Crazy Wisdom or Mental Imbalance? A psychological perspective: Part 2

Part 2 of a post by a ex-student and Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist.
Note that this is not an attempt at a diagnosis and should not be read as such. We merely aim to present an alternative framework through which to view the situation.

Unresolved grief

After the death of his Master HH Dilgo Khyentse, and also before that, I had perceived SR to be struggling with unresolved grief and to have very real psychological problems. I had tried on a number of occasions to help him with this, but those close to SR thought I had no right to perceive SR in any way as an ordinary human being who might be need of psychological and emotional help. However, in my view we are all human and it is possible for any of us to be seriously fragmented and act from split aspects of ourselves, despite having  otherwise real and valuable spiritual gifts.
To elaborate further, unresolved grief can often bring out earlier splits in the psyche, (replaying traumatic losses experiences by the child self). It appeared to me that SR went through quite a ‘manic’ phase after HHDK’s death, which is often a feature of unresolved grief, known as a ‘manic defence’. Unresolved grief can also result in psychotic episodes. I also perceived SR to be suffering from grandiose delusions after this period of loss, which were to my mind psychotic, such as when he declared at the three month retreat in 1992 that he could fly.
I tried to talk with SR (as have many others on many occasions) and said that I felt he needed help. At one point he momentarily agreed and a divination was done affirming that the person I suggested he go and see would be helpful to him;  however I understand that he did not follow through on this.

Paranoid schizoid position

When people suffer from uneven psychological development, it is perfectly possible for them to be well developed in the ‘higher charkas’ while at the same time having rather wobbly foundations –  a lack of Bowlby’s ‘secure base’. The earlier that trauma occurs – especially if it happens in infancy – the more likely we are to be caught in what in psycho-analytic terms is named the ‘paranoid schizoid position’. This is the place where everything polarises, swinging between extremes of good and bad and feelings of persecutory anxiety. Integration is possible when we can bring these splits into a state of equilibrium resulting in a more grounded balanced position.
We could say at the moment that Rigpa as a whole is going through a kind of group psychosis and  is fundamentally split in this in the paranoid schizoid position,  leaving people feeling raw, anxious  and uncertain, because the ‘secure base’ has been taken away.
Splitting can occur in multiple ways. Naturally each of us is capable of acting from our various ‘child’ and other states of mind if we are ‘triggered’ by some traumatic memory. This can happen even when we are relatively mature grownups. Unfortunately the splits and fractures which to my mind seem apparent within SR, and may even involve fragments from past incarnations are explained away by Rigpa and SR as being ‘The eight manifestations of Guru Rinpoche’.  Indeed there may be aspects of this which contain a grain of truth, which makes it all the more confusing.

Dissociative identity disorder

Looked at another way, when the different aspects or our being are not properly integrated into a unified whole, we could also perceive this to be a form of DID (dissociative identity disorder), or some other dissociative diagnosis, where a person can ‘switch’ from one state to another and behave completely differently, depending, on which aspect of the personality they are inhabiting. Unfortunately, if the different self-states are disconnected from one another, and the compassionate part is not connected up when the wrathful side manifests, a student at Rigpa who has an abusive childhood will experience the inconsistency of SR as matching the inner dynamics of their own abusive upbringing. This significantly adds to the student’s trauma, rather than as SR claims, healing it.
To my mind SR exhibits the features of someone with multiple splits in his psyche which are not at all integrated or under control. An added difficulty is the danger of him having considerable power – including spiritual power. Also when close students have either directly or indirectly been in or been affected by sexual relationships with their spiritual teacher, an extremely incestuous environment is created which is compounded by any underlying psychological disturbances.
There is a bitter irony here in that the practice of Vajrakilaya is supposed to cut through such delusions and confusions of ego, and yet we can see SR as a man with considerable spiritual and communicative gifts who is caught up in his own Rudra – the delusions of his own fragmented ego.
I offer these thoughts with the intention and wish for benefit to come from the ‘clearing out’ that is happening at Rigpa – may we find a way of integrating all of this experience into a deeper understanding  – and ‘May confusion dawn as Wisdom’.
The writer of this piece wishes to remain anonymous.
 
A further perspective.

A note from the editor. An examination of the dynamics of abuse in relationship to the beliefs of the students around S will be undertaken at a later point.


