Can you get a Dzogchen Transmission from an Unrealised Teacher?

People hold different viewpoints on the question of whether or not Sogyal was qualified to teach as he did, and since people don’t all accept the same ‘evidence’ as relevant, no agreement will ever come to pass. So we will have to agree to disagree or accept that we will likely never know for sure. But a question relevant for all those students who stuck with Sogyal and Rigpa for years is how his lack of qualifications affected our learning. Was it all just a waste of time?

Clearly we did learn Buddhism. Reading any book on Buddhism confirms that, and the Rigpa Shedra scholars would know if we weren’t getting the real ‘information’. To suggest that Rigpa students learned nothing of worth, is basically saying that Buddhism, vajrayana and dzogchen have no worth. It also does a huge disservice to thousands of students.

The big issue, however, is the dzogchen teachings because doesn’t a dzogchen teacher have to have some realisation before he can introduce a student to the nature of their mind?

Let’s, for the sake of this investigation, take the position that Sogyal didn’t actually have any realisation. If that’s true, where does that leave us? Deluded?

Erik Pema Kunsang seems to think so. In an article called CLUB NONDUALITÈ, he says:

‘Patrul Rinpoche wrote 150 years ago, that there are many Dharma teachers who point out the thoughtfree state of the all-ground as being the nondual nature of mind, and that is why people who believe it may train ten, twenty, thirty years without becoming stable in nonduality. Why? They have instead trained in the very basis for dualistic mind…. When someone is being told, without being checked, “you have now received the pointing-out introduction,” it’s at best wishful thinking and, at worst, a direct lie. … Often a meditator is told by the teacher that nonduality is a quiet thoughtfree state of mind that holds no focus. This may or may not be true, because there is another state of mind that looks like it, just like a rhinestone may look like a diamond’

Erik Pema Kunsang

Or is it possible that he could still have given a genuine dzogchen transmission?

Was it really the nature of mind?

How do we check whether or not we got the ‘real thing’? Taking teachings and introductions from another teacher is a good way. Examination in light of the detailed instructions in books such as Clarifying the Natural State by Dakpo Tashi Namgyal is another, and then there is the certainty in oneself that can’t be denied – a knowledge beyond knowledge. If we don’t give a damn whether or not we’ve recognised the nature of our mind, then we’re less likely to fool ourselves. If the answer is important to us, especially if the answer reflects on how we feel about our self, then we are in danger of deluding our self. And if we’re not sure if we have or haven’t glimpsed the nature of our mind, then we probably haven’t.

So let’s assume that some of us did have a genuine glimpse of the nature of our mind under Sogyal’s tutelage. (And if you say that’s not possible because Sogyal doesn’t have any realisation, then out of respect for those who know beyond a shadow of doubt that it is possible, please suspend that idea just long enough to follow this examination.)

Would accepting that some of his students experienced a genuine introduction to the nature of their mind mean that Sogyal did, despite appearances, have some realisation? Or did Sogyal transmit dzogchen despite his lack of realisation?

Isn’t there some transformative power in the words of the teachings themselves?

Rely on the message rather than the messenger.
In the message, rely on the meaning rather than just the words.

In the meaning, rely on that which is really true rather than seemingly true.
Rely on the really true, not with dualistic mind, but realize within nondual wakefulness.

Every long-term Rigpa student knew this teaching, and given that a lot of us didn’t particularly ‘like’ our lama, a lot of us followed this. We looked to the words, to the meaning, to the truth we recognised in our bones.

Take any of the dzogchen teachings on mind. Is there not some degree of transmission in those very words? Not if you just read them in an ordinary mind, of course, no. But if you are in a meditative state, having done all the prerequisites and having truly worked with them, relying on the ‘really true’ meaning, surely, there is some power to transform in them alone. Or am I just the sole weirdo who senses the immense transformative power in such words?

Yes, the religion says we’re supposed to get a ‘lung’ or oral transmission in order to unlock the power of such texts, but is that really so important? Or is it just another way to keep the gurus employed? Isn’t reading it slowly aloud in your own language better than hearing it raced through at a frantic speed in a language you don’t understand?

The three authentics

According to The Words of Tenpai Nyima: Notes on the Ground of Trekchö: The Concentrated Essence Distilled from the River of the Whispered Transmission by Khenpo Ngakchung, in order for the introduction to the nature of mind to take place, the three authentics must come together. These three are: the authentic blessing of the master, the authentic devotion of the student, and the authentic instructions of the lineage.

Note, however, that this teaching doesn’t say ‘authentic realisation’ but rather ‘authentic blessing.’ The word ‘blessing’ means transformative power, not realisation as such. Could Sogyal, through his devotion for his masters, have had the blessing even without the realisation? Isn’t devotion a prime key to transmission in dzogchen?

Devotion and blessings

Before he gave dzogchen teachings, Sogyal stared at the images of his masters, his eyes moist with devotion, hands in prayer position. He aroused his devotion and taught from that state. Aren’t blessings passed through devotion? It’s said that it’s through the student’s devotion that they receive the blessing to enable them to recognise the nature of their mind, if that’s the case, then Sogyal received the blessing of his masters through his devotion to them, and we received the blessing of his masters through our devotion to him.

Wouldn’t this fulfil the requirement of the ‘authentic blessing of the master’? Sogyal may not have had any realisation, but he did have the blessing of his masters—many saw evidence of that—and he did have devotion to them, and according to this teaching on the three authentics, that is enough.

In the Tibetan story of the dog’s tooth, a woman is given what she thinks is a relic of the buddha, but it’s only a dog’s tooth; nevertheless due to her devotion to the dog’s tooth, she receives blessings from it in the form of ringsels (spontaneously produced pearl-like phenomena found in the ashes of great masters.) The teaching in this story is that if a student has true devotion, they will get blessings, even from a dog’s tooth!

Last year, I emailed Tenzin Palmo and asked the following:
‘Can one gain some measure of genuine realisation through relying on an unqualified teacher? This is referring to a situation where the student has given complete, unquestioning devotion and fulfilled their obligations as a student and then only later they discover that the lama was not worthy of that devotion.’

Her reply was:

‘Yes, it is possible to gain genuine realisation even when the teacher later proves to be unqualified. If the student has a direct realisation of the nature of the mind, then that is so, whatever the status of the lama who gave the pointing out instruction or facilitated this insight. Some teachers have the ability to open the minds of the students even when in other ways the conduct and wisdom of the teacher may be questionable. This is one reason for the confusion nowadays with lamas who have helped so many students yet have been shown to be unworthy of their role. Still these students were helped….’

Jetsumna Tenzin Palmo

Empowerment and disempowerment

And let’s not forget that the teacher, no matter how realised, is not giving us something we don’t already have. He or she is merely a catalyst that helps us recognise the nature of our mind, something that is not owned, given or even truly shown by anyone—it can only be pointed towards. If we have studied and practiced the dharma, then once our mind and heart are truly open, anything can be a catalyst for recognition—even a barking dog.

And let’s not fall completely under the spell of a guru-centric religion. The key factor in recognising the nature of our mind is actually our awareness, our openness, our qualities as a student, not those of our teacher or the religion’s sanctioned method. To believe otherwise goes against the very foundations of Buddhism, the essential point that seeing through the veil of ignorance is entirely up to us. No one else can do it for us, a point made clear in the Buddha’s life story where he had to leave his teachers in order to discover the truth for himself.

So even if we believe the teacher a fake, let’s not presume that his or her students’ realisation is also fake. That idea diminishes the importance of the quality of the student, and further disempowers students of a cult that has already disempowered them enough by teaching them to mistrust their own instincts. Instead, let’s empower students to trust themselves to know their own mind.

The only true empowerment is self-empowerment.

‘If you discover what you thought was the state of nonduality is actually just a dualistic state of open, calm and clear panoramic awareness, there is no need to blame anyone, neither the teacher, the friends or yourself. Understand that the person who taught you that was not a primary master, but a meditation instructor, and you’re allowed to pursue authentic wisdom wherever you can find it. Within the Buddhist Vajrayana context, how can there be a samaya bond to a root guru, if you haven’t yet found the true nature of mind? To keep the dharma pure and make sure it will last for a long while, the most important is honesty. Be honest to yourself. Don’t believe in myths. Test everything.’ 

Erik Pema Kunsang

So what do you think? If you think Sogyal couldn’t have transmitted dzogchen due to his lack of realisation, then are you saying that those who feel they received genuine dzogchen transmission are fooling themselves? Or is it possible that, as the teaching on the three authentics suggests, blessings are more important than realisation? Or, as I feel right now, is it all a load of hogwash, anyway, and it’s time to make a cocktail.


