On Dzongsar Khyentse’s Letter to the Rigpa Sangha

Dzongsar Khyentse wrote a letter that went to the Rigpa sangha and that I think needs some attention given to it because people tend to think – just as they did with Sogyal – that because he appears wise when teaching dharma that he is always wise. This is simply not true. A series of ill-conceived, inappropriate and arrogant Facebook posts prove that. (Sorry, Dzongsar, but you posted them, not me. I’m just telling it like it is.)
‘Buddhadharma actively encourages its followers to apply critical thinking to everything it teaches’ DZK says in this letter, and this is exactly where we as students have fallen down. We have left our critical thinking behind in the service of devotion. We have swallowed everything our lamas tell us as truth. Why? Because they teach us that we must not criticise them, and so we do not criticise what they say for fear of hell. And yet, what they say is exactly what we must apply our critical thinking to if we are to avoid what happened in Rigpa from happening again. Hence this post.
I honour DZK for being one of the few lamas willing to actually talk about the abuse in Rigpa, and he has been helpful in some respects, but sometimes he does more damage than good with his words, and I don’t think he realises, or cares, how he falls into the manipulative kinds of tactics used by leaders of destructive cults.

Cult issues

He complains in the letter that he ‘can’t help but feel frustrated’ when he hears that ‘Buddhadharma is being labelled a “cult”.’  I have not heard anyone call Buddhadharma a cult, but people have called Rigpa and even DZK’s sangha a cult—and with good reason since this stating a specific allegation (Rigpa is a cult) as a general one (Buddhadharma is a cult) so it’s clearly absurd and so can be easily disregarded in its entirety is an example of cult leader tactics to manipulate their followers into not examining something they don’t want examined.
I wrote a blog post (in 2 parts) showing how Vajrayana is NOT a cult, UNLESS the lama steps over the line into cult territory, and that’s a line that all lamas need to be aware of if they are to avoid doing more harm than good to their students. I have never called Buddhism or Vajrayana a cult. But I do draw attention to the cult tactics used in Rigpa. How else can we avoid such tactics in future?

Listening, hearing, and deep examination

He says of the Rigpa sangha: ‘It would be silly to dwell on the difficulties. Instead, we must look at what we can learn from this situation, correct the misunderstandings and errors, and make Rigpa even better.” I totally agree, and that’s why it’s vital that those who ‘criticise’ are listened to and heard, because we have a role in helping Rigpa to look very deeply at the causes of their problems, something which must be done before they can be corrected. Is DZK willing to look deeply at how his cherished beliefs were misused to enable the abuse? Is he willing to learn about cult dynamics so he can avoid them? They are not inherent in vajrayana as I state clearly in the blog post mentioned above.

Don’t forget the importance of critical thinking

You can read DZK’s full letter to the Rigpa sangha by clicking here but when you read it, note that the contents may manipulate you into wanting to return to Rigpa. It’s basically heaping praise on those who have stayed with Rigpa, and most of the letter is perfectly reasonable and makes valid points, which is why you have to be careful not to also think that the last paragraph is perfectly reasonable. It isn’t. It’s misinformed and divisive, and is using cult tactics to set those inside the group against those outside the group. Don’t fall for it! It’s designed to make you think that those who have stayed are better, wiser, more enlightened etc than those who have left, and that the only possible path to spiritual development is in Rigpa. This is cult tactics 101.
He says:
‘There have been, are, and always will be people whose sense of personal dissatisfaction leads them to oppose, slander and, I dare say, even thirst for Rigpa’s ultimate destruction. Instead of wishing such people ill, we must always remember that we are followers of the Buddha. We must therefore feel compassion for all those who stand against us and try to understand the cause of their pain – especially if they were once our Dharma brothers and sisters. Try to embrace them with compassion and pure perception. And rest assured, if their pursuit of the Dharma is genuine, sooner or later they will see the truth and find a path back.’
There are some who do want to see Sogyal in prison and who do want Rigpa’s destruction, but possibly only because Sogyal has not admitted that he behaved wrongly and because Rigpa management has not denounced his behaviour, but I personally know of only a few such people, whereas I know hundreds of people who have left, who see Sogyal and those still stuck in a belief system that enabled abuse, not with ill-will but with compassion and understanding, and who would love to see Rigpa truly reform—not just make some half-hearted attempts that don’t get to the crux of the matter.

Raising up, not bringing down

Our complaints are not designed to bring Rigpa down, but to raise Rigpa student’s awareness of what Rigpa management still has to change. To lump everyone who has left into the extreme category is ignorant and divisive and typical of the black and white thinking attributed to cults, words designed to make members think that only the cult has the answers they seek and that anyone who leaves cuts themselves off from their only chance at spiritual progress. Don’t fall for it. It’s not true. There are many other sanghas and teachers to choose from who study and practice genuine dharma.
I and others like me do not ‘stand against’ Rigpa. My aim has only ever been to assist Rigpa to do the right thing and to genuinely change for the better. The fact that Rigpa management consistently makes poor choices is the only reason I write anything that may seem ‘against’ them. But actually all I’m doing is trying to help them to see the depth of change required. Why? For the sake of the future of genuine dharma.

Slander or truth?

And slander? Is it slander when you all you’re doing is revealing the truth? No. It’s not. I do not write about things that have no basis in truth.
The majority of those who speak publically about the issue of abuse in Tibetan Buddhism do it only for the sake of dharma, to raise awareness of the issue so organisations and individuals will be motivated to deal with the issues fully and intelligently. They speak out because they cannot bear to see the Buddha’s intention that his teachings help beings lessen their suffering be so misused as to cause harm, and until the actual harm (not the feelings of harm) has been admitted to, taken responsibility for, and apologised for, genuine deep change cannot occur, and those who point it out will have to keep pointing it out until they are heard.
Sogyal, Rigpa and their critics are interdependent. Our voices arise only in dependence on some action on which something needs to be said to provide a larger perspective to help students and their teachers understand what exactly is going on—like this letter.

Genuine practitioners

And ‘if their pursuit of the dharma is genuine’? Those I am regularly in contact with who have left Rigpa are the most genuine dharma practitioners I’ve ever met. Why? Because they are highly ethical and compassionate people, they know what is dharma and what is not, and they will not stay with a corrupt lama and an organisation who misuses the teachings for their own gain, because that is not authentic dharma. They know that to advance on the path, you have to do more than claim to study and practice authentic dharma, you must live it authentically.
I have seen students completely shattered by their experience in Rigpa, but still they follow the Buddhadharma in one form or another, many even remain in Tibetan Buddhism just with a different teacher or no specific teacher. To assume that because they have left Rigpa they are not genuine dharma practitioners is quite simply mistaken, especially when the very reason many left is that they are committed to living a life that is authentically dharmic. The depth of wisdom and compassion, and the genuine desire to live a dharmic life that I constantly see in the ex-Rigpa sangha is a constant inspiration to me. These people deserve to be honoured for their courage, honesty, integrity and diligence in living by the dharma, not denounced as slanderers, and their suffering passed off as ‘personal dissatisfaction’.

Don’t be Fooled

To heap praise on those who remain in Rigpa while demonising those who have left is neither wise nor helpful. If Rigpa is to truly change, and I still hope they can, management must learn how they have used, and are still using, cult tactics and give them up. Unfortunately, DZK is only reinforcing some of those tactics here. A great deal of education is required on this matter, as well as honest examination of the real motivations behind our communications.
These [kinds of] letters are expecting people to go quietly back to sleep,Sangye said in a recent Facebook post on this letter. ‘They are layering ignorance upon the wounds, and it doesn’t heal; it doesn’t help. Of course they are trying to protect their income stream, the number of students in their lineage and the powerful land holdings and bootlickers to maintain them. … It may be full of half-truths or say nice things, but it masks an approval of Vajrayana lamas who abuse.
Let’s not be fooled into returning to an organisation that has not denounced their lama’s abusive behaviour, and who has chosen spiritual advisors who blame the abuse survivors for their ‘feelings’ of abuse because they ‘don’t understanding vajrayana’ or were ‘possessed by demons’.
DZK asks Rigpa members to ‘feel compassion for all those who stand against us and try to understand the cause of their pain.’ But labelling those who have left as ‘those who stand against us’ shows a lack of understanding of the true situation; it’s lumping us all together under one extremist view so we can be more easily dismissed and ignored.
To try to understand we must do more than listen; we must also hear what people are communicating, and acknowledge their pain. Only then can there be any chance of true compassion. Listen to Sangye:
‘People who are traumatized – it replays over and over. They get worse, not better, and if they are stuck in a circumstance where the person keeps re-traumatizing, they even get beyond PTSD. They get CPTSD [complex post-traumatic stress disorder] as they start to be scared of more and more things. It never really goes away – their life, their precious human birth is made less precious by the abuser.’
And yet DZK, in minimising this kind of suffering as ‘personal dissatisfaction’, shows a lack of the very compassion, he is asking from in students.
I’ll let Sangye have the last word:
‘Love and kindness is about listening, believing the weak, supporting those who are alone. Not further isolating them and shaming them because they couldn’t bring joy to a narcissist. Seriously, it’s so embarrassing for you that you can’t get this. That you can’t even watch HHDL spell it out and understand basic obvious compassion and kindness.’
 
