Progressive stages of Meditation … on Cults

Today Sangye Ngawang shares the thought processs he went through to come to the conclusion that he had to get out of Rigpa. It’s a process that will be familiar to many. We are proabably all reticent to use the cult word initially, but using that term can also be helpful, something I talk about in the vlog that follows Sangye’s post.
1.There are cults, glad I’m not in one.
2. We are not a cult.
3. Who said we are a cult? Why would they say that?
4. What is a cult?
5. Okay, maybe we are a little cultish but that is to be expected with anything esoteric or counter-intuitive, Eastern. Cults ruined it for groups like us … only brave, open-minded people like me can benefit by taking a chance.
6. Hmm, I’m seeing more cultish evidence … it’s a bit challenging. When I try to talk to anyone I get mixed results, some quite scary.
7. There is a lot of double standards and suspicious stuff, and the group is training me to explain this to new people. Problem is … I’m not satisfied with the explanations. There doesn’t seem to be anyone above the people training me how to “represent Rigpa”. This “who is Rinpoche” stuff is a bit rich too.
8. I’m seeing disturbed people and they aren’t being really taken care of. They seem to be seeing psychologists and counsellors so there is that.
9. Okay – I thought people were supposed to be getting better, but some have run away and left with no explanation. It’s a little upsetting
10. Given what’s happening I’ll ask about some of these stories and allegations from people on the outside who are criticizing my teacher.
11. Nobody has really given me any proof, and now I can see that in the past this has come before the Dalai Lama for advice.
12. Okay, now I’m seeing things directly from my teacher that are just plain wrong. Why would he do that in front of me? Is this some kind of test? He keeps saying, “You only like it when your teacher is nice to you,” Well yeah, I kind of do. Nobody likes a shit sandwich.
13. Is there some kind of secret Lama school that is about putting disciples through all this crap? I’m getting unwell and so are others.
14. There are a lot of red flags. I’m back to reading a document on cult tactics … OMG, this is very much like my life.
15. I think I might stop listening to all these audio and video files for a while, just to decompress and observe my mind. I’m getting a little suspicious that this is a kind of cult programming – the language is off too. Words don’t mean what they should.
16. I don’t see how I can cope with all this work and people are telling me to take care of my health. I think I’d better start finding ways to get some holidays.
17. Okay, now I’ve seen another person come out and tell a story about being sexually harassed. There are photos – this looks terrible. It’s time to walk away.
18. I keep trying to walk away and getting commanded back – people tell me I might be mentally ill. I’ve always considered myself quite mentally healthy, but I have to agree – something isn’t right with me. Physical, emotional …
19. Hmm, apparently cults do all this overwork and people get sick and the symptoms I have are common. Nobody worries too much about nutrition either – it’s a bit of a grab what food you can. You have to beg to be well fed at times.
20. My interactions with the teacher are making me physically ill. He seems to be treating me like some kind of sub-human.
21. I’ve decided to leave – for real this time, but I’m going to take my time getting really prepared for a solid break away.
22. They aren’t happy about me leaving … it really is looking bad, like this is a cult. At least at the core.
23. Now I’m going to start talking to friends about this.
24. Jeez, some people who are leaving are telling me unbelievable things. How could I miss this for so long?
25. People on the inside are being used to try and love bomb, threaten, bribe and demand that I come see the teacher in person. I’m not going to comply.
26. Its clear people are talking about me now; they are saying bad things. So this is what cults really do, all this is written down.
27. Okay, so it’s definitely a cult, but how will I get others to see it?
28. Some people are super grateful to me for sharing what I know and they’re leaving. There’s talk about making some kind of group to help others who wonder “what now?”
Nice ending, Sangye! And we’re still asking What Now? Why are we still asking? Because unfortunately, this isn’t over. It won’t be over until there’s no possibility of abuse occuring in Tibetan Buddhism again. It won’t be over until the lamas realise that we won’t stand for it, that saying that silence and obedience is vajrayana isn’t justification for abuse and cover-ups.
Lerab Ling is trying to prove that Rigpa is not a cult, but whatever is decided legally doesn’t change the experience of people. It doesn’t change what some of us know, what those of us who have educated ourselves on the matter now realise. 

Do you think the cult word is a helpful term in the dicussion around abuse in Rigpa?


 
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Is Vajrayana Buddhism a Cult Religion? Part 2

 
In the last post on this topic, I looked at the general markers of a cult and how they relate to vajrayana and examined devotion to the teacher in vajrayana in terms of whether we were devoted to a person or to an abstract principle—the first being the marker of a cult and the second of a religion.
Today I look at the role of unquestioning obedience, removal of the right to criticise and worldly law in vajrayana, then I provide a conclusion to the two posts.

Feudalism

The following points of contention in Tibetan Buddhism are all aspects of a feudal culture and in the modern world are markers of cults where power can easily be abused. Though those who resist change will cite teachings that give reasons why obedience, not criticising and being a law unto themselves have spiritual relevance, one should question whether those teachings are definitive or provisional, whether they are in accord with the Buddha’s teachings, whether they were given with the welfare of the student or of maintaining the lamas’ power in mind, and given the ease with which lamas abuse their power these days, whether the results of reinterpreting them in line with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Minguyr Rinpoche’s points of view would not be more beneficial than harmful.

Complete obedience

Though some teachers insist on it, others don’t, so clearly complete obedience to the teacher is not necessary for Vajrayana practice. It’s a matter of interpretation.
“According to Vajrayana (or Tantrayana), if a guru gives an instruction that is not in accord with the Dharma, the student should not follow it and should go to the teacher to clarify and explain why they cannot. This advice comes directly from the Buddha and is found in the scriptures. The same applies if you think the advice of your teacher is unskillful or unwise, even though it may be ethical. The purity of the teacher’s motivation is not enough: the instruction must be appropriate for the situation and the culture of the place.” HH Dalai Lama, Dharamsala 1993.
“Ancient texts take the authenticity of the guru for granted. Yet in our degenerate times, we cannot find perfect teachers. If the teacher has obscurations, then we risk taking bad advice, so how can we apply devotion and pure perception? My father (Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche) told me never to go against my own intuitive wisdom in order to follow the guru’s advice. Of course, if the advice concerns dharma, we think about it very carefully. If the advice concerns worldly things then, my father told me, we definitely have no obligation to follow it.” Mingyur Rinpoche, Turning Confusion into Clarity, pp 300-301.
To avoid a vajrayana cult, avoid teachers who insist on complete obedience, no matter what the reasoning. There is nothing detrimental to the transformative power of vajrayana if a student retains the right to say, “No.” If they feel they have to obey when they don’t want to for any reason, they are likely to end up feeling abused rather than transformed. S&M devotees have a safe word, why not vajrayana students? Some students will obey without question, some will not, but the power to choose should remain in their hands.
The Words of My Perfect Teacher was presumably written about a perfect teacher, so we should be careful not to apply its teachings on obedience rigidly to our modern world. There is a big difference between a teacher demanding obedience and a student giving it willingly and always retaining the right to say “No.” If a vajrayana teacher wants to avoid being labelled a cult leader, he or she needs to understand this point.
 