Image by bridgesward from Pixabay

107 Replies to “Can you get a Dzogchen Transmission from an Unrealised Teacher?”

  1. I had to laugh about you reaching out for a cocktail. Cheers! I don’t really know what the answer is. Definitely a good number of people believed they had had a genuine transmission from Sogyal, but it could be that they had not had a genuine transmission to compare it with. I tend to agree with Erik Pema Kunsang’s remark that “If you discover what you thought was the state of nonduality is actually just a dualistic state of open, calm and clear panoramic awareness, there is no need to blame anyone, neither the teacher, the friends or yourself. Understand that the person who taught you that was not a primary master, but a meditation instructor, and you’re allowed to pursue authentic wisdom wherever you can find it.”
    I think Sogyal was a good meditation teacher and should have stuck to that level. There is a tradition of pointing out instructions in various other non-dual traditions, Advaita Vedanta for instance. I have come to think that it not so hard to facilitate another’s awareness into a first step opening into Nature of Mind. It is our own mind’s readiness to begin to understand itself. The next step is how to integrate this knowledge into our day to day lives? Whether that teacher is qualified or able to transmit a deeper level of understanding through the channel of the student’s opened awareness is another matter. I would think that Sogyal wasn’t able to do this because he did not have enough realization himself that could be transmitted. I am not suggesting that that means students didn’t ever have profound realizations because after all they were receiving pointing out instructions from many good visiting lamas and had genuinely opened their hearts to the energy of the Teachings. Perhaps at best Sogyal did facilitate their reception for more advanced Teachings but whether or not they actually came from him as a pure transmission, I think is unlikely. What is certain is that many students felt that they depended on him because that was the culture of Rigpa Organization to have to believe that he was their crazy wisdom guru. Then the dangers of an unqualified teacher attempting to be an enlightened Master swiftly became all to apparent to anyone not in his thrall. I think he can be fairly recognized as a catalyst for many coming to the path who might look on him as their first port of call at the same time as causing much harm and extreme confusion, sadly through his ignorance rather than his wisdom.

    1. Its really sad what happened to the people in Rigpa. A lot of damage and hurt. I know what it feels like. I hope everyone who was hurt can recover and move on in a positive direction. The hurt may not ever go away but please don’t let it destroy you.

      Philosophy and meditation often gets in the way of caring for others.
      Ive observed this over many years.

      I once had the wish to get enlightened to free all beings from suffering. I want to be able to free people from there pain and there problems. What ever they needed, I wanted to be that for them. I wanted to be able to see their past, present and future. I wanted to know everything, to walk through walls, manifest forms, control the elements and do it all perfectly and effortlessly. Yeah, I wanted to achieve that. I wanted to be unlimited in my ability to help others. Now I dream of being able to take away someones physical pain. If only I could do that. If only I could control the outer world so no one ever experienced tragedy. If only I could cure all sickness and solve every problem. Yeah, I dream of that. Every day I think about it. How can I achieve that? I often wonder. Maybe I can’t find the knowledge I need in this world. Maybe it is not here. Maybe we humans are not ready for it. I’m still going to try to find it. I’m not going to give up.

  2. Ah yes, what Bertie Wooster (of Wooster and Jeeves fame) used to call “the life-giving cocktail.” I think I’ll have one, too. As far as Dzogchen transmission goes, who knows what it was that those poor people think they got?

    1. I’d love to be able to get together and chat over a cocktail, but this will have to do. For myself, I no longer care what I ‘got’.

  3. @Don’t believe in myths. Test everything.’

    A good test may be found in the text ” The vital essence of primordial consciousness by tertön Lerab Lingpa. Translated by B Allan Wallace in his book Open Mind. 2017

  4. Personally, it’s disheartening to think that someone could have a real ‘transmission’ from a fake teacher because that would mean one also has a Vajra commitment and samaya with that teacher as well, (from a Vajrayana perspective).

  5. For those of us who are still struggling, even a little, with these issues, I’d like to share something (very short) that helped me a lot when I read it a few years ago: “Liberation is seeing that there is no need of a way out. The only thing that (apparently) gets in the way is the story that this isn’t it — that something more or less or different is needed.” I don’t even remember who said this, but It seemed very freeing, and I liked it so much when I read it that I immediately wrote it down.

    1. @Been there,

      “Liberation is seeing that there is no need of a way out. The only thing that (apparently) gets in the way is the story that this isn’t it — that something more or less or different is needed.”

      This sounds like a shamanic quote to me.

  6. “Or am I just the sole weirdo who senses the immense transformative power in such words?” No Tahlia you are not the only ‘weirdo’. Because of the abuse and abusive teachers we dismiss all aspects of the lineage. We forget that a line of individuals, or groups, stretching back into the past, spent time, effort and energy working on the same aspects of TB we might be trying to understand today. TB sort of crystallised the idea of being able to tap into this line (group) of people and find, see, dare I say realize what they had. Wisdom, understanding can ‘come trotting out of the all ground’, simply because it is there to be had. Then there is the power of mantra eg the Manjushri Mantra. That has been explained like calling Manjushri for help. But what if those people who realized were also violent thugs we ask? How can they be realized while being careless of others. One explanation may be that they understand mentally while unable to live what the realize. It is only a certain level of realization but one which we can tap into. It is like studying any subject where we look at the history and people who might eg have built amazing structures and been brilliant at their job but were appalling people!
    This is where the texts and translations are of immense value. We can connect with the words and ideas without ‘personalities’ getting in the way. We are connecting with universal realization and wisdom. Perhaps our Buddha Nature is recognising its own face in the words.

  7. So, you’ve ruled at least one option out, didn’t you Tahlia? Even if his followers got a Dzogchen transmission from Sogyal—which I doubt, but that’s beside the point—it wouldn’t mean that he is a qualified teacher, it wouldn’t mean that he’s not a charlatan.

    In response to your query, Ngak’chang Rinpoche wrote on Mary Finnigan’s Facebook page:

    “It is not actually a question.
    If the nondual state is recognised — a person does not have to ask whether or not transmission was received.
    If one has to ask — the nonduality will not have been recognised.
    As nonduality is the primordial state — it is there as the basis of all beings.
    As it is naturally inherent it can be sparked by anything or anyone — under the right circumstances.
    It would be extremely rare to gain nondual realisation from treading in canine faeces — but maybe not as unlikely as gaining it from Sogyal Lakar.”

    Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoché wrote:

    “One piece of advice that Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö often gave his students was that, if they did not subdue their minds through renunciation and the compassion attained in the bodhichitta of helping others, trying to grab hold of the highest view of Mahamudra and Dzogchen would get them nowhere. Training thoroughly in the preliminary practices is crucially important.”

    [Source: p. 359 of Dilgo Khyentse. (2017). A Wondrous Grove of Wish-Fulfilling Trees: The Biography of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö (Drubgyud Tenzin Rinpoche & K. S. Phuntsok, Trans.). In J. Schulz (Ed.), The Life and Times of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö: The Great Biography by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and other stories (pp. 261-539). Boulder: Shambhala.]

    There’s no reason at all to assume that Sogyal has ever begun preliminary practices, never mind had a thorough training in them. Nor is there any reason to think he ever subdued his mind through renunciation and bodhicitta. He abused and assaulted others instead, only thinking about the immediate gratification of his own desires.

    1. Yes, ‘If the nondual state is recognised — a person does not have to ask whether or not transmission was received.’ Exactly, which is why some of us know you are wrong in presuming that it was not possible. Do you really think people stuck around for decades if they received nothing! We are not that stupid.

      And I’m not the one asking. You are. This post was written in response to what you you started. Because you are presuming to declare what other people did and did not receive. As if you knew. You declare all idea of transmission through Sogyal bogus, but you were not Sogyal’s dzogchen student. You have nothing on which to base your view. And your quotes do not support your case:

      ‘As nonduality is the primordial state — it is there as the basis of all beings. As it is naturally inherent it can be sparked by anything or anyone — under the right circumstances.’ This is exactly what I’m saying. And then Ngak’chang Rinpoche completely contradicts himself by saying it would be unlikely to gain it from Sogyal who did actually create the right circumstances according to the TB tradition of his lineage.

      Let’s be clear here. We’re not talking about Sogyal’s credentials, we’re talking about his students. Denigrating Sogyal is one thing, denigrating his students is something else. You should not presume to know whether or not any of them received any value or any transmission or any recognition. Only they know that. You can only speak of your own experience. And you were not Sogyal’s student. I don’t know why you think your opinion on this is even relevant.

      I personally have nothing to question on this topic, and neither do a lot of us. But not all his students are as certain in themselves, and I think your presumption to declare their experience a waste of time is not at all helpful for their healing. They must come to their own conclusion, not be told by someone else what they did or did not experience. To presume that you know better than they do about what they experienced is really not helpful for any abuse victim, especially those whose self-esteem has been crushed. You however, seem determined not to accept anyone else’s experience and knowing as valid. Until you can accept someone else’s experience and viewpoint as valid, and recognise that you cannot even speak on this matter because you were not one of Sogyal’s dzogchen students. I have nothing more to say to you.

      1. Very well said Tahlia. And I would like to say something on behalf of Sogyal’s non-Dzogchen students, of which I was one (though he did make Dzogchen a big part of every public teaching).
        My time with Rigpa was transformative, both negatively and positively. Sogyal was my first teacher and he was a brilliant teacher at times. He could convey basic Dharma to the West in strong ways and for that I am still grateful and I still remember some of his most succinct teachings. And even the negative has deepened my understanding of myself and the Dharma and my compassion for others.

        Bad is bad and we can never excuse abuse nor mitigate or excuse its harm. However, even the most traumatic experience is NEVER a wasted experience. Understanding that is part of recovery and it is also part of spiritual growth. For myself, I used Dharma in that journey and some of that Dharma I learned from Sogyal. For others Dharma will be a trigger and they will seek help elsewhere and that’s the point– we are all unique and we will each have our own unique stories. Honoring that is a way to build a stronger community and better safety for all.