 
 
 
 

Missing the Connection

At a time when I personally am so sick of  Rigpa’s cultish manipulations of their members  that reading anything ‘they’ say makes me feel physically ill, I am particularly grateful that Jo Green is still writing for us. Thank you, Jo. Keep em coming! Without this kind of  exposure of the brainswashing tactics employed in Rigpa communications, many people will never realise how their perception of Sogyal lakar and Rigpa has been and still is being manipulated.
This kind of writing is vital if people are to ever realise that the organisation we once thought was beneficial, and many still desperately want to believe is beneficial, appears to really only care about keeping their members and getting new ones so they can pay their and their disgraced lama’s bills and pay the salaries of those who covered up Sogyal’s abuse for all those years.
Who, after all, still receives a salary from Rigpa? And how much power/respect do they have in the organisation? Would your local management team tell you the truth if you asked? Or would they say what they think you want to hear while never giving you a straight answer? Soothing words aimed entirely at keeping you a devoted member of the community (or kicking you out and ignoring you if they deem you beyond their ability to manipulate). 
The three stooges may have ‘stepped down’ from their management roles, but are these people suddenly not being listened to by those who have taken on their roles?  Has their mode of operation been discarded? The latest communication from Rigpa to the sangha, the topic of this blog post, indicates that the same methods of manipulation are still being used.
And how many of your local management team are more concerned about the Rigpa bank account and clinging to their guru – despite his now obvious flaws – rather than rooting out the cult tactics employed by their organisation or actually contacting the letter writers living in their country with an offer to help paying for their counselling?
Where is the honesty? The ability to say, “Yes, Sogyal did harm people, and what he did was wrong. And, yes, many in management covered this up, and that, too, was wrong.”
Sorry, I think I’m going to vomit!  
Rot makes me sick, especially when it clings at the heart of something pretending it’s healthy, and especially when after you cut it open for all to see, those reliant on the healthy image for their livelihood or spiritual security hastily tie it all up with a string called ‘code of conduct’ and ‘grievenace proceedure’, but the rot remains because no one representing Rigpa will actually say it was wrong for Sogyal Lakar to abuse people.
That’s how I’m feeling right now. Spiritual abuse is a huge betrayal of trust, and trust cannot be regained by using the same tactics used to betray that trust in the first place.  
Would it really be such a bad thing to sell off the assests and let the whole rotten edifice tumble down? It sounds to me like a really beneficial thing to do at this point, much better than pretending to change for the sake of their charity status while still secretly fostering the same beliefs that allowed Sogyal to abuse people in the first place.
Over to Jo, now, for an excellent and entertaining piece on the latest Sangha Connection newsletter.

Verbal abuse

The latest Sangha Connection Newsletter from Rigpa does not so much call a spade a spade as call it “an elegantly designed, handle-operated tool which fulfils a wide variety of agricultural and construction functions”. It does, however, demonstrate that a great deal of thought has gone into the really pressing issues for the leadership: how to appear to acknowledge the report without ever mentioning any of the damning testimony it contains, and how to refer to the victims of physical and sexual abuse committed by Sogyal, without using the words “victim”, “sexual”, “physical”, “abuse”, “harm”, or even the name “Sogyal Rinpoche”.
In this they have triumphed. With her fine legal mind, Catherine Paul has crafted the phrase “those who are hurt” to cover all of this. One particularly striking aspect is that it is not phrased as one would normally expect when referring to a series of events that occurred over a period of years: i.e. “those who have been hurt” or “Those who were hurt”. There is no way in English you can talk about any kind of physical injury or trauma that occurred somewhat in the past by using the present tense. The only things that can be discussed that way are ongoing feelings, e.g. “I’m still hurt that she never called me after my father died.”
The other loud, flashing alarm is the use of the passive voice – a top go-to strategy for anyone wishing to manipulate people’s perceptions of the facts. Catherine’s is a doozy. Instead of saying “those who Sogyal hurt” – which has definite sense of cause and effect, with the cause of the hurt identified – a word is substituted to create the bizarrely neutered “those who are hurt” as if the nature and cause of the hurt are unknown. And that’s without even changing “hurt” to the more appropriate “harm” – a word which appears to have the same effect on the Rigpa leadership that a crucifix has on Dracula. From when the letter came out last year to now, I don’t believe it has been used in any official communication from Lerab Ling in relation to Sogyal’s behaviour. This too is not an accident. The purpose of this linguistic abuse is to damp down the responses of the person reading.
Credit should be given to the Australian Rigpa board for recently showing independence of thought by saying “we apologise and are sorry for any harm we have contributed to” in their own newsletter. At least that acknowledges that harm has occurred, and they have contributed to it. Lerab Ling fiercely resists giving into what they seem to view as inappropriate expressions of basic humanity and honesty.
Catherine writes too ably for any of this to be an accident. It is done knowingly to appear to refer to the abuse, whilst only actually being applicable to feelings – thus dovetailing into the contemptible “apology” by Sogyal, about people feeling hurt by his actions as a result of not understanding them properly.
Oh dear, and we have only arrived at the second line.

The omission of compassion

Still, “people who are hurt” do get “our compassion and our unreserved and wholehearted apology”. What is being apologised for, however, is not stated. It is not an apology for the actions of Sogyal. It is not an apology for Patrick Gaffney, Philip Philippou and Dominique Side conspiring to conceal reports of abuse and spreading malicious gossip about those who spoke out. It is not an apology for failing to believe or help people. It is an apology for unnamed things done by unnamed people. So, not actually an apology.
As for “compassion” – what the hell does that mean? Precisely zero has been done to support the many people left traumatised by the uncontrolled narcissistic tornado that Sogyal became. The report recommends Rigpa should fund the therapy of those harmed by him. It is one of the simplest, cheapest and most practical ways support could be offered, but this has not been done. So where is the compassion? Compassion must manifest in action or it is nothing more than pat-myself-on-the-back-for-being-so-great ego-stroking.
Considerably more space is then dedicated to Catherine saying how great her experience with Sogyal was and how important he has been in her life. Again, a person with compassion would understand how inappropriate it is to recite these affirmations any time the issue of the bad things he did is tiptoed towards. It is insensitive and has upset many of the victims a great deal.
Yes, we get it, you think Sogyal did some good things for you. Why does that have to be said every time? Perhaps Catherine should read my piece about Jimmy Saville. I guess if I had a conversation with a faithful Rigpa student about recent world events, it might go like this:
Me: “My God, did you hear about the tsunami in Indonesia? It’s terrible what happened, so shocking. I sent some money – lots of those survivors are in a desperate state.”
Student: “Actually I went on a number of trips to Indonesia and had a wonderful time. The people were very friendly, the food was lovely and it’s so cheap. Last year, I went on this yoga and meditation retreat. It was really beneficial for me at a difficult time. So that’s what I’m focussing on.”
Returning once more to Rigpa’s favourite weasel word (alongside “unfounded”), the advice of the newsletter is that “those who are hurt” contact the new Rigpa councils for support. Bizarrely, they later suggest that current students inform “friends who have left Rigpa and may have an unresolved ethical question or complaint that impacts on their peace of mind”. That’s a very delicate and low-key way to refer to matters such as having your ear half ripped off, or having a piece of furniture smashed over you and then being compelled to do degrading sexual acts, or being ordered to give a blow job whilst trying to carry out your professional duties.
The Rigpa leadership know who these people are and they know how to contact them. Would compassion not consist of getting in touch and offering support rather than telling victims to write to an email address? Do they honestly not realise that, having broken trust so badly with these people, the leadership of Rigpa must humbly reach out their hand and risk it being, quite justifiably, smacked away or bitten off, just as those who spoke up took a huge risk? That would truly demonstrate compassion and lack of ego.

 Staring into the abyss

For all my criticism of Catherine Paul, one must remember that she is the messenger, not the sole originator of the message, even if she applies herself to her job with apparent gusto. She has been rare in attempting to keep in touch with those who have left, although she withdrew from Facebook groups on the eve of the report’s publication for reasons which seem self-evident. But Rigpa needs people who are willing to listen.
Equally obvious is why she cannot confront head-on the terrible damage that has been done by her teacher. Beneath the outer bluster and love-bombing of Sogyal, for some there is of course guilt that people they knew, people they were close to, were being harmed right under their noses but they never paid attention – or saw it but did not recognise it for what it was, preferring to hide behind “pure perception”. It’s very hard to look that guilt in the face, to remember how you joined in with running down those who criticised Sogyal, and to now realise your most trusted leaders fed you lies. That’s difficult to look at without wanting to turn away.
The questions it throws up are scary. What if those sacrifices weren’t worth it? What if you weren’t serving a bigger purpose but just serving Sogyal’s out of control ego and facilitating his abuse? Then you have to stare into the abyss, as so many driven out of Rigpa have, and wonder what it all meant and where to go now. That’s why so many at Lerab Ling and elsewhere are still living in complete denial, even in the face of all the report has revealed. They are terrified that if they allow one crack, the whole edifice will collapse.
But such a view is bereft of compassion. This hardcore group is selfishly fixated on their quest for enlightenment in this lifetime, so they see those who participated in the report as traitors, fools who failed to learn, obstacles to be swept aside as you carry on battling to get a seat in that helicopter to the top of the mountain. Nothing else matters but me and my enlightenment. It is the highest manifestation of pure spiritual egotism.

Recommendation vs Implementation

Passing on to other subjects in the newsletter:
There is an update about the Vision Board, confirming that Patrick Gaffney and Philip Philippou have “stepped down”. It’s worth remembering that their original appointment to the board, even after the publication of the letter, was the product of Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche’s much-vaunted divinations. I have no skill in these esoteric areas but my divination at the time was that they wouldn’t be there for long. If a vacancy has now opened up for OT’s job, I’m available.
They move on to the Lewis Silkin report’s recommendations, which apparently the reduced Vision Board is “fully focused on acting on”. However, not one specific recommendation is mentioned here, nor even the general substance of them. All that is said is that they aim to “meet any national legal requirements” and “work in ways that suit local culture”. But this is just a statement of obligations, which should never have been neglected in the first place. None of this directly addresses any of the 12 recommendations.
One recommendation that is tackled, under the next heading, is getting lamas to sign up to the new Code of Conduct. The list of those who have done so apparently “includes Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, the group of lamas and monks who held the Vajrakilaya drupchen in Lerab Ling, Khenchen Namdrol, and Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche.” They do not state whether Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche has signed up, despite being a key advisor, a recent visitor to Lerab Ling and currently teaching in Australia.
They go on to discuss the new “Independent Council” for complaints, which presently consists of Jann Jackson and Helen Berliner, from outside Rigpa, who I know little about. The report recommended “An abuse helpline outside of Rigpa should be set up, in addition to the internal reporting mechanisms made available.” But it’s not clear if that is what this is: for one thing, the word “abuse” is not used and although there is an email address provided, it is not stated who monitors it or how the system works.

