Beliefs We Need to Examine

A major part of healing from the cult experience is deconstructing your experience in the cult to see how you were manipulated and examining the beliefs you subscribed to that kept you under the control of the leader and the group.
Below is a list of some of the beliefs that I and other devoted students of Sogyal Rinpoche subscribed to to some degree. I never examined those beliefs at the time, but now it’s important to do so.
This short vlog tells you why.

So basically, not examing the beliefs you held while in a cult is not good for your psychological health as you move forward with your life. And this is not just me saying it, it’s in the recovering-from-a-cult literature you can find by searching the web.
Here’s a list of beliefs that I and others will be examining in the coming weeks. We’ll also be looking at key teachings and asking whether or not we understood them correctly.

  • A great master acting in an unconventional (abusive) manner that would be unacceptable in normal circumstances can bring enormous spiritual benefit to the student;
  • A true vajrayana master points out your hidden faults and that’s what Sogyal Rinpoche is doing when he gives public dressing downs;
  • Everything a mahasiddha does brings benefit;
  • What appears as abuse is actually highly sort-after training that the students experience as love and find transformative;
  • You need a master in order to recognise the nature of mind;
  • Devotion is the key to ‘getting’ the nature of mind;
  • The degree of your devotion is a mark of your realisation;
  • Sogyal Rinpoche is Guru Rinpoche in the flesh;
  • You must see your master as the Buddha if you want the blessings of the Buddha;
  • Sogyal Rinpoche is a great crazy-wisdom master;
  • Great merit is gained by serving your master with your body, speech and mind;
  • You should never criticise your teacher;
  • To criticise your teacher is a breakage of samaya;
  • Breaking samaya is the worst thing you can do for your spiritual life;
  • If you break samaya you will go to hell;
  • If I see something the master does as wrong, it’s proof that I don’t have pure perception;
  • If I speak up about anything in his behaviour that I feel uncomfortable about, I prove that I lack sufficient devotion and so are unworthy of receiving the highest teachings;
  • Not having ‘risings’ (thoughts and emotions) about what I see is proof that the practice is working.
  • The intention behind an action makes it good or bad.
  • Sogyal is a holder of the prestigious lineage of masters in the Nyingma tradition.

Can you think of any other beliefs held in Rigpa that contributed to a situation where abuse could flourish? If so, let me know and I’ll add them to the list for examination. I think we have some interesting conversations coming up!
Here’s some additions that came to me privately or in the comments below:

  • The teaching ‘Let it go’ concerning your risings. Did this become repression of emotions?
  • Did we misuse the Lojong teachings?
  • If the teacher has been recognized as a tulku, they are, therefore, enlightened, and such a teacher’s behavior can only be beneficial, no matter how it may appear.
  • Sex between teacher and student is part of our lineage. Such sex is good for the lama’s health and for the woman’s spiritual advancement.
  • There is no truth, there is only individual perception.
  • The guru is the “face” of your enlightenment, so that if you doubt the guru, you doubt your own enlightened nature. And the paradigm behind this is: “You cannot trust your own perception, because you are deluded, neurotic, etc. I know better what is right for you than you. I know the way to your happyness, and therefore you must obey and trust me.”
  • Teachings on Karma such as:
    • If you don´t follow the master´s instructions you and your loved ones will suffer physical torture or even die.
    • Everything you perceive materially or in your mind is the result of your karma, the result of ripening karma.
    • When the teacher treats you badly it´s because of your karma.
  • devotion and pure perception mean blind faith
  • you can tolerate and hide breaches of the ethical conduct of a master for the better good of the propagation of the Dharma
  • any contact with the guru is beneficial

Private discussion on this and other related topics can be had on our Secret Facebook Group. Is is only for current and previous students of Rigpa, however, and we do moderate it closely. If you’re interested in joining, please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
Ex-Rigpa students and their Rigpa dharma friends who want to move on from the discussion of abuse in Rigpa can stay in touch through the Dharma Companions Facebook Group.
The What Now? Reference Material page has links to a wealth of articles in the topics related to abuse in Buddhist communities. For links to places to assist in healing from abuse see the sangha care resources page.
Those of you who are interested in ‘keeping Buddhism clean’ could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page.

Is Rigpa a Cult?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 marks of a cult:

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

In less points (from the Christian Courier :

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

Here’s my take on these points:

In the video I also talk about the continuim between the destructive cult on one hand and the healthy organisation on the other hand. This graphic will help you get an idea of what I’m talking about.
So what do you think? Where does Rigpa fit on this continuim. Is it a cult? Oh, and a warning: Given the legal proceedings in France, Rigpa is not above suing people who call them a cult, so think about your words before posting, and make it clear that anything you say is just your subjective opinion.
Private discussion on this and other related topics can be had on our Secret Facebook Group. Is is only for current and previous students of Rigpa, however, and we do moderate it closely.  If you’re interested in joining, please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
Ex-Rigpa students and their Rigpa dharma friends who want to move on from the discussion of abuse in Rigpa can stay in touch through the Dharma Companions Facebook Group.  
The What Now? Reference Material page has links to a wealth of articles in the topics related to abuse in Buddhist communities. For links to places to assist in healing from abuse see the sangha care resources page.
Those of you who are interested in ‘keeping Buddhism clean’ could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page. 
Want to keep this blog running? Support the editor;  Become a Patron!

