Recovering from an Abusive Group

Whether or not the French Legal system determines that Rigpa is a cult, if you personally accept that you were in a cult, you can then apply the wealth of support material for cult victims to your own situation, and that can be very helpful for moving on with your life in your post-Rigpa experience. Whether you can bring ourself to use that word or not, however, you likely cannot deny that, according to the experiences described in the July letter from 8 long term students and other publically available testimonies made by ex-Rigpa members, abuse did occur in Rigpa, and therefore Rigpa could be called an ‘abusive group’.
Though many of us did not experience or see physical or sexual abuse ourselves, most of us who went to a retreat with Sogyal Rinpoche would likely have seen some form of emotional abuse. What we were indoctrinated to see as ‘kindness’ or ‘personal teachings’ ticks all the boxes for meeting the definition of emotional abuse. And how many of those who worked on retreats, particularly in national teams experienced or saw some form of abuse? Unless they remain stuck in denial,  everyone who has seen or experienced any form of abuse in an abusive group will need to go through a process of recovery.
So I’ve gathered some free resources to assist with this:
If you’re not sure if you were in an abusive group or not, try these checklists:
SPIRITUALLY_ABUSIVE_SYSTEMS
Emotional_Abuse_Checklist 
 Group_Psych_Abuse_Scale
And the following two books can help with recovery, no matter what level of abuse you saw or experienced.
Ford, Wendy_ Recovery from Abusive Groups
Herman_Trauma-and-Recovery 
The following is an excerpt from Wendy Ford’s book Recovery from Abusive Groups. Just noting at what point in these phases of recovery you are presently in will be of assistance to you.
 

Phases in Recovery

The recovery process can span any length of time and, basically, breaks out into three main phases. These three phases are:
1. Awareness and Exit
2. Understanding and Feeling
3. Rebuilding and Dreaming

Phase One – Awareness and Exit

This first phase varies in length, and is often dependent on the method of exiting. This phase is marked by the experiences that alert members to the danger of the group and result in the member’s exiting permanently. The key to an effective exit is to “jump start” the critical thinking process of the mind. This process has been on hold for much too long because the group has told the followers that to question and doubt the group is to betray God (or whatever) [in this instance we would be betraying the lama and would show our lack pure perception and devotion and prove ourselves to be a samaya breaker].
The price for questioning and doubting, they are told, is eternal death [or breaking samaya and going to hell in this instance]. This is a very powerful fear to overcome. Awareness of the insidious nature of the cult and the decision to leave comes slowly for some and quickly for others. For example, someone forcibly deprogrammed becomes aware and leaves the cult very quickly as compared to someone who walks out after reflecting over several months or years on “devilinspired” doubts. Even after leaving, some ex-cultists are not sure if they made the right decision and “float” in between their old cult identity and their new liberated identity or pre-cult self. (See Floating, p. 36.) The more information and support cultists receives during this phase, the better equipped they are to handle the pain and loss of Phase Two.

Phase Two – Understanding and Feeling

The second phase is full of ups and downs, of feeling as if you just returned from Mars, of exciting new freedoms and discoveries, and it is also full of rage and pain. It involves coming to terms with being raped, emotionally and spiritually. And for many, it involves coming to terms with being physically raped as well.
I don’t know how to convey the extremes of pain possible in this phase. Perhaps it is how you would feel standing by helplessly as some crazy person slowly murdered someone you loved. It seems so incredible to many that because they wanted to serve God and their country, [in this instance to become enlightened] wanted to help people, and wanted to make the world a better place-for this idealism (or selflessness) they were cruelly used. This is a very difficult aspect of the experience to reconcile.
“What ever did I do to be treated like this?” is a question that rings deep in the heart of any ex-cultist. The answer to this question resides in understanding how mind control techniques work. It is no wonder, then, that the rage and anger the ex-cultist feels is often overwhelming and frightening. So much so, that many tend to repress or deny the full expression of their emotions. But understanding and feeling one’s emotions in a nondestructive way, I believe, is critical to recovery.
This second phase can be an extraordinary journey through pain and loss to learning and mastery. It varies in length and is dependent on how able the excultist is to experience loss and how disciplined the ex-cultist is to study, think, and work toward a thorough understanding of the experience.