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Hollywood & Rigpa: a Comparison. Final part – Outcome

So what will be the outcome of the public revelations of abuse by Harvey Weinstein and Sogyal Rinpoche? In the non-Buddhist community, legal action is the obvious next step. It’s the way people get the perpetrator to take responsibility for their crimes, and it can be avoided, or sentences lessened, by making a heart-felt apology. Buddhists in general tend to not be focused on legal action; for them an apology would have much more power. Weinstein has, at least, apologised, but Sogyal hasn’t apologised, and, in that, his lawyers may have made a fatal mistake in misjudging just how important an apology is to some of the injured parties.
Certainly the 8 letter writers were not seeking legal action. They merely wanted to inform students of the truth. They said:” If we are wrong in what we write, please correct our mistaken view. If your striking and punching us and others, and having sex with your students and married women, and funding your sybaritic lifestyle with students’ donations, is actually the ethical and compassionate behavior of a Buddhist teacher, please explain to us how it is. If, however, we are correct in our assessment, please stop your behaviors that we believe to be harmful to others. … Our heartfelt wish is that you seek guidance from the Dalai Lama, other reputable lamas of good heart, or anyone who can help to bring you back onto the true path of the Dharma.”
Their request has not been met.

Legal action

Scotland Yard has said it is investigating allegations made last month by seven women against Weinstein, some dating back to the 1980s.
Greenfield, a partner at the law firm Fieldfisher who specialises in personal injury cases, told the Guardian: ‘We have a sent a letter of claim to Harvey Weinstein’s London and New York offices. I am waiting to hear from them but I have indicated that [if it is not settled] we will be pursuing a civil claim in relation to sexual assaults by Harvey Weinstein.’
The LAPD requested victims of the Oscar-winning producer to go public.
‘“Please come forward so your cases — and justice — can be pursued,” said Mike Feueron. “We take allegations like these very seriously, and where the facts support conviction, we will prosecute,” he added.
‘As more and more claims of harassment or assault by Weinstein emerge, the New York Police Department and the London Metropolitan Police are already investigating potential complaints. The LAPD has not officially started its own probe, but, as Deadline reported last week, it is seriously considering doing so.’
New York criminal defense attorney Stuart Slotnick says. “The final area is whether the company has any liability, and I think it’s clear based on recent information that there will be lawsuits not only against Weinstein but against his company as well.”
In terms of Sogyal Rinpoche and Rigpa, the lack of apology, slow pace of Rigpa management to begin the independent investigation they promised, and the rigid adherence to dogma by some lamas and, apparently, the majority of those who remain in the organisation have pushed some ex-Rigpa students to make complaints to the UK Charities Commission and the French Police. (Note that the 8 letter writers did not initiate these investigations, just as they did not release the original letter to newspapers or on social media. Other people are responsible for these events.)
The extreme statements made by Orgyen Tobyal in Paris, such as it being acceptable for a great master to kill someone, have made it clear to some that nothing less than legal action will make such lamas realise that, no matter what they believe,  they simply cannot disregard the law.
The Charities Commission (who will take statements from all over the world) and the French police are therefore encouraging people to come forward to help them with their investigations. A specialist lawyer is working on the case with ADFI of Montpellier. (This is primarily for French nationals but will also include anyone who has experienced abuse on French territory)

Wake up call

In the interview with the Daily Beast, ‘Clooney expressed hope that publicising the allegations against Weinstein would serve as a wake-up call to the industry. “Hopefully, this kind of behaviour will end – or become harder and harder for it to continue,” he said. “We’ve seen this type of behaviour in politics, in Silicon Valley, and in corporate America. This is a big problem in our society, that people in power are taking advantage of people not in power – particularly powerful men with young women.”’
Exactly the same statement applies to Tibetan Buddhism, (Rigpa is only one example of a wider issue). And the issue in Tibetan Buddhism, though it is a necessary first step, will not be solved by the Band Aid solution of the installation of a code of conduct. The deeper issues of feudalism, misogyny and cultural arrogance need to be examined and addressed.
As Laura Bates said in The Telegraph, ‘Harvey Weinstein is not a “beast” or a “monster”. He is a man who has behaved like many other powerful men. The only difference is that Weinstein’s alleged offences have finally, after decades of shameful silence, emerged into the public eye. But thousands of men like him continue to operate with impunity.’
Again this applies to Sogyal Rinpoche. He is not a monster. He is a product of his upbringing and at the mercy of his delusions as we all are, but how many other Tibetan lamas ‘like him continue to operate with impunity’?  If students of Tibetan Buddhism don’t stand up and say, ‘This has got to stop. Now,’ how will it ever change? Clearly the lamas will not deal with the issue unless we insist.
 

Push for social equity

What we need right now is for Rigpa sangha members, past and present, to join together and decry the use of derogatory terms like ‘samaya breaker’ and to push for fair treatment of victims and a deep examination of the reasons why the abuse flourished. Because what’s been created in Rigpa is an environment where it isn’t safe to come forward with a history of abuse, and this is no different from how it is in any other large organization with money and power that has status to lose. But the Weinstein company has responded by firing Weinstein, and board members have resigned, and the company is taking steps to begin to reach out to employees to address their concerns.

Rigpa has an opportunity to be a positive force for change here but they have not stepped up to accept that challenge, instead they have hunkered down behind the same beliefs that enabled the abuse.