Silencing dissent

A Cultwatch article on how cults work states, “Cult members are usually very fearful of disobeying or disagreeing with leadership. Healthy organisations, however, are not threatened by debating issues.”
The traditional view on not criticising one’s teacher for fear of going to hell is definitely a mark of a cult, and this is another area that Tibetan Buddhism needs to look at closely. It’s also an area where different teachers have different views, which means that vajrayana itself does not demand one doesn’t ever criticise one’s teacher, only some teachers do—apparently those who haven’t adjusted to the fact that some lamas abuse their position and so need to be criticised for the safety of their students. For the more flexible lamas, whether or not one breaks one sacred relationship with one’s teacher has to do with the circumstances and the student’s motivation.
Dzongsar Khyentse puts the hard line view succinctly, “Frankly, for a student of Sogyal Rinpoche who has consciously received abhisheka and therefore entered or stepped onto the Vajrayana path, to think of labelling Sogyal Rinpoche’s actions as ‘abusive’, or to criticize a Vajrayana master even privately, let alone publicly and in print, or simply to reveal that such methods exist, is a breakage of samaya.”
In the vajrayana belief system a breakage of samaya results in rebirth in hells, hence the fear factor.
In terms of what constitutes a cult, the reasoning behind such demands is irrelevant, it’s the result of the belief that is looked at, and the result of such a belief is that people fear to raise issues that should be raised, and if they do raise them, they are shut down as they were in Rigpa. In an era when lamas cannot be trusted not to abuse their power, insisting on no criticism under any circumstance is unhealthy at best and at worst can lead to students being harmed and the issue covered up for decades.
But it doesn’t have to be that way in Vajrayana. HHDL says,” Even though I have deep faith and respect for my teachers and consider them high spiritual beings, I did not hesitate to criticize their behavior because those actions were wrong no matter who did them. I didn’t speak out of hatred or disrespect, but because I love the Buddhadharma and their actions went against it.
“It is essential to distinguish between two things: the person and their action. We criticize the action, not the person. The person is neutral: he or she has the wish to be happy and overcome suffering, and once their negative action stops, they will become a friend. The troublemaker is the disturbing attitudes and actions. Speaking out against the action does not mean that we hate the person. In meditation, I try to develop genuine compassion for these people while still opposing their actions. Thus, we may criticize a teacher’s abusive actions or negative qualities while we respect them as a person at the same time. There are still some beneficial aspects of the guru. A mistaken action doesn’t destroy their good qualities. If you criticize in this way, there is no danger of hellish rebirth as a result. Motivation is the key: speaking out of hatred or desire for revenge is wrong. However, if we know that by not speaking out, their negative behavior will continue and will harm the Buddhadharma, and we still remain silent, that is wrong.”
Were it not for His Holiness and Mingyur Rinpoche, I might have come to a different conclusion to the question of whether or not vajrayana is a cult religion. They and other teachers like them prove that these cultish aspects are not intrinsic to vajrayana itself. They show the way for modern lamas to teach, a way that will ensure their community does not become a cult in the negative sense of the word.
As regards criticising a teacher, Mingyur Rinpoche in his Lion’s Roar article says, “The appropriate response depends on the situation. In some cases, if a teacher has acted inappropriately or harmfully but acknowledges the wrongdoing and commits to avoiding it in the future, then dealing with the matter internally may be adequate. But if there is a long-standing pattern of ethical violations, or if the abuse is extreme, or if the teacher is unwilling to take responsibility, it is appropriate to bring the behavior out into the open.
“In these circumstances, it is not a breach of samaya to bring painful information to light. Naming destructive behaviors is a necessary step to protect those who are being harmed or who are in danger of being harmed in the future, and to safeguard the health of the community.”
This is the view that teachers of Tibetan Buddhism and students of vajrayana need to adopt for the health of their community, to avoid the harmful cult label and for Tibetan Buddhism to find a respected place in Western society.

The ultimate red flag cult indicator for vajrayana

In his book Cults in America, a scholar named James R. Lewis explains a number of properties he would expect a dangerous sect to have. He says that probably the most important characteristic is that “The organization is willing to place itself above the law.” (See http://abuse.wikia.com/wiki/Cult_checklist)
Unfortunately some lamas do place vajrayana above the law, and this belief that vajrayana has its own rules separate to the rule of law is the single most dangerous aspect of vajrayana for both students and society.
Vajrayana as a whole does not do this, however, because lamas like HH Dalai Lama, Mingyur Rinpoche and others make it clear that society’s norms must be obeyed.
Again from his Lion’s Roar article, MR says, “It should go without saying that when schools, businesses, and other public institutions are expected to adhere to a code of conduct and the laws of the land, then spiritual organizations should be role models of ethical behavior. And teachers even more so.”
Those who declare, for any reason, that there is nothing wrong with Sogyal’s behaviour as outlined in the July letter by the 8 close students or that there is nothing wrong with a great lama killing someone (Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche, Rigpa Paris 2017) have put vajrayana above the law and as such have stepped into cult territory. Such extreme views are similar in their danger to society as those of fundamentalist Muslims who believe that blowing up a bus full of innocent people is spiritually beneficial. Such ideas are simply not acceptable in a society where cults are considered harmful to members and dangerous to society as a whole.

Conclusion

Based on the above thinking, I believe that vajrayana is not a cult religion in itself. Some vajrayana communities are cults, however, or have the potential to become one very easily. Where a particular community falls in terms of the label ‘cult’ depends on how the lama teaches devotion (do they demand that you give up your discernment) and pure perception (do they demand that you see their questionable actions as beneficial), and whether or not they demand complete obedience and consider that Vajrayana beliefs place lamas above the law of the land in which they teach.  All this brings us back to the importance of checking out what a lama actually believes, how he or she behaves, and what they will demand of us if we become his or her student.
In this lama-centred, feudal-structured religion if Tibetan Buddhism as a whole wants the respect of Western society, then the lamas need to come together and examine their interpretations of the above teachings and adapt them to modern circumstances under the guidance of His Holiness the Dalai Lama who is respected and trusted by most people in the West.
The bottom line is that healthy religious organisations (healthy meaning not a cult) allow open criticism and the free flow of information. They do not demand obedience or devotion, or reward them with desirable teachings or attention, or punish their lack with fear tactics. They do not isolate and condemn anyone who does criticise, do not manipulate their members to gain money or servitude, do not think themselves above the law, and make it quite clear what is expected of the member at each stage of their path. Vajrayana teachers and those running their communities need to be aware of just where they may be stepping over the line from a healthy organisation to an unhealthy one.
I hope that those running Rigpa can see where they have stepped over this line so they know what they have to discard for the sake of the people they profess to serve—the student.