      2. Do you accept that even if his followers got a Dzogchen transmission from Sogyal, it doesn’t mean that he is a qualified teacher? That it wouldn’t mean that he’s not a charlatan?

        I must have struck a nerve, but you really ought to take more care reading what I do and do not argue. There’s just no point in debating straw men.

        1. @Rob,

          If I am understanding you post, I think that is what Tahlia is already saying. She is saying that a transmission can come from anything. If that’s the case, it could come from a charlatan teacher like Sogyal as well. She is not saying that Sogyal is legitimate. Sogyal would be in the role of the “dog’s tooth” so to speak. (I’m referring to the Buddhist legend about a woman who thinks a dog’s tooth is the Buddha’s tooth, and through her belief and faith, she is transformed and gains realizations. The point of the story is to show that realization can come from any source, even something fake. I wish Vajrayanists would follow this example more often instead of giving ALL credit to the guru.)

          So according to Vajrayana, does the woman have samaya with the dog’s tooth because it gave her realizations, lol?

          1. Yes, that’s what I’m saying.
            And the question about samaya is very pertinent. I think samaya is another concept that has been grabbed onto and used as a method of control and maintaining power, and it’s essential point and purpose lost. When you delve into the idea of it, what’s behind it? It’s not actually about rules; samaya is the practice of endeavouring to see the true nature of everything all the time. (See Mingyur Rinpoche’s article on the abuse issue – ) You start with the lama (because he or she is supposedly easier to see in their true nature than a dog’s tooth) and then extend it to everyone, including yourself. So yes, you would have samaya to a dog’s tooth if your openness to the true nature of that dog’s tooth enables you to see the nature of your mind. But the samaya is simply always seeing that dog’s tooth the same way, seeing it’s empty essence and luminous nature. You’re not going to hell if one time you see it just as a dog’s tooth, or tell others that it’s just a dog’s tooth. If you had a genuine introduction, you’ll always be able to see the true nature of the dogs tooth even though you know it’s just a dog’s tooth with no special qualities. Samaya is a practice, not a binding. But the lamas use it as a binding.

            The other aspect of samaya and glimpsing the nature of our mind is that people forget that if you’re truly in that state of mind, then you’ll see the true nature of everything, not just whatever was the catalyst. If you don’t see the true nature of everything, then it wasn’t the NOM. And if there’s no compassion in your heart, no feeling of deep connection with everything, it also is not the NOM. Once you’ve truly seen/experienced/ the NOM and stabilised that recognition, anything and everything can introduce it. It’s the way you look that determines how you see. That’s the ‘turning of the mind’ that dzogchen teachers speak of. You can turn on and turn off that kind of vision.

            1. It is interesting that Garchen Rinpoche has stated that samaya is love, which might sound easier than some of the other requirements but is actually much, much more difficult and to the point.

        2. @Rob,

          Of course, it’s important to add that the realizations aren’t really coming from these fake sources at all. They are coming from the practitioner’s own mind. (So why don’t the lamas acknowledge this and give credit to the practitioners with realizations instead of giving fake gurus all the credit?)

          1. Because they want to keep their power. They will cling to it at all costs. Only by finding alternatives that work will we be able to cut through the power they have by insisting that you need a master – even though their own teachings contradict that. I would love to have someone to trial an alternative method on.

            1. @Tahlia,

              It seems to me that the way of doing this would be to teach that everything is of pure nature and to put less focus on the guru as THE ticket to enlightenment. Of course, we both know they won’t ever do this because that would empower the students and take power away from the guru.

      3. As dzogchen: kadak /hundup/non dual is the nature of all beings it can be discovered. However direct introduction is different then a random or chance discovery. The teacher uses a method to introduce. Also the student is not a passive recipient. And in the dzogchen tantra’s it states that to give direct introduction the teacher must first give the word and symbols transmissions.
        Interestingly, direct introduction can be given by a qualified teacher but the student does not recognise the natural state. This does not mean it did not work. Because it was given the student can then use guru yoga practice to discover the natural state.
        My teacher explained this and I personally know someone who had this happen to them.

        It is important to identify the causes and conditions that give rise to recognition. One can not simply rely on sneezing or a loud noise to one day help them to discover. This is important. Things such as lineage and connection to a particular teacher are also important factors.

    2. Rob,

      Are you speaking of the the Ngondro preliminary practices? If that is the case, SL routinely practiced Ngondro with the Rigpa sangha, so to say, “…there is no reason at all to assume that Sogyal has ever begun preliminary practices, never mind had a thorough training in them…” cannot be true. If you are referring to another form of preliminary practices, please clarify.

    3. Rob, ask Ngak’chang R if he requires his students to even begin the preliminary practices? It’s waste of time in their lineage.

      Yet, you have deep respect for him and use his words to bash other people?


  8. You’ve raised many good points in this piece, Tahlia. I like the way you back them up with quotes.

    There’s no question that SL was introduced to the Nature of Mind an endless number of times by his masters. For example, consider the film of Dudjom Rinpoche introducing the nature of mind at SL’s request recorded in the early years. We can’t know for certain what happened in private between SL and his masters, but so many of us were present along with SL when masters like Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Dudjom Rinpoche, and so many others introduced the nature of mind. No one can argue that’s not true, there’s too much evidence to the contrary. He received the introduction an incredible number of times, as did many of us. Whether he realized it, how can I know or anyone else for certain? Usually, these things are checked by your teacher, and that could have occurred for him with Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche or any of his other teachers, but we will never know for certain because we were not present.

    I honestly don’t know if he was hypnotizing us, introducing us to alaya, or introducing us to the nature of mind. He certainly knew how to create an atmosphere for people to recognize, and maybe it’s possible to do that whether you are realized or not given what I’m learning by reading other non-dual teachings.

    Reading non-dual teachings outside of Tibetan Buddhism, it’s become clear to me that there are times when people “wake up” to the nature of mind or at least to egelessness/no-self without being in the presence of a teacher or any background of study at all. I find that fascinating. We tend to think it’s all about the teacher, but as you point out it’s very much about our own openness, readiness, and perhaps a state of grace for which we cannot account.

    As you say, SL had an deep devotion to his teachings, which he often spoke of before he introduced. So perhaps that blessing alone was enough to create the atmosphere for students to realize their true nature.

    What does it mean to be “realized” anyway? There are many different levels of realization. Unless you are fully enlightened, even if you have some degree of realization, you can still fall prey to delusion.

    I know it’s mind-boggling to think that someone with any level of realization could commit such abuse, but such is the power of delusion.

    1. I have thought about and investigated these points for many years. What helped me was to rely on my own judgement and common sense, not the teachings or a teacher.

    2. Nice.
      It is important to acknowledge the points you raised Sandra.
      Dzogchen is really magical and deep. The true nature of things is difficult to fathom in its entirety.

      It is hard to find explanations of how to actually give direct introduction. How it is done. What exactly happens. How it works.
      I have had conversations with dzogchen lama’s about it. The answers I received helped me to understand some important points but it appears to be self secret.
      For example, only an Arya being is capable of using the syllable phat to give direct introduction.

      If we are one of those fortunate to have received direct introduction then sometimes we should step back and ponder this fact, that we have discovered something really precious.

      It is said Dzogchen is the nature of all beings. In my opinion, this nature manifests in different ways in each individual. I can’t think of two dzogchen practitioners who’s path is identical. But what occurred to me recently was, what matters most is not what we do, how we relate to others. There seems to be much emphasis on the individuals experience of the view.
      Many times I have seen so called dzogchen practitioners be passive in the face of others suffering. I believe this is a common mistake. They get lost in the awe and profundity of the view. They get lost in there own seeming profundity.
      Unknowingly, kadak consumes them. Consumed, they fail to recognise lhundup.
      Many times I have heard dzogchen practitioners reject duality. They have aversion for thoughts, they don’t understand movement and how energy manifests. instead they prefer to practice the pith instructions alone, on a cushion, in front of an altar, in a quiet room.

  9. Rob,
    You said in your comment above: “There’s no reason at all to assume that Sogyal has ever begun preliminary practices, never mind had a thorough training in them.” But you provide evidence to the contrary in your own book on page 59 when you say that Dudjom Rinpoche told Ngakpa Chogyam that there could be things he could learn from Sogyal “in terms of the living-detail of Vajrayana.” How could that be if he had never received or begun the Ngdonro preliminary practices?

    1. @Sandra Pawula
      There is a lot a of framing. Also in chapter one no sources are given by the authors.
      But if you read the book Open Mind I mentioned above , you see that SR followed that and his teaching are very much the same as writen by his predecessor Lerab Lingpa.
      The story of SR is much more complicated than suggested.

      1. The source of chapter 1, Jan, that sets the scene, is the extended version of the video of the opening ceremony and various reports on the same. I’m not sure if we should have included an endnote for that, for the book is not an academic study. To avoid cluttering a book for a wide audience, we had to draw a line somewhere, and this is where we did.

        Have you read endnote number 3 (p. 187)? It says: ‘Chapter 2 and 3 are based on Rob Hogendoorn’s “The Making of a Lama: Interrogating Sogyal Rinpoché’s Pose as a (Re)incarnate Master,” a paper presented to the panel, From Rape Texts to Bro Buddhism: Critical Canonical and Contemporary Perspectives on the Sexual Abuse Scandals in Western Buddhism, during the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Denver, 17-20 November 2018. The paper can be acquired from the author.’

