Can a cult stop being a cult?

The question the Rigpa cult must face now that Lerab Ling has failed in its bid to sue Midi Libre and Jean-Baptiste Cesbron for suggesting that Rigpa is a cult is whether or not Rigpa can stop being a cult. This question relates just as well to Shambala, the NKT and any other Buddhist group showing cultish behaviour. 

Clearly in order for a cult to stop being a cult, the cult has to change those beliefs and behaviours that make them a cult. Harmful behaviours can be banned, but what about beliefs that enable harmful behaviours? Doesn’t the potential for harm still exist for so long as a group retains beliefs that enable harm?

What is a cult?

The Urban Dictionary defines the modern understanding of the word cult as:

‘A religious/non-religious group that follows a series of strict beliefs, may include worshiping a specific God/Deity or multiple Gods/Deities, or following strict specific ideals. May involve some form of brainwashing that their knowledge is correct and that everyone else is wrong, WILL have a hierarchy, and may be led by one of a small group of charismatic leaders, and typically will shun those who are ex-members.

Not all of the above will apply to a cult, but at least one of the descriptions will. A Cult isn’t necessarily good or evil, it depends on how the cult leaders use the power they have.’

Rigpa clearly fits this definition of a cult, just by the first sentence, and most ex-members, especially those who have been outspoken about the group’s deficiencies know about being shunned by those who remain in the group—sometimes in particularly nasty ways. The belief that Tibetan Buddhism, and the Rigpa version of it in particular, is the only path that can take you to enlightenment in one lifetime fits the definition, as does the belief that anyone who thinks they were abused got it wrong—‘misunderstood’ is Rigpa’s word for it.

But the question is not so much whether they are a cult or not, but whether or not they are a destructive cult.

Psychologist Michael Langone, executive director of the anti-cult group International Cultic Studies Association, defines a destructive cult as ‘a highly manipulative group which exploits and sometimes physically and/or psychologically damages members and recruits’. (1)

In the opinion of Benjamin Zablocki, a Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University, destructive cults are at high risk of becoming abusive to members. He states that this is in part due to members’ adulation of charismatic leaders contributing to the leaders becoming corrupted by power. (2)

I think it’s fairly obvious how Rigpa fit the definition of destructive cult while Sogyal was physically present—Sogyal abused students, senior students covered it up, and their beliefs enabled the abuse—but the question is are they still a destructive cult.

With Sogyal—the teacher who abused many of his close students—retired from his role as Rigpa’s spiritual director and Rigpa making efforts—albeit limited—to implement the recommendations of the Lewis Silkim Report, it’s easy to assume that the danger is over, and certainly that’s what Rigpa wants people to believe. They have even convinced the Charity Commission in Australia of this, but just how deep does this change go? Is it just for show?

The issue of beliefs that enable harm

I’d love to see Rigpa genuinely reform, but to do that they would have to remove from their belief system the beliefs that enabled the abuse. For so long as Rigpa management and instructors believe that the abused students only ‘thought’ they’d been abused, and that this was because they had misunderstood the relationship between the student and teacher in vajrayana, the potential for abuse remains—despite their code of conduct and any other changes they make.

Dzongsar Khyentse, one of Rigpa’s main advisors admits, in his book The Guru Drinks Bourbon?, that in the student-teacher relationship in Tibetan Buddhism, ‘The potential for abuse of power exists.’ Then, in the very next sentence, he speaks of a fully submissive relationship in which if the student wants to be enlightened, they can’t even call abuse abuse:

‘However, once you have completely and soberly surrendered, you may not interpret certain manifestations and activities of the guru as the abuse of power. If you want to be fully enlightened, you can’t worry about abuse.’

Dzongsar Khyentse The Guru Drinks Bourbon? ‘Liberation through Imprisonment’

DZK is speaking here specifically about a vajrayana level relationship, not about the relationship with a teacher at the early stages of the Tibetan Buddhist path, but what does this belief say about how Rigpa members define abuse at the vajrayana level?