 
On the matter of the blog, I apologise for not being able to comment on people’s comments. My inability to find the time to both write the articles and read and reply to comments, and people’s criticism of that and the moderation that I do manage to do, is one of the reasons why there will be only one more post after this.  Yes, apart from updates on any major developments, this blog is coming to an end. The Facebook group for Rigpa students and ex-Rigpa students will still operate and you can request to join it via the contact page here.
Tahlia.
 

Is Vajrayana Buddhism a Cult Religion? Part 1

Does Vajrayana fit the definition of a cult?

‘Cult’ is a word that has different definitions, but the definition that concerns us here is the negative one. According to the Google Dictionary a cult is “a system of religious veneration and devotion directed towards a particular figure or object, in particular a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or as imposing excessive control over members.” Also a “misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular thing.”
‘A system of religious veneration and devotion directed towards a particular figure or object’ does apply to vajrayana as a whole but also equally to Christianity, so that aspect of the definition is not the key point here, neither is the fact that TB is strange to many in West. The aspect that makes the difference between religion and cult is ‘imposing excessive control over members,’ and ‘misplaced or excessive admiration.’
So what is ‘excessive’ and what is ‘misplaced’? To answer this we have to look further.
The Family Survival Trust has a succinct checklist for cults that is useful for separating a religion from a cult:

  1. Cults are dissociative, separating members from families, friends and colleagues—this is not a requirement for vajrayana practice since it can be done alone (caves are the traditional place) or within one’s own society and family, but when a lama keeps a group of attendants or people he relies on around him and doesn’t permit them to engage in normal social and family relationships or leave at will, or tells them what they can and can’t do particularly in terms of their personal relationships, then they have slipped into cult territory.
  2. Cults tend to be psychologically manipulative or abusive in order to exploit and control members commercially or sexually—this is pretty clear. There are plenty of vajrayana communities around where the lamas do not abuse their students, therefore abuse and psychological manipulation are not part of the religion. If anyone is being abused by a lama and members don’t see it as abuse (when it is quite clear to anyone outside the group that the behaviour constitutes abuse), then the members are being psychologically manipulated and the group has become a cult. (Abuse is NOT crazy wisdom—as Mingyur Rinpoche said in his article on the Lion’s Roar, “The results of genuine “crazy wisdom” are always positive and visible.”) If members’ money is not being used for the purpose for which is was given, those members are being commercially exploited and the group has slipped across the line into cult territory.
  3. Some cults can also be physically abusive—also clear. If the lama is regularly hitting or punching people, it’s a cult. Vajrayana does not require students to be hit or punched. It can be practiced without the lama abusing his students in any way. Even if you believe the abuse is ‘crazy wisdom’, even if you believe it is transformative, that is irrelevant when determining cult status. A cult is determined by how it acts, not what it believes. If your lama regularly hits and punches people and the beliefs to which you subscribe make his or her hitting and punching (or any other abusive behaviour) acceptable, your vajrayana community can be called a cult.
  4. The guru and/or upper ranks of the cult are supported in a relatively comfortable lifestyle by the exploitation of lower ranking members—a comfortable lifestyle is not necessary for vajrayana practice, in fact a humble lifestyle and generosity to others are more in line with the marks of a great practitioner. A lama who has his feet massaged by two women while another massages his back and two others work on his hands has slipped into cult territory since one masseur is quite sufficient. Other signs are such things as demanding better food than others in the household, expensive accommodations and so on.
  5. Cults are totalitarian in structure and thrive on master-slave dependency—certainly Tibetan Buddhism is totalitarian and the master-slave roles are embedded in the feudal system in its history. The feudal system is cultural, however, not religious. Vajrayana can be practiced without either of these. Not all lamas treat their students as slaves. Institute a democratic model where the lama is ‘employed’ by the board and remove the ‘obey or else’ emphasis that some lamas subscribe to, and the issue is solved. The lama will still have spiritual authority, but not temporal authority. There is a good reason why the church is separated from the state in Western democracies. This point pinpoints the area in which Tibetan Buddhism as a whole must make changes.
  6. Cults are “socially addictive” and the harm they cause is similar in some ways to other forms of addiction such as gambling, and even drug or alcohol abuse—I guess people could become addicted to Vajrayana—all those beautiful images and sounds are very alluring—but few practice diligently enough to get ‘hooked’ on the actual practice, and, if they did, such an addiction is not harmful in the worldly sense, though it wouldn’t help one spiritually to be stuck in practice that is contrived. Dependency on a lama to the extent that members cannot make decisions for themselves, however, is harmful. Though the magic of it is alluring to some, vajrayana itself is not inherently addictive, and it is only harmful if people feel that their lama can do anything they want irrespective of the laws of the land.

My conclusion in terms of this checklist is that vajrayana as a religion is not a cult, but that a vajrayana community can become a cult in the same way that a Christian community can. But this list doesn’t give much weight to the ‘religious veneration and devotion directed towards a particular figure’ aspect of our original cult definition, and this aspect is particularly relevant in terms of vajrayana, particularly in ascertaining what turns a vajrayana community into a cult.

Devotion to an abstract principle or an individual?

As I quoted in the article titles Is Rigpa Cult? Margaret Thaler Singer, Ph.D, a cult expert, says “the difference between cults and religions is that in religions the devotion goes to an abstract principle whereas in a cult the devotion is to an individual. … The follower turns over their decision-making and give complete obedience in return for having secrets revealed to them.”
Though vajrayana may look as if the student’s devotion must be to an individual rather than an abstract principle, my understanding is that this is not the most transformative way of understanding the object of one’s devotion in vajrayana, at least not in these times. The idea that our devotion is to the personality of the teacher, the person, rather than to the teacher principle that he embodies can, especially if he or she is not a qualified teacher and demands that the students have only one lama, bring the vajrayana community into cult territory.
When teachers were more reliable, and in a society where the word ‘cult’ in its meaning as an abusive community employing manipulation tactics and excessive control over its members did not (and still doesn’t) exist, there would be no need to make a distinction between the teacher as he represents the teacher principle and the teacher as a person, but now, in the West, I believe there is. The Words of My Perfect Teacher is about how to relate to a perfect teacher, but should we take those teachings literally when our teacher is more likely to be imperfect?

Even Patrul Rinpoche said on page 138, “As times have degenerated, nowadays, it is difficult to find a teacher who has every one of the qualities described in the precious tantras.”

