Is Vajrayana Buddhism a Cult Religion? Part 2

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

Feudalism

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

Complete obedience

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

Silencing dissent

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

The ultimate red flag cult indicator for vajrayana

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

Conclusion

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


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

Is Vajrayana Buddhism a Cult Religion? Part 1

Does Vajrayana fit the definition of a cult?

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

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

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

Devotion to an abstract principle or an individual?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Misplaced or excessive devotion

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

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

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

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

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


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Defamation Case News & Cult Checklist

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

Attestations needed

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

English Translation of the Form

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

 

Are they or aren’t they?

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

The Challenging Questions

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


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

Is Rigpa a Cult?

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

Why ask this now?

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

Manipulation of the faithful

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

What makes a cult?

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

1.      Authority and Power

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

2.      Manipulation and Control

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

3.      Elitism and Persecution

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

4.      Life-style and Experience

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

5.      Dissent and Discipline

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

The specific allegations

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

The real problem

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


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

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.
 

Investigation Details Released

Merry Christmas!

On the 22nd December Rigpa International Investigation & Reconciliation Committee sent the long-awaited communication to the sangha about the investigation along with two attachments, one from An Olive Branch and the second an agreement with Lewis Silken lawyers. I mentioned the announcement of Rigpa US engaging An Olive Branch in a previous post, now let’s look at the rest of the letter.

A shift?

My first impression was that the letter included points that could indicate a shift in attitude.
In mention of where their concern lies, the authors of the letter are specifically included in the community as a whole, and saying “we are all still very much connected to each other” indicates a breaking down of the ‘us and them mentality’. An Olive Branch’s involvement is certainly a shift, and proof of their commitment to true healing and reconciliation would be inviting all those who have left to the An Olive Branch sessions.
I found this part encouraging, “It has become clear that we need to work together to understand how, over the years, we got to where we are.” This kind of examination is what I’ve been asking for. Only action will show how deeply this will go, but least the intention is now there to actually examine.
The Rigpa US board appeared to have a shift after meeting with one of the US authors of the letter at the Ventura retreat. They also sent a letter to the 8 authors in which they presented the details of the investigation and asked them to participate. In this letter they mentioned regretting not reaching out sooner and admitted that their confusion about what to do had obscured their ability to genuinely help. They also made further admissions that I don’t feel at liberty to mention here that were a major step forward and indicated a new honesty in communication.

Or not?

However, they have not made these admissions public, and the communication to the worldwide sangha from the Rigpa International Investigation & Reconciliation Committee had no such admissions and lacked the honesty and compassion evident in the US letter. It came out one day after the 8 received details of the investigation, giving them no time to respond before it was made public, and it gave no indication that their participation was voluntary, thus colouring the sangha’s perception of the situation and subtly coercing the 8 into complying. This along with the fact that they were never consulted about the planned investigation, were given only 10 days to make a decision, and it all happened at the busiest time of year gives this initiative the feeling of “compelled disclosure”.
University of Oregon trauma psychologist Jennifer Freyd, a pioneer in the fields of “institutional betrayal” presents, with good evidence, that victims are further harmed when the institutions that betrayed them play a leading role in any “fact-finding” or reconciliation process. Such a process, she suggests, continues the power imbalance, recast as healing.
http://dynamic.uoregon.edu/jjf/disclosure/requiredreporting.html
Though Rigpa international is not the client in the investigation (Rigpa UK and US are), they were responsible for booking it without consultation with the 8 authors and presumably had a say in setting up the terms and scope of the investigation.
The language in the newsletter goes from invitation:
“We are offering the eight letter writers the opportunity for a compassionate forum to share their observations and experiences in an unbiased and confidential interview.”
to coercion:
“The scope of the investigation is international and will include all eight complainants.”
The assertion that the 8 will participate the day after they were introduced to the idea is an extension of the consent violations upon which the culture of abuse was built.
The continued use of the word ‘allegations’ is significant also for those harmed. It is used when an accused is denying wrongdoing because it has not been proven to be true, and yet those who have set up this investigation are implicated in covering up the actions and KNOW THEM TO BE TRUE. They have never denied them and have even been so audacious as to hide behind statements characterizing them as beneficial, blessings and training rather than various forms of abuse of power. Stating that they need to gain a full understanding of what has happened and who was involved or aware of it is an insult to those harmed.
Thus, once again, the way this has been handled by Rigpa international could be a cause of re-traumatisation.
The language in the letter of introduction from the lawyer to the 8 was not like this, nor was the letter from the US Board that they received. The lawyer clearly understands that the process might be traumatic for the 8 and gives personal assurances of her integrity, and the US Board letter acknowledges that the investigation might raise doubts and be uncomfortable, and both asked rather than assumed participation. However, the Rigpa International newsletter to the sangha exhibits the same behaviour that we have continuously called out and continues to cause divisiveness, lack of trust, fear, and unwillingness to participate in any forum of “healing”. Without honesty and admission from those who know the attestations are true, their words will continue to be met with suspicion.
This difference between Rigpa US’s communication to the 8 authors and the International letter to the sangha reminds us that ‘Rigpa’ is not one thing, but many people with many different views, and the national boards and individuals do not necessarily feel the same way as Rigpa International. If International and other national boards took the same honesty and compassion as showed by the US board in their recent communication to the 8 authors and made those admissions public, real change might still be possible.