And this same teacher, who is not only a Rigpa adviser but also revered by Rigpa students, emphasised this view again in a Facebook essay on the Guru and Student in the Vajrayana, which he wrote in August 2017 in response to the effects of the Eight’s July 2017 letter. 

“Frankly, for a student of Sogyal Rinpoche who has consciously received abhisheka and therefore entered or stepped onto the Vajrayana path, to think of labelling Sogyal Rinpoche’s actions as ‘abusive’, or to criticize a Vajrayana master even privately, let alone publicly and in print, or simply to reveal that such methods exist, is a breakage of samaya.”

Dzongsar Khyentse, Guru and Student in the Vajrayana

And further, from the same essay:

“The bottom line here is: if both student and guru are consciously aware of Vajrayana theory and practice, I can’t see anything wrong in what Sogyal Rinpoche then does to his so-called Vajrayana students – especially those who have been with him for many years. Those students stepped onto the Vajrayana path voluntarily; it’s a journey that they chose to make. At least, I assume they did.” 

Dzongsar Khyentse, Guru and Student in the Vajrayana

DZK as a revered Rigpa adviser is strengthening in Rigpa student’s minds the very ideas that enabled the abuse. But if there is nothing wrong with what Sogyal did so long as the student voluntarily chose the vajrayana path, then what does this say about the value of the Rigpa code of conduct to those who will make this choice in future?

Ethics and commitments specific to vajrayana and Dzogchen

In their document Shared Values and Guidelines of the Rigpa Community  which provides additional information relating to the Rigpa code of conduct, in the section on ‘Entering the Vajrayana Path’, it says of students that ‘They will receive teachings on the ethics and commitments specific to vajrayana and Dzogchen’. In other words, there are ethics and commitments that are different to the other levels of the path. What are these ethics and commitments?

In their daily Longchen Nyingtik Ngondro practice, Rigpa students chant:

‘Towards the lifestyle and activity of the lama,
May wrong view not arise for even an instant, and
May I see whatever he does as a teaching for me.
Through such devotion, may his blessing inspire and fill my mind!’

Longchen Nyingtik Ngondro

This idea that you have to see anything your guru does as okay is not helped by one commentary on this text used by Rigpa which adds another phrase to the last verse: ‘and may I see whatever he does, whether it seems to be in accordance with the dharma or not, as a teaching for me.’ Another commentary on this Ngondro, expands this idea on by saying:

‘His [the teacher’s] charisma may attract men and women alike, but even if he were to seduce a hundred girls daily, see it as the activity of bringing under control. And when he causes trouble, stirring up disputes and so on, even if he slaughters hundreds of animals every day, regard this as the activity of fierce subduing.’

A Guide to The Words of My Perfect Teacher page 261

Here is the ‘scriptural authority’ that guides Rigpa students in the matter of their guru’s behaviour.

Rigpa’s version the vajrayana student-teacher relationship

Also in the section on ‘Entering the Vajrayana Path’, the Rigpa Shared Values and Guidelines document says, ‘Such formal requests [for instruction at the vajrayana level] are completely optional and voluntary, and when made by a student, constitute consent to this level of spiritual guidance.’ The vajrayana level of spiritual guidance under Sogyal included what we now recognise as abuse. Dzongsar Khyentse, whose opinions reflect those of all Rigpa’s advisors, says that at this level of the path, you must ‘completely and soberly’ surrender and ‘you may not interpret certain manifestations and activities of the guru as the abuse of power’.

What this means is not that a student won’t be harmed by a vajrayana teacher, but that in future, they won’t complain because they have ‘consented’ to ‘this level of spiritual guidance’. They likely, like those who still remain faithful to the teacher who abused them, won’t even think of it as abuse. They will see any thought that they’re being abused as a failure of perception on their part—exactly the beliefs that were used and are still being used to diminish or disregard the abuse perpetrated by Sogyal Rinpoche as outlined in the Lewis Silkim report.