I had an imperfect teacher. I always knew he was not perfect, so for myself, for my own practice I had to work this point out. Maybe I got it wrong, but I completed my Ngondro and two of my three roots with my devotion to my teacher in his role as teacher, not to the person, and for me it was the only way I could feel the transformative power of the practices. Specifically my devotion was to my teacher when, in the state of devotion to his masters and resting in the true nature of his mind, he was a Buddha, and in that state he introduced me to the nature of my mind. I distinguished this Sogyal from the one that came late to teachings, made us wait hours for lunch, yelled at people, and, as I discovered last year, much worse.
Some may question this separation of man from teacher, but the Dalai Lama appears to have taken the same approach in his practice.

“On the level of our personal spiritual practice, it is important to have faith in and reverence for our guru and to see that person in a positive light in order to make spiritual progress. But on the level of general Buddhism in society, seeing all actions of our teacher as perfect is like poison and can be misused. This attitude spoils our entire teachings by giving teachers a free hand to take undue advantage. If faith were sufficient to gain realizations, there would be no need for qualified teachers. … have had many teachers, and I cannot accept seeing all their actions as pure. My two regents, who were among my sixteen teachers, fought one another in a power struggle that even involved the Tibetan army. When I sit on my meditation seat, I feel both were kind to me, and I have profound respect for both of them. Their fights do not matter. But when I had to deal with what was going on in the society, I said to them, “What you’re doing is wrong!” We should not feel a conflict in loyalties by acting in this way. In our practice, we can view the guru’s behavior as that of a mahasiddha, and in dealings with society, follow the general Buddhist approach and say that that behavior is wrong.” HHDL Dharamasalla 1993

Rigpa Wiki explains the four kinds of teachers as taught to us in Rigpa:

  1. the individual teacher who is the holder of the lineage
  2. the teacher which is the word of the buddhas
  3. the symbolic teacher of all appearances
  4. the absolute teacher, which is rigpa, the true nature of mind

On page 148 of the TBLD Sogyal says: “Remember that the master—the guru—embodies the crystallisation of the blessings of all buddhas, masters, and enlightened beings.”
So who should our devotion really be to? The individual teacher or the teacher principle which is a much broader concept? It would be nice if it could be both, but isn’t it ultimately not to the person who gives the teachings but to something more profound?

“The guru is the nature of our mind.” Dilgo Khyentse. Primordial Purity

Guru Rinpoche (not our physical teacher) is who we invoke in Guru Yoga, and he ‘is the universal master’ who ‘embodies a cosmic timeless principle.’ (TBLD p 149). When understood this way, our devotion in practice is to an ‘abstract principle’ not an individual and therefore does not fit the cult label, but in Rigpa, devotion to the person of Sogyal was emphasised. This is the point at which vajrayana can become a cult. Beware if your teacher suggests you visualise them in your practice rather than the embodiment of the wisdom and compassion of all the enlightened beings in the form of the representative of the teachers of your lineage, such as Guru Rinpoche or Vajradhara.

“Once we have realized the nature of our mind, it is no longer necessary to search for the guru outside. If the view of the mind is maintained beyond meditation and post meditation, the guru is present beyond meeting and parting.” Dilgo Khyentse. Primordial Purity

It seems important to me that to avoid slipping into cult territory we need to separate the teacher as a representative of an abstract principle from the human being with their human deficiencies.

In an article about Buddhism Dagyab Rinpoche said, “We Tibetans are aware of some Western followers who believe that Tibetan lamas are enlightened buddhas and infallible gurus, despite their all-too-human deficiencies. It is disillusioned Westerners, who in the course of their lives have experienced the total collapse of their ideals, and who cling to the wishful image of a holy and healing Tibetan tradition. Wherever angst, insecurity, and despair are strong, there is a corresponding desire for something superior, and Westerners project fatherly power upon the lamas. A false understanding of Buddhist teachings, especially that of the Vajrayana, has impelled these projections.”

Hopefully our lamas can give us the true understanding of the vajrayana teachings, not teach a ‘false understanding’ that does nothing for the student, only makes the lamas kings of their own kingdom with slaves that do their bidding without question. If we misunderstand, it is because we were not taught correctly or our lama did not clear up our confusion. Perhaps some of our lamas are confused themselves. In giving talks to the modern world that adhere slavishly to possibly provisional teachings given for people in ancient feudal cultures, rather than teaching from a definitive understanding of the teachings, they may be harming the dharma they think they are protecting.

Chatral Rinpoche said “Support and take refuge in those spiritual masters who focus their practice in solitary retreat. Before one attains enlightenment, one should also enter into solitary retreat to focus on one’s practice under his or her close guidance and mentorship. If not, it will be just like now, where everywhere is flooded with Khenpos who give empty talks. Those ignorant ones, who run after fame and fortune, and establish their own factions, will cause people to have aversion for Buddhism and lead to the extinction of Buddhism sooner or later. Hence, it is said that the authentic Dharma is not in the monasteries, it is not in the books and not in the material world, but within the mind. There is a need to awaken it through practice and to realise (actualise) it, in order to be called the continuation or preservation of the Dharma.”

Misplaced or excessive devotion

An article in the Buddhist Controversy blog gives traditional teachings on teachers to avoid, but  Lifehacker in their article on what constitutes a cult gives a helpful modern perspective on teachers to avoid if you want to avoid a cult.
“Cults are formed around strong leaders, so take a serious look at the motives and personality of the person in charge. According to Morantz and other cult experts, control-freak cult leaders are nearly interchangeable.

  • Narcissistic personality: Dangerous cult leaders usually hold grandiose notions of their place in the world.
  • Ability to read others: “A guy like Charles Manson had the ability to spot who, at a party, that he thought he could control. It just seems to be in his personality,” Morantz said. Cult leaders “have the ability to size you up, and realise your weaknesses and get to your buttons”.
  • Claims of special powers: If a leader claims he’s smarter, holier and more pure than everyone else, think twice about signing up.
  • Charisma meets anger: Dangerous cult leaders can be extremely loving, charming and affectionate, but often turn angry and abusive with no warning. This mercurial presentation keeps members off balance.”

In the hands of someone with this kind of personality, vajrayana is dangerous indeed. Certainly such people are not a healthy focus for one’s devotion. Especially if one forgets that devotion should not be mindless adoration. On p 140 in the TBLD Sogyal says, “It [devotion] is not an abdication of your responsibility to yourself, nor undiscriminating following of another’s personality or whim. Real devotion is rooted in an awed and reverent gratitude, one that is lucid, grounded, and intelligent.”
Wise words, but in practice this is not the kind of devotion I saw in Rigpa.
The take away here is that the temptation for someone with this personality profile to use vajrayana for his or her own personal gratification would likely be too hard for them to resist. If they also allow their students to think and act as if pure perception means that the teacher is pure and the student is not, and if they also have a nihilistic view of emptiness, we have even more likelihood that such a teacher will abuse their power.