Learning to Trust Again

One of the truly tough parts about working through the experience is the very fact that it’s a very big job. The ex-cultist must learn how to trust life again, and learning to trust requires learning how to test reality. Because the cult phobias and teachings often touched on many aspects of life, such as family, government, education, religion, relationships, and economics, the ex-cultist often finds it necessary to examine and reality test most, if not all, of the teachings received in the cult for subtle, residual ideas that continue to manipulate the ex-cultist. In addition, it is in this phase that individuals must learn again how to trust themselves and their ability to make decisions. Learning to trust after you have been used and hurt can be very scary, but trust in yourself and in others can be rebuilt with disciplined thinking and courage. For those who come from dysfunctional backgrounds, recovering from the cult experience often means acknowledging and recovering from the effects of earlier patterns (Black, 1982), such as:
• Abusive parents, relatives, siblings, spouse
• Behaving abusively toward others
• Alcoholism, rape, incest, eating disorders, drug abuse
• Difficulties with intimacy, careers, law enforcement
If ex-cultists are willing to “roll up their sleeves” and “dig their heels in,” and to work through and out of the past, then they can move onto Phase Three, that of rebuilding one’s life and building toward a dream.

Phase Three – Rebuilding and Dreaming

To someone in the middle of the pain of Phase Two, the idea of having a dream again and building toward it is merely a sad, frustrating, and painful laugh. Having spent many years in Phase Two, I understand that despondent feeling very well. It is possible to rebuild your life. You will not be able to make up for all the years the cult has stolen from you, but you can make up for some of those lost years. I’ve worked very hard to recover from an overprotective and domineering family, seven years in a cult, a rape while in the cult, two forced deprogrammings each with conservatorships, a lawsuit for trying to help someone out of a cult, too many job changes, and too many unfulfilling relationships after the cult. If you are willing to stick with it, to work at it, to work through and let go of myths that look like truths, not only in the cult but also in society, and if you are willing to acquire new skills and improve others, you can build a healthy and well-functioning life with a dream you can work toward.
Do you recognise these phases? Where do you think are you in this process?


 
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. 
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What does Compassion look like?

Best wishes for 2018.
This blog is by nature of its topic – in the wake of revelations of abuse in Rigpa – tied to what happens in Rigpa and how those affected are processing the revelations, so I don’t know where the journey will lead us. However, the moderators remain committed to a balanced and reformist approach to the issues raised by the letter written by the 8 students of Sogyal Rinpoche in July 2017.
I thought to start the new year on a contemplative note that might be of benefit to us all no matter what our opinion on the issue of abuse in Rigpa. Hopefully it will help us to see each other with eyes of compassion.
Concern for others helps to break down the barriers that separate us and soften our obsession with ourselves, thus opening our heart and mind so that we are more able to see things as they truly are.

Compassion in Buddhism

In the Buddhist Mahayana teachings, which include Vajrayana and therefore Tibetan Buddhism, genuine compassion of the highest level is not separate from wisdom. Wisdom here doesn’t mean knowledge; it means a realisation of the nature of reality itself, an understanding of the way things are, the way appearances are empty of inherent existence, and yet nevertheless do appear. This realisation of the nature of reality is absolute great compassion (or absolute bodhicitta) because in that state of awareness, compassion arises naturally. Compassion dwells at the heart of wisdom. It is simply part of the realisation, inseparable from it.
On the other hand, the practices of relative compassion help to open us so we are more able to realise the nature of reality. The very essence of great compassion is wisdom. In this way, the two aspects of relative compassion and absolute compassion or wisdom go hand and hand on the spiritual path. Someone with true realisation cannot act in a way that is not compassionate, and great compassion is an indication of one’s level of realisation.
This great compassion or bodhicitta may seem like a very lofty ideal, but we can all bring whatever glimpses of wisdom we’ve had into our relationships with others, and we can all practice relative compassion. The teachings abound in instructions for ways in which we can do that.