During the court case against Jean-Baptiste Cesbron one of the senior Rigpa students present explained to the tribunal to that the master /disciple relationship was out of the ordinary and unique and that the victims had misunderstood the master’s intention. He accepted and saw no problem with his statement that the disciple could be ‘burned’ by coming into contact with a powerful master. Apparently the students speaking for Lerab Ling attacked the victims’ testimonies and showed total disregard for their suffering.

Does this indicate that Rigpa is no longer a destructive cult?

The Lewis Silkin recommendation on risk assessment

Number 5 of the Lewis Silkin report’s recommendations says: An appropriate risk assessment addressing the whole range of the organisation’s activities should be conducted and regularly refreshed. The risk assessment should specifically address teaching practices which are, or have been, associated with the Dzogchen Mandala – careful, well guided judgements will need to be made on the future use of such practices in the organisation’s work. For the avoidance of doubt any practice amounting to abuse of a student should never be tolerated.

Given that the beliefs that enabled the abuse in Rigpa have not changed, it can’t be said that they have adequately assessed the risk and made a careful judgement on the future use of such practices. Certainly there is still doubt around this point in their code of conduct in the special section on Vajrayana and Dzogchen.

Has the Rigpa Vision Board examined these beliefs? Are they willing to take a sober look? As is suggested in this recommendation? Have they, or can they, in order to make a ‘careful judgement on the future use of such practices’ make a decision on how they should interpret them that goes against the teachings of their spiritual advisers? Are they willing to even study alternative interpretations? If not, we must question their commitment to the safety of their students.

If they are willing to examine, then Part Two my book Fallout: Recovering from Abuse in Tibetan Buddhism is a good starting point, and Alexander Berzin presents a clear and healthy understanding of the real meaning of these beliefs in his book Wise Teacher, Wise Student: Tibetan Approaches to a Healthy Relationship (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2010)

Does Rigpa have a charismatic leader or group to which they offer adulation?

Sogyal Rinpoche has resigned as Spiritual Director of Rigpa, but is he still the teacher of Rigpa? Does he still have influence over the students? Rigpa states the answer to this in a press release from Jan 3 2018

‘Although Sogyal Rinpoche is no longer the Spiritual Director of Rigpa, he has an ongoing responsibility as a teacher to his students. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the sacred bond between student and teacher continues until enlightenment.’

He still teaches through video. And I hear that he’s pulling the Vision Board’s strings, which makes sense considering that those students have decades of practice at not being able to make a decision without Sogyal’s instructions.

Rigpa also has a group of spiritual advisors, who, as I’ve shown, propagate the same view as Sogyal did, and expect the same kind of unquestioning devotion from their students. The adulation Dzongsar Khyentse receives from his students is clear on his Facebook page, and students received Khenpo Namdrol’s victim blaming of abuse victims with enthusiastic applause.

I have even heard Patrick Gaffney spoken of with the same kind of devotion as is accorded to Sogyal. Even though he has resigned from the management team, he is still very influential in Rigpa.

Does Rigpa still exploit and psychologically damage students?

Given that Sogyal no longer physically attends retreats, the level of exploitation should have decreased considerably. However, as we have examined previously, Rigpa communications twists members perception with highly manipulative language, designed to make students and the public think that everything is fine, that Rigpa is safe now, but they have not examined or changed the core beliefs that enabled the abuse, so the potential for harm caused by those beliefs still exists.

We called it the Rigpa party line; has it changed?

Aren’t people who hold the following beliefs psychologically damaged or, at the very least, in danger of abuse?

  • It’s acceptable for a teacher to abuse their students so long as that teacher is a vajrayana teacher and that student is a ‘properly prepared and initiated’
  • A vajrayana student must not criticise their teacher no matter what he or she does.
  • Everything a vajrayana teacher does is for the student’s benefit, even if they hits them, asks them to perform sex acts they don’t want to do or publically humiliates them. Such things are teachings and a great kindness and blessing for me.

Are these not the beliefs key Rigpa figures hold?

Are they not still what Rigpa teaches their vajrayana students?

Is Rigpa management prepared to publicly state that these are not their beliefs?

