Dzongsar Kyentse’s talks in Europe have begun. The first, in Berlin, was titled “Vajrayana Buddhism in the Modern World” and it has been uploaded unedited to the Rigpa videos You Tube channel in both English and German. It also appears on the Sidharta’s Intent channel.
It’s 3 hours, so quite a committment to watch, so my house got cleaned from top to bottom while I listened on my phone. Depending on how you feel about DZK, you might feel some aversion to the idea of listening at all, but I found it well worth listening to. He did make some important clarifications and needed critical commentary on the issue of the translation of Tibetan Buddhism into the West.
How to listen
I feel I do have to mention this, since my last post could be interpreted to mean that we listen only to see what isn’t true, which wasn’t my intention. In it I reminded you to not believe everything you hear out of respect alone, but to use your wisdom of discernment. Today I remind you to listen without ‘poison in your cup’, without hatred or aversion in your heart, but rather with the intention of trying to understand his points. As he points out, if we watch with a positive mind we will see the positive, if we watch with a negative mind we will see only negative. Our challenge is to listen with an open mind, not obscured by any assumptions or projections and with the intention of understanding what he is saying and whether it rings true for us or is helpful in light of the present situation.
I suggest you don’t expect anything either, because if you expect anything, you will probably be disappointed.
[Some of the following was edited and republished on March 1st 5.37pm AEDST]
I don’t want to say too much about it, because it’s better you consider it for yourself, but I feel I need to warn you about the begining or some of you you may not get past it, and the edifications and criticisms of how lamas teach come later. So stick with it. There are some good dharma teachings here; the issues in my mind are not the varjayana when correctly understood, but our attitudes towards it and how we apply it.
Stuff to wade through
Something that might scream at some of you is that in the first hour he appears to denigrate the teachings of the shravakayana and Mahayana by calling them Cinderella teachings, teachings the Buddha didn’t really mean. He referred to the vinyana as for babies with a lot of desire and equates the Vajrayana with the real thing, the teachings the Buddha meant, the ones equated with wisdom. I looked past his inflamatory use of language, but if you don’t find that so easy, note that he does later say that all the shravaka and mahayana teachings are the basis of vajryana and cannot be discarded. The perceived arrogance could just be a poor choice of words.
He claims to care about the ‘alleged victims’ a lot, but that he cares beyond emotional or physical hurt; he cares for their seed of enlightenment and continuous spiritual path. He cares about the doubts they have about the Buddhadharma and Vajrayana. ‘I care so much,’ he says, then he adds: ‘By caring you just don’t want to lend your shoulder to cry upon, you want to do something more.’
Victims could find this an ignorant denigration of their situation and sufferings because he appears to belittle their immediate needs for care as just needing a pat on the back and a shoulder to cry on, and he seems to denigrate any comforting form of compassion as irrelevant to the bigger picture of their spiritual path. I expect after being abused to the degree that some people have here, their spiritual path is the least of their worries, and despite his best intentions, this kind of attitude can come across as cold and uncaring. Christian missionaries attend to the needs of their communities for food, shelter and clean water, why can’t Buddhists also attend to the immediate needs of those suffering, especially when the suffering has occured at the hands of the Buddhist they were supposed to revere. Also to use the words ‘alleged’ at this stage does not even acknowledge the truth of their suffering. Worse, this is the exact attitude that caused them so much pain when trying to get help within Rigpa.
This really is a major point that DZK and those running Rigpa need to understand. Spouting absolute doctrine does not help someone suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome from trauma caused, in part, by people’s belief in and misguided application of that very doctrine. And it’s not a matter of changing the doctrine, but of making sure it is taught completely so it does not deny relative existence.
It seems to be a case of placing absolute doctrine over the actual needs of a person, a hallmark of a fundamentalist attitude (a strict literalism applied to an ideology). And yet, right at the end, he describes how we should deal with a situation where a sangha member comes to us saying they are in fear of being raped by the guru, and you might find his advice surprising.