The guru of non-apologies

In terms of Sogyal himself, whose geographical location is still unstated, they say the message/teaching he created for the August Dzogchen retreat will be shared at optional gatherings in October. Apparently, “The message includes an apology to those who are hurt and the news that he is going more deeply into retreat.” There’s that weird piece of language abuse again: “those who are hurt”. But the weirdest part is the idea that he has apologised, yet it will only be shared in a way that ensures that none of the people he should be apologising to can hear it.
In my whole life I never heard of a meaningful apology which could not be heard or read by the injured parties. A few months back there was an alleged audio “apology” which turned out to be nothing of the sort – just more self-justifying nonsense. If Sogyal is making an apology then why is it not being shared online, where everybody can hear it or see it? Why has it not been included in this newsletter? I can only think of one reason: that the leadership know it is worthless to anybody but the devoted.
The faithful down at Lerab Ling are already telling people that Sogyal has apologised and that he did nothing wrong (a slightly contradictory perspective, but there it is). The reality is that Sogyal has acted appallingly and his lack of an apology is just yet another manifestation of his abusive, narcissistic personality and the vacuum of compassion in his soul. I do not doubt he is very sorry, though – for himself.
In terms of his health, they say “he is frail, his condition remains serious and he is following ongoing treatment”. After seeing a recent photo of Sogyal with Dodrupchen Rinpoche on Facebook – where he looked much healthier and more robust than the wan picture from 8 months ago, pinned to the top of his own feed – I hoped that there had been a significant improvement. Time will tell, I suppose. As for “going more deeply into retreat”, I think we should take this literally. He realises he is now compelled to distance himself from Rigpa and he may be considering a move to a more geographically remote location.

A friendly little raid

Meanwhile, “Lerab Ling is undergoing a preliminary investigation conducted by the French authorities into its activities. As part of this process, on September 19th, the lead investigator accompanied by a group of gendarmes visited Lerab Ling. Although it was an unsettling surprise for the community, they were met with kindness and openness.”
Yes, whilst some in Rigpa were busy weaving a giant rug to sweep everything under, the French authorities were taking all these matters very seriously indeed. For a group of armed police officers to be authorised to do a raid on Lerab Ling, investigations must have progressed quite a long way – so watch this space. How nice that “they were met with kindness and openness”. I can almost picture the scene now…
“Yes Inspector, if you just sit yourself down there, we can bring out the wads of cash and count it for you, whilst your officers have a coffee. Someone from admin will be along in a minute with that file of reports of abuse that we compiled over the years, and I’ll jot down Sogyal’s address in case you want to pop over and have a chat with him. Are you all right there or would you like a cushion?”
They add that the raid “is not related to the Lerab Ling lawsuit for defamation”. Of course it isn’t: they don’t need to raid Lerab Ling to form an opinion about whether the place has been turning into a cult – just read the report. This is about how to respond to the evidence in the report and elsewhere, and what the French state should do about it.
And if the French state is looking for more evidence of Lerab Ling being cult-like, this newsletter is a great piece of evidence. I mean what can you call persuading the faithful to believe something is an apology when it doesn’t acknowledge any wrongdoing, except “brainwashing”? What can you call only sharing that “apology” in closed groups, but “cult-like”? What is misusing language through subtle shifts in meaning and employing the passive voice to make the crimes and criminal disappear, if not “gaslighting”?
Over the last year the leadership of Rigpa has been engaged in a huge survival project: making the changes that must be made so as not to lose their charitable status in different countries and thus their right to exist. That is the “outer” appearance. meanwhile, at the “secret” level they are engaged in a project to not give a millimetre, not accept any criticism, or any demotion of “Rinpoche” and reassure the faithful that this is the case.
They are playing a risky game. The French state bestowed Lerab Ling’s crucial status as a “religious community” and it can take it away. France is also unique in having the “About-Picard” law, designed to protect vulnerable people from exploitation by religious groups who behave like cults. Every single thing Rigpa says that is evasive and manipulative goes towards building a case against them under that law. They would be wise to get real and get real fast.
As for that defamation lawsuit; if they really intend to still pursue it, in the face of all that has been revealed, then – to quote the comedy series, Blackadder – they are “madder than Mad Jack McMad, the winner of this year’s Mr Madman competition”.


Current and previous students of Rigpa can participate in private discussion on this and other abuse-related topics on our What Now? Facebook Group. If you’re interested in joining, please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
People from any Vajrayana sangha can join the Survivors of Vajrayana Abuse and Allies Facebook group for support. Click the link to request to join.
Anyone who has left a Buddhist sangha that had an abusive teacher can join the  Beyond the Temple Facebook Group. The focus in this group is not on the abuse, but on ourselves and our spiritual life as we recover from our experience and look to the future. Click here and request to join.
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.
Those of you who are interested in ‘keeping Buddhism clean’ could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page, which posts links to related articles as they come to hand.

Hollow words? An Analysis of Rigpa's Statement on the Results of the Independent Investigation

Rigpa’s response to the Lewis Silkin report on the results of the independent investigation shows a continuation of their methods of operation to date. Once again we see the kind of response given by expensive PR firms and sneaky lawyers, words that appear to say the right things and appear to tell us what we want to hear – and many will read it at face value and go away content (which is what they want) – but what does it actually say? Or not say?
The words of the report are in the quote boxes. The analysis follows each section.

5 September 2018
We acknowledge the gravity of the independent report that Rigpa commissioned last year following allegations of misconduct by Rigpa’s Founder and former Spiritual Director Sogyal Rinpoche, and thank the investigator and the witnesses.

This does not say that Rigpa accepts the findings of the report.  This does not say that Rigpa thinks Sogyal Rinpoche or anyone in Rigpa has done anything wrong, even though the Report clearly concludes that there has been “serious physical, sexual and emotional abuse” by Sogyal Rinpoche and misconduct by Senior Rigpa Individuals “who were aware of at least some of these issues and failed to address them, leaving others at risk.”

We feel deeply sorry and apologise for the hurt experienced by past and present members of the Rigpa community. We are contemplating on our role as an organisation, and how we may have contributed to this situation. We will do everything we can to reach out to, and support everyone who has been affected, and take full responsibility for ensuring that Rigpa provides a safe environment for all. These are our heartfelt commitments.

This does not say that Rigpa accepts that Sogyal Rinpoche or anyone in Rigpa has actually harmed anyone, despite the conclusions of the Report and the evidence presented there.  They still only apologise for hurt “experienced” not for the hurt they and Sogyal caused.  The inclusion of the word “experience”  also reminds cult members of the subjective nature of the victims’ perception, something that reinforces the Rigpa ‘party line’ that the problem is with the victim, not with the perpetrator.
And they do not commit Rigpa to anything specific, instead they use the same vague soothing language they are so well known for – “reach out to”, “support”, “safe environment,” “heartfelt” – and they are only “contemplating on” their role, not admiting that they actually did have a role in the harm, and neither are they taking any actual responsiblity for it.
The only thing they are taking responsibility for is “ensuring that Rigpa provides a safe environment for all.” I seem to remember hearing something similar to this kind of committment from them in the past, all while the abuse continued. They will point to their code of conduct as one way they’re doing that, but there are serious loopholes in that code.
Their use of the words “taking responsibility” might lead people to think that they’re taking some responsiblity for the harm, but if you read carefully, you’ll see that they’re not.

The findings in the report will affect many people. It will take time for all of us to reflect on the report’s contents.

They have had the report since August 22nd and we have been told, via Rigpa streaming, that 30 individuals have been involved in developing this response. How much time do they need to come up with something more specific than this?

Rigpa commits to act upon the report’s recommendations. We will move forward in consultation with our community.

This is a key paragraph.  It does not commit Rigpa to implementing any of the recommendations in the report, although it gives that appearance. They commit only to “acting upon” the recommedations; they do not committ to implementing them. Acting upon can be as vague as considering whether or not they will actually implement them.

In the face of the allegations, last year Sogyal Rinpoche retired definitively as Spiritual Director of Rigpa, and now has no organisational role in Rigpa.

Sogyal Rinpoche’s main role in Rigpa is not and never has been “organisational”.  He resigned only as spiritual director. He has not resigned from his position as the community’s guru and has stated himself that he is still their teacher. He gave a teaching on devotion to the Dzogchen Mandala retreat recently, and has been giving “messages” to the sangha at all the retreats held since his stepping down as spiritual director.
Why use the word “definitively”? It’s completely unecessary. He has either retired or he hasn’t. The only reason why this word, which unecessarily emphasises the fact of his retirement, would be included is to make the reader think that this is the separation suggested in point 2 of the report recommendations – “Rigpa should take steps to disassociate itself from Sogyal Lakar as fully as is possible.”
Full dissociation is not him retiring, it’s Rigpa no longer taking him as their teacher. It’s them denouncing his behaviour and ceasing using his teachings as the core of their programs. It certainly isn’t having him give a streamed teaching to a retreat.

Rigpa has already undertaken a number of significant steps in the last twelve months:

  • A new Vision Board was appointed, guided by spiritual advisors, and Rigpa boards have agreed a new decision-making and governance structure;

The Vision Board was appointed in consultation with teachers, Khenpo Namdrol and Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche, who have made it clear that they think Rigpa students who have spoken out are samaya breakers and possessed by demonic forces. The Vision Board was then approved by Sogyal Rinpoche himself.  It is contains students who knew about and enabled the abuse. It should be disbanded.

  • Our community has taken part in an international process to put in place a strong Code of Conduct published in June 2018. We have also just completed our grievance procedure, that includes an independent Grievance Council of senior western Buddhist teachers that will receive complaints brought by Rigpa members and the public;

The Code of Conduct is weak. Amongst other things, it allows sexual relationships between teachers and students and makes vague reference to a different unspecified code for Vajrayana and Dzogchen students which students will have to agree to if they want teachings at this level.  No grievance procedure has been published.

  • And we set up this independent investigation for complainants to come forward, and be listened to in an open, impartial and sensitive way.

Rigpa was forced to set up the investigation due to the seriousness of the complaints.  It was also forced to agree to make it public because witnesses refused to participate otherwise.  This was not a voluntary Rigpa initiative, and yet they list it as if it were an achievement on their part.

We are committed to continuing the process of healing, reconciliation and change. To acknowledge the importance of this process of healing and change, senior members of management are stepping down from their positions of governance.

