Are We Vulnerable to Conspirituality?

What is conspirituality?

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.

Conspirituality is ‘a rapidly growing web movement expressing an ideology fuelled by political disillusionment and the popularity of alternative worldviews. It has international celebrities, bestsellers, radio and TV stations. It offers a broad politico-spiritual philosophy based on two core convictions, the first traditional to conspiracy theory, the second rooted in the New Age: 1) a secret group covertly controls, or is trying to control, the political and social order, and 2) humanity is undergoing a ‘paradigm shift’ in consciousness. Proponents believe that the best strategy for dealing with the threat of a totalitarian ‘new world order’ is to act in accordance with an awakened ‘new paradigm’ worldview.

 A 2011 article by Ward and Voas from the Journal of Contemporary Religion

The spiritual, new age, yoga and wellness industry is full of charlatans who will say almost anything if it will increase their social media following regardless of whether or not its true. If it gets lots of ‘Likes’, ‘Shares’, and comments, they’ll keep saying it. If we’ve come away from Buddhism holding the vague kinds of beliefs commonly professed by many of these gurus or influencers, we can easily be led into the rabbit hole of their sphere of influence.  We may adopt a con-spirituality mentality and become part of groups that are every bit as much a cult, if not more so, than the Buddhist cults we left behind.

The problem with con-spirituality

Our devotion to Sogyal would have kept most of us away from the New Age and wellness movement’s lightweight spirituality, but I wonder how many of those who have left Rigpa might be turning to it now. Why is that a problem? Because listening to some people in that community might lead you to think that conspiracy theories are true, and if you embrace them as truth, you end up living in a world of your beliefs that bear little relationship to reality.

A viral outbreak of con-spirituality has arisen in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s based on a critique of modern technology, medicine, and governance. They claim such things as that the COVID-19 pandemic is a construct of the deep-state and a sign of end-times, often aligned with ideas emanating from the far-right, apocalyptic QAnon movement which frequently draws on Christian millenarianism.

Where spiritual people and groups’ questioning of modernity is critical, informed, non-violent, and employ ideas and practices whose validity is bolstered by genuine and fully understood science, that isn’t con-spirituality. People with conspiritual views ignore, denigrate or twist science and evidence and hold opinion and feelings to be the final arbiter of ‘truth’. (Do you recognise this kind of thinking from those in Rigpa who defended Sogyal’s abuse?) This kind of perspective and a lack of media literacy in regards to ascertaining what is true or false is what makes people easy prey for conspiracy theories.

Just as in any cult, adherents feel they are privy to the ‘real truth’ and thus more enlightened than mainstream society. Their form of spirituality is individualised, based on personal choice—often stating that truth can only be known by looking inside themselves—and commodified, which is why conspiritualists see coronavirus restrictions as a threat to their personal freedom. In actual fact they are not only a threat to the health of society, but also completely deluded; they’re fighting an enemy that simply doesn’t exist.

Though lip service may be given to the importance of love, genuine compassion seems to be lacking. Conspirituality movements are full of privileged white people whose philosophy doesn’t work well for those without the means to pay for and take time off their job for the latest sweat lodge or tantric sex weekend, not to mention having the means to purchase the expensive supplements peddled by the wellness influencers. Love is professed only in so far as it makes followers feel good and because talk of it boosts the influencers’ social media followers. As with Sogyal and Rigpa, when it comes down to it, money is their real motivator.

Contemporary spirituality places an emphasis on positive thinking for personal wellbeing and economic gains, and yet individuals cannot simply think themselves out of this COVID-19 crisis. This has resulted in mass spiritual bypassing, with more privileged individuals and groups — who are far less likely to be affected by the coronavirus — denying the reality of the suffering that the virus is inflicting on the less privileged and more vulnerable.

People drawn to conspiracy theories often share the same qualities we find in people drawn to spirituality. You may recognise some of the qualities that make one vulnerable to conspiracy theories in yourself, such as:

  1. An openness to unusual beliefs and experiences. If you’re very creative, with a capacity for original, innovative thinking, that openness could be harmless, but you may also be prone to beliefs that are unfounded in reality—especially if you misunderstand the indivisibility of form and emptiness and how that relates to every part of ourselves and our lives.
  2. Prone to very independent thinking, suspicious of authority, suspicious of official narratives, suspicious of mainstream medicine, big pharma, and much more drawn to alternative medicine and alternative healing practices. 
    These qualities are not problematic if measured with common sense and critical thinking, our decisions are evidence based rather than intuition based, and we have a nuanced—rather than black and white—view of the world. If we paint all pharma, all mainstream medicine, all government as bad and all alternative medicine and healing as good, then we’ll be easy prey for the con-spirituality gurus and their cults.
  3. Have a tendency for the narcissism seen in new age spirituality and conspiracy thinking. Both can be a form of Gnosticism, which is based on the idea that you are part of the special elite that has seen through the illusion of ordinary reality and accessed secret truths. (Recognise Rigpa culture here?)