Assurances

The communications give many assurances about the investigation, and students are given an email address, a new one, so we can ask questions about the investigation. The letter to the 8 from the lawyer makes it clear that she will only act in an objective and impartial manner with due respect and sensitivity, mentioning how important this is for her own personal and professional integrity, and there appear to be adequate safeguards to assuage concerns regarding legal and confidential matters.

The report

The letter to the sangha from Rigpa International says: “The outcome and recommendations of the report will be shared, in a manner to be determined, with the Boards of all Rigpa organizations worldwide.” The letter to the 8 from the US Board, however, says that the report will also be shared with the 8. So which are we to believe, the private letter or the public one? Neither letter says they will share it with sangha or the public.
Here’s the kind of report we can expect. This is a link to the Lewis Silken report on the Kevin Spacey case for the Old Vic Theatre https://cdn.oldvictheatre.com/uploads/2017/11/THE-OLD-VIC-PRESS-STATEMENT-FINAL-16.11.17.pdf
As you can see it is pretty light weight and non-conclusive and Rigpa could ignore the recommendations if they wish. Is this going to actually help in achieving the overall goal of “restoring peace and harmony”? These lawyers cost a great deal of sangha members’ money, money that could be better spent elsewhere.

A concern

On the surface the letter to the sangha and the terms of the investigation seem all very reasonable, and granted to not investigate may be damaging to Rigpa in regard to maintaining their charity status in some countries, but we need to be clear that this is only an investigation “to ascertain in more detail the specific allegations.” It is not an investigation of Sogyal Rinpoche’s behaviour or of the organisation that supports him, only a mission to get more detail on the allegations. But the letter from the 8 is quite clear. What more is there for them to add?
The Lewis Silken agreement sent to the sangha says that people other than the 8 such as senior management will only be interviewed if the lawyers “deem it appropriate” and if it is “achievable within the fee budget”. There is no mention of Sogyal being interviewed at all. This seems to be a gross oversight.
Lewis Silken found in their investigation of the Kevin Spacy case for the Old Vic: “It has also not been possible to verify any of these allegations, and it is important to note that Kevin Spacey has not commented on them. The review cannot therefore make any findings of fact about the alleged misconduct.”
Without interviewing others apart from the 8, because only one point of view is being heard, it is not possible to verify anything and so impossible to make any findings of fact. An outcome such as this is not guaranteed, because they may interview management, but the actual terms of the investigation as stated in the agreement appear somewhat skewed towards finding no ‘proof’.
The letter of introduction to the 8 from the lawyer, however, says that is likely that the investigation will move on to interview other members of Rigpa and even Sogyal Lakar, so which is correct? Rather than reassure, this discrepancy only creates more confusion and distrust.

The assumption

The huge assumption is that the 8 will participate in this compelled disclosure, but why should they?


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.

How Words can be used to Manipulate Your Perception

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

The non-apology

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

Another way of reading that letter

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


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

How word choice can manipulate your perception

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

Adverbs and Adjectives

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

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

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

Feel-good buzz words

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

Words & concepts that can be used to control & silence

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

Is it really manipulation?

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


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

What Those Harmed by Sogyal Rinpoche Experienced & How to Help Them Heal

What those harmed actually experienced from their trusted teacher.