Did the Australian Charity Commission ask these questions? Certainly, they seem in their ‘investigation’ not to have asked anyone other than Rigpa about it.

The court in Montpellier wasn’t fooled.

Is there still a risk of abuse to Rigpa students?

Because of the code of conduct and grievance procedure, there is less risk, and likely none for beginning students, but for so long as Rigpa maintains their fundamentalist views of the teacher-student relationship at the vajrayana level, the potential for abuse remains for vajrayana students. Why? Because given the prevalence of abuse—including allegations against some of Rigpa’s advisors—we cannot trust Tibetan Buddhist teachers (even Westerners) not to abuse their students once ‘consent’ to the vajrayana level of spiritual instruction is given.

Rigpa, as is shown by their Shared Values document, makes a distinction between vajrayana students and students at the ‘lower’ levels of the path. They can say that their code of conduct applies to all, but how can it when they believe, and teach, and students consent to the idea that ‘once you [the vajrayana student] have completely and soberly surrendered, you may not interpret certain manifestations and activities of the guru as the abuse of power. If you want to be fully enlightened, you can’t worry about abuse.’

If this is not the case, let Rigpa make a statement that makes it clear that they believe what Sogyal did was wrong and caused harm, and that they have examined the beliefs that enabled his behaviour and have now changed the way they interpret those beliefs such that they will not enable abuse in future. Unless this is done, the potential for abuse remains.  


  1.  Robinson, B.A. (25 July 2007). “Doomsday, destructive religious cults”Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. Retrieved 18 November 2007.
  2. ^ Turner, Francis J.; Arnold Shanon Bloch, Ron Shor (1 September 1995). “105: From Consultation to Therapy in Group Work With Parents of Cultists”. Differential Diagnosis & Treatment in Social Work (4th ed.). Free Press. p. 1146. ISBN 0-02-874007-6.

24 Replies to “Can a cult stop being a cult?”

  1. Tahlia’s brilliant statement deals with the core of what we assume to be wrong with Rigpa and Tibetan Buddhism.In fact, there is a discrepancy between what we, in the west, assume to be abuse and the point of view of Tibetan Buddhism.
    Abuse is inherent to the Vajrayana path according to which enlightenment and abuse go together and enlightenment is a male prerogative, an intercourse in which the woman is only the tool, the skilful means that is used by a lama to reach his goal. (or to have a long life)I am sorry to say that, for the same reasons, even Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche, a lama who is respected and revered for teaching Dzogchen, got married at the end of his life when he was in bad health.As for his wife, Dechen, she was proud of having been chosen!
    This can account for the fact that Rigpa cannot and will not make a clear statement that they believe what Sogyal did was abuse.If they did so, the tenets of Vajrayana would collapse.
    In conclusion, as Tahlia truly says, “the potential of abuse remains.”
    Yet, it looks like abuse in Vajrayana alludes to sexual abuse.No mention is made of physical abuse, beatings, or financial abuse.Consequently, Sogyal has exceeded the powers confered upon a Vajrayana master.He has used his status of a so called Vajrayana master to manipulate and fool his devotees.

  2. These thoughts have been inspired by an article by Paul VALLELY entitles “I was a Tantric Slave” which is a comment on the book by June CAMPBELL:”Traveller in space”
    I quote:”The practice of Tantric sex is more ancient than Buddhism. The idea goes back to the ancient Hindus who believed that the retention of semen during intercourse increased sexual pleasure and made men live longer. The Tibetan Buddhists developed the belief that enlightenment could be accelerated by the decision “to enlist the passions in one`s religious practice, rather than to avoid them”. The strategy is considered extremely risky yet so efficacious that it could lead to enlightenment in one lifetime.

    Monks of a lower status confined themselves to visualising an imaginary sexual relationship during meditation. But, her book sets out, the “masters” reach a point where they decide that they can engage in sex without being tainted by it. The instructions in the so-called “secret” texts spell out the methods which enable the man to control the flow of semen through yogic breath control and other practices. The idea is to “drive the semen upwards, along the spine, and into the head”. The more semen in a man`s head, the stronger intellectually and spiritually he is thought to be.