The wellness and alternative spiritual crew have united over the past decade to expose the vested interests of the food, pharmaceutical and oil industries – for valid and worthy reasons. Drug companies have abused our health. The Gates Foundation should be more transparent and accountable, considering the massive influence it has over global public health. And the fight to expose truth has united this community.

Meanwhile, political trust is at an all-time low globally. Media and other moral structures that once held the status quo accountable have desiccated. It’s understandable that we be suspicious and questioning. I am on a number of issues. But as the world gets more complex and noisy, truth can easily become confused with “truthiness”.

Could your desire to expose the truth, the same desire that lead you to help expose Sogyal’s abuse and support his victims, lead you into the delusion of conspiracy theories?

‘Spiritual’ beliefs that make you vulnerable to conspiracy theories”1.

  1. Everything is connected;
  2. Nothing happens by accident;
  3. Nothing is as it seems.

Do any of these ring true to you? Aren’t they things we believed in Rigpa? Aren’t these the kinds of beliefs that became slogans used to explain away abuse? These are the core beliefs that have been misunderstood and misappropriated by conspiritualists. If you understand the dharma basis of these beliefs well—including what they don’t mean—are social-media literate, and use your critical-thinking faculties when engaging with con-spiritualists—meaning that you insist on actual proof from recognised trustworthy sources (like properly interpreted genuine science)—you won’t be at risk of falling for the con. However, if your understanding of their spiritual basis is vague, and you are too willing to ‘go with the flow’ and believe whatever someone says when they ‘sound’ reasonable—those skilled in cult induction techniques tell you what you want to hear—you’re at risk of falling into delusion in a big way.

How do we avoid being conned by con-spirituality movements?

People fall for conspiracy theories because they want certainty in an uncertain world. So accepting the limits of your certainty and becoming comfortable with the inevitable uncertainty of human existence will help inoculate you against falling for conspiracy theories. If we long for certainty and security, we’ll hold onto beliefs or hopes or ideologies that give us this certainty, even if they’re a false narrative.

In Buddhist terms, excessive attachment to views is a form of ego clinging, so knowing those teachings will help make you less inclined to become attached to a conspiracy, or any other, theory. Some solid Buddhist study—with genuinely qualified teachers—will help you realise that these beliefs, as they’re stated above, are gross oversimplifications. Apart from being a useful spiritual education, this will help you to avoid being conned by those with no clue to their real meaning. Alternatively, or simultaneously, dropping all ‘spiritual’ beliefs would also work as an inoculation against conspirituality. At the very least, you could develop a questioning attitude to such beliefs and to people who profess them.

In simple terms try to find a balance between being open to alternative experiences and beliefs, but not believing any old nonsense or falling into magical thinking—the belief that unrelated events are causally connected despite the absence of any plausible causal link between them. 

And learn how to do genuine research:

We will indeed need to do our own research and demand more truth. But we will also need to defer to and respect science to do so. We need to understand that research done via YouTube is not “your own research”. It’s an algorithm at play that handcuffs us to our worst cognitive biases. We need to be sceptical – but for the sake of understanding, not to create more tribalism. I would argue that we also need, at a broader level, to instigate fake news resilience training, like Finland has. It works.

So along with our spiritual sensitivities, we need to value evidence from our shared physical reality. What seems to be true to us is not the same as what actually is true in reality. If we don’t look for external validation of our beliefs in the form of evidence, we risk becoming completely unhinged from reality, and there is no greater delusion than that.

For more on con-spirituality listen to the Conspirituality Podcast. This episode on why spiritual people are vulnerable to conspiracy theories is particularly relevant.


Could Your Desire to Wake up to Your ‘True’ Self Lead You Deeper into Delusion?

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 Rigpa, we enthusiastically lapped up our Dzogchen teachings, never for a moment thinking that we might fall into the kinds of misunderstandings that increase our delusion, rather than freeing us from it. We were brainwashed into believing that we had a great master who was teaching authentic Dzogchen. Given our knowledge now of the man behind the teacher, however, of someone who, along with his most devoted students, thought his actions were not subject to the law of cause and effect of the material plane, it appears that he didn’t understand the teachings on the indivisibility of relative and absolute truth. No matter who you are, if you’re a physical being and you hit another physical being hard, it hurts them and results in blood and bruises. Apart from this being made clear in the teachings on dependent arising, it’s just common sense.