Speak Up for the Sake of the Dharma

When the truth came out about Sogyal Rinpoche’s behind-the-scenes behaviour (I’m  so polite!) the general Rigpa student was pretty shocked. What shocked us even more was the way Rigpa handled the revelations. They lost of a lot of students who would have stayed had management come clean and admitted the truth instead of just finding more subtle ways to continue the cover-up tactics they have honed over decades. The lama may have removed himself (publically), but the beliefs that caused abuse to be enshrined at the very core of the Rigpa organisation still remain, supported by comments by OT, NR and Dzongsar Khyentse, who, though he may have stimulated some deeper thinking about the abuse, still affirmed the necessity of obedience and non-criticism for anyone who has accepted a teacher as their vajramaster. At Rigpa it’s business as usual.

Upcoming talk topic

Khandro Rinpoche will be teaching at Rigpa soon and her topic is ‘Is Vajrayana Right for You.” I expect it will be aimed at getting rid of anyone who might complain in the future, and make sure that those who remain are the ones who are okay with anything their guru dishes out for them. It’s likely to be full of words that say how Vajrayana is ‘not for everyone’, is only for those of the ‘highest faculties’ and how the ‘lower yanas’ or ‘basic yanas’ have other paths for those who ‘don’t like’ the vajrayana. Core message: If you don’t like it, piss off and leave us tough Kham warriors to get on with it.
What about those who are committed to the vajrayana path but want to see it cleaned up so abuse can’t happen again? The message there will be that we don’t understand the vajryana. Hmm, I wonder what I was studying and practicing for the last twenty years then?
Allowing my sarcasm free reign I’d expect the sublte message beneath the talks will be something like: If you have a strong moral compass, are committed to the idea of human rights, feel you should speak up about abuse, and want to retain your critical thinking faculties, then the Rigpa version (perhaps it’s the Nyingma version) of Vajrayana is not for you.
Apologies to Khandro Rinpoche if this is not her underlying message. I’m extrapolating from the title in light of Dzongsar Khyentse’s talks.

Sidestepping the issue

If, like me, you think this approach of getting rid of anyone who might complain is sidestepping the issue, that it leaves a major problem with the religion unresolved, then the question is; what can we do about it? We cannot let the issue fade from sight. We must make sure that students and lamas remain aware of just how easily vajrayana sanghas can become a destructive cult and that the issue must at some point be dealt with both in the individual sanghas and in the religion as a whole.
For the sake of the future of the Vajrayana and to avoid other sanghas falling into destructive cult mode where they are at the mercy of lamas who abuse their power, the beliefs that do not permit criticism of even the most dire behaviour and that insist that the student must obey without question and see a teacher as a buddha even when he behaves worse than a normal human being, must be eradicated. If Mingyur Rinpoche, the Dalai Lama and others can teach Vajrayana without such injunctions, then, clearly,  there is no need for them.

The importance of speaking out

Hiding the dirty truth of some Buddhist teacher’s behaviour does not protect the dharma or Tibetan Buddhism. It only worsens the problem. Students looking for enlightenment fall for glossy facades and impressive-sounding lineages, not knowing whether or not the lama is even a decent human being let alone if they are someone who embodies compassion and wisdom. The ony way to help students to choose authentic ethical lamas is by speaking the truth about them. We need to know who we can rely on and who we need to avoid.
So if you experienced abuse at the hands of a Tibetan Lama, or have seen something that indicates there is a misuse of power going on, please speak out. How else will we know who to avoid? How else will we be able to evaluate the teachers available to us? Only with many voices will we be able to get the full picture. Only with many voices will students come to realise that sharing the truth is not some plot, not a bunch of people out to get anyone, but a real problem that needs to be eradicated once and for all.
If it’s time for you to tell your story, contact me and we can talk about the best way to do it.

Why the truth is important

Susana Maria Montero Gaudino posted the following much longer video on Facebook recently. She adds her voice to the request for people to speak up.

Let us know of any Lama of whom you have personal experience who is beyond reproach, and, of course, let us know your experience of the lamas we should avoid. Share only what you know yourself from your own experience or what you’ve been told directly by the person who experienced what you’re sharing. Please do not share hearsay, conjecture, gossip or rumours.

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. 
Want to keep this blog running? Support the editor;  Become a Patron!