Minguyr Rinpoche in his Lions Roar article on Sept 24th 2017 reminds us of the essential points of samaya and pure perception. “Many people misunderstand samaya and think it refers only to seeing the teacher as a buddha, a fully awakened being. That is part of samaya, but it misses the key point. Samaya is about seeing everyone and everything through the lens of pure perception. …The sole purpose of viewing the teacher as a buddha is so we can see these same awakened qualities in ourselves, in others, and in the world around us. It is a tool that helps us to gain confidence in the purity of our true nature.”
And on the nihilistic view, Traleg Kyabgon in Moonbeams of Mahamudra. (Pages 272,273) says. “Meditators who take emptiness as an object of conceptual understanding abstract the concept of emptiness from their immediate experience of the phenomenal word. They deny the validity of karma because of this misunderstanding. They think ultimate reality must go beyond our normal concepts of good and bad, since it is empty and therefore, anything goes. This delegitimises the whole notion of morality. This fixation on the concept of emptiness leads to a denial of relative reality in the empirical world.”
And from HHDL from 1993 in Dharamsala, “Emptiness is not nothingness. On one side, a thing is empty; on the other it arises dependently. Emptiness is not empty of existence; it is empty of independent existence. So it must depend on other things. It is important to make sure one has the correct understanding of emptiness. Those who understand emptiness correctly as meaning dependent arising see that if they misbehave, they will have to face the consequences. Thus they will refrain from acting in an unethical manner.”

In part 2 of this topic, I look at unquestioning obedience, removal of the right to criticise and respect for worldly law in relation to vajrayana and cults, then I provide a conclusion to the two posts.
Post by Tahlia Newland, editor and author


Current and previous students of Rigpa wanting private support are welcome to join the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
Ex-Rigpa students and their dharma friends who want to move on from the discussion of abuse in Rigpa can stay in touch through the Dharma Companions Facebook Group.  
The What Now? Reference Material page has links to a wealth of articles in the topics related to abuse in Buddhist communities. For links to places to assist in healing from abuse see the sangha care resources page.
Those of you who are interested in ‘keeping Buddhism clean’ could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page. 
 

Defamation Case News & Cult Checklist

We have just heard that the Lerab Ling community is going ahead with the lawsuit for defamation of the French Lawyer Jean-Baptiste Cesbron who was assembling testimonies from people harmed by their time in Rigpa for statements he said about Lerab Ling in the local newspaper, the Midi Libre, in December 2017.
According to those bringing the legal action, he made accusations that characterise Rigpa as a cult, namely:
– abuse of power, breach of trust and fraud
– cutting people off from their families
– rendering people incapable of integrating into society
– taking away people’s bearings.

Attestations needed

Both sides are now wanting attestations from people of their experience in Rigpa. Lerab Lings wants information to help prove that the above points are not true and Jean-Baptiste wants information to help prove that they are true.
If you want to support Lerab Ling’s case, you are presumably still a Rigpa student so check your emails for details of where you can send your attestation. They want them by the end of the month.
If you feel you have information on these points that might help the lawyer Jean-Baptiste Cesbron to fight this case from his side, please fill in this form and send by post to the following address: Maitre Jean-Baptiste Cesbron, 849 rue Favre de Saint Castor, 34080 Montpellier, France.  You can also contact him via email jean-baptiste.cesbron@avocat-conseil.fr You also need to attach a copy of your carte d’identity or passport to the form.
Though experiences at Lerab Ling are most relevant, any experiences with Rigpa anywhere will assist the court in getting a clear picture of the organisation.

English Translation of the Form

Name:
First Name:
D.O.B:
Place of Birth:
Profession:
Address/:
Postal code:
Town:
On the section reading : « lien de parenté …avec les parties » :
Family tie, close links with, subordinate relationship (submitted to an authority, dependency on somebody), in collaboration with or community of interests)
Bear in mind that the Attestation will be used in a court of justice, in taking into account the provision of the article 441-7 which carries the following penalties for making false or misleading statements:
“…is punishable by a maximum prison sentence of 1 year and a fine of 15000 euros as a result of making a an attestation or a certificate containing inaccurate facts or incorrect information.”
(This phrase must be written out by hand below)
……………………………..
…………………………….
……………………………..
Please give details of events that you have been present for or witnessed personally:
………………
…………….
…………..
…………..
Your signature:
Place:
Date : day month year
Element to add :
– an original or a copy of an official document justifyng of your identity and your signature.

 

Are they or aren’t they?

I think it is terribly sad that it has come to this. To think that former sangha members are now taking sides to defend either their beloved Lerab Ling or the lawyer who spoke publically about what he had discovered from his investigations.
But that is how it is. So be it.
I suspect that those in Rigpa – both management and students – may not have a very good idea of just where they cross the line from genuine Vajrayana community into cult territory.  It’s certainly a question that is long overdue for discussion within Rigpa. Sogyal saying, “We aren’t a cult,” is not sufficient.
There is no precise legal definition of ‘cult’ that I am aware of and so there are bound to be arguments about what the word means, but the more Rigpa tries to argue it should not be considered a cult the more it might persuade people of the opposite.
In 2010 Rigpa was intending to organise a training for instructors to enable them to answer questions from students who might think Rigpa is a cult. One Senior Instructor at the time was asked to contribute some ideas. He looked up various cult checklists and based on those drew up a list of what he thought might be some of the most challenging questions for Rigpa to answer. The questions are below (with the name of the originator of the checklist in brackets).
The instructor didn’t hear if any action was taken on his suggestions, nor did he receive an acknowledgment until he wrote and asked if his contribution had been received.
I’m just posting these for your consideration, not making any judgement either way, but obviously, there are problems if the answer to any of these questions is judged to be ‘yes.’ This is not a complete list, just the ones the instructor felt Rigpa needed to look at.

The Challenging Questions

– Does SR claim divine authority for his deeds and for his orders to followers? (cf Eileen Barker)
– Is there any deception in the recruitment of new members? (cf Shirley Harrison)
– Are members used for fundraising or missionary activities for little or no pay to line the leader’s pockets? (cf Shirley Harrison)
– Does Rigpa have an authority figure that everyone seems to acknowledge as having some special skill or awareness? (cf Steve Eichel)
– Does SR set forth ethical guidelines members must follow but from which he is exempt? (cf James R. Lewis).
– Does SR make public assertions that he knows are false and/or does Rigpa have a policy of routinely deceiving outsiders? (cf James R. Lewis).
– Is there any sexual manipulation of members? (cf Isaac Bonewits)
– Is there a major time commitment required for indoctrination sessions and group rituals? (cf Steven Hassan)
– Is there any deliberate holding back of information, distorting information to make it more acceptable, or outright lying? (cf Steven Hassan)
– Is there a buddy system to monitor and control, reporting deviant thoughts, feelings, and actions to leadership and individual behavior monitored by whole group? (cf Steven Hassan)
So what do you think? Do these apply to Rigpa?