This is another key paragraph.  It only refers to positions of governance.  Senior Rigpa Individuals identified in the report as having been, “aware of at least some of these issues and failed to address them, leaving others at risk”, have many roles in Rigpa, not just governance.  Rigpa received this report on August 22nd.  Witnesses P, N and O should have been removed from all their positions, or at the very least suspended, on August 23rd, at the latest. That is what would have happened in any properly run organisation.
Again it is vague. Who are these senior members of management? What positions are they stepping down from? And what ones will they retain?
Update from Sangha connection newsletter sent out 30 mins ago:
“Patrick, Philip and Dominique will no longer hold any position of governance in any Rigpa entity by the end of November. Patrick and Philip will also step down from the Vision Board. The next elections of the Chapter of the Lerab Ling Congregation are scheduled for November this year. Dominique Side has decided to retire as Superior of the Congregation so she will not be a candidate in these elections.
These steps will come into full effect by the end of November, 2018. All three remain committed to supporting the sangha and Rigpa’s vision in whatever way may be appropriate and helpful.
Patrick sent the following message to share with the sangha:
“I have read the report of the independent investigation and I am deeply troubled by its findings. I feel a real and genuine concern for anyone who feels hurt or damaged by their experience in Rigpa. For the last forty years, I have tried my hardest to serve the Rigpa community responsibly and with integrity, and the best interests of the Sangha and Rigpa’s work have always been foremost in my heart. I have done my best to help support anyone experiencing difficulties or problems of any kind. If there have been any failings on my part to understand the nature of complaints that were made, or to listen or to act, I am truly sorry… ” and there is more.
These three are not the only people that should be stepping down, however.
Now back to the statement:

Rigpa’s goal has always been, and continues to be, to offer a complete spiritual path, to invite many teachers, especially from the “Ancient” Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, and to offer the Buddhist teachings of meditation, compassion and wisdom to the modern world.

If Rigpa had addressed the problems, laid out clearly and forensically in this excellent Report, when issues were first brought to Senior Rigpa Individuals’ attention, as described in some detail in the Report, then Rigpa would still be in a position to achieve this goal.  Due to not addressing these problems in the past, Rigpa now has to consider, as stated in the Report’s recommendations, if it will be “possible for the organisation to move past these events and operate sustainably and successfully in the future.”
It may not be possible. Particulary when we have a conflict of values between this “Ancient” fuedal tradition and the modern world. Do they really think that reverting to a fuedal system of masters and slaves that we gave up in the West centuries ago is what’s best for the modern world?
Finally, the statement is from the “Vision Board, Rigpa Boards, and the boards of Lerab Ling and Dzogchen Beara.”  If any of you still trust the members of these boards to tell you the truth, to act with integrity, or to have your best interests at heart, remember this: these boards still include individuals who were identified in the Report as “senior individuals within Rigpa who were aware of at least some of these issues and failed to address them, leaving others at risk.”


Current and previous students of Rigpa can participate in private discussion on this and other related topics on our What Now? Facebook Group. If you’re interested in joining, please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
Anyone who has left a Buddhist sangha that had an abusive teacher can join the  Beyond the Temple Facebook Group. The focus in this group is not on the abuse, but on ourselves and our spiritual life as we recover from our experience and look to the future. Click here and request to join.
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.
Those of you who are interested in ‘keeping Buddhism clean’ could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page, which posts links to related articles as they come to hand.

LIES, DAMNED LIES & LERAB LING – part 2

By JO GREEN
In the first part of this post we saw how, in a new video from Lerab Ling to the sangha, Rigpa are continuing to construct a false narrative about the cause of their current difficulties. In this part we see how they are trying to erase the word “abuse” from all discussion.
LOJONG LEADS TO LAWYERS
Apparently, the events of 2016 were not the end of the problems caused by Lerab Ling’s local newspaper. A year later, in August 2017, Dominique Side says Midi Libre published a full-page article “which advocated Lerab Ling should be shut down”. This is an interesting interpretation of that article. It’s an interview with Dominique Cowell, one of Sogyal’s closest and most trusted assistants until 1995, who left when she saw for herself that sexual abuse was happening. She recounts an absolutely horrific incident where Sogyal led a naked woman about by a rope around her neck, making her bray like a donkey. At the end of the interview Cowell does say “We must send the gendarmes to Lerab Ling, close the centers,” and that Sogyal Rinpoche should be brought to justice. But this is a quotation of her words: it is not the main thrust of the article and it is not what the newspaper itself advocates.
Dominique Side cites this article as an example of “people acting against you”. She then goes on to restate the principles of lojong, that Sam Truscott had also explained in his letter the previous year, as being the reason why they had never reacted to negative media coverage. She says this as if this is some great noble thing: to not refute accusations of abuse against a person who has, in fact, abused people.
She explains, “You don’t judge. You don’t immediately set out to attack the other person. This is part of a compassionate Buddhist stance.” Now I find this a surprising attitude from Dominique Side. Not long after The Letter had come out, one of its authors included her in an entirely innocent mailshot about something which had nothing to do with Rigpa. Dominique fired back an angry, insulting response within minutes. Let’s just call that “the gap between theory and practice”.
She goes on to explain that “the turning point” was a December 2017 article in the same newspaper when they interviewed Jean-Baptiste Cesbron – a lawyer who had been gathering accounts of abuse committed by Sogyal Rinpoche, with the aim of bringing criminal proceedings. But what principally concerns Dominique, Sam and the rest is that they feel he characterised Lerab Ling as a cult.
Once again, the Lerab Ling leadership are framing things in a very misleading way. In fact, the lawyer Cesbron never called Lerab Ling “a cult” in that article. If you read it and watch the video interview that accompanies it, he never once spontaneously mentions Lerab Ling. He is asked a question about whether the centre should be shut down and answers “No.” That’s all. He makes clear he is not against Buddhism as a whole. His criticisms relate specifically to Sogyal Rinpoche and the effect his behaviour had.
Nonetheless, Dominique Side has framed his words as a specific attack on the Lerab Ling community: an attack so serious that lojong goes out of the window and you bring in the lawyers.
WHY SUE NOW?
I can’t say I follow her logic. Why could they not issue a statement rebutting the article, yet not launch legal actions? Why could they not focus on acting in such a clearly non-cult-like way that the accusation becomes ridiculous? Apparently, their lawyers said they HAD TO prosecute the newspaper, the journalist and the interviewee. Oh, and 133 people at Lerab Ling have coincidentally decided to take their own joint action against the newspaper (it’s not clear if Dominique is one of them). So that’s four writs out there. But they still really believe in lojong. Honestly.
It seems to me that Dominique, Sam, Lerab Ling and their lawyers have not had it fully explained to them how newspapers work, and I would like to save them some trouble, so here’s a quick guide:

  • Newspapers report news stories;
  • Journalists research and write those stories;
  • To do that, they interview people;
  • The journalist reports what interviewees say;
  • The newspaper edits and publishes what the journalist writes.

So, if a journalist reports the racist statements of a politician, that obviously doesn’t make the journalist or the newspaper racist and one would therefore not normally prosecute either for racism. The only exception would be if there was editorialising by the paper, supporting these views. In the case of Midi Libre, there was no editorial comment, just reporting of events and statements – by Rigpa and others.
I mean, if they really want to sue this lawyer for what he said, they can try it – although, given how completely unperturbed Cesbron appeared after they started their action, I’d say they’re on a hiding to nothing – but it seems barking mad to go after the newspaper and journalist. Or is it? Dominique commented that “It has already had an impact, although the suit has not been tried. The press coverage is much more balanced than it has been previously.”
In other words, they may have successfully intimidated the newspaper into not publishing anything more about the abuse. It’s not a huge newspaper, perhaps they can’t take the risk of the financial consequences. Maybe that was the main intention of the suit, to gag the press, in which case it worked. Or perhaps the newspaper is biding its time – I note that they have now taken all their articles about Sogyal and Lerab Ling out from behind the paywall, so everyone can see them.
SO, WHAT’S REALLY GOING ON?
I’m still a bit confused about something, though. Lerab Ling say they now believe they need to take the legal route to protect their reputation, but that’s not what they’re really doing. On 24th January France 3 Television, in their region, did a report on the legal action being taken at Lerab Ling and the events that caused it. They interviewed the father of “Mimi”, also the lawyer at Lerab Ling who is bringing the group action, and the lawyer Cesbron – who correctly points out that no one in Lerab Ling has denounced the abuse – plus Dominique Cowell, who unequivocally states that Sogyal rapes women. The video and accompanying article are still online, and there is an English subtitled version.
As we have seen, Rigpa defended Sogyal Rinpoche from the allegations of ‘Janice Doe’ against him, with Patrick Gaffney taking a central role, whilst Sogyal stayed away. We’ve also seen that Rigpa rebutted allegations on behalf of Sogyal when criticised by Marion Dapsance, but they have not given any such defence of him with regard to the behaviour outlined in the letter of July 2017 written by 8 concerned students. Instead they are manipulating their members’ perception by sidestepping the main issue – the abuse committed by Sogyal, which is what is really harming Rigpa and Lerab Ling – and focusing on the ‘we are not a cult’ smokescreen they have created.
A LIE UPON A LIE UPON A LIE
The leadership at Lerab Ling has weaved a multiple fiction. Firstly, that Cesbron went out of his way to characterise Lerab Ling as a cult. He did not – he criticised Rigpa as a whole and Sogyal specifically.
The second is that there is some distinction between the notion of Rigpa being cult-like and the allegations against Sogyal. This is like arguing that your cough has nothing to do with your emphysema. Cesbron’s points are clear:

  • He has compelling evidence of abuse committed by Sogyal.
  • Sogyal’s idea of “crazy wisdom” was used to justify everything from public humiliations to sexual abuse, and one could not really be part of Rigpa without accepting it.
  • This group mindset led to the creation of a cult-like environment in which it was very hard for anyone to speak up.

Without the actions and ideas of Sogyal, there is nothing that could be described as cult-like. Rigpa cannot meaningfully fight the notion that they are a cult whilst refusing to discuss Sogyal’s actions.
Thirdly, in the new video Sam Truscott speaks of how relations with the local council, tourist board and neighbours have suffered as a result of what was published. I have no reason to doubt this. However, in their version of events, apparently local people were more or less OK with years of rumours, then serious allegations and national scandal around Sogyal hitting and humiliating students, sexually abusing women and embezzling money, and that this was happening on their doorstep with some of their neighbours and fellow parents at the school gate implicated in it all. But, when they heard the word “cult”, that was too much for them and relations went bad. Is there anyone outside Rigpa that buys that idea?
It is a lie upon a lie upon a lie. And these are the lies that are being fed to the remaining students through internal communications.
According to publicly-available testimonies, Sogyal beat people unconscious, made them bleed, compelled women to do sexual acts they found degrading or raped them, and punched nuns. So, Dominique, if you’re still struggling to pinpoint the cause of Lerab Ling’s current problems, I can provide clarification: Sogyal did this. If you don’t accept that, then please call up those journalists you’re so upset with and demand to be allowed an interview where you categorically deny that Sogyal ever harmed anybody. Tell them you are 100% sure that he never abused anyone sexually or physically, that he never committed a rape or misused funds. Actually, why don’t you get Patrick Gaffney and Philip Philippou to join you and make a definitive statement on his innocence that all Rigpa students can get behind?
In fact, why don’t you mount a media campaign about it?