        I’m currently updating and expanding the paper, which I will publish on by popular demand. It’ll provide extensive further references. Once it’s up there, I’ll post a notice here.

        1. I still find chapter one doubtfull and more an opinion.
          I want to to see real evidence and good sources.
          And I find it strange that only in chapter one no references are given.
          I don’ t believe people who doesn’t give their sources.

          1. Any book’s content and references are the result of the interplay between author(s), editor(s), and publisher professional opinions, Jan. That’s just how publishing works. And there are only so much endnotes you can share in a 200 page book for a wide audience.

            What specific part of the content of chapter 1 do you find doubtful? As far as I know, this one hour long DVD cannot be watched online. Since it is copyrighted material that was made available commercially, I won’t share it in the public domain myself.

            The video was made by a largely Dutch team, by the way, so if you’re a Dutch Rigpa member or ex-member perhaps you can acquire it through one of these people.

            You’ll find an abbreviated video report of the same opening ceremony through this link:

            1. Show me the source or document that proves that the Lakar Family was trading guns. Documents with numbers and specified please.

              1. This is in chapter 2, actually, which, as I mentioned, is based on the paper I’m currently updating and expanding. You’ll find the reference there, once it’s published on

                I gather that you were referring to chapter 2 rather than chapter 1 before as well?

                  1. That’s just incomprehensible to me, Jan. Since you insist on insinuation and don’t answer questions, let’s stop here. If you have more specific and concrete questions for me, you can contact me offline through my email address on

  10. Whatever Sogyal’s followers’ experiences were, Tahlia, Joanne, and Sandra, they are. They’re theirs.

    And yet they were conned.

    I’m certain that people have learned important things about themselves through experience under horrific circumstances, because such experiences have enriched world literature, film, music, art in all of its forms.

    Some of them may have glimpsed the nature of their mind—even under dire circumstances. After all, when you’re ready, anything can trigger some realization or other.

    But it does not follow that we ought to discuss the silver lining to those horrific circumstances, or that the people who were responsible for them had something important to teach.

    So, my argument is not that it was impossible to learn or experience anything important at all in Rigpa. My argument is that the same—and more—could have been learned elsewhere, within communities that cause infinitely less suffering. In that sense, Rigpa is good for nothing and people’s investment in Rigpa is good for nothing.

    What makes you think that having ‘experiences’ is central to Buddhist practice? Because it’s highly debatable. And it’s a very Western view at that.

    I personally view Rigpa as a coarse, homegrown Western personality cult. Of those there are many—they are a dime a dozen, really. As such, I compare Rigpa to other New Religious Movements in the West, some of which are cults.

    I think that such an approach is much more fruitful than trying to retroactively fit Rigpa—and Sogyal’s followers’ experiences— into a mold of ethnically Tibetan communities’ authentic patterns of thought and behaviour.

  11. There’s a Lam Rim teaching about proper vessels for Dharma teachings, Sandra. The analogy of a cup is used: if it’s dirty, upside down, or has a hole in it, there’s no point in spilling the most precious nectar.

    Sogyal is a dirty, upside down cup with a hole in it. He always was.

    No one is denying that Sogyal was present during Buddhist teachings, empowerments, and the like, or that he picked up Tibetan cultural patterns, the use of Tibetan paraphernalia, the recitation of prayers, conduct during a puja, et cetera—in short, the Tibetan way of doing things.

    You left out the last part of the sentence, but I think that this what Dudjom Rinpoché meant with “in terms of the living-detail of Vajrayana, things that only a Tibetan would know.”

    Let’s not forget what Ngakpa Chogyam had to say about the time he spent with Sogyal in real life:

    “It became apparent that he didn’t know the answers to the questions he was asking. It was actually embarrassingly transparent in the way he asked the questions. He confused terms. He framed his queries awkwardly, not because of his unfamiliarity with English – because he was actually quite fluent – but in terms of Dzogchen. He didn’t know the lay of the land and so what he asked tended to sound like, ‘Where exactly in Scotland is Wales to be found?'” (p. 60 of our book).

    1. “It became apparent that he didn’t know the answers to the questions he was asking. It was actually embarrassingly transparent in the way he asked the questions. He confused terms. He framed his queries awkwardly, not because of his unfamiliarity with English – because he was actually quite fluent – but in terms of Dzogchen. He didn’t know the lay of the land and so what he asked tended to sound like, ‘Where exactly in Scotland is Wales to be found?’” (p. 60 of our book).”

      Which year did he say so? If it was before SR was taught by Nyoshul Khen then that is understandable. But Ngakchang is like an old reference book – outdated.

    2. Rob,

      That analogy is also in the Nyingpa teachings. But the question at hand is your statement: “…there is no reason at all to assume that Sogyal has ever begun preliminary practices, never mind had a thorough training in them…” If he had never begun the preliminary practices, how could he have ever practiced ngondro with his students?

      We don’t really know what Dudjom Rinpoche meant in that statement or whether it was accurately reported by Nyagpa Chogyam. It could be what you surmise, but it could also be something entirely different. That is one of the problems with your book, there is a great deal of interpretation of statements that could easily be interpreted in another way. Your book also says that Dudjom Rinpoche said SL had “no great knowledge or retreat experience.” SL never claimed to have retreat experience and he may not have had “great” knowledge at the time of his arrival in the West. But it doesn’t mean he didn’t have any training or any knowledge at all, as you and Mary claim in your book.
      It’s possible that he wasn’t familiar with the particular teachings he was receiving along with Ngakpa Chogyam and thus the awkward questions. But he was receiving Dzogchen teachings at the time (although it’s hard to pinpoint the timeline) according to Mary Finnigan in your book, who received the “white AH” practice from him. So he was receiving Dzogchen teachings and continuing to educate himself. I’ve also seen a letter from Dudjom Rinpoche that authorizes SL as a teacher. So should I believe Ngakpa Chogyam, who has been surround by controversy at times, or Dudjom Rinpoche? No, I don’t have the letter at hand, but I know what I read.

      1. We’ve been over this several times now, Sandra. As I’ve told you, multiple times: there’ll be more writings, more references in due course. There’s only so much you can narrate, argue and reference in a 200 page book for a wide audience.

        No one disputes that Sogyal continued to receive—or, perhaps better, attend—teachings after he launched himself as a teacher in his own right. And yet, he continued to abuse and assault people as before: so what did he learn, exactly, what did he practice? What do endorsements by lamas who accepted him as a student mean, really? They endorsed him, and yet he continued to abuse and assault people. What good did they do?

        About Sogyal’s training and education before he traveled to India, we say in our book, for instance: ‘There is a stark difference between the rigorous training undergone by Ngari and Dzogchen Rinpoches on the one hand and Sogyal’s sporadic studies on the other. In fact, Sogyal came nowhere near completing a sustained education of similar scope and depth.’ (p. 23).

        And: ‘In the light of these historical records, the only period that could have been devoted to continuous Buddhist education was roughly between 1957 and 1959. Within this short timespan Sogyal probably only learned basic reading, writing and memorisation skills in Tibetan – together with a rudimentary command of the vocabulary, logic and epistemology that children are expected to master before beginning their fully fledged Buddhist studies.’ (p. 24).

        Or: ‘Even if we give Sogyal the benefit of the doubt that he genuinely did absorb some of the “feeling” and “intuitive understanding” of Vajrayana/ Dzogchen from uncle Lodro, it is beyond doubt that this relationship also included horror, dread and fear. It is not clear whether as a child Sogyal was physically assaulted by Chokyi Lodro, but the influences he must have experienced included domestic violence, the subjugation of inferiors by force and the alleged prolonging of a lama’s life via sexual relations with a young woman.’ (p. 26).

        So, clearly, we don’t say he had no Buddhist training or education at all. And, of course, he was trained as a Roman-Catholic schoolboy.

        At any rate, I think our remark ‘The source material for the Rigpa “curriculum” is authentic. I have shown it to several Buddhist scholar-practitioner-teachers who confirm this. But Sogyal’s “teachings” are a travesty of the real thing’ sums up what actually went down pretty well.

        Readers will find further details and corroboration in our book. You’ve not persuaded me at all that we need to add much to it. To me, it’s like saying: ‘Jim Jones and David Koresh used an actual Bible while they taught and quoted it accurately.’ True, but not terribly important in the light of what they did with that education and knowledge.

        It would require an entirely different book and approach to narrate and establish in more detail what exactly Sogyal learned and taught—and what his followers learned.

        I’m checking out now, Sandra, we’re running around in circles. If you have further questions, check in with me offline. You’ll find my email address on

      2. @Sandra Pawula,

        My apologies. First, I should have addressed my last message about quoting Trungpa to you, not Rob. (I got confused about who was writing what, lol!) Secondly, I realize now that you were quoting a different teacher, not Trungpa. So, please disregard my post about quoting Trungpa. I thought you were quoting Trungpa because of the “Chögyam” name. I got mixed up, so it was my mistake.

    3. @Rob,

      Why do people always quote Trungpa when they want to prove a point? Trungpa was even worse than Sogyal, so if someone is against abuse, and they quote Trungpa, it’s like quoting Hitler to prove a pint about Stalin or Mao. It’s very ironic, isn’t it?

      Besides, why would anyone trust a word Trungpa would say about another teacher?