Rigpa students, please go to your local sangha meetings and ask questions. Don’t be afraid to speak up. Rigpa and all its representatives need to be held accountable.  After all, we were supposed to be a spiritual group and better than samsaric organizations, but the response from Rigpa to claims of abuse has been halting and half-hearted at best, and purposely victim-blaming at worst.
We, who devoted years and all our work and much of our disposable income, deserve better than this.

It’s not too late to turn it around, to drop the denial and face facts, but it gets harder with each passing day.


Current and previous students of Rigpa wanting personal and 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 can stay in touch through the Dharma Companions Facebook Group.  The group files include lists of online courses with reputable teachers, and members can join monthly Skype meetings and retreats. If you’re interested, click the link and ask to join. You will need to answer some questions before being admitted to the group.
Be sure to check out the What Now? Reference Material page for 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’ in general could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page. Links to posts on this blog will be posted there as well as links to other relevant information related to the wider issues.
And if you would like to make sure that this blog keeps running, please consider sponsoring our editor for the many hours of work involved.

Hollywood and Rigpa: a comparison. Part 2 – Culture

The cultural aspects of a comparison between the alleged abuses of Harvey Weinstein and Sogyal Rinpoche are in some respects quite different, but in others very similar. The idea behind doing this comparison is to examine Sogyal Rinpoche’s behaviour and the reactions to it against the cultural sensibilities of the Western world. We must remember that Sogyal has been accused not only of sexual abuse, but also, and to a greater degree, to emotional and physical abuse. The comparison holds for all forms of abuse, however, because if the world heard that Weinstein also hit and publically humiliated his employees, the reaction would also be of condemnation – but then who would accept that kind of behaviour from their boss in a corporate world? And this is where the cultural examination becomes most telling.

High-powered, entitled men

In terms of power there is no difference between a high-powered, entitled man like Weinstein who was in charge of millions of dollars and made a series of very good movies and a high-powered, privileged man who controlled a large spiritual group and disseminated spiritual teachings. If the allegations are true in both cases, then both Weinstein and Sogyal abused the huge amount of power that they held.
However, reactions in the press make it clear that no Westerner in their right mind would consider the corporate boss’s sexual abuse acceptable, and yet many in the Tibetan Buddhist world, particularly within Rigpa, consider that similar behaviour by a Tibetan Buddhist ‘spiritual’ teacher does not constitute abuse but a blessing, a fast-track to enlightenment.
Many Tibetan Buddhist teachers remain silent on the issue, and others, rather than condemn the alleged abuses, go in for a particularly Tibetan form of victim blaming where they use the idea of samaya (the sacred bond between a student and teacher) as a way to instil fear of hell in students for daring to criticise. The assumption is that the student is at fault for not seeing their teacher as a perfect Buddha. This is like blaming the women Weinstein abused for the abuse, saying they are responsible simply because they didn’t see Weinstein as young, handsome and desirable, that the issue is not with the behaviour, but with the perception of the behaviour by the victim. We wouldn’t accept that line for Weinstein, so why accept it for Sogyal? The fact that these lamas even talk like this indicates how out of touch they are with the prevailing Western attitudes.
Note that other Tibetan teachers like His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Mingyur Rinpoche are quite clear on their condemnation of this kind of behaviour, as are many Western teachers of Vajrayana (the Tibetan form of Buddhism).
Does the fact that one man is ‘spiritual’ of a brand called ‘Tibetan’ and ‘Vajrayana’ and the other man is a ‘worldly’ man with a Hollywood brand mean that we should treat them differently in terms of permitting them to abuse those they hold power over? Isn’t it more reasonable to expect a spiritual teacher to behave more ethically in the first place and, when he slips up, more readily apologise? Does a spiritual teacher not have an even greater responsibility to treat people decently due to the trust they place in him or her to guide them on a spiritual (and supposedly ethical) path?
Erik Jampa made this point in an article where he examines Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s reaction to Sogyal Rinpoche’s alleged abuses:

“In an era when Kevin Spacey, Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, and countless other powerful men (not to mention the president) are being called out and publicly exposed for their blatant abuse of others, I am baffled why so many Vajrayana practitioners are seeking to defend these same trends in our precious spiritual tradition. Are we really prepared to draw a moral line protecting these “tantric masters” from identical behaviors, ignoring the fact that the perceived authority over their students transcends literally all mundane moral dynamics? Vajrayana gurus are not just teachers, bosses, or community leaders. Their power and influence over the minds of others vastly surpasses that of a Hollywood producer or head of state.”

A teacher in a Tibetan Buddhist community is the object of students’ respect and devotion, and in the same way that Weinstein was admired for his achievements in Hollywood, the Tibetan Buddhist community as a whole admired Sogyal Rinpoche for his vast activity that brought beneficial teachings to a large number of students. Being the recipient of this level of admiration means that you have a great deal of power over people, and along with such power comes a necessity to wield it responsibility.