Genuine understanding or vague concepts?

Despite what you may believe or may have been told by those who haven’t really studied the teachings, there is no enlightened plane separate to the physical world, and no inner spiritual world that we can enter to find out what is happening in our external world. That knowledge comes from our outer senses and intelligence backed up by facts presented from reliable integrous sources. Inner examination might show the vastness of inner space and even the way the outer world exists, but it doesn’t show what’s happening ‘behind the scenes’ in the physical world, and it doesn’t change what is actually real to suit our beliefs. If we believe that what we ‘know’ about the outer world from our intuition or ‘inner guidance’ is the same as what is actually true in the external world, we’ve misunderstood the meaning of the word ‘truth’ in relation to what we find by looking at our own awareness.

The Buddha made the relationship between the outer and inner spheres of our experience and perception quite clear when he said, ‘Form is emptiness; emptiness is form; form is no other than emptiness; emptiness is no other than form.’ Sogyal said that often, as did we all, but how many of us truly understand its meaning or honestly admit that we don’t really get it and look into it further? How many of us studied beyond Rigpa’s curriculum—which was lightweight in terms of Madyamika—enough to understand dependent arising? Without those teachings we are unlikely to fully understand this statement on emptiness from the Buddha. If we didn’t see the full profundity of this, along with other often-repeated phrases, then they were little more than cult slogans.

Even with the Four Reliances there is opportunity for misunderstanding

Luckily for us, Nyushul Khenpo, who presumably saw the danger inherent in a teacher with many students and no formal training, undertook to give him that training, and Sogyal did follow his words—and those of other respected teachers—precisely. So if we followed the words of the dharma rather than the teacher, we did receive authentic Dzogchen teachings, especially if we fully followed what’s known as the Four Reliances.

1. Rely on the message of the teacher, not on his personality;

2. Rely on the meaning, not just on the words;

3. Rely on the real meaning, not on the provisional one;

4. Rely on your wisdom mind, not on your ordinary, judgemental mind.

The Buddha, in the Sutra of the Teaching of Akshayamati and the Sutra of the Questions of the Naga King Anavatapta.

Even so, there is still much opportunity for misunderstanding. How, for instance, are we to know the real meaning, let alone the difference between our wisdom mind and our ordinary, judgemental mind? Did we seek other teachers and other texts to give us the real meaning? Did we examine the meaning in light of our meditation experience? And did we really use our wisdom mind—which is free of all concepts and has a direct experiential understanding of the meaning of emptiness and its relationship to the physical world—or some vague state still within the realm of concepts and assumptions? Did we mistake intuition for true wisdom? Whether we did or not, I think, would depend on the quality, amount, and consistency of our study and practice. Rigpa’s basic curriculum may have been light weight in some areas, but their lists of quality books to use as resources for each module of study were comprehensive. There was no reason why those with the time and inclination for study and practice could not have understood the true meaning.

Unfortunately, however, those closest to Sogyal, who worked incredibly hard, had the least amount of time for study and practice, even if they had the inclination. And Sogyal taught some very subtle teachings to casual students uninclined towards intensive study who lacked the grounding from which to fully understand them. These he taught in retreats where he’d created the atmosphere of a group trance state, and the danger was that people went away thinking they had understood because they confused a pleasant trance experience with genuine understanding or experience. Such assumptions solidify delusion.

Generosity or greed?

The potential for misunderstanding is the reason why these teachings were supposed to be taught to no more than three students at a time, and why those students were supposed to be only those who were ready for them, those who had done the pre-requisite study and practice. Sogyal, however, boasted at his generosity in making them available to everyone. I’m not complaining, since I benefited greatly from those teachings, but I see now that it was not generosity, but rather greed that led him to be so free with the teachings. Offer something special and the pundits come in droves with open wallets! In this he was no different to the new age gurus he so despised. He certainly had little ability to correct misunderstandings or to go into great depth. I’m fully aware that I learned the definitive details from books, not from Sogyal. He was good at inspiring people and essentialising the teachings—something I appreciated—but essentialisation does not impart the full meaning; it summarises. And if you haven’t studied what is summarised, you could easily come away from such a teaching with assumptions that are incorrect.

Why is this potential lack of understanding an issue? Because having only a vague understanding of key spiritual ideas opens us to falling deeper into delusion, not just on a personal spiritual level, but also on a worldly level.