    “The reverse of ordinary sex expresses the relative status of the male and female within the ritual.”

    More than that, he is said to gain additional strength from absorbing the woman`s sexual fluids at the same time as withholding his own. This “reverse of ordinary sex”, said June Campbell, “expresses the relative status of the male and female within the ritual, for it signals the power flowing from the woman to the man”.

    The imbalance is underscored by the insistence by such guru-lamas that their sexual consorts must remain secret, allowing the lamas to maintain control over the women. “Since the book was published, I`ve had letters from women all over the world with similar and worse experiences”.
    Of course, I highly recomment the book by June CAMPBELL.

  3. This question has already been adequately answered, I think, by Michael DM (October 10, 2017 at 10.16 AM:


    “The fact that abuse has not only gone unchecked but also been actively enabled for so long and that various lamas are now being drafted in to provide scriptural justification and suppress criticism by talking about demonic possession and threatening critics with hell realms is confirmation that this is a very deep-seated, collective psychological problem among many of SR’s older students .

    Trying to deal with a collective psychological problem of this magnitude by presenting a set of rational moral requirements to a group of irrational people and waiting for them to comply is bound to be futile.”

  4. Living off women’s sexuality like vampires while settling themselves up as teachers for the path to enlightenment. They should be ran out of town as snake oil salesmen. Charlatans who are too lazy to put in the required effort to transmute and refine themselves.

  5. Lerab Ling is appealing the recent verdict of the Montpellier criminal court, which is altogether very unsurprising indeed:

    Apparently, Lerab Ling’s legal strategy is to suggest to the French appeals court that they’re a perfectly normal ‘congregation’ under the ‘patronage of the Dalai Lama, within the larger ‘church’ that is Tibetan Buddhism.

    It’s all patently false and consciously misleading, of course, so I gather from this that Lerab Ling is betting on the French appeal judges’ ignorance.

    If I were involved as a prosecutor or lawyer, since his ‘patronage’ is invoked, I would call upon the Dalai Lama to give testimony under oath in the witness stand. It might be a good occasion for the Dalai Lama to publicly distance himself somewhat more.

    If it remains in apparent ‘communion’ with Lerab Ling and its supporting Tibetan lamas, Tibetan Buddhism most definitely needs no enemies.

    1. I don’t think they have a strong case, because they should have used the argument of being a normal congregation under HHDL in the first round and this is strange.
      The question why they did not use this argument will rise and is difficult to answer.

      Probable this whole thing is to keep people on board for the money.

    2. I hope someone shares His Holiness’s comments on Sogyal then. All the stuff about rotten institutions being toppled for eg. His comments certainly distanced himself from Rigpa, and they haven’t followed his teachings on anything related to abuse. So their claim is ridiculous in light of that. Perhaps a letter to HH is required to ask if he still considers himself Rigpa’s patron?

      1. I totally agree a letter to DLama is required to ask him if he considers himself Rigpa’s patron. There are so many lies on Rigpa’s websites.

      2. I’m sending a letter to the Dalai Lama’s office myself, with a copy of the book on Sogyal I co-authored with Mary Finnigan. I will also provide French lawyer Jean-Baptiste Cesbron with a copy of our book. Perhaps Tahlia could do the same?

  6. While admittedly a Westerner and thus have a Western viewpoint, my view and understanding of Vajrayana and the teachings, shorn of the symbolism and mythology and assorted cultural trapping, lead to a basic analysis of the teachings using a modicum of critical analysis. The vajrayana is about accelerating one’s enlightenment throu an understanding of interdependent origination, the two truths and the development of pure perception and awareness, without giving up one’s truth, ethics and goodness. Neither is there is any place in that discipline for violence, abuse, psychological manipulation. That in this day and age to ignore the sheer harmfulness of that behaviour and pass it off as a teaching is to ignore the law and social norms. The current and former senior management of Rigpa and SR all need to beld accountable for being complicit in breaking the law as well as engaging in harmful action. They all know what is and isn’t ok in terms of the society in which wr live

    PS: Pure perception is not blind faith and never has been.

