Khenchen Namdrol speaks at Lerab Ling and takes a dogmatic view that supports existing power structures.
A video of Khenchen Namdrol Rinpoche speaking at the end of his recent teachings in Lerab Ling was uploaded to You Tube on the 23rd of September on an account with no other teachings on it and no name or information about the owner of the account.
In the video he talks about the students who wrote the letter that broke the silence on abuse in Rigpa and gives a narrow view of the instructions on not criticising the teacher – one that is not in accord with His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s advice or the perspective of Mingyur Rinpoche, Matthieu Ricard, Erik Pema Kusang, Venerable Thubten Choden, Dr Alexander Birzin, Rob Preece, Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche, and Jack Kornfield to name a few. (Links to their articles can be found on the Reference Material page)
He does not address the abuse at all, just condemns the letter writers. It’s victim blaming couched in religious terms, the sort of thing one would expect in any fundamentalist religion where those in power have their power base threatened. Make them the bad guys, not the ‘perfect’ guy at the helm.
This indicates to me how ingrained the problem in Tibetan Buddhism is. For all their supposed wisdom, there appears to be, in some of the lamas, a selective blindness or inability to adapt. This viewpoint is what you get if you look for answers/advice in teachings that don’t deal with this situation directly, so he takes the nearest applicable teaching, the ‘you must not criticise your teacher and if you do you’ll go to hell’ line, but it’s the very instruction that allows abusive behaviour in Tibetan Buddhist communities to flourish. And it’s a view that keeps the lamas firmly in their place at the top of their fuedal power structure.
Lack of compassion
What is really striking here is the lack of compassion by this Khenpo and his audience, who cheer enthusiastically at the end. What are they practicing here? Vajrayana Buddhism is based on Great Compassion and Wisdom, yet neither of those are evident in these comments.
Buddhism is not theistic
KN says that demonic forces are at play, even insinuating that they have taken over the students who spoke out about SR’s behaviour, and then he threatens them with hell. Worse, he speaks of hell and demonic forces as if they are intrinsically real and solid. This makes it easy for some to see it as laughable superstition, but students without an understanding of emptiness may take this view at face value, but such a view is not Buddhism.
The wisdom aspect, emptiness, teaches that nothing is real and solid. The same way as in the visualistion practice, the deities that are visualised are not ‘gods’, they are not intrinsically real. The way he speaks here is as if he believes these demonic forces truly exists and have to be fought and overcome. But are these demonic forces not our own obscurations and obstacles, and are they not supposed to be brought onto the path and seen as not truly existing?
And if they exist, and if the people who signed the letter are in the wrong, as per his point of view, and if they have been overtaken by demonic forces, do they not deserve compassion? True compassion! Not this accusatory way of speaking and solidifying the negativity that has already been directed at them. This is literal demonising!
A damaging statement that solidifies the schism & alienates students
Conveniently neglecting to consider that the cause is the abusive behaviour, not those who spoke up about it, he mentions the schism in the sangha, but he has unwittingly made the situation worse by solidifying some of the ideas that caused the schism in the first place. Hearing this, and particularly if they take it as Rigpa management’s view, may turn some students away, not just from Rigpa but from Tibetan Buddhism entirely.
He (and other Lamas with this view) may be able to teach dharma but it appears that he has little understanding of general Western sensibilities and clearly has no understanding of the dynamics of abuse and of how harmful victim blaming is, not just to those who have been harmed but also to healing the whole situation from all angles.
All his opinion does is reaffirm the power structures in the religion to the detriment of students with genuine grievences. This is the sort of thing we have to call the Tibetan Lamas out on, but since the kind of reform required will need the lamas to give up a large portion of their power, that level of change will not happen easily – and unfortunately, this statment makes it clear that it will not happen at all in some lama’s communities.
Which brings us to the topic of change.
Does this narrow view reflect Rigpa management’s stance?
This video came from a restricted retreat, so who put this opinion on You Tube where already over 1000 people have viewed it? Since as a restricted teaching only a few people at the core of the organisation would have access to this video, are we to presume that it is an official or unofficial statement? If so, how can we have any trust that Rigpa will make the wide sweeping changes needed to make it and Tibetan Buddhism a relevant vehicle for Buddhism the West? Or is this an indication that Rigpa and Tibetan Buddhism will become merely another religion full of superstision and dogma. If so, what a shame. What a wasted opportunity.
The statement was made on a Rigpa stage during a Rigpa event, but Rigpa management didn’t offer a statement clarifying that it was KN’s opinion that, as an opinion, does not necessarily reflect the view of management. That neglect implies that this is a Rigpa position, and since this has been their position in the past, it would not be a surprise to learn this, only a grave disappointment.
The link was posted on an official Rigpa Facebook group (The All Encompassing Path) but when asked if it was an official Rigpa position, the link was removed. This is a very good sign, but a statement in response to the video being posted is needed to reassure people who are seeking real change, not window dressing.
Can Rigpa management step up and show good faith?
Clearly someone in the upper management takes this stance, or they wouldn’t have ‘leaked’ the video, and such a stance calls into question just how committed they are to the promises they made in their press release on the Lerab Ling Website in which they say:
“The governing boards and management teams of Rigpa, having sought professional and spiritual advice, will assure that the following steps are taken:
- Set up an independent investigation by a neutral third party into the various allegations that have been made.
- Launch an international consultation process to establish both a code of conduct and a grievance process for Rigpa.
- Establish a new spiritual advisory group to guide the Rigpa organization.”
In order for these changes to be more than an elaborate smoke screen, Rigpa needs to change at the level of how they interpret such instructions as ‘do not criticise your teacher.’ If they are in accord with KN’s statement, then any findings by the investigation are unlikely to bring any real resolution and the code of conduct will not be grounded in real change. And if the new spiritual advisory body is full of lamas with KN’s view, then anyone committed to retaining their wisdom of discernment or cutting Tibetan superstition from the religion might as well leave Rigpa now.
Does Rigpa want to be associated with religious extremism?
The kind of view where those who speak up are threatened with hell is religious extremism, tantamount to taking the bible as literal truth; is this what Rigpa wants to be known for? If not, then Rigpa management needs to step up and deny any relationship with his statement in order to show good faith and establish themselves as genuinely interested in change.
If you want to see the clip, it’s HERE
. Watch from 17:10 for the most relevant part.
The instruction to never criticise the teacher in any circumstances in fear of going to hell as stated by Khenchen Namdrol is simply not a healthy angle to take in 2017 in the West when several Tibetan lamas have proved they can’t be trusted. If our teachers were trustworthy this wouldn’t be an issue.
However, if we take the viewpoint of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Mingyur Rinpoche, Matthieu Ricard, Erik Pema Kusang, Venerable Thubten Choden, Dr Alexander Birzin, Rob Preece, Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche, and Jack Kornfield to name a few, students would not feel that they must put up with abusive behaviour from lamas in the future.
Rigpa has a choice, and every student that makes up the community has to make this choice, but Rigpa management can lead the way and choose the view that will further the place of Tibetan Buddhism in the West, not diminish it.