How can wanting to ‘wake up to your true self’ lead you deeper into delusion?

Misunderstanding ‘spiritual’ ideas or ‘lightweight spirituality’–picking just the bits that appeal and not giving ideas any kind of rigorous investigation—can lead not only to deepening personal delusion but also to worldly delusion because conspiracy theorists share some of the same kinds of ‘sloganisable’ beliefs. By sloganisable beliefs I mean easily sharable stock phrases that sound right to ‘spiritual’ people but about which they may have erroneous assumptions or incomplete understanding. When reduced to slogans, the very beliefs you subscribe to because they are what you ‘feel’ to be true in light of your path to wake up to your true self are used to hook you into the delusion of conspiracy theories. In the cause of waking people up to the conspiracy theories in which they believe, they are spouted equally by narcissistic New Age and wellness gurus / influencers and the white supremacists, anarchists and far right Christians that spread conspiracy theories.

For instance, ‘Don’t let yourself be ruled by fear.’ Sounds fair enough. Sounds like something we heard often in Rigpa, too. Remember Sogyal’s oft repeated slogan ‘all fear arises from an untamed mind’? That suggests that we can, and should, get rid of fear by ‘working with our mind’ which in Rigpa essentially meant ignoring one’s thoughts and emotions—never giving any credence to the fact that acknowledging the validity of our fear could save our life.

‘Don’t let yourself be ruled by fear’ is also, according to the Conspirituality website page on the language used by conspiritualists, ‘a stock phrase used [by conspiracy theorists] to denigrate anyone who, in the time of COVID, abides by public health directives. The term implies that the virus is not real, but rather a constructed social control effort. Meshes well with victim-blaming language that suggests fear itself is a degraded or immature state.’

Note that last sentence. Isn’t that exactly how it was used in Rigpa?

See the danger now?

See how easily someone could hook you with that slogan because we’re familiar with it from Rigpa where it was also used as a method of denigration for and dismissal of valid concerns?

Do you believe that your personal transformation/enlightenment is part of a coming fundamental transformation of society, after which ‘all things will be changed’? Millenarianism—defined as a religious, social, or political group or movement that believes this—is part of the con-spirituality mind set. Your desire to see a better world where everyone has woken up to their true nature can easily be the way you inadvertently share a slogan with links back to a bunch of conspiracy theorists for whom the great awakening means waking up to the truth of the Q-drops, and also to ‘the storm, or the wave of mass arrests that will finally awaken the nation to the reality of the Cabal.’  Once you’ve shared something that, even if it seems innocuous on the surface, was posted by a conspiracy theorist you’re a target for recruiters who know exactly how to hook you. Be careful or your desire to see society wake up might become the hook that draws you into another cult, because make no mistake about it, the groups that spread conspiracy theories are cults, dangerous ones too.

Look what happened in Washington on the 6th January 2021.

Where do you find truth?

New Age, wellness and other modern ‘spiritual’ communities where many have fallen prey to conspiracy theories put great stock in following one’s own intuition or inner wisdom, not only to guide you in life but also as a method for ascertaining ‘truth’. I agree that we need to follow our inner wisdom to find our essential nature, but my understanding of ‘inner wisdom’ or ‘finding the truth within’ doesn’t preclude me from using my critical thinking faculties. Nor do I confuse ‘finding the truth within’ with finding the truth of what has actually happened or not happened in the outer world – which is what those who have fallen into conspiracy theories have done. They think something is true because it ‘feels’ true or because they believe it is true.

Again, look at all those who believe Trump won the 2020 US election? It doesn’t matter what evidence you try to give them to prove that Biden won. They’ll just tell you that they ‘know’ Trump won.

If you don’t know how to differentiate between your ego mind and your wisdom mind (the mind that recognises emptiness), then following the idea that we should turn to our wisdom mind in order to find the ‘truth’ could be dangerous. Whether we’re following our ego—undoubtedly cloaked in its wise form on order to fool us—or our wisdom mind, we’d better have a healthy dose of common sense and respect for external truth as validated by actual evidence in the real world. Without it, we could easily fall prey to those who push conspiracy theories.

Non-rational forms of knowing, such as dreams, intuitions, inspiration and mystical experiences have their place, of course. They can be important sources of wisdom and healing. Many great scientific discoveries and cultural creations have come from ecstatic inspiration, from Newton’s discovery of gravity to Milton’s Paradise Lost. However, it’s crucial to balance our capacity for ecstatic / magical / mythical thinking with the capacity for critical thinking.