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?

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. 
Want to keep this blog running? Support the editor;  Become a Patron!

A note on comments:

Please keep your discussion polite. Do not be agressive or attack others. This blog is only moderated when someone complains via the contact form . When that happens comments may be deleted and people blocked without discussion, not for their opinions but for their manner of expressing them. Opinions are welcome; bullys are not.

Comments do not necessarily represent the opinions of the editor or the author, and we accept no liability for the opinions of others.


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:
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
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. 
Want to keep this blog running?  Become a Patron!

Dzongsar Khyentse's London talk.

Dzongsar Khyentse’s Rigpa London talk has been posted on You Tube. It’s in two parts. They’re 4 hours in total.
You could listen on your phone with ear buds in while you clean the house, or weed the garden or drive to work! Or not.
Anyway, if you watch them,  let us know your thoughts, and if you don’t watch you could maybe tell us why. A good questin to ask is have these talks (this and the others in this tour) helped ensure that the abuse that occured in Rigpa will never happen again in any Tibetan Buddhist organisation?  That is what I’d like to see come out of all this.



The Question Dzongsar Khyentse is Not Asking

Many people are noticing that DZK avoids answering some very pertinent and important questions directly in his Rigpa talks, but one student noticed the question he is not asking, and sent me the following to post:
Listening to the way that Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche [DJKR] has been publicly answering the questions he’s been sent, I get the feeling that he has no idea of what lies BEHIND the questions, and that is the bit that interests me.
One would do well to ask WHY are so many people [in this case, longstanding dharma students many of whom have done years of intensive practice, study and/or Rigpa work] asking such questions all of a sudden?
If you traced them back I suspect that you will invariably find that the common root is the confusion that arises when doubt is thrown on the very heart of one’s view and relationship with one’s teacher.
From that confusion come all the questions about vajrayana, questions which in fact have nothing to do with the real issue. Because whichever way we look at it, at the heart of all this sorry situation is a dysfunctional dynamic that centres around Narcissistic Personality Disorder-like behaviours [NPD].
And anything and everything that radiates out from such a heart cannot help but create confusion. The fact that it is disseminated through the medium of dharma teachings might easily mask that underlying confusion but it does not negate it.
Reliable information about genuine NPD is relatively recent and judging from what I see about it on social media it is also quite poorly understood. It is nothing to do with people worrying about how they look, and everything to do with manipulating and controlling the behaviour of others to invest their attention in you, at any cost. Anyone who is aware of having been around that NPD-like dynamic will know just how devastating that can be.
So, I genuinely think DJKR [and not only DJKR] doesn’t yet have the knowledge or  capacity to understand people when it comes to group dysfunctionality.
From the way he is responding, it seems he is only looking at the questions themselves, and not asking himself why they are suddenly being raised by people who had no such doubts previously. And he certainly doesn’t look as if he understands that this is not at all just about teacher/student relationships but it is the result of a very real, very deliberate, longstanding, manipulative, controlling, dysfunctional dynamic at inner-organisational level.
I can understand that completely, and really sympathise with him, and with anyone beginning to learn about the effects of being around NPD,  because until you begin to question and to see through the lie/s yourself you just don’t, and can’t, consider that as a possibility. Yet it is crucial to address such painful questions in order to move through and forward and then begin to thrive again.
DJKR himself states that he has never received teachings from SR, and therefore can’t have the students’ perspective as he was never exposed to what  was going on in teaching situations.
Nor has he really been around SR himself long enough  to have seen what was going on at close quarters, or behind closed doors.
It’s even possible that he himself is being manipulated by that same NPD-like dynamic, but is blissfully unaware. That dynamic thrives on appearing as many things to many different people in order to maintain itself as being the centre of attention at all times.
Having been very adeptly manipulated by narcissists myself, I know just how expert and convincing they can be at painting a world they know you want to believe in in order to keep you hooked in to their attention-giving supply. It took decades to unravel what was going on.
I think that one way to educate lamas and teachers, as well as ourselves, about what has happened in Rigpa (and other organisations) would be to invite all of us to study in some depth about the kind of dangerous and  damaging situations that can and do occur around people with potential NPD (or any other abusive  personality), and to really learn about and understand the kind of manipulative distortions that arise and, in particular, how EASY it is for others to be sucked into it, how dangerous it can become, and how DIFFICULT it is to get out of it.
I do sincerely hope that someone will therefore get to discuss this with DJKR directly, because until he is really aware of the heart of the problem himself I don’t see how he can ever address the problem meaningfully.
Until that happens then a lot of  the talk about Vajrayana etc just becomes another distraction away from the main issue, which is:
How to avoid Buddhist teachers, students and organisations developing NPD-like traits and behaviours?
What to look out for?
And what to do about it when it happens?
I would also like to appreciate all the efforts that DJKR and many many other people are making in being willing to be open to, and to discuss, these painful but necessary subjects.
May it be of great benefit to all beings.
Concerned dharma practitioner
In case you haven’t seen the Paris talks yet, here it is:

We’ll post something on the repercussions of his talks after people have had time to digest them.