Let’s look at the attestations of abuse in the letter written by 8 people who experienced or witnessed apparently abusive behaviour at the hands of Sogyal Rinpoche. If you did not personally experience these things, imagine how you would feel if you had experienced them, and not just occasionally, but for those in his household, continuously for many years.

“You have punched and kicked us, pulled hair, torn ears, as well as hit us and others with various objects such as your back-scratcher, wooden hangers, phones, cups, and any other objects that happened to be close at hand. … Your physical abuse — which constitutes a crime under the laws of the lands where you have done these acts — have left monks, nuns, and lay students of yours with bloody injuries and permanent scars. This is not second hand information; we have experienced and witnessed your behavior for years. …

“Your shaming and threatening have led some of your closest students and attendants to emotional breakdowns. … it was done in such a way that was harmful to us rather than helpful, a method of control, a blatant means of subjugation and undue influence that removed our liberty. You have threatened us and others saying, if we do not follow you absolutely, we will die “spitting up blood like Ian Maxwell”. … You have told us that our loved ones are at risk of ill-health, or have died, because we displeased you in some way.” At public teachings, you have regularly criticized, manipulated and shamed us and those working to run your retreats. …

“Some of us have been subjected to sexual harassment in the form of being told to strip, to show you our genitals (both men and women), to give you oral sex, being groped, asked to give you photos of our genitals, to have sex in your bed with our partners, and to describe to you our sexual relations with our partners. You’ve ordered your students to photograph your attendants and girlfriends naked, and then forced other students to make photographic collages for you, which you have shown to others. You have offered one of your female attendants to another lama (who is well known in Rigpa) for sex. You have had for decades, and continue to have, sexual relationships with a number of your student attendants, some who are married. You have told us to lie on your behalf, to hide your sexual relationships from your other girlfriends. …

“With impatience, you have made demands for this entertainment and decadent sensory indulgences. When these are not made available at the snap of a finger, or exactly as you wished, we were insulted, humiliated, made to feel worthless, stupid and incompetent, and often hit or slapped. Your behavior did not cultivate our mindfulness or awareness, but rather it made us terrified of making a mistake.”

The kind of effect their experiences may have had on them

Remember that we are talking here about students who have been abused or seen abuse occur regularly, often for more than a decade, so in addition to the injuries they sustained at the time, the trauma created by being in an abusive situation runs deep. Their trust in their teacher is similar in a fashion to the trust a child has for a parent, and the sense of betrayal almost as deep.

“Some common emotional symptoms of trauma include denial, anger, sadness and emotional outbursts. Victim of trauma may redirect the overwhelming emotions they experience toward other sources, such as friends or family members.”

“Physical effects can be such things as: “paleness, lethargy, fatigue, poor concentration and a racing heartbeat. The victim may have anxiety or panic attacks and be unable to cope in certain circumstances.”

“Depression and trauma have high comorbidity rates, and feelings of despair, malaise and sadness can last longer than a few days or even weeks. When a trauma occurs, post-traumatic stress disorder often occurs.”

“The sooner the trauma is addressed, the better chance a victim has of recovering successfully and fully.” https://www.psychguides.com/guides/trauma-symptoms-causes-and-effects/

However, the only attempt at helping anyone who felt harmed not blessed by the behaviour outlined above was by a ‘Rigpa Therapist’ where, as the 8 declare, “our very tangible and clear discernment of seeing you as an abuser was blocked and instead we were blamed and made to feel inadequate.”

The cost

Their trauma has cost them not only pain and suffering but also their faith in their teacher and spiritual path as well as the considerable amounts of money they needed for therapy. Unsurprisingly, few remain Tibetan Buddhists, though some remain Buddhists in other forms, others have given up the spiritual path entirely.

For those of us traumatised simply by the knowledge of the harm our teacher caused in the name of crazy wisdom, consider how much worse it must be for those who were regularly beaten, belittled and generally treated like slaves, while they tried for years to work with the abuse in a positive way, and consider now all those who were treated the same way and yet still defend their teacher’s actions. Are they more deluded than the rest of the Western world, or are they more enlightened? Those who spoke out know how hard it is to escape the delusion. Those harmed but still in denial need our compassion as well, and so does the man who is still unwilling to take responsibility for his actions.

What can Rigpa students do to help those harmed?