Too much left brain thinking without any ecstasy, and you end up with a rather dry and uninspiring worldview. Too much ecstasy without critical thinking, and you may be prone to unhealthy delusions, which you then spread, harming others. You may be so sure you’re right, so hyped in your heroic crusade, you may block things that are really helpful and spread things that are really harmful.

Most of us in this post-Buddhist cult community are good people. I’m sure that none of us want to ‘spread things that are really harmful’. So if we do it by accident—and that’s easy to do if we don’t take the time to check the source and critically evaluate what we read—then we can always simply admit our mistake. We’ll all learn by hearing your story.

What experience have you had with conspiracy theories? Do you know or have you been approached by anyone pedalling conspiracy theories? How did they try to hook you?

Image by Nicky • 👉 PLEASE STAY SAFE 👈 from Pixabay

My next post will look at other ways we might be vulnerable not only to conspiracy theorists but also to the narcissistic wellness gurus and influencers who will happily hook us into their brand of spiritual in order to sell you their wares.


Shamatha as Visual Art

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.

Bill says of this work:

You will no doubt recognize the transliteration for the Tibetan shinay (Tib. ཞི་གནས༽ or shamatha. My pieces sometimes blur the distinction between inside (the body) and outside (the body). Sometimes I create an exterior with some references to the internal channels and chakras. So, the vertical conduit pipe running top to bottom is the central channel. There is a distortion of the pipe with some bends there midway.

If you look closely, you will notice the Tibetan word for “blockage.” Not meant to be taken literally, but to suggest that anyone delving deeply into shamatha practice will encounter obstacles to their practice as things get dredged up from the substrate. The hint of a ladder suggests movement up through the nine stages and is a positive symbol. The striped pole references the two qualities necessary to attain shamatha, viz.,  mindfulness and introspection. Or more loosely, single-pointed concentration.

The plumb bob is a stand-in for what is exactly true (our true nature, emptiness, finding emotional and mental balance or well-being). The small sliding door below and to the left of the plumb bob, which is slightly open, portends a glimpse into the true nature of the mind. Sometimes I will reference this by creating a window or portal looking out onto a night sky full of stars. Space and Dharmakaya are infinite.

What did you get out of this piece?

Oh, and don’t forget, if you dabble in art in any capacity or variety, I’d love to post it here, so please send photos of it to tahlia (at)

What Happens When Beliefs Don’t Align With Reality

Distorted Houses

We see reality though the filter of our thoughts, emotions and beliefs. When beliefs don’t align with reality, they distort perception. This is why, according to the Buddhist teachings, one of the obscurations we need to dissolve if we are to be enlightened – i.e., see reality directly – is the cognitive obscurations, the area of beliefs.

It’s why when we meditate, we train in not labelling or thinking about what we perceive, we simply see, simply hear, simply be without engaging our conceptual mind. But even those who practice this in their meditation find it hard to practice in daily life, especially if they hold tight to beliefs that aren’t in alignment with reality. And sometimes those beliefs are the very beliefs that were designed to point them in the direction of reality.

Look at those in the US who believe that Trump won the election.

This is what I look at in this video.

At the end of this video, I pose a question about how to talk to people who support Trump or believe conspiracy theories. This Conspirituality Podcast gives some good answers. If you’re not already listening to this podcast, I highly recommend it.

Have you had any success in talking to Rigpa people who still believe Sogyal is a Mahasiddha and did nothing wrong? Or those who admit he abused people but remain in RIgpa anyway, unaware of how they’re silently endorsing the very beliefs that enabled the abuse?

My last conversation with someone in the latter category put me off ever trying again. Her attempts to manipulate me were obvious and sickening, and she was so totally brainwashed by the Rigpa party line that she could not see outside of it. She thought she was being reasonable and, using the usual Rigpa-speak tried to appeal to the pliable, obedient self that I’d been while in the cult, but actually she was merely trying to prevent me from gaining access to information. She just covered up that intention with reasonable-sounding words – reasonable to someone who accepted the party line, that is. I felt the dark intent behind her words in my body and decided I could do without that in my life.

I also realised in a deep way just how I’d been manipulated while in the cult and how that manipulation was still going on. (This conversation was after they’d supposedly changed.) They cover over their less-than-noble intentions by using Tibetan Buddhist beliefs in a twisted way. Protecting their relationship with their guru is so paramount to their sense of spirituality that it easily turns into protecting, defending and excusing their guru at the expense of others. Do they truly believe that their intentions are honourable? I think they do. Beliefs have been used in a twisted way for so long, and they follow the Rigpa way of thinking so completely that they genuinely think they’re doing the right thing, when actually they’re manipulating people at best and harming them at worst.