Consensual sex and power imbalance

As a student of Sogyal Rinpoche myself, I was aware that he had girlfriends, but since he isn’t a monk, I found what I was told about this by senior instructors reasonable.  The line was that the relationships were consensual.

According to the RASASC organisation in the UK, “Consent, legally, is defined as agreeing by choice and having the freedom and capacity to make that choice. … Someone is free to make a choice if there isn’t anything bad that would happen to them if they said no – for example if they were being threatened with violence or if they felt forced into making a decision because they didn’t feel they could do anything else. Freedom is also affected if there is a power imbalance between two people, because of age, status or some kind of dependency. Having the freedom to consent means doing something because you WANT to, not because something or someone is pressuring you one way or the other.”

A spokesperson for Weinstein in the US told the Guardian: “Any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr Weinstein. Mr Weinstein has further confirmed that there were never any acts of retaliation against any women for refusing his advances.”
Nevertheless they might have been scared that they might not get that role they desperately wanted or needed. He probably wouldn’t fire them, but he might feel less inclined to send roles their way, and due to the very fact that he had that power, the women may not have felt that they had the freedom to say no. Certainly his advacnes were unwanted. They wouldn’t have complained otherwise.
There is also a similar power imbalance between Sogyal (or any Tibetan lama) and his student; though the culture of beliefs is different, the effect is the similar in that the woman might not feel that she could say no without some repercussions. The repercussions in Rigpa were that you would be seen as lacking devotion, pure perception, and the courage to give up your ego and accept Sogyal’s demands as a spiritual practice. This sense that you had failed came as much, if not more, from other students close to Sogyal as from Sogyal himself. It’s a subtle pressure, but a pressure nevertheless.
However, I have been told that he had many truly consensual relationships with women over the years. Many dated him, enjoyed their time with him, and felt no pressure to accept his advances. Of course, that is likely true of Harvey as well. We must not make assumptions about the nature of any one relationship.
We should also not forget when making these comparisons that Sogyal Rinpoche’s alleged abuse was more widely emotional and physical than sexual and experienced by men as well as women. The nature of the relationship he has with his ‘inner circle’ who are dependent on him financially, apparently goes into the area usually covered by the term ‘domestic violence’. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), domestic violence is the “willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetuated by one intimate partner against another.” This can include physical, sexual, psychological, and emotional violence and abuse. [http://www.soc.ucsb.edu/sexinfo/article/different-types-sexual-assault]
As Colin Firth said of Weinstein: “He was a powerful and frightening man to stand up to.”

Excuses and support

“George Clooney said that people had tolerated Weinstein’s notoriously abrasive personality because ‘he was making films that everybody loved … if he yells and screams but he gets Pulp Fiction made, who cares if he yells and screams? But it’s a very different conversation when you say, it’s not that he yells and screams but that he’s cornering a young, scared lady in a restaurant and telling her to stand there and be quiet while he jerks off,’ he said.”  [https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/oct/10/george-clooney-says-alleged-weinstein-behaviour-was-indefensible]

 
Saying that SR is excused of his conduct because he is a good teacher is like saying that Bill Cosby should be excused because he is a good comedian or Weinstein because he makes great movies. And yet many teachers and students of Tibetan Buddhism use the good he has done or their positive personal experience of him to excuse his allegedly abusive behaviour with others. Westerners in general wouldn’t excuse Weinstein on these grounds, nor would they excuse Sogyal Rinpoche on similar grounds. Tibetan lamas and students who do think that the good Sogyal has done excuses any abusive behaviour he may be responsible for need to consider this point.
 

Enablers

On Oct 6th, the NYT published an article on how the Weinstein story didn’t surface because too many people had too much to gain from supporting him. He “built his empire on a pile of positive press clippings,” just as Sogyal Rinpoche built his empire on the support of other eminent lamas when they accepted his invitation to teach at Lerab Ling. We don’t know how much they knew, if anything, but when Rigpa became a source of income for them, staying away or speaking out would have become harder, and speaking out about someone so apparently well-respected is just not a Tibetan thing to do—it’s hard enough for a Westerner who knows the behaviour is wrong, let alone for someone unwilling to bet against the possibility that Sogyal is an enlightened being. Criticising such a being is considered a very bad thing to do in Tibetan Buddhism.
The article in the NYT mentions agents who dispatched starlets to Weinstein’s Hotel Suit likely knowing what the cost would be for them. This relates to those in SR’s inner circle who ‘encouraged’ new students to get close to him, who turned a blind eye to abuses, who shamed and blamed those who complained, and then employed a PR firm to help them cover up the testimonies that did make it into the public arena. These people are still running Rigpa International at management level.
In both situations people with something to gain from remaining silent do so because they lack a strong moral compass, something that is perhaps not surprising in Hollywood, but one would expect better in a ‘spiritual’ organisation.
 