Every student can put themselves in the shoes of the students harmed. They can imagine what it was like for them to experience such behaviour from someone they trusted to bring them benefit not to harm. Even if someone doesn’t believe that a punch from Sogyal Rinpoche consitutes harm, a punch still hurts, and they can imagine how it felt for those who could no longer see it as crazy wisdom. Students can open their hearts, actually feel the pain of their fellow students and then act appropriately to alleviate it.

Simply sitting and doing loving kindness or tonglen is not enough when your actions can help relieve someone’s suffering. And if you can’t do anything personally, you can still encourage those who can — your management teams — to step up and walk their talk. To take their bodhicitta vow seriously, to stop thinking about themselves and their own spiritual path and to consider actually helping those harmed by their teacher and organisation.

You can reach out to your friends that have left the community, apologise for not supporting them before and tell them how sorry you are that they experienced what they did. You can listen to their story of pain without judgement, without diminishing it, without trying to make them see it a different way, instead you can not only listen but also hear them, truly hear them and believe them.

And don’t be surprised if it’s too late and they don’t want to talk to you —they may feel that speaking to you will only re-open old wounds — even so, your reaching out will be appreciated so long as you do it out of true concern for them and with no agenda on your part.

The power of apology

“Though receiving an apology is not necessary for a victim to heal from trauma, it helps enormously, and quickens the process of healing. ‘Receiving an apology from their attacker that acknowledges responsibility and remorse for the assault can help to combat the effects of the trauma,’ said Dr. Suvercha Pasricha, lead psychiatrist at the women’s inpatient service at Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. …

“Pasricha also added that there are certain criteria an apology must fit in order to be beneficial. The perpetrator must accept responsibility for the incident, show remorse and validate the victim’s experience.

‘“For (the accused) to take ownership and responsibility for their actions is very powerful for the victim,’ she said.” http://www.victimjusticenetwork.ca/resource/736-sexual-assault-trauma-can-be-combatted-by-receiving-an-apology

Legal implications are often brought up as an excuse for not apologising. While concern in that direction is understandable, we are talking about a ‘spiritual’ organisation here, and regardless of what happens on a worldly level, according to the religion they supposedly practice, those who have caused harm (and to a lesser degree even those who have supported someone who has caused harm) have created negative karma that they will carry until it ripens unless they purify it through confession practice (which includes regret, apology/restitution and a commitment not to repeat the negative actions). Add the bodhisattva vow that all older students and, supposedly, all lamas take that commit them to undertaking activity for the benefit of others and one wonders how not giving an apology could possibly fit with that world view.

The problem is that Sogyal and his devoted students think that, despite clear evidence to the contrary, the behaviour outlined above does not constitute harm, and their clinging to that belief re-traumatises those already traumatised by facing this group denial of their suffering.

A lack of acceptance of responsibility, rather than helping Sogyal and Rigpa to avoid legal action may only bring them closer to such action since those who bring legal action do so because they need closure on traumatic events in order to help alleviate their suffering and help them move on with their lives. Closure comes from knowing that the perpetrator has accepted they’ve done wrong, is genuinely remorseful and willing to make some kind of restitution or compensation. If a perpetrator of a crime does not take responsibility for his or her crimes, the only way to make sure that person sees that what they have done is wrong is to take them to court.

Help alleviate the suffering of victims by accepting responsibility for your role in it, by apologising and giving some compensation, and people have no need of legal action. Our courts recognise the value of this as perpetrators that show no remorse and no understanding that what they have done is wrong get longer sentences than those who show remorse and apologise.

Wouldn’t a fund for reparation for the victims be a better use of the money of a spiritual organisation than spending it on a PR firm and lawyers?

But given the unlikelihood of Sogyal or Rigpa management of taking this kind of bold action, a private apology may avoid legal implications. Management could ask those who have been harmed to contact them, and Sogyal Rinpoche and someone from management could phone them individually and apologise.

Individual students who contributed to the trauma of those harmed could apologise to individuals on the telephone. You don’t need to wait for management, you can assist in the healing of those who are suffering, and you would assist in your own healing as well

If Rigpa management and Sogyal Rinpoche were truly practicing what they preach, they would do that.

But first they have to recognise that some of Sogyal Rinpoche’s actions have actually caused harm.

How hard is it to say sorry?

It can be done, even after all this time. In this video, I show how such an apology might sound.


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.