Checking ourselves

What is particularly relevant to us here, though, in light of the topic of abuse by a Buddhist teacher and its effect on the Rigpa sangha, is to notice how easy it is to evaluate others’ level of compassion and forget to check ourselves. Certainly when one is publically calling out an organisation for its apparent lack of compassion, it can appear that one has forgotten to turn one’s mind in and evaluate one’s own heart and mind. That those speaking out here have forgotten to do so is an assumption, of course, since we can’t know what anyone else has in their mind or heart. Since I’m pretty sure that no one would be interested in hearing my evaluation of my own failings, it is not the topic of blog posts; that doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t regularly check myself with uncompromising honesty. It also does not mean that I have no compassion for those I appear to malign. My aim is to be of benefit, and yet, I am fully aware of how that was also Sogyal Rinpoche’s aim, and look how that turned out!
Delusion is an insidious beast, and that’s why wisdom is so vital. Wisdom is what gives us the insight to see more widely than the view that comes from our own emotional pain, it allows us to respond rather than react. Wisdom allows us to see the myriad of interdependent causes and conditions that contribute to any single situation, and that view allows us to go beyond ideas of blame. We see that we are all victims of our circumstances, victims of our habits, our karma, our beliefs, and our emotions. We are all in the same boat, all rocking on the ocean of samsara. Once we see that, compassion for all flows naturally.
Such a view doesn’t excuse any of us from any negative actions we engaged in, of course—we still need to take responsibility for our actions—but it does ease our emotional turmoil and help us to act in a wise and compassionate way. And why should we aim to act in a wise and compassionate way? Not because Buddhism says that’s what we should do, but simply because it makes the most effective action.

When we do need to check others

Judging is not the same as discerning. Judgement includes a value judgement of something being better or worse than something else. Discernment, however, simply discerns what is what and how this is different to that. We don’t need judgement because it keeps our hearts and minds small and tends to lead to harm, but we do need discernment. We need to discern whether it is safe to cross the road, whether that food is healthy for us, whether that person is someone we should risk accompanying on a date and so on. And we need to discern whether or not a spiritual teacher is someone we can trust, whether his words constitute the truth and when a spiritual community is a healthy one.
The single most important quality that a spiritual teacher should have is compassion, and the same goes for the community of practitioners around the teacher. It is vital not only for our spiritual path but also for our mental health that we discern whether or not a likely candidate for spiritual teacher and community have this quality or not.
But as we check the following aspects of what compassion looks like, let’s not forget to check ourselves as well.

What does compassion look like?

Absolute compassion is practiced and realised through meditation, in particular meditation on the true nature of reality. Relative compassion is practiced in two ways: in aspiration and in action. Someone practicing compassion aspires to treat all beings with love and compassion. They aspire to see everyone as a friend, and not see some as enemies and others as friends, not see some as worthy of their love and compassion and others as not. They aspire to bring happiness and the causes of happiness to all beings, to help them all be free from suffering and the causes of suffering, and to rejoice in any happiness that anyone has. Aspiration is not easy to see in others, but it’s easy to check in ourselves. The first thing to ask ourselves is do we see everyone as equally worthy of our love and compassion? If our love and compassion are limited only to some, it’s better than having no compassion at all, but it’s expanding our love and compassion to all beings equally that will bring us closer to wisdom. It’s not easy to do in practice, of course, but we can at least aspire to treat everyone with the same love and compassion.
Aspiration is only a start, though. It’s easy to sit back on your cushion after a session of meditation on love and compassion and think that’s enough, to think that you don’t need to do anything other than feel compassionate, but the way to grow compassion and the way to see it in others is in action, in putting ourselves on the line for others – like the 8 authors of the July letter did – in actually putting yourself out for others.  Compassion in action in Buddhism consists of generosity, patience, ethical discipline, joyful diligence, meditative concentration and insight or discriminating awareness wisdom. Once again, we see the importance of wisdom, of actually using our discriminating awareness in our action so that we make the best choices in terms of action.
These 6 perfections as they are known can be broken down into subsections and examined at length. They can also be simplified into one word – kindness. A kindness that genuinely cares for the well-being of others.