    1. @ Sully

      There are a few concepts in your post that I don’t subscribe to, which isn’t important because I’m not a Buddhist, but what I really do agree with is your emphasising that ethics and goodness are indispensible. It may seem obvious to many people but that simple fact seems to get lost in Vajrayana all too easily.

      For example: concern for of ethics and goodness should have precluded every single Tibetan lama from associating with Sogyal …..even if they thought their not criticizing him was far more important than their duty to warn his potential victims ( also ethically untenable) they were still under no obligation to turn up and actively endorse him as they did for decades…….but of course they were all queueing up to get in on the act, some still are and those who stopped did so out of embarrassment and concern for their own public image rather than concern for the victims.

      So it has to asked: what exactly is the point of Varjrayana and how can it be claimed to work or bring any benefit if all the very people who supposedly hold the lineages, have had the opportunity to study and practise it far more than western students and purport to teach it to others, fail so spectacularly to manage even this most basic foundation of the Buddha’s teaching?

      You might find it a harsh, but as regards ‘psychological manipulation,’ whether of oneself or by others……… me it seems like that’s actually all that Vajrayana really is.

      In that respect I’d be particularly interested to hear how you differentiate blind faith from pure perception.

      1. Good questions @Pete but not ones that can be answered in a quick comment. Section 2 of my book ‘Fallout’ should help explain the pure perception/blind faith differentiation.

        And is vajrayana merely psychological manipulation? Sure, I can see how that is a valid way of looking at the practices, but if that manipulation is by one self (not by someone else) and results in a calmer and clearer mind and greater awareness, then is that a bad thing?

        I’m not a Buddhist anymore, but I also can’t deny that I’m a better person for having studied and practiced vajrayana Buddhism for 20 years. Given the number of people who seem to have turned out blinkered and unkind, like their teacher, though, and the number of unfeeling narcissistic teachers around, maybe that says more about me than the religion. I don’t know. Vajrayana defies complete rejection for me.

        1. @ Tahlia

          That’s a good point but I’d be reluctant to attribute anything much in the way of positive fundamental and lasting personality change to Vajrayana practice, although even I wouldn’t to discount the idea completely, but not necessarily in a good sense.

          You should definitely take all the credit for who you are.

          My very limited understanding is that how you develop as a human being is down to your innate personality, circumstances and experience, but it’s a huge subject and very complex. The intricacies of the nature/nuture debate, genetics, epigenetics and so on are way beyond my capacity to grasp and the scientific understanding is constantly increasing too. Even the Selfish Gene was up-hill work for me, having no scientific education.

          So not being smart enough to have any confidence that I understand all this throws me back on a kind of rough empiricism. In terms of Vajrayana that means observation, and concluding that if it really was so powerful and did what it’s supposed to do, then almost everyone who practised it would be decent, good individuals who are reasonably happy, content and relatively free from negative traits such as greed, ambition, dishonesty, cruelty selfishness, indifference to others and so on. It would follow that those who have practised it the most would be proportionately more so.

          But as you say, this evidently isn’t the case. There’s even an argument to say it can bring out the worst in many people.

          I’d say that at the very least there seems to be no relation whatsoever to what and how much you’ve practised and the good aspects of your personality. In fact I’d cite a Buddhist here…..maybe Santideva, I’m not sure. The quote isn’t going to be verbatim either but:

          “If a practitioner doesn’t have compassion, he may well meditate one-pointedly for eight years in a remote valley full of poisonous snakes and the only thing he will develop is over-weaning pride.”

          I read ‘compassion’ as basic humanity, kindness and empathy rather than anything lofty in the spiritual sense.

          I can see that most activity could be described as manipulation and I didn’t intend it in an exclusively pejorative sense but rather to highlight the fact that there’s nothing mystical, mysterious, exclusive or even out of the ordinary about Vajrayana, it’s just one type of human activity among many others designed to alter the mind and generate different experiences. This is what most of us were drawn to.