  12. Can you appreciate the distinction, Tahlia and Joanne, between discussing others’ experiences themselves and discussing the discourse that has them retroactively (re)frame those experiences as part of some narrative about themselves and their personal history?

    For if you’ve trouble seeing the difference between the two, there’s just no point in continuing this discussion at all.

  13. Nobody answered my comment. I’ll try again.

    I wonder how comforting it is for the students Sogyal abused to hear that they may have had a genuine “transmission” from Sogyal. Wouldn’t that make him their Vajra master, and wouldn’t it mean that they have samaya with him, according to the Vajrayana philosophy? How is that comforting to hear?

    1. It’s really a question for Tahlia, Joanne, or Sandra, I think, but I’d say that it’s likely true within Sogyal’s and Rigpa’s frame of reference and not very comforting.

      Again, I think it’s important to distinguish between this Western (nonheritage) frame of reference and Tibetan (heritage) frames of reference. Questions that can be sensibly asked in the one frame, may make no sense in the other.

      PS: I find the heritage/nonheritage distinction useful, but I didn’t come up with it. Jessica Falcone did, in ‘Battling the Buddha of Love: A Cultural Biography of the Greatest Statue Never Built’ (2018), which I strongly recommend. It focusses on the long-held but as of yet consummated ambition of Lama Zopa of the Federation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT) to build a 500 ft. Maitreya statue in India. For now, do note that ‘heritage’ and ‘nonheritage’ are a gliding scale, with all manner of hybrids in between.

    2. It might not be something they like to hear, but they have heard it before, so it’s nothing new. Then one can take an attitude: not to give a damn about the Samaya and stop believing superstitious stuff. Or one can deal with it the way Tahlia explained in her book: SR broke the samaya, not the students. There is no samaya: no more.

      1. @Tahlia, I think I wrote that comment about no one answering before you answered. 🙂 (Or maybe I didn’t see your answer.)

  14. I can actually speak from personal experience. I had a “transmission” from Sogyal once, and I also experienced more than one “transmission” from His Holiness the Dalai Lama. (Compared to HHDL, Sogyal’s energy felt like a psychic vampire.)

    Then again, what is a “transmission” and how does one define it? Who gets to decide who had a genuine one or not? Also, who gets to decide where it came from. Maybe the power of suggestion brings it on. If you believe you will get a “transmission” from a guru, then maybe you just tap into some universal energy and it’s your own mind doing it. Or, maybe the guru is able to somehow channel higher energy and pass it on to the student, even if the teacher isn’t realized. Maybe he is just acting as a conduit.

    But then there’s that pesky “contract” you make with a teacher who supposedly gives you the “transmission” within the Vajra tradition. He becomes your “root guru” even though it may have been your own mind simply being awakened by anything they have faith in.

    1. I think the power of suggestion plays a huge part, and just as it can produce a fake state of what we think or expect we’ll feel, I see no reason why it can’t – if you’re ready – also produce a genuine experience of the NOM. Of course, it is our own mind doing it. All the lama does is set up the kind of conditions that help it to happen. And yes, in this case, I do think he’s acting as a conduit. And he is in the NOM while he’s doing a formal introduction – it’s not that big a deal to sit in the NOM for a short period of time. I’m sure lots of long-term dzogchen students can do it. If they can’t, then what have they been practising for all those decades? The hard part is staying in it, and that’s the bit S was deluded about. He thought he was always in it, but had he truly been in the NOM, he could never have done those things. I don’t see how it would be possible to hurt someone like that when you are deeply connected to everything. It would be like hurting your own toe. Why would you do that? Because it’s good for the toe? No, you just wouldn’t do it.

      As for the pesky contract. I’ve mentioned that in other comments here so I won’t repeat myself here what I said there. But I can add that I was speaking to Pema Khandro the other day and she said that she is quite clear on the point that if a lama abuses or exploits a student they break the samaya. The student is immediately released from any obligations. And since he spiritually abused us all, even those who were not hit or yelled at or sexually abused, we are all released from our samaya commitments to him. Anyone who chooses to believe this interpretation of samaya, has nothing to worry about, even if they do believe in the fear-tactic style of samaya. It all depends on what we choose to believe, if we choose to believe anything at all.

      1. @Tahlia,

        Keep in mind that some of my comments are older messages. 🙂

        If it’s really the case that the student is “released” from samaya if the teacher abuses people, then how do we know we can trust any teacher that we don’t know personally? Can samaya really exist with a virtual stranger who gives an empowerment to thousands? ANY teacher could be abusive in private, so for all we know, they have already broken their samaya, or we may never have had it in the first place, (due to the teacher’s bad conduct). How do we know who is or sin’t really keeping their vows?

        1. We can definitely know. If we study and understand what the qualities of an authentic teacher are and investigate them thoroughly.

  15. Rob and Mary didn’t temper research with reality, its merely a bunch of opinions that are as embarrassing for us to hear as the account Rob Gives about Sogyal asking questions about Dzogchen and not demonstrating lack of knowledge. That is what I find disturbing – and Rob clearly has a very disturbed and limited appreciation of Buddhism. If experiences play no part – is it some kind of rubber stamp you get by filling in a form at your local Buddha test center … experiences include senses, thoughts, logical conclusions, reading and understanding … i mean come on Rob. You are not such a deep thinker now are you.
    Tahlia is using references and giving a contemplation and not concluding one way or the other – which is quite academic in fact. Many of us know Sogyal is a Chalatan or accept that and many facts in evidence. What we don’t accept is your falsehoods based on what – guessing, making it up? That just gives fuel to the haters and does no justice to what really happened to real people. You seem to enjoy telling people what they already know and feel regret for as if they need to hear it from you. Being conned means being lied to. Many of us checked out Rigpa and there was a lot of very influential people who had been around for decades including many teachers and it was like the whole of Tibetan Buddhism was rubber stamping Sogyal as OK. The evidence was out there that opened up a crack in this reality, eventually we confirmed it and left. I suspect that if you end up being in some culty group in future you will think it is fine too because it will be based on your own assumptions – if you can’t fact check then you are also ripe to be lied to and believe it. So you are not cult proofed by any means

    1. Apparently, Sangye, you’re not up to speed with modern discourse about the centrality (or lack thereof) of ‘experience’ in Buddhist practice. This article gives an idea, but there are many more writings on this theme: As Robert Sharf said, ‘ I didn’t say experiences ‘play no part’, I questioned their centrality, by the way.

      I don’t understand what your mention of my ‘account’ of ‘Sogyal asking questions about Dzogchen and not demonstrating lack of knowledge’ refers to, could you clarify?

      (Personality) cults, big and small, are very common and have many patterns in common. As I’ve mentioned before, I think it’s more productive to compare Rigpa or Shambhala, for instance, with other homegrown (nonheritage) New Religious Movements in the West—Buddhist and non-Buddhist—than with (heritage) Tibetan communities throughout Asia. Do you agree?

      And, yes, of course, Tahlia is sharing her contemplations as an occasion for discussion— and discuss we do. I, for one, do not have a particular readers in mind other than the audience at large, and amongst the audience at large are many people for whom discussions such as these are entirely new. So, let’s engage a wide variety of perspectives and debate on the merit of arguments—not ad hominems.

      Let’s not forget that we’re complete strangers, Sangye. We’ve never met. We’ve never spoken. The truth is: you don’t know me, the nature of my ‘appreciation of Buddhism’, or the depth of my thinking at all. I don’t presume to know yours. So drop the pose, if you can.

      And let’s leave judgments of the quality of Mary Finnigan’s and my research to the readers, please. You’re entitled to your own opinion, of course, but others beg to differ, and there’s one sure way for readers to find out for themselves: read, ponder and test.

      1. I am one of your readers, and as a reseacher myself I have strong doubts about your research. Did you compare SR teachings with other teacher teachings?
        Did yoy find a clear point were it went wrong.
        A good researcher has to be honest and admit what is good and reject what is wrong evidence based.
        And I have to admit that a lot of the teachings about the nature of mind by SR are in accordance with the text by Lerab Lingpa in the book Open Mind mentioned earlier by me.
        I strongly diagree with the nihilistic statement in Rigpa and I found good evidence for it.

        1. Perhaps you could write your own book then, Jan? Gerhard Mattioli (aka ‘Lama Kelsang Chöpel’) used to read aloud the Dalai Lama’s books: this is the way he actually ‘taught’ his followers. I predict that you’d find remarkable similarities between his ‘teachings’ and those of the Dalai Lama as well. But what would that mean, exactly?

          I’ve written much more about Sogyal’s background, his credentials, his teachings, et cetera, that’ll be published in due course. To repeat: ‘Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism’ is a book for the widest possible audience, documenting Sogyal’s rise and fall. There’s only so much that you can detail and reference in such a work.

          I find your ‘strong doubts’ so vague and, frankly, insinuative that it’s just impossible to respond to them. I don’t understand what you mean by ‘a clear point where it went wrong’. I also don’t understand what you mean with the ‘nihilistic statement’ in Rigpa or ‘the good evidence for it’.

          Speaking about ‘Open Mind’ by Alan Wallace: I found it striking that there’s no reference to Sogyal Rinpoche in that work. As Lerab Lingpa’s (supposed) successor, he wasn’t consulted by Alan Wallace, he isn’t mentioned in the acknowledgments. The only mention of his name occurs in the bibliography in references to books for which Sogyal once wrote a foreword. Why do you think Sogyal this is so?