Remember the boat

Everyone, unless they are a fully realised Buddha, fail to live up to these ideals all the time, which is why humility is also considered an important quality for spiritual teachers and practitioners alike. If one has true humility, admitting one’s failings is not an issue, and seeing the failings in others is a reason for compassion not hatred, because you recognise your shared humanity; you recognise that you are in the same boat on the same ocean, subjected to the same swells, troughs and storms. When someone falls overboard in danger of drowning in the ocean of samsara, compassion isn’t just praying they’ll be safe, it’s reaching out over the waves, putting yourself in danger to try to pull them back on board.
At least that’s my understanding. I might be wrong, of course. What do you think?
Post by Tahlia. 


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

Tsoknyi Rinpoche Responds

Email sent

Around a month ago, a group of 20 Rigpa and ex-Rigpa students sent an email to  teachers  listed as teaching in Lerab Ling in the coming year. Included was a copy of the letter by the 8 to make sure that they could read it for themselves, a summary of the issues that had arisen in the sangha as a result of the reveleations, and a request for them to teach on topics that would be helpful to students in processing the allegations. Our concern was that the issue of abuses of power were being swept under the carpet in the interests of business as usual, and that this was detrimental to the students. We felt that visiting teachers were in a good position to help students if they didn’t ignore the ‘elephant in the closet’ and actually addressed the issues that had come up.
The email was sent to Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche,  Dzigar Kontrul, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Ringu Tulku, Jetsun Palmo, Kamdrul Rinpoche, Philippe Cornu, Alain Beauregard, Christine Longaker, and Pascale Tanant. We ony received replies from Jetsun Khandro, Dzigar Kontrul, Jetsun Palmo and Tsoknyi Rinpoche.  Jetsun Khandro and Dzigar Kontrul were decent enough to reply, but essentially only said that they were praying for the sangha. Jetsun Palmo was candid in her reply but did not want her comment made public.
It seems that even in Western teachers there is a desire not to become involved in the issue, even when a teacher’s misuse of power reflects badly on Tibetan Buddhism as a whole. All credit to those who have actually spoken up, like Matthieu Ricard and Venerable Thubten Chodron.
The silence from the majority of recipients is telling, especially in contrast to the reply from Tsoknyi Rinpoche, who not only gave a careful reply to our letter but also gave permission for us to publish it.

Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s reply

He said that he had read the letter from the 8 carefully and that:
“I am increasingly more aware of the situation and have informally talked to some students in Europe and the U.S. Also, I have read some of the letters by other Rinpoches and teachers.
“My commitment, to the best of my abilities, is to teach pure dharma, especially when there is a deep need.
“I do agree fully with what Mingyur Rinpoche wrote and the importance of ethics in dharma by teachers and students, including the need for teachers to practice ethical behavior. What he said is very important:

[Quote from Mingyur Rinpoche’s Lions Roar article] . . .  the violation of ethical norms needs to be addressed. If physical or sexual abuse has occurred, or there is financial impropriety or other breaches of ethics, it is in the best interest of the students, the community, and ultimately the teacher, to address the issues. Above all, if someone is being harmed, the safety of the victim comes first. This is not a Buddhist principle. This is a basic human value and should never be violated.

“I do value my long-term friendship with Sogyal Rinpoche and want to acknowledge that he has helped many people with teachings, books and the dharma to flourish in a good way around the world. At the same time and apart from my personal relationships with him as with many Rinpoches and lamas, the ethical core of dharma is what is most essential (again this is expressed really clearly by Mingyur Rinpoche.) ”
In reply to the part of the letter detailing the aftermath of the revelations for the sangha, he said:
 
“I am aware of this, and although I don’t know all the details of the situation personally, I am most concerned about how to help with the suffering and trauma for all the students. When there is conflict everyone feels pain and confusion. I do want to focus, when I have the time to teach, on how to work more and more with skillful ways of healing.  My online course on Fully Being also addresses how to heal in different ways.”