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.
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Another View on DZK's talks

The following, written by Topden, appeared first as a comment on a Facebook post as a reply to someone who essentially said they were finding it hard to see anything positive about DZK’s talks because they had experienced abuse at the hands of two Tibetan Lamas who were operating under the same belief system as DZK was expounding.
I asked permission to post it here as an example of one way to view the teachings. Anyone with a different view is welcome to submit a guest post.
Sorry it’s so long.

Any kind of abuse, physical, emotional or psychological can be deeply damaging, and I truly wish healing to those who experience it as well as those who are the perpetrators, as the pain they inflict on others arises out of their own suffering and confusion. I also deeply wish that it doesn’t turn into an obstacle that cannot be worked with and transformed on the path for spiritual practitioners.
My experience of the talks is not any less influenced by my own pre-conceived notions or previous experiences, because naturally they are, and that is true for everyone. The interesting point simply is my experience is quite different. To out myself from the start, I do like DJK’s teaching style, approach and explanation of the Dharma and feel I have benefited (and been challenged) by him in that regard. Also I have no personal experience of abuse of this kind in a Dharma setting so that might make me a bit naive.

What DZK is and is not doing.

As far as I see it, and by what he has said in his talks, DJK isn’t coming to Rigpa to play judge and jury or directly try and heal the emotional and psychological damage of those who were subject to the abusive behaviours outlined in the letter. I am not even sure if that is his role to play, but in any case it is a role he isn’t trying to play, rightly or wrongly. What he does seem concerned about is trying to explain and correct misunderstandings about the Vajrayana in particular, which from my point of view is a way he can help contribute towards the reduction of further abuse and harm occurring in the future, as well as preserving a tradition that for many is beneficial and free from the kind of abuse we have heard about at Rigpa.
DJK is also trying to make sense of the immensity of the situation and is but one voice in a dialogue to that end. In the meantime he is teaching the Vajrayana from what he has learnt from his teachers and the texts and encouraging others to study and not just take the Lamas’ words for it.
Here are some of the points that I can remember him making in his writing and talks so far, that I think help towards these ends:

Points for the future.

  • He emphasised more study, practice and preparation, which, as we know, is a protection against being duped or sucked into harmful relationships or situations. Knowledge and insight is empowering.
  • He said that it is the Tibetans who are at fault for joining spiritual power with temporal power and making the Vajrayana into a public affair with mass empowerments etc. which is not how it originally was in India, where instead there were very private Vajrayana student-teacher relationships between competent individuals.
  • He said that SR was at fault in recreating the spiritual/temporal Tibetan cultural set up within Rigpa, which has nothing to do with Dharma, Vajrayana or otherwise.
  • He said that SR is totally wrong if he did not correctly prepare his students and then acted as if they were in a Vajrayana student-teacher relationship with him.
  • With regards to samaya he mentioned that in the above case the so-called teacher is at fault far more than the student, because the teacher should know better.
  • He said that Student Devotion is equally, if not more important, than Guru Devotion. Personally, I don’t think I have heard much or anything about the concept of Student Devotion from other teachers and am interested to hear more from him about that.
  • He said in terms of conduct that teachers should act outwardly like a Sravakayana practitioner, inwardly as a Mahayana practitioner and only secretly as a Vajrayana practitioner.
  • He has said that the Vajrayana isn’t necessary or a path for everyone, and if it is to be undertaken, then it is to be done so after much study, practice and analysis of the teacher and student and through complete choice and volition as a way to train the mind, but once the decision is made it wouldn’t be an effective method if it could be opted out of any moment the ego feels challenged or uncomfortable.I would say this implies that the uncomfortableness is held within the perspective and profound understanding gained from the previous training, practice and analysis of the teacher and is therefore known to be part of the path by the student in a deep way but nevertheless still has to be experientially worked through as a point of mind training. In all the examples DJK uses here to elucidate this point, there is no mention of abuse, be that physical, emotional, sexual or otherwise, rather they are ones like being told to “keep Wednesday a secret” as a way for the student to train the mind and go beyond dualistic thinking.

On Abuse.

When questioned about a Vajrayana master using what looks like abusive methods, he says that if they are a Mahasiddha and they are performed out of wisdom/compassion (with the understanding that the student has been properly prepared, both sides have analysed and entered into a Vajrayana student-teacher relationship; because anything less than that is totally wrong) to benefit the student, then there is room for this in the tradition and as we know there are many examples of this, so that should not surprise anyone. If we don’t like that fact about the tradition, then we don’t need to follow the Vajrayana path or engage in a Vajrayana style student-teacher relationship and that is okay. What DJK is continually pointing out however is that the context those examples occurred in are completely different historically, culturally and inter-personally, to the historical and cultural context at Rigpa and the relationship SR had with his students as the relationships were not based on the correct foundations, as far as he is aware and can get a sense of.