Current and previous students of Rigpa wanting private support are welcome to join the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
Ex-Rigpa students and their dharma friends who want to move on from the discussion of abuse in Rigpa can stay in touch through the Dharma Companions Facebook Group.  
The What Now? Reference Material page has links to a wealth of articles in the topics related to abuse in Buddhist communities. For links to places to assist in healing from abuse see the sangha care resources page.
Those of you who are interested in ‘keeping Buddhism clean’ could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page. 
Please consider sponsoring our editor for the many hours of work involved in keeping this blog running and the information up to date.
 
 
 
 

Is Rigpa a Cult?

I have been reticent to use the cult word for Rigpa publically because I wanted to allow them a chance to prove that they didn’t deserve this label. However, their actions since July have raised the cult question in the minds of many who previously would have scoffed at the idea that Rigpa might be a cult and confirmed the perception of those who have suspected or considered it as such for many years. A deeper examination of some aspects of this question will come later, but present circumstances have dictated that we must address the broad issues now.
To be clear, I am not calling them a cult in this article—I could hardly do that in light of a lawsuit which, regardless of what they say, is a warning to those who criticise publically—instead I am simply presenting what is, from my own experience and the experience of friends, common student experience. The reader can make up their own mind.

Why ask this now?

Lerab Ling have brought the discussion on themselves by filing a lawsuit for defamation of the French Lawyer who was assembling testimonies from people harmed by their time in Rigpa. The Lerab Ling community said in a recent letter to the sangha that he made defamatory statements against Lerab Ling in the local newspaper, the Midi Libre, in December. France doesn’t look kindly on cults, and the Lerab Ling community is no doubt suffering financially from the word being bandied about. Since they have decided to bring up the cult question, so must we, and such an examination by necessity focuses on the areas where there is a match between Rigpa tactics and cult tactics, not on the benefits the organisation might bring people. This public examination of the negative aspects of Rigpa is the result of Lerab Ling’s legal action.
The email says: ‘In the 9th December article, Lerab Ling is accused by the lawyer of abuse of power, breach of trust and fraud. …
‘This article can be seen as the culmination of the allegations against us in the sense that these words come from the mouth of a lawyer and therefore carry weight. As a result, Lerab Ling is now widely considered to be a cult by people throughout the region because they have no reason not to believe what they read in the paper. We feel that the time has come to stand up to defamatory statements against us, to defend who we are and what we do, and to set the record straight.’
Later the communication says, ‘We simply wish to make clear that Lerab Ling is not a cult, and that the people who attend courses and events here—and that might be you!—are not brainless social misfits, as the lawyer claims.’

Manipulation of the faithful

The lawyer, however, in the interview that is the cause of the defamation suit did not call anyone a brainless social misfit. So to say that he did in an email asking for testimonies to help prove that Rigpa is not a cult is a blatant attempt at manipulating the students into action. Making the general sangha member feel that they have been personally called a ‘brainless social misfit’ is appealing to their emotions, to their sense of injustice, and their desire to protect themselves and their temple. The words ‘and that might be you!’ really hammer that point home. The lawyer did not say that even by inference, since as stated in a Cultwatch article “many cult members are very intelligent, attractive and skilled. The reality is that all sorts of people are involved in cults.”
Rigpa students and management who haven’t researched the matter would have no idea whether Rigpa is a cult or not, and so they would not be aware of the point where management’s tactics might cross the line between those of a genuine Buddhist organisation and a cult.

What makes a cult?

Margaret Thaler Singer, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and emeritus adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who has counselled and interviewed more than 3,000 current and former cult members, relatives and friends says in a talk published on You Tube that “the difference between cults and religions is that in religions the devotion goes to an abstract principle whereas in a cult the devotion is to an individual. … The follower turns over their decision-making and give complete obedience in return for having secrets revealed to them.”
Like secret Dzogchen teachings.
Ronald Enroth in ‘Churches That Abuse’ identifies five categories commonly used to identify cults. I examine each one below:

1.      Authority and Power

‘Abuse arises when leaders of a group arrogate to themselves power and authority that lacks the dynamics of open accountability and the capacity to question or challenge decisions made by leaders. The shift entails moving from general respect for an office bearer to one where members loyally submit without any right to dissent.’
In Rigpa with Sogyal Lakar as the focus of student devotion there is no accountability for his actions either to his students or to any outside authority, and students have no ability to challenge his decisions. We were taught that it was vital for our spiritual development to please the lama in all ways, to see his every action as that of a Buddha, and to follow the exact letter of all his instructions without question.

2.      Manipulation and Control

“Abusive groups are characterized by social dynamics where fear, guilt or threats are routinely used to produce unquestioning obedience, group conformity or stringent tests of loyalty. The leader-disciple relationship may become one in which the leader’s decisions control and usurp the disciple’s right or capacity to make choices.”
The letter by the 8 outlines the kinds of behaviour that contributed to a culture where fear, guilt or threats are routinely used to produce unquestioning obedience and group conformity. Although ordinary students did not experience the extreme behaviour outlined in the letter, most students who attended a retreat with Sogyal would have seen him publically humiliate at least one of the management team for failing to live up to his expectations in one way or another.
If people expressed their horror or concern over such behaviour, senior instructors would tell the assembly that what we saw were the actions of a crazy wisdom master—spontaneous enlightened action—which were, should we have sufficient devotion, an opportunity for ridding ourselves of our ego. The longer one was a student, the more ‘handling’ such outbursts, either as the recipient or observer, was seen as a test of our devotion. Many of my friends didn’t ask questions for fear that they might be singled out for such treatment.
Of course, there is also the emotional manipulation I flagged in the email mentioned above and other manipulative use of language as discussed in a previous post.
We have all seen the silencing of dissent actively engaged in Rigpa managed social media, and only positive, emotional outpourings of devotion were shared as feedback at retreats—never was a bad word heard about Sogyal.

3.      Elitism and Persecution

“Abusive groups depict themselves as unique and have a strong organizational tendency to be separate from other bodies and institutions. The social dynamism of the group involves being independent or separate, with diminishing possibilities for internal correction or reflection, whilst outside [of] criticism.”
Sogyal and his devoted students depict him as unique, as a mahasiddha, a crazy wisdom master who is above all normal moral boundaries. The idea that was instilled in us is that there is no other group that does quite what Rigpa does and we were also not permitted to have any other teachers unless we saw Sogyal personally and asked for permission. The only way, we were told, that we could realise Dzogchen was through devotion to him.
Of course, as with all Tibetan Buddhist communities, there is no higher authority to check if the lama is behaving appropriately and even advice from other lamas can be ignored with impunity. Rigpa no longer has the support of His Holiness the Dalia Lama.