Karen Brady in an article for The Sun in the UK said the following about the Weinstein accusations: “One of the most shocking parts of this story is the suggestion that what apparently went on was an “open secret” in the film industry.
In fact, by the sound of it, just about everyone in the business knew there could allegedly be a sordid price to pay to work with the great Harvey Weinstein.
It’s almost as if women wanting to succeed in movies had come to accept that progress came with a sort of sex-pest tax.
… The whole concept of the “casting couch” was far more rife in the Seventies than it is today.
But even if that kind of behaviour was acceptable a few decades ago you’d think that a clever man like him would be able to grasp the pretty basic notion that — Times. Have. Changed.
… He struck me then as a rude little man luxuriating in his position of power. Unfortunately, all too often it is men like that who run the show.
… So the bravery of the women who have decided to put their careers and reputations on the line by speaking up is phenomenal.”

Just to make it clear how closely these two situations coincide, I’m going to use Karen’s words with just a few changes so you can see how they equally apply to Sogyal Rinpoche’s accusations.
One of the most shocking parts of this story is the suggestion that what apparently went on was an “open secret” at the higher levels of Rigpa.
In fact, by the sound of it, just about everyone in Rigpa International management and many in Rigpa National management teams knew there could allegedly be a sordid price to pay to ‘be trained’ by the great Sogyal Rinpoche.
It’s almost as if students wanting a fast track to enlightenment (the supposed pay-off from having your ego squashed through the alleged behaviour) had come to accept that progress came with a sort of abuse-pest tax.”
… The whole concept of “crazy wisdom” (unconventional teaching methods) was far more rife in Tibet and India in previous centuries than it is today in the West.
But even if that kind of behaviour was acceptable a few decades/centuries ago you’d think that a clever man like him would be able to grasp the pretty basic notion that — Times. Have. Changed.
 … He struck me then as a rude little man luxuriating in his position of power. Unfortunately, all too often it is men like that who run the show.
… So the bravery of the people who have decided to put their reputations on the line by speaking up is phenomenal.
You said it, Karen!
Article by Tahlia Newland


Current and previous students of Rigpa wanting personal and private support in regards to the abuse issue can be found in the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite using the email address you use on Facebook
If you would like to stay in contact with and support ex-Rigpa students, we have created the Dharma Companions Facebook Group.  The group files include lists of online courses with reputable teachers, and members can join monthly Skype meetings and retreats. If you’re interested, click the link and ask to join. You will need to answer some questions before being admitted to the group.
Be sure to check out the What Now? Reference Material page for 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’ in general could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page. Links to posts on this blog will be posted there as well as links to other relevant information related to the wider issues.
And if you would like to make sure that this blog keeps running, please consider sponsoring our editor for the many hours of work involved.

Hollywood and Rigpa: a study in responses. Part 1 – Management

This is part one of a three part series on the present social context for the issue of abuse in the Western world.
Early in October Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein made big news after a New York Times investigation uncovered allegations of sexual abuse of women going back decades. What followed was a series of events, revelations, confessions and statements of support for victims and for ending the silence around abuse. All this shows just how important freedom from abuse in all its forms is to the Western world, and why, for the future of Tibetan Buddhism in the West, Rigpa must look deeply at the core issues and make healthy decisions on their interpretation of the teachings that allowed this to happen. Without this deep examination and change of interpretation of the teachings that enabled the abuse, instituting a code of conduct and thinking that deals with the issue is like applying a Band-Aid solution to a cancer.
Anyone who is disgusted that news of SR’s behaviour has gone public should consider just how more public it could be. Sogyal Rinpoche’s disgrace has not made the New York Times. But if it does, what will those who commented on the Weinstein case think about how SR and Rigpa have handled the fall out of their own scandal?  The comparison between Sogyal Rinpoche and Rigpa and the Weinstein case and how his company dealt with it is telling and to some of us even embarrassing.

Apology

As soon as the news broke, in a statement to the Times on October the 5th, Harvey apologised, saying, “I appreciate the way I have behaved in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologise for it. Though I’m trying to do better, I know I have a long way to go.”  He went onto say that he was working with a therapist and planned to take a leave of absence.
Sogyal, however, took six days to respond and did not apologise. In fact his words were more a defence than an apology, dwelling on the good he has done and his lack of harmful intent.
“I have spent my whole life trying my best to serve the Buddhadharma, to bring these teachings to the West, and not a day goes by when I am not thinking about the welfare of my students, holding them in my heart, and feeling concern and responsibility for their spiritual path. It’s clear now, though, that a number of people do feel very disappointed and hurt, and are looking for answers and changes. Please know that I take this very seriously and I will not ignore it. I am clear in my own mind that I have never, ever, acted towards anyone with a motive of selfish gain or harmful intent. This is unthinkable for me.”
Not only does he not realise that his behaviour has caused pain (only that a number of people feel disappointed and hurt) but also he virtually denied causing harm by saying that he has “never, ever, acted towards anyone with a motive of selfish gain or harmful intent.” Having no harmful intent is not the same as taking responsibility for the fact that people have found his actions harmful and apologising for those actions.
That lack of apology has poisoned Sogyal and Rigpa’s attempts to manage the situation effectively. Denial does not form a basis for healing. Attempts at healing while denying harm is like stitching up a wound without treating the infection beneath the surface.
Sogyal also said he would take time off, in retreat, but instead of talking to a therapist he said, “I am seeking advice from masters who have a genuine care and concern for Rigpa.” Considering S’s possible mental health issues and the medieval opinions expressed by some of these lamas, a therapist would probably have been a healthier choice.