Have any of you shared that experience like that? Or had better luck in communicating with those who haven’t moved beyond the Rigpa temple?

When will my goodbye come? – Contemplative Poetry


This morning I went for a swim in the rain, then I wrote what I guess you could call a piece of contemplative poetry. I share it, not because it is anything special, but because it’s not. I want to celebrate the ordinary, the freedom of not trying to be anything, of not seeking, not chasing after peace or enlightenment or anything else, just being me – whatever that is. Not knowing is fine. Not defining anything is fine. Everything is fine, even when it’s not.

Here’s my poetic contemplation:

When will my goodbye come?
When will be the last moment my eyes look upon this beauty?
This fresh green;
This velvet water.
Caressing my skin as the cicadas sing.

So fleeting is my life,
My stewardship of this land with which I am one;
All that I have built;
All that I have nurtured;
One day I must say my final farewell.

I do not know when;
Be it soon or later, this moment is all I have;
The birds chirping;
The gentle falling rain;
I greet you with gratitude for the gift of this moment.

These photos are of my garden. It’s what I looked at as I wrote. Yes, I am truly blessed to live somewhere so beautiful.

If you have any artistic expressions in words or photos that you’d be willing to share, please send them to me at tahlia (a) (Replace the a in brackets with the usual email form. I write it this way so bots can’t grab the email address.) I think we all have something to contribute from our own experience, something that will resonate with others living beyond the temple.

The Charity Commission Enquiry into Rigpa UK: Change or Just Survival?

Thanks to Jo Green for the following post about the Charity Commission enquiry into Rigpa UK. I hope you’ll take the action he suggests at the end to hold Rigpa UK to account. Australian residents could do the same with the Australian Charity Commission as well.

The Charity Commission enquiry into Rigpa UK

The report of the Inquiry by the Charity Commission for England and Wales into Rigpa UK has been published, and it makes for uncomfortable reading. This is the highest-level investigation into the management of Rigpa and the actions of Sogyal Rinpoche/Lakar so far completed. The Charity Commission sits within the UK’s Department of Justice and although their remit and powers relate only to the proper management of charities, their reports can be used by the police as part of criminal investigations. This is the summary of their findings:

‘The inquiry found that some students had been subjected to mental, physical and sexual abuse by Sogyal Lakar. The inquiry also found that there were senior individuals within the charity at that time who were aware of at least some of these issues and failed to address them, which exposed the charity’s beneficiaries to risk of harm.’


The Charity Commission enquiry into Rigpa UK then goes on to detail their encounters with long-term trustees, Patrick Gaffney and Susan Burrows, in language both formal and disturbing. This is how they describe their encounter with Patrick Gaffney:

 ‘Mr Gaffney discussed physical acts by Sogyal Lakar towards others, saying that he wouldn’t characterise these as violent. He said that these were only occasional; he had only seen around half a dozen incidences which were meant as a teaching method with no intention to harm. Mr Gaffney stated that he had never received any complaints from those who had been on the receiving end of such acts. In the meeting, Mr Gaffney appeared unable or unwilling to recognise the serious nature of the allegations that had been made and the lack of appropriate action taken.’

The kindest thing one could say about such obfuscation is that Gaffney has lied so much for so long, to himself and others, that he has lost all grip on the truth. But I suspect it conceals real malice towards those Sogyal harmed, who are labelled as “shit-stirrers” and “trouble makers” by the leadership for saying that bullying, assault and rape are not acceptable behaviours by anyone, not even Sogyal.

As for Susan Burrows:

‘The inquiry found that Ms Burrows had knowledge of instances and allegations of improper acts and sexual and physical abuse by Sogyal Lakar against students at the charity. Ms Burrows failed to take appropriate action in response to this information. At a meeting with the inquiry on 23 January 2019 Ms Burrows was specifically asked whether anyone at all had previously told her of instances of abuse concerning Sogyal Lakar and she stated “absolutely not” and indicated that she had no knowledge of the allegations against Sogyal Lakar until the letter dated 14 July 2017 was published.’

They then go on to refer to a series of documented occasions, starting in 1994, where she was presented with just such information. Their account doesn’t include the many other times individuals confided in her as a trusted person.