          What kind of researcher are you yourself, Jan, and in what field?

      2. Rob, another way to look at part of this discussion is that if an academic researcher was wanting to suggest (not make) some ideas/conclusions about the experiences of ex-Rigpa students, e.g. whether or not they saw the “better part of their lives as a waste”, then this researcher would ask the students themselves about their experiences. It would probably have to be a large, controlled, qualitative research project, where time was spent listening to survivors’ stories. Otherwise, you simply cannot make judgment on the experiences of others– at least if you want that judgment to be considered “academic”. It is just conjecture.

        And if you were to do such a qualitative research project, I guarantee that you would find a huge diversity in the meaning that ex-Rigpa students and survivors place on their experiences within Rigpa– any conclusions you draw would have to be the total of that sample and I guarantee it would not be black and white, it would be complex and nuanced.

        And I don’t think the stories from your dossier of twenty survivors would suffice.

        1. The ‘waste’ Joanne, is the worship of a con-man as a member of an abusive community during the best part of your life, and the senseless suffering such worship caused.

          And, as I’ve pointed out before, I’m not speaking about (former) Rigpa members ‘experiences’, I’m speaking about attempts to retroactively fit these experiences into a narrative of supposed ‘authenticity’.

          It’s actually possible to have a sensible debate on this issue, but not if you keep running around in the same circle.

          1. “Mistake” would be a better term than “waste,” Rob. Waste infers that nothing can be learned or gained from the experience. I was only in Rigpa for two years, but what I have seen of those who spent the “greater part of their lives” in Rigpa is that they are wise, vibrant and compassionate people who are learning from their involvement in the Rigpa cult. They are not people who are “wasted”. I think one of the things you miss in your conversations Rob is an understanding of cult dynamics. You often seem to want to reduce things to black and white– understanding the complex nature of cult-involvement would help avoid that.

            1. Joanne, If you believe in the idea of a precious human rebirth, they have waisted a lot of it. Even if you don’t, they have all been deceived and used, some for a very long time. If that is not a waste of their life then I don’t know what is.

              I followed an unqualified lama for many years and was used and abused.
              I have learnt a lot from what happened. But I wish I didn’t have to learn what I learnt. The abuse far outweighs what I learnt from it. Im betting you will find it to be the same for those who were abused.

          2. Life seems quite senseless very often anyway. Some people regret they got married with a person.

            I also found deep good friendships during my time in Rigpa.

            Yes, we ask what was the point of it all? There can be found meanings if one likes to find them. Our experience about the world and ourselves did change. Perspectives changed.

        2. Joanne, Sonam Gyalten abused people. He is not a qualified Lama.

          A study of all of the experiences and meaning gained of all within Riga has no point only to conclude that there were variances.

          If you read about the guards who worked in the Nazi gas chambers, then you will see that whilst they were mass murderers, they also loved and cared for their wives and children.

  16. There’s a mistake in my post just now, the words “As Robert Sharf said, ‘” should have been deleted, for I’d rather have readers read the article in full than quote him. So, consider it a typo.

  17. Basically Rob, your just being like the usual political player. Try to decide and control what people are allowed to speak about, dodge any valid point that confronts or points out big gaps in your arguments. I speak to what you say, and how ignorant it comes across to anyone who has really put in time. If you had any points they would be so obviously easy to put out but you don’t. Its the same dodging any coherent argument like the cult people who try to shut down criticism you actually use the same techniques.

    Whatever particular article you refer to its not required for me to be “up to speed” with that – typical way to try and play your appeal to authority fallacy over and over. So you find some discourse from here or there sides well with your personal views … and drop some random name as if it matters or we should know it. Its not important – many things you say have substance to them but your interpretation and conclusion is basically just wrong.

    You said ““It became apparent that he didn’t know the answers to the questions he was asking. It was actually embarrassingly transparent in the way he asked the questions. He confused terms. He framed his queries awkwardly, not because of his unfamiliarity with English – because he was actually quite fluent – but in terms of Dzogchen. He didn’t know the lay of the land and so what he asked tended to sound like, ‘Where exactly in Scotland is Wales to be found?’” (p. 60 of our book).” – that is the account. That is fine, and as an account, it is fair enough to me that Sogyal often revealed his gaps and lack of knowledge. He would also at times admit he forgot everything … but like other cults he would flip flop between all kinds of different positions.

    The kind and manner of experiences can be massively delusional or really solid based on a persons previous study and life experiences. Trying to school people about Buddhism here as an alternative to the wide variations of people in, out, half in or in other groups than Rigpa … please give it a rest. You don’t give reasoning at all … its just polemic nonsense.

    I’m not required to drop any pose, i’m just calling you out for an offense and inconsiderate, ill-informed and unwelcome person who is really making mischaracterizations of all kinds of people. You don’t know me … others do, I don’t think its a competition but you seem to behave as if you have all kinds of financial motives and reputation to build/protect. We are just people expressing free speech which typically involves telling people – yes there is a cult situation – do your own research.

    If you don’t like ad hominem then you shouldn’t be dropping them constantly referring to people and the states of mind you know nothing about in a generalized way. You opened the door on that … what is your motivation? Its not clear why you are here. Mostly I am happy to avoid having to deal with you but you are upsetting people. Its not pleasant to have any discussion where you are a part. I wait for you to say something meaningful and put some skin in the game.

    You asked this strange question that is not really a question.
    “(Personality) cults, big and small, are very common and have many patterns in common. As I’ve mentioned before, I think it’s more productive to compare Rigpa or Shambhala, for instance, with other homegrown (nonheritage) New Religious Movements in the West—Buddhist and non-Buddhist—than with (heritage) Tibetan communities throughout Asia. Do you agree?”

    No I don’t agree.
    Its productive to do what you said “engage a wide variety of perspectives and debate on the merit of arguments” whereas you are making a very kind of weird and specific incoherent questions. Yes Rigpa and Shambala are a pattern match for cults … why? Cult tactics, structure, vague esotericism. So are the lineages that go back to some Tibetan communities in parts of Asia and even in Tibet. The Khampa Nyingmas and typically around the Dzongsar Monastery where they were connected to Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro are a bit of a boys club. So basically there is a lot to be learned from the Tibetan communities because they are used to rubber stamp new traditions which claim to be old traditions at the same time, or even more specifically just Tibetan Buddhism, non-sectarian rime movement. So there were many people from many traditions all coming through Lerab Ling and Rigpa as a gateway who may or may not have had good intentions. I was there, I saw and I think it was a mixture of good and bad things but over-all I feel now that the whole religion is full of pretense to milk the faithful. That is why tours happen, to get alms – and they often do have a lot of monks to take care of. It can be real or it can be fraud – its really a case of innocent until proven guilty.
    I suspect there was a very high percentage of fraud but there were a lot of very genuine teachers too, even if their religion has a lot of widespread corruption. The religion itself has texts and stories of it’s own widespread corruption and warnings. Patrul Rinpoche wrote many times that it’s highly unlikely that anyone would ever find a qualified teacher. Yet everyone seems to claim to have one – including people like Mary.
    I have a very wide range of life experiences and when you make some kind of helpful impact you can start boasting about it. Right now you are pissing a lot of people off – but sure, you go ahead and say “others beg to differ” – I don’t see that. I see that maybe people will either not have a clue and will accept your word for it – while others who do know will shake their heads at the falsehoods. You don’t seem big enough to say “i’ll make corrections if I got it wrong” but if you do agree to that and listen then maybe we can make this go away.
    I’m sure people who have read your book will continue to offer you a lot of advice of what claims you made that are indefensible if you would listen.

    1. Your ostentatious disdain is a bit much, Sangye. I see you erect even more straw men, throw in even more ad hominems, and I’m just not receptive to such an approach. It’s tiresome, and life’s too short.

      For what it’s worth, Mary and I have consistently stated that any mistakes that we might have made, would be corrected, if necessary. So far, however, I’ve seen much ranting but little substance and hardly evidence.

      The eight signatories refused to appoint a spokesperson, even though we specifically asked. It’s a bit rich to go off online after publication and complain that your insiders’ perspective on (supposed) ‘falsehoods’ wasn’t documented, especially since you made yourselves unavailable. You let the letter speak for itself, and it did.

      I’m not sure if you’re now the spokesperson of the eight signatories, and if you will answer direct questions or not. I’d be glad to respond to any queries with regard to the content of the book you might have off line. You’ll find my email address at With this I’m signing off.

  18. @Rob,

    Maybe I misread your posts, but it sounds like you’re saying that Westerners kind of invented the whole thing about “transmission” and “guru devotion” and it’s all part of the “New Religious Movement” phenomena. Are you saying you don’t think Tibetans have the same beliefs and issues? I don’t think “traditional” Tibetan teachings sound much different from so-called “Western” TB teachings. Maybe some of the wording and outer trappings are a bit different, but the core of it is the same.

  19. @Rob,

    Also, there isn’t much difference in the behavior of teachers in Tibet and the abuses that go on both in the West. Even the Tibetan stories and legends of guru devotion (Marpa/Milarepa, etc.) describe abusive relationships and justify abuse as ‘crazy wisdom’. So, are you saying that Western sanghas invented the cult-like atmosphere? You see the same thing in Asia too.