I absolutely do not want to appear negative here, and so I mention this only to encourage you to watch past the bits you might take issue with. And note that these are things that were insinuated by word choice and lack of clarification, not things he stated outright, and so may possibly be only your own projections.
He does say some very useful things that should provide food for thought for Tibetan lamas as well as vajrayana students and Rigpa management.
The nature and responsibility of the guru
I didn’t want to say much, damn it, I need to get on with an editing job for which I’m actually being paid, but in the interests of balance and of encouraging you to watch the whole thing, I also want to mention his important clarifications on the nature and responsibilities of the guru, and the issues of how vajrayana has been taught in the West.
DZK reminds us of a vital point, that of the outer, inner and secret aspects of the guru, and of the point of guru yoga. He clarifies what a tantric guru actually is, and the difference between that kind of relationship and the relationship you have with the head of an organisation. They are not the same thing, and confusing the two has caused a lot of our problems. He even admits that Tibtan lamas are severely lacking in their understanding of Western people and have misused the guru ‘system’.
Despite the issues raised previously (which I point out not in order to criticise, but because for the sake of the dharma DZK needs to be made aware of them) there is much of worth in this talk and we must remember that it is only the beginning of a series of talks.
This is a talk about vajrayana, not about applying it to the situation of abuse by a guru. Rather than talk about the guru’s behaviour, he talks about the guru’s responsibilities. Only at the end where questions are read out do we get closer to the issue.
When asked if a guru has the right to beat his students, DZK replies, “If the guru’s actions damage even a little bit the seed of bodhicitta, pure perception, guru devotion, the guru will have to take the responsibility more than the student because he should know better.”
He gives some interesting insight into OT as well.
So here’s the video.
There’s a lot in this talk that could be discussed, like the point that DZK really does need to talk to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Mingyur Rinpoche. Joanne Clark goes into this point in a post on the Buddhism Contraversy Blog.
And here is a short video that was posted on the Sogyal Truth Channel by someone who was clearly expecting more than they got. I have no idea who made it, and I feel it’s a bit mean in that it does not give any credence for the fact that DZK does actually say some very useful things, and that the talk was about vajrayana in the modern world, not specifically on abuse. However, I include it because it may bring some humour to the situation, and I think their point is that we are still a long way from addressing the actual issue of abuse in Tibetan Buddhism. Even so, I suggest that when watching DZK’s talk that you look for what he does say, not at what he doesn’t say.
The question that won’t go away
DZK also talks about secrecy and admits that it’s a difficult word. He explains to some extent its meaning in the context of vajrayana, but it still affirms the ‘don’t criticise’ dogma. After reports from DZK’s talk to the sangha in Berlin (which will be shown only to the Rigpa sangha) one point becomes glaringly obvious.
When students are silenced by a code of secrecy, such that they are not allowed to tell others what their teacher does to them and others, we can’t know what a teacher’s private ‘methods’ are, in which case how can we evaluate him or her? It’s not possible.
This is where the injunction against not criticising your teacher falls down – could vajrayana students not be ‘permitted’ to tell someone, ‘He hit me,’ with the good-hearted motivation to assist others in making an evaluation (as I believe the 8 letter writers did). Do we not have a responsibility to others to make sure that they have the information they need to evaluate fully?
And if we do decide that we are willing to take a lama as our guru and in true tantric fashion we are willing to ‘accept that anything can happen’ (quote from the talk), how can we trust that the teacher will not abuse our open acceptance and by their actions ‘damage the seed of bodhicitta, pure perception, and guru devotion’ in us?
The core of the cult issue must be addressed
Note – this section is not a commentary or criticism on the talk or an opinion on it. It’s just noting a topic that I would like to see DZK address in the future.