          Those experiences can be accessed by many other means, for instance psychedelic drugs…….and with nowhere near the investment in time, energy and cash.

          If people are desperate for experiences they can pledge life-time allegiance to a man who may be an exploitative predator, and a con artist, repeat millions of meaningless sounds, spend hours sitting in a cave in total darkness for months until sensory deprivation kicks in and they may start to hallucinate…..or cut out the middleman and swallow a tablet that guarantees
          strange experiences that will wear off in a relatively short time. It’s a matter of choice.

          The idea that permanent wholly beneficial change is the outcome is the selling point…..and it’s a con. It may well be possible to alter the functioning of the brain permanently, but that applies to other means too, such as long-term alcohol and drug abuse, or accidentally like trauma – mental or physical, or illness.

          If you’re consciously setting out to modify your own brain, the questions are: how much will you need to do it, whether it will really work as expected and whether you and others are going to like the end result if it actually does.

          Anyone and everyone can induce weird experiences, but luckily the effects usually wear off……and that’s probably a good thing. There might be lessons to be learned, but I don’t believe in the magical transformation from ordinary human into Buddha…..basically a superhuman. Has anyone ever met one?

          The problem with this ridiculous belief in an ‘Ubermensch’ is that it implies a lot of ‘Untermenschen’ too. Is it healthy to aspire to that in the first place?

          I can see why basic meditation, abdominal breathing and the like, can be useful to relieve anxiety or result in other benefits, but these are understood to be down to physiological changes such as lowered cortisol levels and they can be taught as exercises.

          It’s not that all ancient techniques aren’t useful per se, but these days we need to understand that they might work but not to the degree advertised and not for the reasons they were thought to work in a pre-scientific age. So all the convoluted cultural nonsense, control and exploitation they are embedded in can and should be discarded.

          I know this would put all those lamas, gurus and spiritual teachers out of a job, but like most priests, clairvoyants, astrologers, faith healers, exorcists, homeopaths, shamans and New Age crystal-wielding life coaches, their loss will be society’s gain.

  7. I haven’t been keeping up with all this recently, but when I read the question in the title, my first reaction was: “No, obviously not…..” but facetiousness aside, Tahlia, you’re doing a great job keeping these issues to the forefront by analyzing the Vajrayana cult mentality, because it really needs spelling out.

    I agree with Rob that this has also been quite well addressed in the previous comment he links to. It’s a slightly different emphasis but I’d describe it as a remarkably perceptive, profound, incisive and elegantly written summary of the question.*

    I think this understanding is vitally important because it goes so much wider than Rigpa or Tibetan Buddhism: having grasped the basics of cult thinking and behaviour, once you start looking, it appears just about everywhere……I was going to list a few very obvious examples of cult-like groups: religious groups, political parties, nationalists, racists, misogynists, predatory capitalist organisations, climate change denialists, Morris dancers and so on…..but then it occurred to me that this dynamic runs through almost every group in some form or other, and can exist right down to the smallest human unit of the family or even two people.

    So not wanting anyone to feel left out, I tried to look at it another way and think of a type of innocuous group involved in some benign activity that’s guaranteed to be completely devoid of these characteristics……until I remembered recently reading about a small English suburban allotment where the power struggle for the position of secretary led to an elderly lady being strangled to death in the potting shed with a lawnmower cable… which point I gave up.

    As the French humourist George Brassens said: “Qu’on est plus de quatre on est une bande de cons. ”

    ( Roughly: “When we’re more than four, we’re a bunch of twats.”)

    Anyway, my thanks to Ladybird for counteracting my rather depressing conclusion about our species by giving me a good laugh by quoting: “The more semen in a man`s head, the stronger intellectually and spiritually he is thought to be.”……a revoltingly creepy idea that’s nonetheless perfectly described in the British vernacular as: “He’s got his brains in his dick.”