A history of cover ups

When confronted with allegations “stretching over three decades” the NYT says, “Weinstein has reached settlements with at least eight women.” Likewise, “in November 1994, a $10 million civil lawsuit was filed against Sogyal Rinpoche and Rigpa by an anonymous plaintiff, who was given the name “Janice Doe” to protect her identity.  The complaint alleged infliction of emotional distress, breach of fiduciary duty, and assault and battery. Sogyal Rinpoche avoided service of the charges by not publicly entering the U. S. and thus was never deposed.  The lawsuit was settled out of court through mediation.” [ref. http://howdidithappen.org/history-abuse-allegations-rigpa/]
In this instance, Rigpa and Sogyal has behaved in a very worldly way, paying off complainants to keep them quiet.

Code of silence

“Dozens of Mr Weinstein’s current and former employees from assistants to top executives, said they knew of inappropriate conduct while they worked for him. Only a handful said they ever confronted him. Weinstein enforced a code of silence. Employees of Weinstein Company have contracts saying that they will not criticise it or leadership in a way that would harm their ‘business reputation’ or any employees ‘personal reputation.’” [ref. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/05/us/harvey-weinstein-harassment-allegations.html]
In the same way, according to the attestations many in Rigpa management have been aware of the emotional, physical and sexual abuse for years. But in Rigpa’s case, anyone who raised concerns were disregarded and when further information came to light with Mimi’s story in 2011, management hired a PR firm, stated that they ‘believed’ that Sogyal Rinpoche had not harmed anyone, and while attempting to discredit and belittle those who spoke out, actively encouraged students not to look at online sources.
Rigpa also has a code of silence. It’s a literal interpretation of 8th Century teachings on samaya that say that one should not criticise one’s teacher for fear of going to hell. And yet HH Dalai Lama made it quite clear in Dharamsala in 1993 that in situations of abuse, students should speak out to avoid continuing harm to students and damage to the integrity of the Buddhadharma. S and R’s adherence to this fear-mongering interpretation of the teachings on samaya acts like a gag, keeping students quiet and compliant. In Rigpa’s case, being a belief system students are expected to adhere to rather than a contract, it meets one of the criteria for cult-behaviour – complete obedience is demanded and dissent and criticism are not permitted.

Resignations

The actions of the Weinstein board members compares to those of Rigpa’s upper level students and “holders” of the group.
On the 6th of October, just a day after the news broke one third of the Weinstein Company board resigned, and the four who remained announced that they had employed an outside law firm to investigate the allegations and that Weinstein would take a leave of absence. Two days later, they fired him. Weinstein’s advisor also resigned. On October the 15th a fifth board member resigned.
In comparison, those at the top of the Rigpa International management hierarchy remain the same as it has been for the decades.
On the 11th of August, nearly a month after the letter attesting to abuse came out, SR resigned.
The glaring issue is that those at the top of Rigpa Management, those who knew of the abuse and covered it up for years, have still not resigned, instead, they are steering Rigpa through this minefield of public opinion using the same tactics as previously: make some token gestures, ignore criticism, carry on as usual, build up the good, and wait out the storm.

Investigation

Just one day after the information of abuse emerged, four members of the Weinstein Board hired a law firm for an investigation and gave a public statement: “We have retained an independent and leading lawyer and firm, John Kiernan of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, to undertake a thorough and independent investigation and report to the full Board on the results of that investigation.”
It took the Rigpa management one month to announce that they would undertake an independent investigation, and four months later, they have yet to announce who will be doing their investigation. Rigpa is taking months to do what the Weinstein Company did in days.  This gives them time to ‘cover their tracks’ should they feel they need to.

Code of Conduct

Rigpa management announced that they would institute a code of conduct. The Film Academy announced the same thing, not the Weinstein company itself. However the Film Academy’s initiative came from their recognition of the culture in the film industry that supports sexual abuse, whereas the Rigpa workshops on cultural change are not looking any further than how students feel, not what they believe, which is at the root of the enabling culture.