Relieved

We were all very grateful to have this reply from Tsoknyi Rinpoche, and relieved that here was another lama we could trust, someone who is firmly committed to ethical behaviour from teachers.

Healing

Some ex-Rigpa students from the Dharma Companions Facebook group are doing Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s online course Fully Being and are finding it very helpful.
One such student said, “Tsoknyi Rinpoche is very good at helping students to not fall into spiritual bypassing of feelings and issues. He helps you to deal with issues, not just sweep them under the carpet in the name of ‘letting go’.”


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.
 

Good News – An Olive Branch

A letter arrived from the Rigpa International Investigation & Reconciliation Committee to all the sangha providing details of the investigation. They have  chosen a UK law firm, Lewis Silkin, to act as a neutral, third-party investigator conducting fact-finding interviews. The letter came with two attachments, one the agreement with Lewis Silken and the other – and this is the good news – an agreement with An Olive Branch.
We are told:
“In addition, the Rigpa US Board has concurrently engaged An Olive Branch, a Zen-based reconciliation organisation, to help support the US and Rigpa Sanghas in all countries with healing and reconciliation. We consider this to be a crucially important part of the process we need to go through together as sangha. We will provide a more detailed report on the work with An Olive Branch and continue to update you in the Sangha Connection newsletter.”
This is something we asked for in this blog many times in the months immediately following the revelations of abuse, and in one post we looked at what An Olive Branch does. So, of course, we are delighted at this news, because we see in their approach and expertise in this area hope for genuine healing.
What will An Olive Branch do in this situation?

Community Reconciliation and Healing

This is an except from the An_Olive_Branch_Agreement.
“Rigpa US board and An Olive Branch will collaborate on the design of a two-day, face-to-face Community Reconciliation and Healing meeting. Members of the US sangha and leaders of Rigpa sanghas in other nations will be invited. We currently envision the following components:
Led by An Olive Branch, there will be opportunities at the meeting for attendees to:
 Hear the summarized information gathered in the Listening Post, (a way for individuals who have been harmed to tell their story to a neutral third party and to be heard in a safe, confidential manner).
 Process the events (raise additional concerns, share residual feelings, etc.)
 Learn about the new Code of Conduct and Grievance Procedure
 Receive training on sexualized spiritual relationships and misuse of power.
Led by Rigpa, there will be essential components such as:
 Spiritually-based opening and closing ceremonies
 Traditional ceremonies of reconciliation, forgiveness, and peace-making.”
An Olive Branch is a US organisation so they will be working primarly with the US sangha, but since the letter to sangha states that aim is to also help “Rigpa Sanghas in all countries”, I expect that those who go to the US for the 2 day meeting will return to their countries and repeat the process there.

Is it too late?

Is it too late to repair the damage done in the last few months? I hope not, but we shall have to wait and see. It depends on who management includes in the word ‘sangha’. For healing and reconciliation to be effective it needs to include all those who have left Rigpa because of this debacle. It may be too late for some to want to have anything to do with Rigpa in any way at all, but they need to be invited, personally, to whatever sessions are run based on advice from An Olive Branch. This is vital. Real healing cannot occur without inclusion of those who have left, especially considering that those who have been harmed are not the ones that have remained in Rigpa.

What about the investigation?

I’m not going to comment further on the letter to the sangha or provide details of the investigation in this post because the 8 students need time to look at it and make their response before the details are subjected to public scrutiny. Also there is much to consider in digesting the agreement with the law firm.
If you have access to the details privately, please do not discuss it here yet. A post on the topic of the investigation will follow in a few days.
Here, let’s just rejoice that something we asked for has finally happened, and let’s do our best to make it work for the benefit of all.


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.