Her lies and failures have led to her being disqualified from ever being the trustee or senior manager of any charity for the rest of her life, whilst Patrick Gaffney received an eight-year ban. The reason for the difference in treatment is that Patrick Gaffney had already stepped down as a trustee in 2018 before the Statutory Inquiry began, whereas Susan Burrows was still on the board. (It’s worth pointing out she was also part of the group of four US/UK trustees tasked with overseeing the Lewis Silkin investigation.) The Charities Act 2011, which defines the powers of the Charity Commission, allows lifetime bans for sitting trustees but not former ones. So, this difference in treatment in no way implies that they consider Gaffney’s failings and misbehaviour to be less serious.


The Charity Commission enquiry into Rigpa UK also reveals that no serious incident relating to physical or sexual abuse was ever reported before the publication of the letter by eight ex-students in July 2017. However, after the Charity Commission contacted the trustees, they suddenly submitted one. It appears to have cut no ice with the Inquiry. The absence of reports by Rigpa trustees is particularly perplexing given that Ros Oliver – part of the Spiritual Care team and whose late husband was a long-time trustee – told a former student after the publication of that letter that she had a file “this thick” (indicating several inches) of such things.

On the financial side, the only irregularity they identified was the withdrawal of £12,000 in cash in a single day, into the hands of one trustee. Although criticised for this, apparently the money was accounted for.  Of course, the Charity Commission has no means to investigate what happened to large sums that were kept in cash and never banked, unless an individual concerned were to confess. Their powers include looking at bank statements but do not extend to ordering a safe to be opened.

Several sources have confidentially stated that two people with long-term administrative responsibilities within Rigpa UK were involved in movements of cash on Sogyal’s behalf, as well as talking of very large sums being kept in the safe of the London Rigpa centre and of “cooking of the books” so outside investigators would find nothing. At least one of these individuals recently left the organisation. These serious allegations merit further investigation, including the police interviewing any such individuals under caution


I know that many are desperately disappointed that harsher sanctions were not taken, such as the removal of Rigpa UK’s charitable status, but the organisation has, however reluctantly, done everything it can to survive, to tick every box that needs ticking to make sure they would not be shut down. Every visible connection to Rigpa International in Lerab Ling has been cut. Nobody British remains on any of Rigpa’s many international Boards, Teams and Groups. Rigpa UK even issued a laughable statement distancing themselves from Patrick Gaffney’s recent online teaching for Rigpa.

These are extraordinary lengths to go to when one remembers that, at heart, Rigpa is fundamentally British. It all began forty years ago in London, and all the key leadership have been British, until now. This move is not just dissociation, but dislocation, a bit like ripping off your right arm with your left arm and saying that was the arm that did all the bad stuff: the rest of the body had nothing to do with it. The reason this has been done is that they knew that the unrelenting and uncompromising fanaticism of the Lerab Ling loyalists risked dragging Rigpa UK to destruction. And if they lost their charitable status, it would drastically weaken the position of other national groups and threaten the “religious congregation” status of Lerab Ling.

Vinciane Rycroft, part of the Orwellian-sounding, Sogyal-founded “Vision Board” told a recent enquirer that the Board did not accept the findings of the Lewis Silkin Report (that Sogyal abused students) BUT it did not reject them either: as if this piece of pseudo-Buddhist sophistry demonstrated a higher level of thinking, as opposed to signalling that they not only lacked vision, but also a grip on reality. Perhaps she was imagining what Sogyal would have said if he had ended up in police custody – as he rightly should have done. She may picture him sitting there in the interview room, hands folded over his belly, telling the attentive Inspector, “I’m not saying I raped those women, but I’m not saying I didn’t rape those women,” and then leaning back and giving a contented little smile, indicating that he has said something very wise indeed. Well, it wouldn’t have worked for Sogyal, it isn’t working for Lerab Ling and it definitely won’t work for Rigpa UK, because there is nothing non-dualistic about this issue. If you are on the wrong side of it, the state can take action.

After all these changes, the current UK trustees are now Gregory Burne, Mary Deeks and Daniel Nwume. The latter two are recent additions. Greg Burne is a long-standing UK trustee who served alongside Patrick Gaffney and Susan Burrows for many years. He needs to be exceptionally careful to make clear that he does not represent a continuity of their thinking.

Rigpa UK has promised to follow proper safeguarding procedures, as it always should have done, and has made certain gestures as evidence of being serious about this. This has been essential for its survival. It has not, however, acknowledged that Sogyal Rinpoche committed abuse or ever acted in a wrong way. Rigpa UK’s trustees issued a statement in response to the Charity Commission Report, which did not mention Sogyal.  They said they accepted the findings of the Inquiry, but limited this to “We accept that, as set out in the Report, historically there was mismanagement and misconduct in the administration of Rigpa UK,”. So, they accept there were administrative issues, but not a problem with abuse. In other words, they’re trying to have their safeguarding cake whilst claiming to be on a diet.