How does Rigpa compare?

There are similarities in the cover up of decades of abuse, the announcement of an investigation,  the resignation of the leaders, and in the culture that fostered the abuse, notably a culture enforcing silence and offering rewards for ‘close contact’, and I’ll go deeper into this in the next part of this series. The difference in situation is that S has also been accused of emotional and physical abuse as well as sexual, which makes it a more widespread issue in the community, involving men as well as women and the more subtle areas of emotional abuse. Rigpa’s business, of course, is spiritual rather than worldly, but that leads to expectations that management would behave more ethically and more definitively than a company making movies, not less as seems to be the case. The differences in responses are that S and R have given no apologies, no one in upper management has resigned, and they have been slow to begin initiatives, respond to individual’s concerns and communicate with interested parties.
The Weinstein Company seem to be much more aware of social expectations and the ethics involved, and more willing to act definitively, but then they are in the mainstream press. What kind of pressure would be on Rigpa were this scandal given the same coverage?
Don’t miss Part 2 – Culture and Part 3 -Responses. Sign up to follow the blog.
Post written by Tahlia Newland.


Current and previous students of Rigpa wanting personal and private support in regards to the abuse issue can be found in the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite using the email address you use on Facebook
If you would like to stay in contact with and support ex-Rigpa students, we have created the Dharma Companions Facebook Group.  The group files include lists of online courses with reputable teachers, and members can join monthly Skype meetings and retreats. If you’re interested, click the link and ask to join. You will need to answer some questions before being admitted to the group.
Be sure to check out the What Now? Reference Material page for 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’ in general could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page. Links to posts on this blog will be posted there as well as links to other relevant information related to the wider issues.
And if you would like to make sure that this blog keeps running, please consider sponsoring our editor for the many hours of work involved.

Tough Questions for the Investigators

A truly objective third-party investigation if done fully and with transparency by a respected agency should bring closure to the turbulent events in Rigpa and bring much healing to a great many shattered lives.
However, this will not happen, if it’s not begun soon and if it’s not undertaken as extensively and transparently as required.
Who does it, and how wide their terms of reference are will make a huge difference, but anyone doing the investigation, if they’re truly seeking something comprehensive, need to ask the tough questions.
The questions listed below are like doors off a corridor. How many doors will the investigators look into? How many will remain firmly closed? And if the questions are not being asked, then what does that say about the Rigpa of the future?

Questions the investigators need to consider:

  1. Why did misconduct continue even after a legal case was filed and resolved out of court, with a large financial payment, by Janice Doe in the USA, 1993?

 

  1. Who were, and are, the past and present members of Rigpa management that enabled physical, emotional and psychological mistreatment to continue over decades?

 

  1. Will the individuals revealed in question 2, who have been complicit in mistreatment or abuse, be removed from the organisation, or not permitted to remain in roles as instructors, managers or other influential positions?

 

  1. Why did Rigpa Management repeatedly deny mistreatment and abuse, indicating that they felt there was no problem with Sogyal Lakar’s behaviour, despite being approached by dozens of highly regarded senior instructors, directors and Buddhist practitioners over many decades?

 

  1. Why did Rigpa Management and directors hire management consultancy firms to provide training on how best to deny allegations of abuse and mistreatment by Sogyal Lakar?

 

  1. Why did Rigpa Management set-up training programmes for qualified therapists to deal with the excessive numbers of victims and the increasing recurrence of people having mental anxiety, depression or neurotic behaviour directly as a result of their relationship and contact with Sogyal Lakar?

 

  1. Did these therapists have a hidden agenda to try to encourage their clients to see that their discomfort around Sogyal Lakar’s behaviour lay with them and not with Sogyal Lakar?
  2. Why were physical assaults committed by Sogyal Lakar, which were witnessed by many people, neither investigated nor reported to the police by Rigpa managers?

 

  1. How will victims of abuse or mistreatment be vindicated by this investigation? How will they be able to receive compensation or redress?

 

  1. How will victims be given assurances that they will not receive further or additional harassment after the investigation reaches its conclusions?

 

  1. How will the investigations findings be permissible in legal cases filed in courts against individuals or Sogyal Lakar?

 
 
Perhaps these questions could be forwarded to the investigators, once we know who they are. Let’s face it, those culpable are not going to ask the investigators to ask these questions, are they? But aren’t they the questions that really need addressing here?


Be sure to check out the What Now? Reference Material page for 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.
More personal and private support for current and previous students of Rigpa can be found in the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite. Please use the email address you use on Facebook.
For students who have left Rigpa and don’t want to talk about it anymore, but would like to stay in contact with other ex-Rigpa students, we have created the Dharma Companions Facebook Group. Click the link and ask to join. You will need to answer some questions before being admitted to the group.
Those interested in ‘keeping Tibetan Buddhism clean’ could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page. Links to posts on this blog will be posted there as well as to other relevant information related to the wider issues involved.
 