Thanks for your articles, Jo.
I think it’s really important that people become aware of how Rigpa international leadership is manipulating (or attempting to manipulate) their perception, particularly with the results of the independent investigation coming out soon. We can be sure that whatever that report finds, Rigpa will find a way to spin it to their advantage. It is not a time for students to be niave and trusting of those who have known about the abuse for decades and have already had much practice at covering up the truth. Will they ever come clean? The deeper they dig themselves into lies, the harder it will be for them to do so.


Private discussion on this and other related topics can be had on our  What Now Facebook Group. It is only for current and previous students of Rigpa, however, and we do moderate it closely. If you’re interested in joining, please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
People from other sanghas can join the  Beyond the Temple Facebook Group . It’s a support group for anyone who has left their Buddhist sangha after hearing revelations of abuse by their teacher or after experiencing such abuse. It’s for people who see ethical behaviour, love, compassion and introspection as the core of their spiritual path. The focus is not on the abuses, but on ourselves and our spiritual life as we recover from our experience of spiritual abuse and look to the future. Click here and request to join.
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.
Those of you who are interested in ‘keeping Buddhism clean’ could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page, which posts links to related articles as they come to hand.
 
 

LIES, DAMNED LIES & LERAB LING – part 1

Today we have a guest post by Jo Green in which he takes a look at the latest video update from Lerab ling and unpacks the language used by Lerab Ling’s ‘Superior’ . (Ugh. I can’t write that word without rolling my eyes!) If you think Rigpa students aren’t being manipulated by the leaders of their organisation, you really should read this.
VIDEO NASTIES
Today I watched the latest video update from Rigpa’s epicentre, Lerab Ling. It was a mixture of the depressingly predictable with the truly reprehensible. By the end, my jaw had dropped so far that I may need reconstructive surgery to be able to eat again. But that’s not a worry: with this much nausea I have no appetite. I haven’t seen such a total failure of compassion, combined with complete rejection of the facts, since the last Trump rally.
What has caused this much distress is not just what was said but what was not said. Back in last August, when Patrick Gaffney and Dominique Side took to the stage at Lerab Ling to address the whole Rigpa sangha online, there were at least some miserably vague, morally equivocal acknowledgements that something had gone wrong, such as when Patrick said, “We have to take charge of this situation and do our best to resolve it in the best way possible for everybody concerned, including anybody who feels aggrieved or upset.” Obviously, words like “abuse” or “harm” or “victim” were strictly avoided, but at least there was a sense that something had happened.
That’s all gone now. In the edited 40 minutes that went out, the problems – as far as Dominique Side (the “Superior” of the Lerab Ling congregation) and Sam Truscott (the Director of Lerab Ling) were concerned – had nothing to do with people being physically injured, sexually abused, financially exploited or psychologically traumatised. No, the real problems are:

  • Because people said nasty things about Sogyal Rinpoche in a letter, students have left and the public are not coming as much. Attendance is down 50%.
  • Because people aren’t coming as much, Lerab Ling has financial problems. They have had to “let go of” 67 out of 170 workers (not all workers are paid).
  • Because people said nasty things about Sogyal and Lerab Ling in a newspaper, they had to start multiple legal actions.

I think that covers it. Apparently, none of these problems were caused in any way by Sogyal’s behaviour. It was all the result of other people causing trouble. But with the wonderful equanimity and good grace that years of study under “Rinpoche” have bestowed on them – and the advice of lawyers and financiers – they are seeing all this as “a blessing in disguise”.
Oh yes, and they told a pack of lies.
THE FICTION FACTORY
There is a really insidious fiction that Dominique Side has been elaborating for some time now, with others at Lerab Ling, and every time she comes back to it, we move further from the truth. In the video she traces their financial woes back to the latter part of 2016. She claims that because of “one media campaign” it was necessary to cancel a conference at the last moment, with a huge loss as a result. But is that what really happened?
In September 2016, Marion Dapsance’s book about Tibetan Buddhism – and more specifically, Sogyal Rinpoche and Rigpa – had been published: Les Dévots du Bouddhisme.  I read it. The book is, unquestionably, highly critical of the person and the organisation. It is also sober, academically thorough and definitely not sensationalist. It is the product of 7 years’ study for her PhD, put into a more readable form. It is also a story which begins with Dapsance sincerely wanting to explore Buddhism on a personal level.
The response of Rigpa was to issue a very angry Press Release. This was put up on the Lerab Ling website (not Rigpa.org) so one assumes that’s where it originated. Since the publication of The Letter, it has been removed.
The things it said included: “Both Rigpa and Sogyal Rinpoche categorically reject the assertions of abuse and cult-like behaviour that have been made in this book.” So, just to be clear, Sogyal HAS officially denied abusing anyone. It goes on, “this book merely recycles old, unfounded rumours and accusations that have been posted on the internet since the past fifteen years which, in fact, always originate from the same sources.” So, they are equating “heard it before” with “untrue”. Why? In fact, the vast majority of the book consists of completely original research carried out by Dapsance, plus a diary kept by a very faithful student whose view completely changed, leading him to abandon the 3-year retreat just days before the end. Dapsance wasn’t especially sneaky about researching – she even talked to Olivier Raurich, the then French National Director, about what she was doing.
Perhaps the reason they decided to take their response down is this ridiculous accusation they make against the author: “Marion Dapsance’s studies have been financed by Chinese benefactors”. They offer no evidence for this. In a public response, Dapsance made clear that her only benefactors during those seven years had been her parents. She added that she was now receiving support from Hong Kong for her research into the explorer Alexandra David-Neel: from the Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation, which aims to promote Buddhist philosophy and “the application of Buddhist insights in today’s world”. Rigpa also characterise her as “with those who seem primarily motivated by their desire for fame and sensationalism”.  They did not issue a retraction or an apology.
They then point out that the same publishers put out a book that was critical of the Dalai Lama, claiming “This book presents a scathing and aggressive attack on the Dalai Lama, accusing him of being an agent of the CIA”. Even if this is the case (I haven’t read that book) what does that have to do with anything? Dapsance does not attack the Dalai Lama in the 39 references to him in her book, nor does she mention the CIA. Harper Collins publish “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying”. They also publish books written by, and sympathetic to, Donald Trump. Is Sogyal therefore a Trump supporter?
FAKE NEWS ABOUT NEWS
 A few weeks later, a regional/local newspaper, Midi Libre – which had published many news stories about Lerab Ling, of various kinds – put out a feature on Lerab Ling and the accusations against Sogyal Rinpoche.
A few days after, the Press Release was re-issued, now with an explanatory letter from Sam Truscott and Judith Soussans, the Rigpa/Lerab Ling PR manager, which complained, “For several weeks, Rigpa and Sogyal Rinpoche have been the victims of a malicious media campaign based on the publication of a highly critical and extremely prejudiced book… We are deeply shocked and dismayed at the way Lerab Ling and our spiritual director, Sogyal Rinpoche, have been depicted. In no way does this picture correspond to reality.”
Let’s unpick that. First of all, most people would absolutely recognise the reality the book describes: how when you first go to Rigpa, knowing nothing, wanting an introduction to meditation, you find you are taught to fixate upon the image of Sogyal Rinpoche. You’d recognise him turning up late for teachings at retreats and then spending ages berating people. You may well have experienced being taken aside by instructors who then check your reactions to his strange behaviour and tell you to accept this as “crazy wisdom”, no matter how it may seem. As for the stories of abuse: they’re everywhere.
And what “malicious media campaign”? The book attracted some press coverage. It’s normal for publishers to send books out to newspapers – it’s how books get noticed, so people buy them. If the subject is newsworthy, that helps to get coverage. It’s not “malicious” and it’s not a campaign: it’s just some journalists and editors independently thinking, “This sound interesting”. Midi Libre were the only ones to do more extensive coverage and their articles were not taken up by the national press. Also, these articles were behind a paywall, so only people who bought the paper that day, or were subscribers, could see them.
Nonetheless, in this new video Dominique Side claims that these specific articles were the direct cause of the last-minute cancellation of “The 5th International Forum on Buddhism and Medicine” at Lerab Ling, due to take place two weeks after publication. The significant income loss that the centre took as a result was the beginning of all their current financial woes, she claims. It was all the fault of the “fake, fake, disgusting news,” in the words of Sogyal’s publishing companion, Donald Trump.
Really? I mean REALLY? Some articles behind a paywall, in a regional paper, in French, could bring this whole international event crashing down? So, what happened? All of the speakers heard about it and abandoned ship? Everybody asked for a refund? Dominique Side doesn’t say, nor has anybody given a coherent explanation. So, what might have happened?
Well, when the going gets tough, Sogyal has a habit of getting going. Around 1994, when the “Janice Doe” abuse case in the USA was in the news, Sogyal suddenly felt the need to go on retreat and thus, sadly, “could not be reached for comment”. Then, curiously enough, the next North American Retreat was moved to Canada, so Sogyal had no need to set foot in the USA and have his teaching interrupted by the serving of a writ. When The Letter came out last year, Sogyal was once again gripped by the sudden need to go into retreat (perhaps more in the military than religious sense), but this was stepped up to “retirement” after the Dalai Lama criticised him. His location has remained a Rigpa secret ever since (although it’s called “Thailand”).
So, it’s entirely possible, if he and Rigpa were feeling so much heat after the fallout from the publication of the book, that he had again speedily left the country and decided to cancel the event. Or they didn’t sell enough tickets. Or many of the international speakers felt uneasy about sharing a stage with him. Dominique skips over an incident that did attract a lot of attention: just a few weeks before the conference, Sogyal thought it would be OK to punch a nun painfully hard in the stomach, in front of 1000 people. Now, it doesn’t take a “media campaign” for that kind of thing to get around. 1000 shocked people will talk.
THE PERVERSION OF LANGUAGE
 The most hypocritical aspect of the repeated use of the phrase “media campaign”, by her and the rest of the Rigpa leadership, is that they know perfectly well which party in all this has mounted a media campaign: it’s them. Rigpa has, for years, hired PR companies to help “spin” stories about Sogyal’s bad behaviour. This was particularly so during the fallout from the “Mimi” story in a 2011 Canadian documentary, for which they used PR people in various countries. Amongst other things, senior Rigpa staff were given training in dealing with the media. Olivier Raurich, the former National Director in France said they were told to say, “‘The Dalai Lama is supporting Sogyal Rinpoche one hundred percent’, and repeat that, only that, without answering ‘yes’ or ‘no’.” Perhaps this is why the Dalai Lama recently felt it necessary to make so very clear that he was not.
Given their past record, it’s almost certain that Rigpa are currently using PR people to help manage the ongoing crisis. Indeed, it’s perfectly possible that they have been taught by them to use the phrase “media campaign” to refer to any negative press coverage, in order to make them sound like victims. If Dominique and Sam want to bring the sangha up to date with what they’ve been doing, why don’t they let them all know that it’s Rigpa policy to employ PR companies? After all, it is the students’ subscriptions, retreat fees and donations that pay their bill.
There is a word that their PR/legal advisors have advised them to deploy, which they must consider has served them well. In 1994, when Patrick Gaffney had to pen the first press release defending Sogyal Rinpoche in the wake of the accusations from ‘Janice Doe’, he wrote, “These allegations are unfounded.” Remember what they said about Marion Dapsance? “This book merely recycles old, unfounded rumours and accusations.” And what do we find Sam Truscott saying on French TV at Lerab Ling’s Open Day in May? “These accusations are completely unfounded.”
“Unfounded” is the pernicious little word behind which they pompously stand, but let’s be clear about what they are saying. The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “not based on fact; untrue”. The Oxford English Dictionary says: “Having no foundation or basis in fact.” So what Sam Truscott did was call all the letter writers LIARS. He also called every woman brave enough to talk about being sexually abused by Sogyal Rinpoche a LIAR. Likewise, he branded every trustee or director who ever spoke up about abuse a LIAR.
Now, it’s one thing to say, as Sam did, that he never saw or heard anything bad occur (although perhaps he’s overdue for eye and ear tests) and he could even hide behind the lame old “nothing has been proved in court,” but to say all victims and witnesses are liars is simply disgraceful and profoundly morally perverted. This is a new low and he should be ashamed.