4.      Life-style and Experience

‘Abusive groups foster rigidity in behaviour and belief that requires conformity to the group’s ideals.’
One student told me that ‘In Rigpa you have to do what the group does and it is particularly that way in Lerab Ling. You have to show up for practices and are pressured if you are failing to. Your view is molded to fit the ideals. You might live off site but there are all these devotees and they report on dissent. When I left I was threatened, guilt tripped and they tried to bribe me to stay.’
Certainly those who have spoken out have faced aggression, character smears, and isolation from the group. The denial that there is a problem in many students and lack of willingness to examine their beliefs in others is an indication of the rigidity in belief.

5.      Dissent and Discipline

‘Abusive groups tend to suppress any kind of internal challenge to decisions made by leaders.’
Students raising concerns find it hard to get a meeting with anyone in authority. They are re-directed countless times—passed from one person to another—and it is virtually impossible for the ordinary student to meet with Sogyal privately. When they do get to talk to someone the usual response is that their concerns are only their perception and that seeing anything wrong with the lama indicates a lack of devotion and pure perception in the student raising the concern.
This is so expected that many, if not most, students feel they cannot raise concerns or that there is no point in doing so. The fear was always there that should the student’s concern be taken to Sogyal that he will publically humiliate them as they have often seen happen to others. He is not teaching for now, but that is not the long term intention as indicated in the ‘About the Vision Board’ document of January 2018 sent to the sangha: “We all pray, however, that once Rinpoche has recovered and regained his strength, he may continue to teach his students as much as possible.”
Recent shut downs of criticism take the form of removing social media comments, preventing students from attending retreats or meetings and limiting face to face discussions with a rigid adherence to session forms or a declaration that time has run out.
The Vision Board is almost exactly the same people as have been in control for over 30 years, and early calls for their resignation from students within the organisation were simply ignored—not even discussed or taken seriously. Polite emails I sent to one of the Vision Board have never been replied to. And though we can send emails to Sogyal, has anyone received a reply?
And then there are the beliefs that shut down criticism, like those that say that if we criticise our teacher we will go to the worst kind of hell, that we will then be samaya breakers and the rest of the sangha will shun us as such. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has publically refuted this belief, and yet Rigpa and their advisors still subscribe to it. Fear of hell is a powerful form of discipline for those who believe it, and it certainly keeps people from speaking up about their experiences.

The specific allegations

The email asks students to send testimonies ‘that addresses your personal experience of Lerab Ling in relation to the specific accusations that characterise us as a cult, namely:
– abuse of power, breach of trust and fraud
– cutting people off from their families
– rendering people incapable of integrating into society
– taking away people’s bearings.’
This article is already long enough, so I’ll not be examining these points individually. Someone who lived at lerab Ling told me, ‘If you have given it all, your money and your time, your life like I have – it is indeed a challenge to find your way outside of the “cultist” group. They are very disturbed by you leaving and you may find that there is a whole cultist personality overlay that has been installed that you need to undo. I’m not brainless but I found that I had to do a lot to get back my independence and say “no, enough now, I am not your property, your slave.”’
If you feel you have information on these specific points that might help the lawyer Jean-Baptiste Cesbron to fight this case. Please contact him via email jean-baptiste.cesbron@avocat-conseil.fr
Click HERE to download a form to use.
If you want to support Lerab Ling’s case, they will have already sent you contact information where you can give your attestation.
 

The real problem

The problem Rigpa has is not the criticism in the media or whether they win or lose a defamation case, it’s that those running the show have unquestioning obedience to a man facing multiple attestations of abuse, that they believe, against all indications to the contrary, that he has done no wrong, and that their beliefs allow their leader to behave as he wishes without moral restraint. Whether the word ‘cult’ fits or not, the real issue remains.
Article by Tahlia Newland, editor and author.


Current and previous students of Rigpa wanting private support are welcome to join the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
Ex-Rigpa students and their dharma friends who want to move on from the discussion of abuse in Rigpa can stay in touch through the Dharma Companions Facebook Group.  
The What Now? Reference Material page has links to a wealth of articles in the topics related to abuse in Buddhist communities. For links to places to assist in healing from abuse see the sangha care resources page.
Those of you who are interested in ‘keeping Buddhism clean’ could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page. 
Please consider sponsoring our editor for the many hours of work involved in keeping this blog running and the information up to date.

How Words can be used to Manipulate Your Perception

I expect that some of you will not want to consider the possiblity that Rigpa students’ perceptions may be being subtley manipulated, either consciously or unconsciously, by selective use of language. However, whether it’s true or not, I think it would be wise for you to read this guest post, anyway, since it doesn’t hurt for you to be aware of how it can happen.  Only when you are aware of the possibility can you be sure that you are free to make up your own mind up rather than think the way someone else wants you to think.
 

The non-apology

In comments to the last blog post, someone said that they felt that Sogyal had apologised, however if you look carefully at the letter he sent to the 8 students (see the it here) the language does not actually give an apology, it only appears to. He says,” I acknowledge that there are feelings of hurt,” and, “hurt has arisen.” He does not acknowledge that he hurt the students or even that the students were hurt, just that they “feel” hurt and that “hurt has arisen.”
He defends himself by saying, “it was never, ever, my intention to hurt you or any other person, and if this is how it appears, then I am deeply shocked.”  Though this is no doubt how he felt,  the words “how it appears” suggests that events are not necessarily as they see them, and this subtly undermines the reader’s perception, making them think that it is all in the letter writer’s minds. No wonder this, “it’s just your perception,” idea is bandied about by his ‘true-believer’ students in their defence of him.
He virtually says that he has nothing to apologise for. “My conscience is clear on this.” Though he refers to his belief that “I have never, not for one moment, had any intention other than a genuine wish to benefit others,” the statement that his conscience is clear was completely unecessary and it’s inclusion leaves the suggestion in the minds of the unwary reader that he is innocent.
He does, however, “humbly ask your forgiveness,” which might sound to some like a kind of apology, but it doesn’t say, ‘I’m sorry I hurt you.” when put in context  it actually refers to the actions that “have been perceived in another way” and “the distress this causes me.”
This is the kind of gaslighting that Rigpa is very good at and continues with every communication, subtling altering student’s perception to minimise the damage.

Another way of reading that letter

This parody of Sogyal’s reply to the 8 letter writers was written by one of the recipients as “part of a process of coming to a more compassionate space.”  It shows how once the bubble of believing everything you’re told and taking everything at face value has burst through honoring the truth of your own feelings and experience things can look very different indeed. The sentiments expressed in this parody may asome to stomach, but others will have no difficulty seeing this kind of motivation behind not only Sogyal’s letter of reply but all of Rigpa’s handling of the situation.