Not a mahasiddha, thinking for oneself and opposite interpretations.

When he used the example of the mahasiddha, by saying that he isn’t one, you might interpret it as if he were hiding behind non-discrimination and that no one could therefore judge SR and his behaviour. I interpreted it differently, partly because he immediately went on to make value judgements and discriminate, like the points I mentioned above about Rigpa and SR. Also, he was telling people not to take what he says as the proclamation of a Buddha, as he [DZK] has his own projections. In other words, you need to think for yourself, which for Rigpa students if what people are saying is true, could be quite radical for them to hear. Moreover, within the context of what he said about Tibetan culture and temporal power, he could have basically been saying, “I am not a Lord and you are not my Serf, wake up, discriminate!” Ironically, what I interpret he was saying and doing there has been interpreted by some as the complete opposite. I am not saying here that either of our interpretations are totally right or wrong, but it is interesting that they can be so different based on our individual projections etc, which is what DJK said would happen and is a teaching in itself. So it gladdens me when people highlight this when their opinions have an online following.


Later, using himself as an example, he said there are some things he would not be able to do if his teachers asked him and that was okay, but at the very least he would make an aspiration to be able to do them in the next life. If that personal example isn’t a way to help people relax around what they currently understand as Guru Devotion being a very rigid, completely obedient, blind following of an authority figure kind of trip, then I don’t know what is.

Tibetan Lamas.

He also mentioned that Tibetan teachers like OTR should know better and make an effort in understanding westerners and western culture more, but many, including OTR don’t and that is a big problem.

Not black and white.

I cannot see anything in what DJK has written or said so far that justifies or legitimises SR at all in terms of SR’s training or lack of training, how he set up the culture in Rigpa, how he hasn’t prepared his students properly and how in not doing so then acting abusively is totally wrong behaviour. However, that does not mean, I am sorry to say, that SR is totally evil or that he hasn’t benefited anyone at all. People are complex, situations are complex, nothing is black and white, inconveniently, but it is far easier psychologically to so order reality in that way.
That’s what the media does, that’s what the human mind which oscillates between extremes does every moment, and that is what the Dharma, the Middle Way, is in part trying to liberate sentient beings from, as far as I understand. That’s not to say no actions are wrong or right on the conventional level because they are, and they should be opposed and rectified or cultivated and promoted, respectively, in ourselves, others, organisations and society at large. But people are not totally bad or totally wrong or totally good or totally right, generally (Guru Yoga and Pure Perception is a practice) and that way of seeing things is what in part entraps people in unwholesome situations and relationships in the first place, as they abandon any critical analysis by blindly thinking and therefore feeling a person is 100% good (attachment/grasping), then after that fantasy is disappointed they become 100% bad (aversion/hatred). That right there is Samsaric thinking; suffering and is to be challenged. Sitting in the middle of that, with all the confusion and unknowing, is as far as I can tell part of the practice. Life is like one big, long (if we are lucky) Zen Koan!

Challenging negativity bias.

What I personally feel needs to be challenged here in particular and generally in life, is negativity bias, which is when the mind is drawn to, focuses on and dwells on the negative at a higher level of frequency and at detriment to the higher instances of positive things or occurrences. Negativity bias, when left unchecked can contribute to general anxiety, low moods and distorts our perception of reality. This has an evolutionary component in so much that noticing what was lacking, wrong or dangerous helped in survival by protecting against all kinds of threat to physical life. Most of these physical threats have been removed for many of us, however the underlying negativity bias mechanism continues to operate on a psychological/identity ego level. To me there is a lot of negativity bias going on in some places with regards to DJK’s talks. No one seems to be acknowledging that he is taking the time to talk, answer difficult questions and provide an ongoing platform for discussion and dialogue. Instead there is cherry picking, extracting a few lines of text from hours of talks or a whole book, looking for what fits an already negative narrative and caricaturing him as a villain. What’s more, some people seem to be responding to him as if he has committed the abuse himself because of his association with Rigpa. A positive aspect of Rigpa, that DJK points out and I agree with, is that it invites and hosts many different teachers, and I wonder where the Rigpa Sangha would be now if that was never the case? So, perhaps the human tendency towards negativity bias and the mindful application of recognising what is good and useful is worthy of some attention here.

Pure perception and trust.

Ironically, the controversial and as far as I can see often misunderstood practice of pure perception, goes against the deepest grain of negativity bias. However, it is a practice to be done only with someone we trust without doubt has our best interests at heart, a conclusion the student comes to due to their previous study, practice and analysis. As we know, the Lam Rim has a lot to say about how to recognise an authentic teacher, what qualities they should have and DJK dedicates time to this in his book, The Guru Drinks Bourbon, as well.