Addition 18th August 2018

Since this post was published, I have received new information around what happened at Lerab Ling during the Dzogchen retreat of 2016, after the publication of the Marion Dapsance book and before the conference. A French student told me that, during the retreat, French students were summoned, two or three times, to gather in the Guru Lakang room on the first floor, whilst the rest were invited to meditate in the temple below. Feeling like the bad guys, these French students were told to put up their hands if they had any doubts and these were then worked on.

Although this was about the effect the book might have had, the title of the book and the name of the author were never shared, presumably for fear of encouraging people to take a look. The Rigpa/Lerab Ling PR manager, Judith Soussans, led the sessions. She later advised people to Google The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying rather than the one by Marion Dapsance, in order to keep hers lower down searches.

Another instructor brought in was an academic from the Sorbonne who said that the (unnamed) book was badly written, of poor academic quality and was just gutter press sort of stuff, reporting gossip.

These are all classic Rigpa disinformation tactics to make sure nobody thinks for themselves:

Withhold details

Persuade people not to inform themselves

Denigrate the individual concerned

As far as the cancelled conference goes, some details of what was planned can still be found here. Its theme was “Living With Cancer”. Interestingly, on that web page they have a competition to win free places. A sign of difficulty in selling tickets? It should be pointed out that this was put out before Midi Libre published their reports.

Although some have confirmed that they were told the conference was cancelled as a result of what was said in the press, others have informed me that the reason they’d been given for cancellation was that it wasn’t possible to properly care for cancer sufferers on-site. This sounds very strange, given that the conference is clearly targeted at health care professionals, not patients. Not to mention that having cancer does not prevent you from going to Lerab Ling. It’s ironic to consider that, at that very moment, Sogyal Rinpoche himself was probably already experiencing symptoms of cancer.

If anybody can corroborate what happened at the 2016 Dzogchen Retreat – especially French students – or around the cancellation of the conference, please share your experiences.

Thanks Jo for your article. The second part will be posted next week.
What do our readers think about all this. Is this your perception of that video or do you see it differently?


Private discussion on this and other related topics can be had on our  What Now Facebook Group. It is only for current and previous students of Rigpa, however, and we do moderate it closely. If you’re interested in joining, please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
People from other sanghas can join the  Beyond the Temple Facebook Group . It’s a support group for anyone who has left their Buddhist sangha after hearing revelations of abuse by their teacher or after experiencing such abuse. It’s for people who see ethical behaviour, love, compassion and introspection as the core of their spiritual path. The focus is not on the abuses, but on ourselves and our spiritual life as we recover from our experience of spiritual abuse and look to the future. Click here and request to join.
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.
Those of you who are interested in ‘keeping Buddhism clean’ could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page, which posts links to related articles as they come to hand.

If the Mental Disorder Fits, Wear it.

When a cult leader has a mental disorder

When a cult leader has a mental disorder, (Anti-social Personality Disorder (psychopathy) and Narcissistic Personality Disorder are comon ones), devotees will find all kinds of ways to downplay it or call it something else. And when the leader abuses his or her students, devotees may even justify the abuse as being for the benefit of the student – certainly this is the case in the Tibetan Buddhist sangha of Rigpa. A devotee in a cult cannot be convinced that there is anything wrong with their leader. On the contrary, they spiritualise their damaging behaviour as ‘crazy wisdom’ or ‘beyond the ability of ordinary beings to discern’ and so forth.
A Bagwan Shee Rashneesh follower told me back in the 80s that Bagwan had 100 Rolls Royces because he was free of attachment, and the fact that this was an illogical stance since the very opposite appeared to be true – he appeared to be very attached to Rolls Royces – made no difference to the devotees conviction. In the same way, you cannot convince those in Rigpa and other Tibetan Buddhist communities who think that assaulting students, coercing people into sex, and emotionally abusing them is enlightened behaviour that it is in fact trauma-inducing abuse delivered by a person with a mental disorder. And yet, maintaining this stance that there is nothing wrong with the perpetrator of the abuse, which they do as a mark of their devotion and allegiance to their leader, does not help the leader at all. What such leaders need is to be made aware of their disorder and encouraged to seek help, for the leader’s sake and the sake of those who are devoted to him or her.

Where psychology beats Buddhism

The Buddha had some profound insights into the nature of the human mind and its role in human happiness. When I found Buddhism, I, like many others, thought I’d hit the spiritual jackpot. This is it! I thought. Here is the truth. Encouraged by a teacher who put down psychology at every opportunity, I thought vajrayana Buddhism was way ahead of psychology, but it’s very clear to me now that in the area of personality and mental disorders Buddhism is lagging far behind psychology.
There is nothing in Buddhism about mental disorders. The system of thought is designed for people who are already mentally healthy, so there is no way for someone relying on that system of thought for their understanding of the mind to recognise a mental disorder when it’s staring them in the face. This is a problem when a teacher or instructor is faced with trying to help a student with such a disorder,  but it is even more of a problem when the guru themselves is exhibiting signs of a mental disorder. Not only does Tibetan Buddhism not recognise a mental disorder in a guru for what it is, the religion mistakes it for a special kind of spiritual achievement – crazy wisdom!
Talk about the snake and the rope! (In joke for Rigpa Dzogchen students: the rope is not only not seen as what it is, it is also mistaken for a snake. This is an analogy for how we don’t recognise reality for what it is, empty of essence, and instead mistake it for something solid.)
In a fuedal society and a religion with a fuedal power structure this turning an issue with a leader into something that adds to his or her power isn’t surprising. Keeping the power of the guy at the top is of vital importance in a fuedal system, so rather than admit that the guru has mental issues, the religion makes him out to be especially gifted.  It happens once, and then the concept of ‘crazy’ as a mark of great realisation is enshrined within the religion. How much of the stories told to back up the benefits of a crazy wisdom master are true? Did such behaviour really benefit the student or was it a white wash from the start? We will never know. I suspect that Tibetan Buddhism has been gaslighting devotees for centuries.
And even if Marpa really did assist Milarepa on his journey to enlightenment through ‘unconventional’ means, then we still have to ask how much has this story been used in service to a lineage of lamas who, generation after generation, suffered from the trauma of being abused as children.  They were brought up to believe, as Orgyen Tobgyal said in Paris last year, that ‘beating increases wisdom’ and that pain will wash away bad karma. This is awfully like what the Christian flagellents believed in the fourtheenth century. And guess what? We’ve come a long way since then, but some sects of Tibetan Buddhism are still stuck in that antiquated and unhealthy belief system.
Modern psychology recognises trauma and mental disorders and knows how to treat them, and the best thing students can do for their lamas and their sangha is to recognise the signs when they see them and help their lama to see that they need help. Easier said than done, I know. Some tried with Sogyal, but he never actually made it to a psyciatrist. What a shame!
Why am I talking about lamas as if they have mental disorders? Well, obviously some are quite sane, but others? If the cap fits, wear it, I say. Denying the issue does no one any good, and any student who gives unquestioning obedience to someone with a mental disorder, (even if he is not physically present with them) is not in a healthy situation.
I leave you to decide how much of the following applies to Sogyal Rinpoche and Chogyan Trungpa. Oh and maybe you should also consider Orgyen Tobyal and Dzongsar Khyentse while you read.  It’s from an Integrative Psychology article on institutional abuse.  https://integrativepsychology.net.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/institutional-abuse.pdf

Characteristics of Abusive Group Leaders

“One type of abusive group leader is the charismatic leader, common in cults. Such a leader possesses strong talent for self-expression coupled with the ability to sense and read the needs of followers. These needs are then normally converted into the form of seductive promises that slowly lure the individual into the personalised ideology of the leader. Cult leaders are often incredibly manipulative and whilst they spend a great deal of time creating an image for their followers the essence of their personality is predatory. Therefore, charismatic leaders exhibit many of the features required for formal diagnoses under the DSM ( Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders ) category of personality disorders. Two personality disorders in particular- Anti-social Personality Disorder (psychopathy) and Narcissistic Personality Disorder- share many of the characteristics of abusive group leaders (APA, 2014; Aron, 2011; Edelstein, 2011; Shaw, 2003).
In the text “Take your Life Back” by Lalich and Tobias (2006) they suggest a checklist to help individuals identify and demystify the traits of a psychopathic/sociopathic, charismatic leader.

