study and practice.
In response to my request for artwork that expresses one’s spiritual journey or awareness, artist William C. Johnson, sent in this pencil piece inspired by his Shamatha practice. It may not be the kind of image you’d usually associate with meditation – no cliched sunrises and lotus flowers here – but spend some time sitting with it and allow the imagery to wash over you before reading William’s commentary on the piece below the image. Regardless of what we see or don’t see in it, as an artist myself, I know that the act of drawing it in pencil is meditation. Meditation that produces a physical result.