Dear Mark, Sangye, Damcho, Joanne, Matteo, Graham, Michael and Gary
I have received your letter and have read it through very thoroughly and I am deeply saddened and shocked that my carefully crafted culture of silence and suppression of the truth has been exposed.
Why I am responding to this letter at all is that it is apparent that you have the means to “bring everything down” which causes me great distress.
Even though it is almost impossible for me to take responsibility for my actions and I even question whether I am actually responsible at all, my most ablest students have informed me that it is in my best interests to appear to.
The critical mass of evidence against me and the karmic effects of my actions have finally caught up with me and exposed me and I find that I am reluctantly forced to respond.
Victor Hugo stated it best:
“There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”
I will try to kick the ball down the road for a few more years until we can emerge chastened and reformed but where I can still keep my castle and court.
Please accommodate any apparent outreach to this effect as it would benefit me greatly.
Sincerely,
Sogyal
(Parody included with permission. Author’s name withheld for privacy)

How word choice can manipulate your perception

The following words in italics are from the Lerab Ling website as their official statement on the letter from the 8. 
“There is no place for abuse in our community.” Makes you think there is no abuse, but the truth is that they don’t recognise abuse as abuse. I wonder what they think constitues abuse?
Press campaign.” This is complete misinformation. The letter was never intended as a press campaign. And even now there is no press campaign that we know of. The story has got into the press, but that is not a ‘campaign’. A campaign suggests some organised assault on someone, and giving the attestations of abuse an offhand term like ‘press campaign’ diminishes it  and makes it easy to disregard as ‘just a press campaign’ by some disgruntled students. It is not a press campaign; it is genuine testimonies detailing abuse and a request for real reform.
“… in a way that is entirely consistent with Buddhist values.” Makes you think they are behaving in a way consistent with Buddhist values even though the facts suggest otherwise.  False speech, for example, is one of the ten negative actions to avoid. Nevertheless, use of the adverb ‘entirely’ give great emphasis to this point of being consistent with Buddhist values. In an organisation accused of behaving in a way that is not consistent with Buddhist values, this statement is clearly a way to gaslight people into believing it simply can’t be true.
“… in a true spirit of collaboration.”  The word ‘true’ is not necessary for the meaning to be clear, so why is it there?  Only to suggest that there is truth here and that they are actually concerned about truth.

Adverbs and Adjectives

Adverbs (words that describe verbs such as ‘entirely’ as used above) and adjectives (words that describe nouns such as ‘true’ as used above) are never needed in communications designed to give information. They are only used to add an angle on the information and consistent use of adverbs and adjectives with a particular angle encourage that interpretation in the reader. For instance in Rigpa international’s first letter to the sangha they say in regards to S’s letter, “his poignant response.”
Advertising uses such words, of course,  but Rigpa doesn’t just use them when advertising courses and retreats. We hear them from the instructors once we’re there, and we keep hearing them over and over. We also hear them a great deal in the “feedbacks” read out at retreat, and we see them in the comments on Sogyal Rinpoche’s Facebook pages as well, almost as though the students are brainwashed with these words.

Words to lure you in & make you think its the real deal

These are the kinds of words that hook our grasping for the ‘best’ and stimulate our spiritual materialism. They keep us coming to retreat after retreat, along with other things like having to write a personal letter to Sogyal to explain why we can’t come:
High, very special, profound, transformative, dzogchen, restricted, eminent, only chance, genuine, authentic, precious, powerful tools of Tibetan Buddhism, what promises to be a very special retreat.

Feel-good buzz words

These are the soothing words that make us feel as if we belong to something special and as if people truly care for us:
Personally reassure, open process, careful attention, positive intention,  benefit,  precious time,  spiritual, care, support, vast, vision, blessed, skilful, sensitively, beautiful, heart warming,  inspiring, deep, outstanding, perfect, special, especially for us.
Such words are commonly used in sentences such as this: The sangha is in a deep process of transformation. It has been wonderfully inspiring to see how our communication has deepened. People have shared in an amazing atmosphere of openness. It is great to see we are all in this process together so we can keep receiving these precious teachings.
Here’s an example from a Lerab Ling newsletter from this year: “Lerab Ling is so warm and cosy around this time of the year. We will be offering amazing events led by the next generation of Buddhist teachers, as well as by specialists sharing deep insights on topics like compassion.”
 

Words & concepts that can be used to control & silence

These words and concepts are not designed to be used for control, subjugation and silencing, they are valid ideas, but they can be, and most certainly have been, used in this way. The important thing to consider here is whether or not they are being used in a way that will benefit the student or the teacher, the student or the organisation.
Committment, devotion, faith, dedicated, unity, determination, strengthening Rigpa, perception, samaya, karma, death, hell, sangha, pure perception, special dakini, fast path, accelerated spiritual development, training, exposing hidden faults. 

Is it really manipulation?

The use of the phrase “press campaign” is clearly manipulative as are the other words I highlighted in the Lerab Ling statement on the letter, but, in general, the use of these words doesn’t necessarily mean that what they say isn’t true in any individual situation. The issue is that their continual emphasis gives us a feeling of belonging to something special, something that simply cannot be ‘bad’ or even have a ‘bad’ side.  For so long as the organisation and its teacher appear to be ‘good’, these words are quite innocuous, but once it becomes clear that things are not so wonderful, the continued use of words that make it seem wonderful take on the feeling of brainwashing. Tell people often enough that everything is all right and they’ll believe it, especially if they are people conditioned not to question or doubt.
Those writing advertising copy will know that they are trying to make the retreat sound good so that people will come, and we cannot expect them to do otherwise, but I expect that the ordinary person simply believes it all. When I, as an instructor, spouted the same words, I didn’t think I was being manipulative; I thought it was all true – until I found out that the teacher was not who I thought he was.  In the light of the big lie finally being exposed it would be wise of us to not take anything from this organisation at face value. We all know they have to keep the money rolling in. There is a great deal of reason for Rigpa management in all countries to continue to supress or downplay the truth.
The post raises the question of why would you feel the need to pretend that there is nothing wrong, that everything has been done perfectly, when clearly to any normal Westerner looking at this situation, it hasn’t? Why pretend? Why ignore? Why not examine, define, analyse, visualise, doubt, debate use all of those wonderful critical thinking skills Westerners have? That’s what this post is about – questioning the truth of everything we believed to be true. It’s a very healthy thing to do.
And just when the Rigpa communications are looking most reasonable, ask yourself if there is anything they are ignoring completely. Like the elephant in the closet, or the fact that they haven’t simply answered the questions raised by the 8 letter writers.


Current and previous students of Rigpa wanting private support are welcome to join the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
Ex-Rigpa students and their dharma friends 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. 
Please consider sponsoring our editor for the many hours of work involved in keeping this blog running and the information up to date.