Silence and evaluating a teacher.

As for the question of how we can analyse a teacher if their student’s cannot speak about their methods, it presupposes that the methods a teacher uses with one student shall be the same as the methods they use with another, which as far as I understand may not be true due to the unique, fluid and dynamic nature of each individual Vajrayana student-teacher relationship, therefore, analysis made on that basis may well turn out to be unhelpful in any case. I would suggest it more beneficial to focus on getting to know the teacher’s qualities, (which isn’t a purely intellectual endeavour but one also of the heart that is helped through personal practice) however long that takes, and trusting what their motivation is, however long that takes, because then the methods will be understood within that context, whatever they may be. Moreover, as DJK explained, if you find a teacher that you cannot get close to, then perhaps they aren’t for you. And as has been mentioned again and again, a Vajrayana teacher-student relationship isn’t mandatory at all.

Recognising the difficulty.

I recognise the extreme difficulty here in attempting to call out injustice and abuse to protect future individuals as it is fraught with many outer, inner and no doubt secret (people’s blind spots to mention one) obstacles. It is not one I think I could manage as I would not know where to draw the line between exposing abuse and protecting people and their connection to the Dharma and exposing abuse and therefore turning people off the Dharma before a genuine connection can be made. Gun shots always make more noise than hugs, but that doesn’t mean there are more gunshots in the world than hugs, although it can seem that way if we simply believe our ears and people generally do. To those of you who are brave enough to walk this tightrope, I salute you! 👏
I do believe, or perhaps pray and hope, much like DJK also said, that bringing these issues to light and the subsequent interest and discussions that result, will in the end strengthen the authentic Dharma, help protect future people from being led astray or being prey to those who would use it for their own ends, as it takes root in the West at this relatively early stage.
May it bring benefit!
P.S. DJK can be a provocateur and confronting, and I think that is either a turn on or turn off for many. The good news is that no one has to listen to anything he has to say about anything. We must also know that we do not have to totally accept or totally reject what anyone says, Lamas or otherwise. Instead we can take what we personally find useful and leave what we don’t or are unsure about.

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.

Some thoughts on DZK's talks

I’m not writing posts for this blog anymore, but I am still updating it, and so I’m interested in publishing suitable posts from you, our readers. Just send it via the contact page. I can’t guarantee to publish it, but I can guarantee to read it. Just make sure that you read the About page before you write anything, as it will tell you the editorial perspective, and so the kind of thing we’re interested in.
At the risk of further abuse, I offer this!


Vajrayana Buddhism in the Modern World.

Dzongsar Kyentse’s talks in Europe have begun. The first, in Berlin, was titled “Vajrayana Buddhism in the Modern World” and it has been uploaded unedited to the Rigpa videos You Tube channel in both English and German. It also appears on the Sidharta’s Intent channel.
It’s 3 hours, so quite a committment to watch, so my house got cleaned from top to bottom while I listened on my phone.  Depending on how you feel about DZK, you might feel some aversion to the idea of listening at all, but I found it well worth listening to. He did make some important clarifications and needed critical commentary on the issue of the translation of Tibetan Buddhism into the West.

How to listen

I feel I do have to mention this, since my last post could be interpreted to mean that we listen only to see what isn’t true, which wasn’t my intention. In it I reminded you to not believe everything you hear out of respect alone, but to use your wisdom of discernment. Today I remind you to listen without ‘poison in your cup’, without hatred or aversion in your heart, but rather with the intention of trying to understand his points. As he points out, if we watch with a positive mind we will see the positive, if we watch with a negative mind we will see only negative. Our challenge is to listen with an open mind, not obscured by any assumptions or projections and with the intention of understanding what he is saying and whether it rings true for us or is helpful in light of the present situation.
I suggest you don’t expect anything either, because if you expect anything, you will probably be disappointed.
[Some of the following was edited and republished on March 1st 5.37pm AEDST]
I don’t want to say too much about it, because it’s better you consider it for yourself, but I feel I need to warn you about the begining or some of you you may not get past it, and the edifications and criticisms of how lamas teach come later. So stick with it. There are some good dharma teachings here; the issues in my mind are not the varjayana when correctly understood, but our attitudes towards it and how we apply it.

Stuff to wade through

Something that might scream at some of you is that in the first hour he appears to denigrate the teachings of the shravakayana and Mahayana by calling them Cinderella teachings, teachings the Buddha didn’t really mean. He referred to the vinyana as for babies with a lot of desire and equates the Vajrayana with the real thing, the teachings the Buddha meant, the ones equated with wisdom. I looked past his inflamatory use of language, but if you don’t find that so easy, note that he does later say that all the shravaka and mahayana teachings are the basis of vajryana and cannot be discarded. The perceived arrogance could just be a poor choice of words.