  • Glibness and Superficial Charm: The charismatic leader is able to beguile and confuse and convince through the use of language; they are able to disarm and persuade with incredible proficiency. Tilgner, L., Dowie, T.K (Ph.D)., & Denning, N. (2015). 15
  • Manipulative: The inability to recognise the rights and needs of others enabling any self-serving behaviour to be permissible. They divide the world into (1) those who can be manipulated, (2) those who are one’s enemies, and (3) themselves. Many people involved in a cult have been allocated to the category of those who can be manipulated and anyone who objects to behaviours quickly finds themselves in the position of the enemy.
  • A Grandiose Sense of Self: Leaders have a tremendous feeling of entitlement, they by nature believe that they are owed and have the right to whatever behaviour they wish hence nothing is immoral or out of reach if it is in the quest to quench their insatiable desire.
  • Pathological Lying: The leader is able to lie and be untruthful without any sense of impropriety. The cult leader will often construct complex self-aggrandizing narratives, which will represent them as having special or unique powers. This kind of lying is connected to something called pseudologica fantastica, which is the term given to the complex belief systems and traditions which they themselves develop (eg., they are the manifestation of some supreme power).
  • Lack of Remorse, Shame and Guilt: The leader exhibiting sociopathic tendencies is unable to experience shame or guilt for their hurtful and damaging behaviours thus they see others as mere objects for the gratification of their needs. These needs are often carefully hidden and concealed within the subtext of some system of thought, which condones the lack of care and concern. They also tend to lack the capacity for genuine empathy but may disguise this with false displays of care and understanding.
  • Lack of Emotional Depth: The leader who is unable to express remorse is also likely to have difficulty with anything but shallow displays of emotion. Due to the power imbalance the emotional lack on behalf of the leader is often mistaken for some kind of profound equipoise gained through diligent adherence to the group values and practices. Much of the emotional display is designed simply to manipulate the followers.
  • Impulse Control: Leaders can exhibit problems with impulse control (otherwise referred to as acting out). This acting out normally takes a number of forms, the most common of which are sexual and physical abuse. This behaviour is often known only to a select few yet when it is publicly known complex explanations are offered. Usually this involves the leader behaving in ways that are simply beyond the understanding of their “less enlightened” followers. Thus there is often a claim to a special kind of teaching; this is particularly the case in sexual exploitation within spiritual cults. Spiritual cult Tilgner, L., Dowie, T.K (Ph.D)., & Denning, N. (2015). 16 leaders may claim they are passing on or helping their victim’s consciousness or spirituality. In the history of cultic studies it is usually the case that the sexual behaviour of the cult leader towards the followers is never truly consensual as it has arisen through sustained and deliberate degradation of personal will via threats of violence, control, and slow and surreptitious psychological manipulation over extended periods of time.

Conclusions and Key Recommendations: Profile of Abusive Leaders

  • Psychological abuse, a powerful weapon of abusive leaders, is usually insidious and highly corrosive of identity and sense of self. Being harder to detect than physical abuse, the victim may find themselves caught on the receiving end of a destructive cycle of “crazy-making”.
  • Authoritarian style personality is linked to abuse of power and control. Authoritarian personality characteristics: organise through hierarchy, move towards acquisitions of power and wealth, tendency to use people and see others as inferior or wrong, have a tendency towards sado-masochism, incapacity to be fulfilled and satisfied, suffer from feelings of paranoia and persecution.
  • Two personality disorders in particular- Anti-social Personality Disorder (psychopathy/sociopathy) and Narcissistic Personality Disorder- are found in abusive group leaders.
  • Characteristics of sociopathic group leaders: glibness and superficial charm, manipulativeness, a grandiose sense of self, pathological lying, lack of remorse, lack of emotional depth and impulse control.
  • We may expect such sociopathic characteristics in cult leaders but consider leaders of new age movements, that proclaim a superior way of life; and survivors of clergy abuse who have frequently described a process of “grooming”, whereby their dependency and powerlessness was used to abuse and threaten them into silence. People in power who abuse others may share some if not all of the characteristics of authoritarian personality, charismatic, sociopathic and narcissistic personality styles.
  • We recommend when dealing with individuals exiting an abusive group to appreciate the impacts of exposure to authoritarian and personality disordered group leaders and fellow members who may have emulated the behaviour of the leader.
  • We recommend fully recognising the extent to which psychological control and influence have been used to disempower the individual. Working with exmembers of abusive groups is a process of rehabilitation; the supporting and rebuilding of a person that has been violated psychologically and possibly physically, sexually, and financially.
  • Greater awareness, prevention and intervention of psychological abuse is required. Prevalence and impacts of psychological abuse across all levels of interpersonal relationship (ie., intimate relationships, schools, sporting, community and church) requires investigation and appropriate intervention.”

There’s a lot here to think about, not just about the teacher who may have a mental disorder, but also those who may have emulated the behaviour, and those of us in the process of recovery after exiting an abusve cult.
What jumps out of this article for you?


Private discussion on this and other related topics can be had on our Secret  What Now Facebook Group. It is only for current and previous students of Rigpa, however, and we do moderate it closely. If you’re interested in joining, please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
People from other sanghas can join the Dharma Friends Beyond the Temple Facebook Group . It’s a support group for anyone who has left their Buddhist sangha after hearing revelations of abuse by their teacher or after experiencing such abuse. It’s for people who see ethical behaviour, love, compassion and introspection as the core of their spiritual path. The aim of the group is to support each other in our spiritual journey wherever it takes us. Click here and request to join.
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.
Those of you who are interested in ‘keeping Buddhism clean’ could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page.

What it's like to be in the line of Sogyal's fire: a personal testimony.

Later on in this post I share a video interview I did with ex-monk Sangye Nawang in which he tells us just what it was like to be in the firing line of Sogyal Rinpoche’s temper, but first some introduction to help explain why students entered into a close relationship with their guru.

The fire analogy

One of the teachings that I remember on a student’s relationship to a lama is the fire analogy. It goes something like this: If you’re too far from the lama you won’t feel the heat; it you’re too close, you’ll get burned. I presumed that the aim of this teaching was to make the the student aware that they needed to find a distance that was neither too close nor too far away from the lama, but it was also a warning that if you did dedicate yourself to working closely with a lama, you might  get burned, or maybe even will get burned.
Being burned, however, meant that your ego got burned, and that was seen as a good thing. Once again we see a word being used that means harm. If we’re burned, we’re harmed. The bit being harmed is supposed to be your ego (grasping at a false sense of self), but these ideas of burning, attacking, crushing, and destroying ego are problematic in a world where students may be lacking in a basic healthy self-esteem, and that problem is compounded one-hundred fold if the lama has narcissistic personality disorder. In these cases, as I’ve seen with Rigpa inner circle survivors, an aggressive approach is more likely to cause harm than benefit. Instead of having their ego dissolved, they tend to end up having physical and/or mental breakdowns, and their basic sense of self is crushed, so that they see themselves as worthless and useless, and so on. This is in fact strengthening ego, because now the student associates him or herself with negative attributes.

Why put yourself in the line of fire?

In Rigpa, the idea of being close to the fire meant that you had the guts to commit yourself fully to a relationship with a person that, though most of us didn’t know was abusive, we all knew was highly demanding, but the pay off for being close was a better shot at enlightenment, the opportunity to be fast tracked along the path. The route was dangerous, and it took guts to take it, but the potential benefit was huge – at least that’s what we were told. This romanticised ideal of a spiritual warrior willing to take the blows coupled with a genuine desire to help spread the dharma teachings in the West drew people close to the raging inferno of Sogyal Rinpoche/Lakar.
But being close to the fire meant that you put yourself directly in Sogyal’s firing line.
I doubt that those who entered the inner circle knew the degree of his ‘burn’ before they took up their roles – did they know they would be hit, asked for sexual favours and be always found lacking? – but we all knew that working closely with him would be highly challenging. That was the point. We believed it was a kind of ‘trial by fire’ that if survived would be a great purification, a furnace in which to burn away your obscurations, in reality, however, a large number of people simply got third degree burns.
I sometimes used to wonder how I would handle the intensity of that level of ‘Rigpa work’, and all I knew in that regard was that I never wanted to find out. When I was offered the role of National Director for Rigpa Australia a decade or so ago, I said, “No way, I don’t want to get that close to the fire.” I feel for those who did.

A personal testimony

In August 2017, I interviewed Sangye Nawang, and ex-Rigpa monk and a good friend of mine. We didn’t release the video at the time, feeling that the time wasn’t right. Now, however, we feel it is time for the world to see Sangye tell it as it was, and I challenge those who think this is somehow made up, or some plot or campaign to deny the truth that comes through this interview. This is just someone who has been burned telling us about the fire he fell into through no fault of his own.
May sharing his story, told openly and honestly, be of service to others.

 

What being in a narcistic relationship does to you

This next video is long, but it’s well worth watching if you want to get an idea of the true cost to those in Rigpa’s inner circle who were or still are close to Sogyal Rinpoche/Lakar.  If you were one of those people then you’ll find it immensely helpful to realise that other people experience this kind of thing in domestic and work relationships; it’s not something restricted to the guru/student relationship, and, in fact, it has no place in that environment at all. In this video you’ll hear just how crushing being in a narcissistic relationship is.
Please note that I am not making a diagnosis on Sogyal’s personality, just sharing the experience of people who were in a similar relationship because fits with the results I’ve heard from and seen in Rigpa inner-circle survivors. You’ll see the correlations with Sangye’s experience. As Dana mentions in the video, survivors of cults and abusive relationships will also find it very helpful to find language they can use to describe their experience. 
NB: CPTSD  is Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

In this video Dana of Narcissist Support says, “In a narcistic relationship it’s all smoke and mirrors. It’s all a lie.”
Which leaves me wondering: was the love I thought I experienced from Sogyal real or just my projection? Dana talks about how her narcissistic boyfriends fed off her need for love that came from a sense of lack of love in her life; how many of us saw in Sogyal what we wanted to see? Did our projections blind us to the red flags that screamed, “Fire. Fire. Danger. Do not enter!”?


Private discussion on this and other related topics can be had on our Secret Facebook Group. It is only for current and previous students of Rigpa, however, and we do moderate it closely. If you’re interested in joining, please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
Ex-Rigpa students and their Rigpa 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.
Those of you who are interested in ‘keeping Buddhism clean’ could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page.
 
 
 

Should a Spiritual Teacher Attack Your Hidden Faults?