  20. @Amy, that’s a big topic. Right off the bat, Westerners put such a heavy, highly selective spin on Buddhist theory and practice, institutions and cultures, that these forms of Buddhism can be understood as homegrown products best explained from the perspective of our Western history of ideas, cultural history, current preoccupations, projections, longings, et cetera.

    This doesn’t mean, of course, that all traces of its Asian origins disappear, or that there can’t be crossovers, hybrids, concurrences et cetera between Western Buddhism and theories, practices, cultures, et cetera of Buddhist traditions in Asia. I’d use rather use the word re-invention. Evolution has ‘re-invented’ the eye several times over. The art of printing has been ‘re-invented’ in different locations and times. It’s not so interesting to see ‘who got there first’, it’s much more interesting to compare the ways in which these ideas manifest under radically different circumstances.

    So, notions such as “transmission”, “guru devotion” and justifications or excuses such as “crazy wisdom” and “life-prolonging sex” may be recognized as having ancient Asian roots, they’re re-invented and thereby twisted in the West, sometimes to the point that they’re hardly recognizable by Buddhists in Asia. That’s why you might call them New (that is, new for the West) Religous Movements.

    To the extent that these re-inventions are understood in these Western terms, they can be compared to other homegrown New Religious Movements. Is this clearer?

    1. @Rob,

      Sorry, it isn’t clearer.

      The West didn’t invent or ‘reinvent’ Tibetan Buddhism. The core of their cultish beliefs come from the lamas who came over to the West and indoctrinated people. Also, the teachings were twisted by abusive lamas in Tibet as well. I don’t really see much difference at all.

  21. @amy. If you still believe in the Tibetan Buddhist ‘system’ of thought, then yes, if you had such a transmission, then you would have samaya. However that doesn’t mean you’ve broken it if you criticise him. Sogyal always told us that samaya was simply our heart connection with the teacher and that for so long as that was intact, it was fine. One can criticise and still have an intact relationship, like you might have with a beloved uncle that you later find out did something terrible. You hate his behaviour, but he’s still your uncle, you still have a history and a relationship with him, and it can still be one of kindness and compassion that recognises that he’s an ill person. Hating someone’s behaviour doesn’t mean you hate them as well – ask any parent of a naughty child. HHDL made this distinction between a person and their behaviour in his talks back in 1993.

    Some teachers are quite clear that when a teacher abuses students, they have broken the samaya, not the student. Also many other lamas say that it’s okay to criticise and leave so long as you also honour the good things you received. Many of us do that, not because of samaya though, simply because to deny the benefit we received would be untruthful to ourselves.

    As for the comforting aspect of thinking you could have got a transmission: If you did recognise, then you need no comforting or confirmation from outside, so I doubt that idea would even enter the mind of those who genuinely had a glimpse of the nature of their mind. They’re probably not even reading this because they know the answer. If you didn’t have a glimpse, you might be comforted to know that you never had samaya with him in the first place, though.

    This post wasn’t aimed at comforting Sogyal’s dzogchen students, it was for those who weren’t his students and think that such a transmission wasn’t possible. Those who were his students and did get a transmission already know. If you don’t know, then you didn’t get it. And then you can be comforted to know that you’ve no samaya to break, and as Erik points out still there was value as a mediation teacher.

  22. @Tahlia,

    The Vajra texts makes it very clear that it is way more than a family type relationship. According to Vajrayana, you’re supposed to see everything the guru does as ‘perfect’, and if he does something you don’t like, he is simply “manifesting” something unpleasant as a “teaching” and you’re supposed to still think he’s perfect. The “heart connection” is part of it, but that’s not ALL there is to it. I don’t agree with that way of thinking, but it’s what they teach. The lamas who are honest enough don’t whitewash it for the benefit of Westerners, who tend to cherry pick what they like about Tibetan Buddhism, and deny that the dogmatic stuff exists.

    1. That’s true, and then it comes down to the meaning of seeing a lama as ‘perfect’. If you read my book you’ll see how that idea has been misunderstood and misused, not just by Westerners, but also by the lamas who think Sogyal did nothing wrong. The word ‘perfect’ taken at face value would make you think that it means that the lama can do no wrong and has no faults and that everything he or she does is okay, but actually, seeing purely means seeing the Buddha nature of the person. Seeing all actions as pure means seeing the empty nature of the actions, not thinking that those actions are acceptable. And then there is a misunderstanding of the relationship between absolute and relative and even the true meaning of emptiness. Seeing something as empty does not mean that it’s okay in relative terms. That is nihilism, because it’s separating the absolute from the relative and that is not actually the way things are. So you can still see things as pure without thinking they’re okay. The whole world is pure if you see it purely, but that seeing purely means that you see the empty essence of everything, not that you think everything is grand. The language is problematic. If you read my book, you’ll see the references I use to confirm this view, so it’s not just my opinion. Rigpa students in general didn’t study madhyamika and some of those who did clearly misunderstood, but there are plenty of books around that make these points clear. Sogyal and those who still think he did no wrong cannot, if they do presume to understand madhyamika (and such understanding is a prerequisite for both vajrayana and dzogchen) cannot put the understanding into practice. Probably because S insists on mindless unquestioning devotion above all. Anyway. My book goes into this.

      1. @Tahlia,

        Your insight and your way of explaining emptiness and the relationship with the teacher it is truly remarkable. Your post is very clear and articulate, so I want to compliment you on that.

        Maybe this is what the lamas SHOULD be teaching their students, but when I read texts, such as ‘The 50 Stanzas on Guru Devotion’ or even just Six Session Guru Yoga, or just about any other Tantric/Dzogchen text, it really comes across as guru worship. I’m not hearing your wisdom in the actual teachings I’ve been exposed to, lol! Am I just reading the wrong texts, or listening to the wrong teachers, lol? 😀

        1. I think this is how they should be teaching, because I think it is the actual meaning not the culturally conditioned one, it’s certainly the meaning that resonates with my ‘wisdom mind’ (which is supposed to be as good as anyone else’s wisdom mind – assuming I’m not deluding myself) but they won’t teach differently because any interpretation that diminishes the importance of the lama diminishes their power. As @pete said somewhere, no one gives up their power willingly.

          They also interpret those teachings at face value, probably because they have never questioned deeply their real meaning. I think it has got lost along the way somewhere. And if you’re not sure of your own understanding, then you stick with the words and take the obvious meaning. They’re scared to change anything in case they distort the teachings, but I think the teachings are already distorted by feudalism, by all these teachings that really don’t do anything for the student but do a lot to keep the lamas on their thrones. Perhaps only someone who really does not want to be a guru could teach that way. Someone who has stepped outside of the Tibetan cultural restrictions. The lamas would, of course, accuse such a person of ‘making up’ their own thing. They would never accept an alternative that doesn’t depend on lama worship. And I think you’re right. That’s really what it is, and it has nothing to do with Buddhism.

          1. Certainly the teaching of guru devotion, pure view is misunderstood and misused. I find it interesting that no lama for their own volition, ever stated this publicly and tried to do something about it. Religion, ideology etc tend to condition people. This could be one reason. Personally I think we have to separate the religion from the teachings. More than that we have to look at the teachings themselves differently.

      2. According to Garab Dorje, if one is a dzogchen practitioner one tries to maintain the view of dzogchen which is Kadak/lhundup/non dual. That is all.
        So there is no need to see the actions of the guru as pure.
        It is common for people who have received teachings on the lower eight yana’s and direct introduction to get confused about this.
        Their practice can become a mixture of views and methods.

        Also for people who have received direct introduction, it may be that they can apprehend different aspects of the view at different times. In my opinion, one may have a direct experience of the nature of mind but interpret it in different ways, many of which can be mistaken. This can then cause people to misunderstand duality and relative phenomena, creating nihilistic views or distorted views about phenomena.

        This discussion needs to happen. If we are going to do it, then there are a lot of layers to go through. We can’t go deep enough in this kind of forum. It will be interesting to try though.

        1. Exactly. The guru introduces you, but once you’ve recognised and are stable in that recognition, you don’t need the guru anymore.

          1. Not needing the guru anymore?
            It depends on the degree of stability one has.
            One may need to consult the guru when obstacles arise or to clarify certain experiences.
            At this stage, the guru student relationship needs to be analysed.
            Is it unhealthy and making one more dependent, less self reliant, less confident?
            Can one simply rely on the practice? If not, why not?

            On another point, is the nature of mind all that it is cracked up to be?
            I have my doubts.

            1. I was talking about once you had stability. Until you have
              certainty, it’s helpful/expedient to have someone who can help you gain that certainty. But in the end, the certainty is gained by following the practice instructions; we have to do it; the Guru cannot do it for us.

              I think you can only rely upon practice without a lama if you’ve also done enough study to know exactly what you’re doing. For instance we need to have knowledge of the ‘look-alike’ states that one can mistake for the true nature of reality, otherwise we may fall into nihilism or just space out and so on. And we need to follow detailed instructions diligently, like those in the book ‘Clarifying the Natural State’. I think that the questions in there for examination of your mind would, if done thoroughly, all by themselves bring one to recognition.

              But once you have certainty, then you can rely on the practice, because all you’re doing is recognising over and over again and expanding the amount of time you can rest in naked awareness.