The Inquiry may have concluded, but its findings mean that the Charity Commission will be keeping a particularly close eye on Rigpa UK to ensure it fulfils its new commitments. If it was to come to light that Rigpa UK had paid lip service to the Charity Commission’s demands whilst in reality they did not believe that abuse ever really took place, that would constitute a failure of safeguarding. How can you safeguard people if you consider that a lama doing things like Sogyal did is fine?

Helen Stephenson, the CEO of the Charity Commission was unequivocal about this in her public response to the Inquiry:

“Today’s findings make for very difficult reading. The fact that students were subjected to abuse by somebody in a position of power is shameful, and I am appalled that this was able to happen in a charity where people should have felt safe. People were let down because senior figures not only failed to listen and act on concerns, but also failed to properly address the problems… Charities should be spaces in which all people are free from harm. This is not a tick box exercise. Having the right policies and procedures must be combined with the right cultures.”

So, this is what I propose. If you are concerned about these issues, please contact the current Rigpa UK trustees at and request that they make a clear statement about whether or not they accept Sogyal abused students. Also, ask whether they intend to make a proper apology to the many people harmed, acknowledging this abuse, as opposed to just referring to their experiences as “safeguarding issues”, and whether they have asked former national leaders and the sanctioned former trustees and national directors to do likewise.

In the wake of both the Lewis Silkin report and the Charity Commission Inquiry, this is a straightforward matter. All they need to say is something like “Rigpa UK accepts the findings that our founder and former Spiritual Director, Sogyal Rinpoche/Lakar, physically, sexually and psychologically abused students over a period of decades. We recognise that individuals in senior positions of responsibility knew about these matters and failed to take action, resulting in further avoidable harm coming to many students. There is no justification for any of this within Buddhism or wider society. We apologise unreservedly for all the enduring harm that has come to many students. We commit ourselves to practically supporting them in every way we can and ensuring such things never happen again.”

Since the trustees have autonomy to act and Rigpa UK is now autonomous from Rigpa International, this does not require long thought or complex consultation, so I suggest an absolute deadline of 31st December 2020. If you don’t get a prompt reply, then this is a matter for concern as the trustees are now supposed to be proactive on these matters. If an unequivocal, unqualified statement is not forthcoming on their website by the year’s end, please formally complain to the Charity Commission at stating that it appears Rigpa UK have sought to deceive them about safeguarding and are thus incapable of delivering a safe environment for students. Please post messages below to say if you have written to the trustees and what response you do or don’t get  – or contact Tahlia directly if you prefer.


Some of you may have read about the scandal around sexual misconduct relating to Dagri Rinpoche. There too there was an investigation and report, there too there was foot-dragging by the leadership, but FPMT have now put out a clear statement that accepts the truth of the allegations. What Sogyal did was so much worse and affected so many more people. It’s time for Rigpa in the UK and beyond to face reality and do the right thing. If not, they are choosing to cease to exist.

Jo Green, December 2020.

Shameless image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

The face behind the shameless blocks is of Patrick Gaffney from Wikipedia Commons.

Update on the Saga of Dagri Rinpoche’s Sexual Abuse

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

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

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

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

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

·      On Nov. 9, the women who reported the allegations, with the help of an Advocacy Group, sent an email to many Dharma friends and centers, asking them to write to the FPMT Board and request them to release the report. This email included their own report on some of the allegations. You can read this report here:

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

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

·      You can read the full FPMT update here:

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

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

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

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Update from the FPMT Nov 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

DRAFT Summary Report from FaithTrust Institute

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

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

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

But are are as helpless as we think?

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

Abuse in Tibetan Buddhism

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

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

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

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

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

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

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is sunflower-3598564_1920-1024x683.jpg
Image by Capri23auto from Pixabay

Climate Change

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

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

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

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

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

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

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

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

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

Kiss the Ground: a truly nurturing solution

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-1024x469.png

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

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

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

Click here for some written back up on the matter.

Governmental ignorance

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

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

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

Both helpless and not helpless

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

Think of it in Buddhist terms:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emotions in Buddhism & Rigpa

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

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

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

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

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


Having emotions doesn’t mean you’re stupid

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

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

Shantideva. Chapter 6, vs 10 of Bhodicharyavatara

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

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

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

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

Breaking the pattern of repression

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

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

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

Feeling helpless can lead to action

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

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

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

Art as Meditation & Contemplation

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

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

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

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

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

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