Finally we’ve got to our examination of the beliefs we held without question. The first is one that we often heard from Sogyal Rinpoche, “A Spiritual teacher should attack your hidden faults” or other versions of that same idea. Looking back now, it seems like an attempt to justify abusive behaviour! And he did use it to calm people down if they’d just witnessed some form of abuse, and all of us who went to a retreat did see emotional abuse; we called it “training”. Ouch. Just what exactly was he training us to do? Witness abuse without reacting? How healthy is that? Is this what the Buddha would want his disciples to learn in the name of Buddhism?
So many questions arise when you start examining, but it’s very important that we ask them and consider the answers because this is what we didn’t do in Rigpa. We never questioned anything, and accepting everything I was told is why I remained in a cult for 20 years. I trusted that everything I was taught to belief was for the benefit of the students. Now I know just how badly many students were hurt, how these beliefs were used to justify and cover up abuse.
Anyway, the idea of our belief examination posts is for you to discuss what you think about the belief. Sogyal didn’t make it up. It comes from the introduction to The Words of My Perfect Teacher as something Patrul Rinpoche said.
This video is my contemplation on this one and it includes Sangye’s thoughts on the matter as well. Please share your thoughts on this belief in the comments. I look forward to a lively discussion.


Private discussion on this and other related topics can be had on our Secret Facebook Group. It is only for current and previous students of Rigpa, however, and we do moderate it closely. If you’re interested in joining, please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
Ex-Rigpa students and their Rigpa 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.
Those of you who are interested in ‘keeping Buddhism clean’ could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page.

The Investigation: How Reassuring are Those Assurances?

When the details of Rigpa’s ‘Independent’ investigation were released last December, I posted an article on the matter, and we heard nothing more until I was given the update on the investigation I posted last week.  The contents of that blog post were the opinion of one person, who had nothing to do with writing the letter revealing the abuse and was never a Rigpa student. I have also been informed that he had no actual role in the negotiations over the investigation. 
 The comments on that update raised issues about the assurances reported and reminded me of issues around the investigation that we’ve pointed out here before, that haven’t changed and that should not be forgotten when evaluating the function and usefulness of the investigation. This follow up is to clarify some points and remind us of the questions we need to keep asking.
 Clarification
New assurances have been made via email, but to date none of the new assurances have been shared publicly by Rigpa or Lewis Silken, so it’s questionable how useful these assurances are. Have they come from an entity that is vested with the authority to speak for all official Rigpa entities? If so why not produce written proof that is legally binding? Even if it is proven that the Investigating Committee can make binding agreements for all Rigpa entities worldwide I suspect that wouldn’t include a group of individuals like the Rigpa community in LL who are currently suing an attorney who said something they didn’t like. 
The original agreement between Lewis Silkin and Rigpa US and Rigpa UK has not changed. This includes this part relating to confidentiality: “We have agreed that all interviews conducted as part of the investigation will be protected by confidentiality and not shared with Rigpa, or anyone else unless the witness specifically agrees to this, or we are required disclose this information by law.”
So Lewis Silken will not share your name with Rigpa or anyone else unless a judge in a legal case in the UK asks for the info. In that case LS would have to hand over whatever the judge requested for him or her to use in the proceedings in what ever way he or she saw fit.
It seems to me that since the report will not use anyone’s names without their permission, it’s unlikely that anyone would take someone to court over the report, because how would they know who to sue? But a judge on a related legal case – were there to be one – could ask for the information if he or she deemed it relevant. So it’s possible your information and name may end up with a judge, but as far as I can tell it’s pretty unlikely.
Don’t forget that an Olive Branch does guarantee anonymity, however,  so perhaps students wanting a more reliable result from an investigation could demand that the Olive Branch investigation be expanded to take testimony from all countries?
The aim of this clarification is not to put you off participating in the investigation, it’s just to make sure that you see the full picture.
  Questions to remember
·         Who chose Lewis Silken?  Answer: From an email from Kathryn James on Thursday, September 14, 2017 Subject: personal thoughts, updates and some information; she wrote to Rigpa members in Australia, ” The investigation – Philip Philippou has started interviewing potential investigators.”
·         Who, apart from Sogyal, has the most to lose from a report unfavourable to Rigpa?
·         Why are Rigpa investigating something that those in the inner circle, and many in upper management, already know to be true?  We were told that it was because they had to have an investigation in order to retain charitable status in the UK and US, but it’s been verified that no such law exists in either country.
·         Why hire such a high profile and expensive firm?
From the Lewis Silken website: “I help my clients to deal with any employment law challenges which come their way and aim to make the process as smooth as possible for them.” http://www.lewissilkin.com/People/Karen-Baxter
·         Who are the client? Answer: Rigpa US and Rigpa UK. Not you, the person who has suffered abuse. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that KB is working for you. She is working for her client, and regardless of her professional standards, which I am not calling into question, she will still do her best for them, not for you.
·         If you expect the report to expose the truth then ask yourself; why would anyone pay what might amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars for their own downfall?
·         Is an investigation into abuse where the investigating team is hired by and paid for by the perpetrator ever truly independent?
·          Given their 40 years’ experience of covering up the abuse, do you think that this isn’t part of their PR game plan?  They have hired high powered PR firms in the past, it’s logical to assume this ‘campaign’ is being planned by professionals.

Trust

For me it comes down to the issue of trust. It would be nice to think that we could trust Rigpa management and Sogyal, but they have broken our trust. Can they ever get it back? 

Other investigations are happening, so consider giving your testimony to them. Click here for contact details for all of them.


Private discussion on this and other related topics can be had on our Secret Facebook Group. It is only for current and previous students of Rigpa, however, and we do moderate it closely. If you’re interested in joining, please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
Ex-Rigpa students and their Rigpa 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.
Those of you who are interested in ‘keeping Buddhism clean’ could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page.

Is Rigpa a Cult?

Today I’m asking the hard question, and I’d love to hear what you think. My reflection is at the end in vlog form, but I include some salient points from a Huffington Post article for those who aren’t into listening to vlogs.
The quotes are all from Jayanti Tamm, author of Cartwheels in a Sari: A Memoir of Growing Up Cult (Three Rivers Press). She is a Visiting Professor in the MFA Program at Queens College, CUNY. Reference 


Nobody sets out to join a cult! And here we’re talking about harmful cults, not the benign meaning of cult as it refers to non-mainstream religious organisations.
The word ‘cult’ is loaded with negative connotations. It makes us think of brainwashing, lunatics, and mass suicide, so cults are careful to maintain a positive image in all their marketing. Their websites look good; they offer solutions to our problems, happiness and ultimately enlightenment.

“What isn’t included is the reality beneath the surface, the leader’s demands for obedience from its members, the psychological pressure, the ability to subordinate all activities to the leader’s will.”

Excessive devotion to a charismatic leader and the leader’s vision brings about a willingness to surrender control to the person who is seen as having the answer to all our problems, both personal and global. This willingness to give up control and to believe everything the leader says because he or she appears to have the answers we seek, makes members easy to manipulate.
Devotees who please the leader and work to fulfill his or her vision, ascend the ranks and gain special status and privileges. Pleasing the leader means doing whatever he or she asks of them, and so he or she comes to dictate followers’ actions and thoughts. Conformity is enforced through public shaming or rewarding by the leader and by other members judgements.
Once you’ve given up your critical thinking faculty and given obedience to your leader, you’ve opened yourself up to the kinds of abuses we associate with cults—emotional, physical and sexual.

 “When hyper devotion is the expected behaviour, for acceptance new recruits tend to rapidly thrust themselves into the prescribed lifestyle. … [Devotees can] “plunge into belief, into faith so deeply, so forcefully that critical and analytical red flags, even if they once appeared, are snapped off. Belief and faith are such intoxicants that logical reason and facts become blurry and nonsensical.”

“A narcissist with insatiable needs for power, control, and, very often fame, the leader seeks affirmation of supreme authority through alignment with public figures and celebrities, achieving large numbers of recruits, and amassing private fiefdoms.”

“Those who violate the rules are punished and eventually, to maintain the coherent group unity, expelled.”

The boundary between cults and religion is not always easy to ascertain. There is a continuum between positive and negative, but one point is very clear, if there is abuse in a ‘religious’ organisation and a code of secrecy and enabling, that organisation is harmful to its members and therefore can be considered a harmful cult.

“With the right ambitious and charismatic leader, any group easily could morph into a cult. What prevents that from occurring is that most established religions and groups have accountability mechanisms that restrain that from happening.”

10 marks of a cult:

  1. The leader and group are always correct and anything the leader does can be justified.
  2. Questions, suggestions, or critical inquiry are forbidden.
  3. Members incessantly scramble with cramped schedules and activities full of largely meaningless work based on the leader’s agenda
  4. Followers are meant to believe that they are never good enough.
  5. Required dependency upon the leader and group for even the most basic problem-solving.
  6. Reporting on members for disobedient actions or thoughts is mandated and rewarded.
  7. Monetary, sexual, or servile labor is expected to gain promotion.
  8. The ‘outside’ world — often including family and friends — is presented as rife with impending catastrophe, evil, and temptations.
  9. Recruitment of new members is designed to be purposefully upbeat and vague about the actual operations of the leader and group.
  10. Former members are shunned and perceived as hostile.

In less points (from the Christian Courier https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/250-how-to-identify-a-cult) :

  • Unquestioning commitment to a domineering leader;
  • Dissent and discussion discouraged;
  • Cult members lavish the leader in luxury;
  • Polarization of members – us against them mentality and secretive inner circles;
  • Rebellion against other sources of authority – our rules are above the rules of society, law and so on;
  • Alteration of personality – one becomes compliant and obedient.

Here’s my take on these points:

In the video I also talk about the continuim between the destructive cult on one hand and the healthy organisation on the other hand. This graphic will help you get an idea of what I’m talking about.
BEST-QUALITY-Influence-Continuum-9-12-16.pptx-pdf
So what do you think? Where does Rigpa fit on this continuim. Is it a cult? Oh, and a warning: Given the legal proceedings in France, Rigpa is not above suing people who call them a cult, so think about your words before posting, and make it clear that anything you say is just your subjective opinion.
Private discussion on this and other related topics can be had on our Secret Facebook Group. Is is only for current and previous students of Rigpa, however, and we do moderate it closely.  If you’re interested in joining, please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
Ex-Rigpa students and their Rigpa 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.
Those of you who are interested in ‘keeping Buddhism clean’ could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page. 
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