Since DZK has taken the role of advisor to Rigpa, he needs to tackle the core reason why in the eyes of some Rigpa slips over the line between a beneficial religious organisation and a cult that causes harm. I believe that it lies in the way that some Rigpa members have and still do use the vajrayana teachings to judge, denigrate, blame, manipulate and ignore the suffering of others (not to mention defending their own little kingdoms) all in the guise of being true to the vajrayana. According to some reports, this behaviour is so entrenched in the higher levels of the organisation that they are probably not even aware that they are doing it. I doubt they intend to do it, either, but it’s what some have experienced and why many do not trust those who stood by and allowed the abuse to flourish and continue. So as well as clarifying the meaning of vajrayana, what is needed in Rigpa is to examine how beliefs in samaya, pure perception, devotion and the very nature of vajrayana have been used as weapons against others – and note that I have seen this kind of judgement and condemnation in an email from someone in the highest level of management to one of the 8 letter writers.
For example; judging those who thought that Sogyal had caused people harm and declaring that they lacked pure perception, didn’t have enough devotion, didn’t understand vajrayana, didn’t have the capacity to be a vajrayana student and were samaya breakers who would go to vajra hell. Take a look at the comments on some of my You Tube videos and on the Dharma Protector’s Facebook page to see the kind of vehemence with which these kinds of ideas can and have been be wielded.
Whether or not the statements are true or not for any individual person is not the point, the point is that such statements have been used in Rigpa to legitimalise all sorts of sordid behaviour and to silence those who saw it as wrong. Anyone can believe what they want, but if they use their beliefs in a way that causes harm, it is not only the mark of a cult but also, as the Buddha said in the Kalama Sutta, something we should abandon.
So, as I said, Kalamas: ‘Don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, “This contemplative is our teacher.” When you know for yourselves that, “These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering” — then you should abandon them.’
Please note that I am not talking here about the vajrayana as something to abandon, or about DZK’s talk, but about the teachings of the vajrayana being used in a harmful (and presumably wrong) way. Despite all attempts at change, and despite some recent indications of positive moves in the right direction in Rigpa, in some parts of the world people are still leaving Rigpa because this is what they see, so if Rigpa is to ever be truly healthy, this kind of thing must be addressed.
Of course, let’s not forget that there are some pretty mean comments flying towards Rigpa as well, often from people who were victims of abuse there themselves – that’s karma for you! But DZK is not in the role of advisor to those people, and if they have given up Buddhism all together, how they behave does not reflect upon it, and so is not his concern.
We are all unenlightened beings struggling with our own projections so I do not expect anyone to be perfect (their true nature excepted), and I have certainly not always acted skillfully myself, but anyone running a spiritual organisation needs to look very closely and honestly at their own hopes, fears and motivations, particularly in light of how they might be using their beliefs to judge, denigrate, blame, manipulate and ignore the suffering of others, for surely this is not the sort of application of the teachings that the great masters invisaged.
Just the start
The Berlin talk was, however, only the first in a series of talks.
Here’s the Lerab Ling talk.
I’ve listened to some of it, and I wonder if DZK realises that by saying that ‘Buddhism is above the law’, he has said that practictioners are exempt from the law, that the law does not apply to us. In other words that we can murder, rape, steal and abuse with impunity. I hope that is not his meaning, but unfortunately, that is what is meant by saying it is ‘above the law’. Such a statement waves a red flag to a cult investigator. It’s also in direct contradiction to what HHDL and Mingyur Rinpoche have said. I really wish he would speak to them, for they are both very clear on the importance of staying true to the teachings, but both of them have said we must abide by the laws of the land. To say that we are ‘above the law’ is so extreme, so dangerous an idea, (remember the tantric practitioner Charles Manson? That’s what he thought), that I can only hope he does not really understand the full English meaning of what he has said. I don’t think the French police will be happy to hear such a statement.
Anyway, people have told me that there are many gems in this talk and that it is well worth listening to. I respect DZK for tackling the problems, but I think he needs an English language advisor – just to be sure he knows what he’s saying.
May all those who were harmed be healed. Tahlia.
Current and previous students of Rigpa wanting private support are welcome to join the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
Ex-Rigpa students and their dharma friends who want to move on from the discussion of abuse in Rigpa can stay in touch through the Dharma Companions Facebook Group.
The What Now? Reference Material page has links to a wealth of articles in the topics related to abuse in Buddhist communities. For links to places to assist in healing from abuse see the sangha care resources page.