He claims to care about the ‘alleged victims’ a lot, but that he cares beyond emotional or physical hurt; he cares for their seed of enlightenment and continuous spiritual path. He cares about the doubts they have about the Buddhadharma and Vajrayana. ‘I care so much,’ he says, then he adds: ‘By caring you just don’t want to lend your shoulder to cry upon, you want to do something more.’

Victims could find this an ignorant denigration of their situation and sufferings because he appears to belittle their immediate needs for care as just needing a pat on the back and a shoulder to cry  on, and he seems to denigrate any comforting form of compassion as irrelevant to the bigger picture of their spiritual path. I expect after being abused to the degree that some people have here, their spiritual path is the least of their worries, and despite his best intentions, this kind of attitude can come across as cold and uncaring. Christian missionaries attend to the needs of their communities for food, shelter and clean water, why can’t Buddhists also attend to the immediate needs of those suffering, especially when the suffering has occured at the hands of the Buddhist they were supposed to revere. Also to use the words ‘alleged’ at this stage does not even acknowledge the truth of their suffering. Worse, this is the exact attitude that caused them so much pain when trying to get help within Rigpa.
This really is a major point that DZK and those running Rigpa need to understand. Spouting absolute doctrine does not help someone suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome from trauma caused, in part, by people’s belief in and misguided application of that very doctrine. And it’s not a matter of changing the doctrine, but of making sure it is taught completely so it does not deny relative existence.
It seems to be a case of placing absolute doctrine over the actual needs of a person, a hallmark of a fundamentalist attitude (a strict literalism applied to an ideology). And yet, right at the end, he describes how we should deal with a situation where a sangha member comes to us saying they are in fear of being raped by the guru, and you might find his advice surprising.
I absolutely do not want to appear negative here, and so I mention this only  to encourage you to watch past the bits you might take issue with. And note that these are things that were insinuated by word choice and lack of clarification, not things he stated outright, and so may possibly be only your own projections.
He does say some very useful things that should provide food for thought for Tibetan lamas as well as vajrayana students and Rigpa management.

The nature and responsibility of the guru

I didn’t want to say much, damn it, I need to get on with an editing job for which I’m actually being paid, but in the interests of balance and of encouraging you to watch the whole thing, I also want to mention his important clarifications on the nature and responsibilities of the guru, and the issues of how vajrayana has been taught in the West.
DZK reminds us of a vital point, that of the outer, inner and secret aspects of the guru, and of the point of guru yoga. He clarifies what a tantric guru actually is, and the difference between that kind of relationship and the relationship you have with the head of an organisation. They are not the same thing, and confusing the two has caused a lot of our problems. He even admits that Tibtan lamas are severely lacking in their understanding of Western people and have misused the guru ‘system’.
Despite the issues raised previously (which I point out not in order to criticise, but because for the sake of the dharma DZK needs to be made aware of them) there is much of worth in this talk and we must remember that it is only the beginning of a series of talks.
This is a talk about vajrayana, not about applying it to the situation of abuse by a guru. Rather than talk about the guru’s behaviour, he talks about the guru’s responsibilities. Only at the end where questions are read out do we get closer to the issue.
When asked if a guru has the right to beat his students, DZK replies, “If the guru’s actions damage even a little bit the seed of bodhicitta, pure perception, guru devotion, the guru will have to take the responsibility more than the student because he should know better.”
He gives some interesting insight into OT as well.
So here’s the video.


There’s a lot in this talk that could be discussed, like the point that DZK really does need to talk to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Mingyur Rinpoche. Joanne Clark goes into this point in a post on the Buddhism Contraversy Blog.
And here is a short video that was posted on the Sogyal Truth Channel by someone who was clearly expecting more than they got. I have no idea who made it, and I feel it’s a bit mean in that it does not give any credence for the fact that DZK does actually say some very useful things, and that the talk was about vajrayana in the modern world, not specifically on abuse. However, I include it because it may bring some humour to the situation, and I think their point is that we are still a long way from addressing the actual issue of abuse in Tibetan Buddhism. Even so, I suggest that when watching DZK’s talk that you look for what he does say, not at what he doesn’t say.

The question that won’t go away

DZK also talks about secrecy and admits that it’s a difficult word. He explains to some extent its meaning in the context of vajrayana, but it still affirms the ‘don’t criticise’ dogma. After reports from DZK’s talk to the sangha in Berlin (which will be shown only to the Rigpa sangha) one point becomes glaringly obvious.
When students are silenced by a code of secrecy, such that they are not allowed to tell others what their teacher does to them and others, we can’t know what a teacher’s private ‘methods’ are, in which case how can we evaluate him or her? It’s not possible.
This is where the injunction against not criticising your teacher falls down – could vajrayana students not be ‘permitted’ to tell someone, ‘He hit me,’ with the good-hearted motivation to assist others in making an evaluation (as I believe the 8 letter writers did). Do we not have a responsibility to others to make sure that they have the information they need to evaluate fully?
And if we do decide that we are willing to take a lama as our guru and in true tantric fashion we are willing to ‘accept that anything can happen’ (quote from the talk), how can we trust that the teacher will not abuse our open acceptance and by their actions ‘damage the seed of bodhicitta, pure perception, and guru devotion’ in us?