    Sadly, an accurate description of so many of my gender and the source of a lot of problems indeed.

    I was also cheered up by the news that the much-maligned congregation of the faithful at Lerab Ling has decided to carry on the heroic fight against being defined as a cult ( something they have actually now done very effectively to themselves) by taking it to the appeals court.

    Other foot forward, take aim……what plucky cultists they are eh?

    I wondered if they might be doing this out of their boundless compassion towards pretentious, cynical people such as myself who claim to enjoy watching the classic Greek tragic theme of Nemesis following Hubris, when it’s actually just slapstick….but I suspect it’s really because they’ve figured out that this landmark judgement has opened the floodgates internationally for multiple individual litigation and class actions against them, Sogyal and Rigpa for compensation, so what else could they do?

    Form an orderly queue please……

    *NB: I definitely didn’t write it myself using a pseudonym.

  8. It might even get worser for them. Actually those “cult remnants” could be screened if they have give up relationships with Sogyal as their teacher, especially those who are obliged to follow only Sogyal as a teacher. This contradicts that they have a new spiritual guide, Khandro, as they state. This concerns probably 95 % of those people in LL.

    If they would confronted with HHDL statements regarding Sogyal, feudalism, cult and so on, they can be asked if they stay away from Sogyal and his ideologist Namdrol- who says killing is fine if the Lama (Sogyal ) says so.

    Would say yes, they stay away ?

    Are they really suitable to run such a center after decades of abuse directly under their nose ?

  9. I’d say that most people will need professional help to overcome a cult mentality. To take a person out of a cult is hard, but to take the cult out of a person is even harder. It’s like an addiction: unless and until you yourself realize, without reservations, that you’re truly addicted, you can’t be helped.

    Engaging in such treatment is particularly hard for Buddhist converts who’ve cultivated narcissistic and grandiose delusions about themselves, their observations, perceptions, and experiences for years, and imagine themselves to be cognoscenti on the subtle workings of the human mind.

    A toxic mix of hubris and dilettantism—which to me is the hallmark of Sogyal’s legacy, by the way—can make Western Buddhists exceptionally intractable. I’ve seen Western Buddhists exchange one cult for another, or act out a cult mentality long after they’d left the cult they were in.

    1. @ Rob Hogendoorn

      Spot on. If Tibetan Buddhism was a packet of cigarettes, a synthesis of your first two paragraphs could be printed on the side as a health warning .

      “Tibetan Buddhism can seriously damage your personality”

      It’s true that once you’ve been thoroughly indoctrinated there’s no doubt that it can be very difficult to shake off a cult mentality unaided.

      But it can be done and on an encouraging note: how easily people leave and recover can vary quite a lot, one factor being whether they’ve had to retain at least one area of their lives completely outside Buddhism, maybe their family, friends or their job, where the activities and the people they interact with have no relation to it and make no concessions at all to a Buddhist world view or may even be hostile to it .

      Possibly that may help prevent complete psychological immersion and emotional (or financial) dependence. Perhaps the quickest way to get in so deep that you’ll never be able to get out is by becoming a paid full-time employee of Rigpa and so be obliged to take yourself seriously.

      (I have no empirical research-based data to back that theory up, but I can think of a good number of cases I’ve seen )

      Personally, among many others, I’m indebted to the profound wisdom of a North London builder called Kenny* who was on the fringes of the criminal underworld.

      “You wot? Nah, nah mate…..sitting on yer bollocks all day?… that can’t be any good for yer cannit….eh?”

      If only I’d taken his advice sooner than I did.

      * Not his real name


  10. Please do try to get a clear statement from the Dalai Lama disavowing his patronage of Rigpa that can be used in court. That’s definitely worth a try. Just don’t be surprised if he (or his Office, to protect him from controversy) suddenly goes very, very quiet.

  11. At the very least, the French court should get a copy of The Letter From The Eight. (Has it been translated into French?) No better indictment exists.

  12. At the very least, the French court should get a copy of The Letter From The Eight. Has it been translated into French? No better indictment exists.

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