              And, no, the nature of mind isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, not if people expect something extraordinary; it’s much more ordinary than people expect – which is why they tend to think that experiences of bliss, non-thought and clarity are the nature of mind. It is, after all, with us always and has always been. It’s merely an unfettered direct awareness, but it’s usually covered up by thoughts, concepts, beliefs, habits and so on. We’re not gaining anything we don’t already have, just learning to drop our baggage so we can see our natural state.

              1. There are degrees of stability and over time it may decrease or increase.
                One may need to consult a teacher especially in relation to visions that can manifest.

                Yes, the nature of mind is said to be ordinary. When I say it is not all that it is cracked up to be, I meant the nature of mind has limitations.
                It liberates one from the three poisons yes, however it is not necessarily that practical in daily life, it does not equip one with particular skill sets, ones which the conceptual mind can.

  23. When I say ‘honest’ I don’t mean that they are necessarily honest in the sense of being trustworthy. I just mean that they don’t try to ‘sanitize’ or hide the really ugly part of the teachings just to keep Westerners happy. many lamas do the latter, which is more dishonest to me.

  24. Sangye is was a victim of Sogyal for very long time, even now maybe.
    Thalia was a Rigpa instructor till she discovered the sad and monstruous truth about Sogyal violent and debauche life.
    Both were stuck in a cult and were manipulated in different ways.
    Rob was not a Sogyal student for sure, nor me.
    It’s impossible for us to have a good idea of the spiritual experience they had with Sogyal. And having not received Dzogchen teatchings makes no sense to share their points of view on that level.
    Following bad people or bad teatcher can’t bring a lot of benefit in normal life, what to say in Dharma studies and meditation…
    I’m sad for those who had been abused in the worst way by Sogyal.
    Sad for this bad karmic connection.
    If you like cats see this, it may help you:

  25. Trungpa R. is supposed to be a realized Dzogchen master…
    Read this:

    « One night after supper Rinpoche said, “Get [the dog] Myson and bring him in here.” I dragged the shaking dog into the kitchen and following Rinpoche’s instructions I sat him on the floor and covered his eyes with a blindfold. I set up stands with lighted candies by either side of his head. Myson couldn’t move his head without being burned. Rinpoche took a potato and hit Myson on the head with it. When the dog moved, the fur on his ear would catch on fire. I put out the flames. Now and then Rinpoche would scrape his chair across the tiled floor and whack him again on the head with a potato.

    “Sir,” I began hesitantly, trying to stop him.

    “Shut up,” snapped Rinpoche, “and hand me another potato.” I started to empathize with the dog. In fact, I became the dog.

    I was blindfolded and was banged on the head with a spud and if I turned my head my cars would bum and there was the squealing sound of the chair on the floor. Pissing in my pants I was that dog not being able to move, feeling terrified and at the same time excited. Finally, the scraping chair and the potato throwing stopped and we released the shaking dog, who ran upstairs to Max’s empty room.

    “That’s how you train students,” Rinpoche calmly stated to me. »

    The Mahasiddha and His Idiot Servant, John Riley Perks [Trungpa’s butler], Crazy Heart Publishers (2006), p.60-61

    1. Clearly people were wrong about his realisation as well. And yet many find his teachings valuable – I’d never quote him now, but when I read his books I found wisdom in them. He wasn’t realised, though, like Sogyal he just parroted the teachings, and the teachings themselves are true even if the person speaking them is a fake.

      1. What can we think about all this???
        It shows that almost all the highest tibetan leaders were fan of Trungpa..
        He was well confirmed by Karmapa XVI° in 1974:
        The ancient and renowned lineage of the Trungpas, since the great siddha Trungmase Chokyi Gyamtso Lodro, possessor of only holy activity, has in every generation given rise to great beings. Awakened by the vision of these predecessors in the lineage, this my present lineage holder, Chokyi Gyamtso Trungpa Rinpoche, supreme incarnate being, has magnificently carried out the vajra holders discipline in the land of America, bringing about the liberation of students and ripening them in the dharma. This wonderful truth is clearly manifest.

        Accordingly, I empower Chogyam Trungpa Vajra Holder and Possessor of the Victory Banner of the Practice Lineage of the Karma Kagyu. Let this be recognized by all people of both elevated and ordinary station.

        And his “wonderful” vajra regent recognised by the XVI° Karmapa…
        When you know the story….it’s quite appalling.

        All this is worst than i thought.

  26. @Friend,

    Trungpa gives me the shivers (in a bad way). What a psychopath! If torturing animals is part of “enlightenedment, I want no part of it.

  27. I understand why Sonam Gyalten’s students are confused. It is sad and unfortunate.

    Direct introduction is complicated. I was authorised to teach dzogchen many years ago but I never did formally. In my opinion, in regards to direct introduction, each person has to analyse there experience carefully. One must rely on there critical thinking, there logic and reasoning.

    Reading about direct introduction can easily condition our thinking. We may try to fit our experience into the teaching. This creates more confusion.

    Confidence is a word often used regarding direct introduction. it is the most important thing and relates to the first statement of Garab Dorje.

    If we have a sense of confidence, self reliance and independence then this means something.

  28. Tahlia,

    ‘The key factor in recognising the nature of our mind is actually our awareness, our openness, our qualities as a student, not those of our teacher or the religion’s sanctioned method. ‘

    I disagree.
    The key factor is direct introduction. This is the first statement of Garab Dorje.
    If the key factor was our true nature then there would be no need for direct introduction.

    And so, no, it is not possible to receive direct introduction from an unqualified lama.
    If it was, then any one could give direct introduction by praying to Garab Dorje and reading the three transmissions of word, symbol and direct introduction.

    1. Then Sogyal was qualified. Because he did give genuine introductions. And anyone who disagrees simply wasn’t there or didn’t get it.

      However, Jetsun Palmo disagrees with you.
      Last year, I emailed Tenzin Palmo and asked the following:
      “Can one gain some measure of genuine realisation through relying on an unqualified teacher?
      This is referring to a situation where the student has given complete, unquestioning devotion and fullfilled their obligations as a student and then only later they discover that the lama was not worthy of that devotion. ”
      Her reply was:
      “Yes, it is possible to gain genuine realisation even when the teacher later proves to be unqualified. If the student has a direct realisation of the nature of the mind, then that is so, whatever the status of the lama who gave the pointing out instruction or facilitated this insight. Some teachers have the ability to open the minds of the students even when in other ways the conduct and wisdom of the teacher may be questionable. This is one reason for the confusion nowadays with lamas who have helped so many students yet have been shown to be unworthy of their role. Still these students were helped….”

      1. Thanks for your reply Tahlia,

        It is difficult to conclude if Sonam Gyalten gave genuine direct introduction to his students or not. Each person in Rigpa who believes they have a genuine recognition will have individual causes and conditions and many shared causes and conditions. It is worth looking into these. His students need to research everything in depth before concluding either way.

        In my opinion, people need to definitively conclude;

        1. Did Sonam Gyalten actually give direct introduction?
        2. Did students actually recognise the nature of mind at that time it was given?
        3. What are the other factors? Eg: Did other teachers give direct introduction etc.

        I don’t agree with Tenzin Palmo on this matter.
        Only a qualified teacher can give genuine pointing out instruction.
        An unqualified teacher will try but it won’t work.

        Something to consider: Changchup Dorje gave direct introduction to Namkhai Norbu when Rinpoche first arrived at his Gar. But it wasn’t until later with Changchup Dorje that Namkhai Norbu recognised the nature of mind. I know other people who experienced a similar thing.

        Tahlia, I understand how many people have turned there backs on buddhism due to the behaviour of lama’s and the religious system itself. As someone who has gone through the similar thing as many in Rigpa, I know giving myself time and space helped me to understand everything clearly.
        There is a point where people can move forward. A greater understanding of ourselves and the path can develop. If we genuinely understand dzogchen, all is not lost.

        1. As Kata says:
          “I don’t agree with Tenzin Palmo on this matter.
          Only a qualified teacher can give genuine pointing out instruction.
          An unqualified teacher will try but it won’t work. ”

          Some people spent years in “meditation” and “retreat” and have a “lama” title but even if they think they understood the true nature of mind, and give advices to others, it’s not sure they gain some genuine experience with such assertions like T.Palmo about the role of an unqualified “master” (when not rotten like SL and his very good friends and accomplices) ,to give a real pointing out instruction.

          Bad causal behaviours of the teatcher like Rigpa cult’s leaders don’t show anything else than of subtlle parrot apparence of wisdom and knowlegde to sincere but brainwashed students…
          Very few genuine Dzogchen masters not spoiled by Rigpa and Shamballa cults are able to do the proper job, and very few students are able to get it because of causes and conditions are so difficult to gather…
          In fact T.Palmo assertion enables fake masters to do what they want if they are good actors and have the good books…and make us take the snake for a rope : very dangerous indded !

  29. padmasambhava wrote hundreds of pages basically saying realization is seeing and being with your own luminous, empty mind. Bodhidaruma said almost exactly the same thing in a few dozen pages. As far as I am concerned they are both right. Why chase after “empowerments” and “initiations” when we should just be clear open awareness resting in itself? Some people might need a guru to point out the obvious but when 2000 years of bookshelves groan under the weight of texts saying words are worthless I have to laugh at the whole thing.

    1. Yeah, and I do laugh. The difficult bit for people, I think, is realising that they can find with their own luminous empty mind without having to have someone else pointing it out and having the confidence in our selves to simply sit and look at our own awareness until it reveals itself.

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