The core of the cult issue must be addressed

Note – this section is not a commentary or criticism on the talk or an opinion on it. It’s just noting a topic that I would like to see DZK address in the future.
Since DZK has taken the role of advisor to Rigpa, he needs to tackle the core reason why in the eyes of some Rigpa slips over the line between a beneficial religious organisation and a cult that causes harm. I believe that it lies in the way that some Rigpa members have and still do use the vajrayana teachings to judge, denigrate, blame, manipulate and ignore the suffering of others (not to mention defending their own little kingdoms) all in the guise of being true to the vajrayana. According to some reports, this behaviour is so entrenched in the higher levels of the organisation that they are probably not even aware that they are doing it. I doubt they intend to do it, either, but it’s what some have experienced and why many do not trust those who stood by and allowed the abuse to flourish and continue. So as well as clarifying the meaning of vajrayana, what is needed in Rigpa is to examine how beliefs in samaya, pure perception, devotion and the very nature of vajrayana have been used as weapons against others – and note that I have seen this kind of judgement and condemnation in an email from someone in the highest level of management to one of the 8 letter writers.
For example; judging those who thought that Sogyal had caused people harm and declaring that they lacked pure perception, didn’t have enough devotion, didn’t understand vajrayana, didn’t have the capacity to be a vajrayana student and were samaya breakers who would go to vajra hell. Take a look at the comments on some of my You Tube videos and on the Dharma Protector’s Facebook page to see the kind of vehemence with which these kinds of ideas can and have been be wielded.
Whether or not the statements are true or not for any individual person is not the point, the point is that such statements have been used in Rigpa to legitimalise all sorts of sordid behaviour and to silence those who saw it as wrong. Anyone can believe what they want, but if they use their beliefs in a way that causes harm, it is not only the mark of a cult but also, as the Buddha said in the Kalama Sutta, something we should abandon.

So, as I said, Kalamas: ‘Don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, “This contemplative is our teacher.” When you know for yourselves that, “These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering” — then you should abandon them.’

Please note that I am not talking here about the vajrayana as something to abandon, or about DZK’s talk, but about the teachings of the vajrayana being used in a harmful (and presumably wrong) way. Despite all attempts at change, and despite some recent indications of positive moves in the right direction in Rigpa,  in some parts of the world people are still leaving Rigpa because this is what they see, so if Rigpa is to ever be truly healthy, this kind of thing must be addressed.
Of course, let’s not forget that there are some pretty mean comments flying towards Rigpa as well, often from people who were victims of abuse there themselves – that’s karma for you! But DZK is not in the role of advisor to those people, and if they have given up Buddhism all together, how they behave does not reflect upon it, and so is not his concern.
We are all unenlightened beings struggling with our own projections so I do not expect anyone to be perfect (their true nature excepted), and I have certainly not always acted skillfully myself, but anyone running a spiritual organisation needs to look very closely and honestly at their own hopes, fears and motivations, particularly in light of how they might be using their beliefs to judge, denigrate, blame, manipulate and ignore the suffering of others, for surely this is not the sort of application of the teachings that the great masters invisaged.

Just the start

The Berlin talk was, however, only the first in a series of talks.
Here’s the Lerab Ling talk.

I’ve listened to some of it, and I wonder if DZK realises that by saying that ‘Buddhism is above the law’, he has said that practictioners are exempt from the law, that the law does not apply to us. In other words that we can murder, rape, steal and abuse with impunity. I hope that is not his meaning, but unfortunately, that is what is meant by saying it is ‘above the law’.  Such a statement waves a red flag to a cult investigator. It’s also in direct contradiction to what HHDL and Mingyur Rinpoche have said. I really wish he would speak to them, for they are both very clear on the importance of staying true to the teachings, but both of them have said we must abide by the laws of the land. To say that we are ‘above the law’ is so extreme, so dangerous an idea, (remember the tantric practitioner Charles Manson? That’s what he thought), that I can only hope he does not really understand the full English meaning of what he has said. I don’t think the French police will be happy to hear such a statement.
Anyway, people have told me that there are many gems in this talk and that it is well worth listening to. I respect DZK for tackling the problems, but I think he needs an English language advisor – just to be sure he knows what he’s saying.
May all those who were harmed be healed. Tahlia.

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