The Abuse Continues. Upper Management Must Resign.

The section on Lotsawa House’s posting of an article on Samaya was edited 9th October.
Please note that this article does not represent the feelings of all members of the What Now? group.
Sogyal Rinpoche has resigned from teaching and from Rigpa, so the discussion has moved away from him and onto Rigpa as an organisation. The question became, “What are they going to do about it?” It’s been partially answered by their stated initiatives to institute a code of conduct, employ a third party to conduct an investigation, and form a new spiritual advisory body, which all sounds very nice, but the question as to how far these changes will actually go is still open, and it’s not looking hopeful that it will go very deep.

Senior students behaving abusively

What is clear is that some senior members of the organisation have, since these attestations of abuse came to light, further abused not only those who spoke out but also those who have supported those who spoke out. The 8 and many of their supporters have received both public and private abusive messages on Facebook, abusive emails and even abusive phone calls, and these are invariably from long term students.
Students close to SR have called them samaya-breakers (with the insinuated threat that they will go to hell,) have complained that they harmed the students spiritual path and the Vajrayana, called them arrogant, uncaring, ignorant, misguided and more. Though they have also received many communications of support, the abusive communications come always from those who are remaining in the organisation. Their concern has been entirely on protecting SL and their belief in him as an enlightened being.
Some of those who felt abused while within the organisation are feeling further abused due to this hurtful behaviour. Some who never felt abused while within the organisation are now feeling abused, not by SL, but by such students. One wonders what they actually learned, certainly this behaviour is not in accord with the Buddha’s teachings.

Why upper management must resign

It is clear from the attestations of abuse gathered over the years (see links in the Reference Material page) that those in upper management not only knew about the abuse (how could they not?) but also enabled it and covered it up. Clearly they didn’t see it as abuse, so with such a distorted view, how can they possibly be objective with the results of any investigation?
Evidence that they have not changed their attitude came in a disparaging message sent to one of the Eight from one of the members of the top level of management in Rigpa. It was not an official communication, just a personal message from one individual to another. However, this knee-jerk response to an email about an unrelated topic indicates that this person is in no position to make measured decisions when it comes to Rigpa’s future.
These people cannot be trusted to lead this organisation. If Rigpa is truly to regain public trust, the present upper management must resign. For so long as they are there, nothing that comes from Rigpa can be taken at face value.
An example that might show that Rigpa’s official position on Lama devotion/worship has not changed is the recent posting from Lotsawa House, A Brief Guide to Samaya Commitment by Lala Sonam Chödrup in which it is stated: “Avoid contradicting anything the guru says, even if it is seemingly unrelated to the Dharma. … Consider any critical comments or reprimands as a Dharma teaching and take them to heart. If the guru is in residence nearby, do not embark on anything independently without seeking his or her approval. Whatever the guru says, guard it carefully as if your very life were at stake, and carry it out unfailingly….”
Edited 9th October
Some of the What Now? group wondered why this was posted now, and suspected it was to guide students as to the ‘correct’ understanding?  However a spokesperson for Lotsawa House told me that he decided to post that translation without any contact with anyone from Rigpa’s management, senior or otherwise because there was a lot of discussion online about the meaning of samaya, and seemingly some confusion as to what you might call the traditional Tibetan viewpoint.
He went on to say that Lotsawa House tries, whenever possible, to provide authoritative sources on various topics as a reference for students of Tibetan Buddhism in general and that he chose that text (together with another text which deals with samaya from an absolute perspective) because it is relatively short and more interesting than other works which typically consist of long lists of one category of samaya breakage after another. How people interpret the texts Lotsawa House publishes is obviously beyond our control. But if anyone has been using them to condemn or even abuse others that is not only wrong, it is contrary to what Lotsawa House’s main advisor, Alak Zenkar Rinpoche, sees as the central purpose of the Dharma: i.e. a way to look at oneself, not a way to view the supposed faults of others.
I am extremely pleased to have this clarification and are very grateful to Lotsawa House for their willingness to contact us.
 

Cult-like behaviour

Added to this outright abuse, unsuitability of their leaders to lead, and indications that Rigpa is sticking to the very beliefs that allowed the abuse to occur is observable cultic behaviour. If Rigpa wishes to be seen as a genuine dharma organisation not a cult, management needs to address the following issues.

  1. What we are seeing is only the appearance of openness and communication, because members of the What Now? facebook group have reported that underpinning the apparent openness in many (not all) centres and individuals is defensiveness, passive aggression and attachment to rigid beliefs which means that even where there is listening, there is little hearing, and even where there is hearing, there is not the will to act on what is heard. And there is little actual communication in that though students say how they feel they get no or little response back, just vague soothing words.
  2. People in Rigpa centres are talking, yes, but discussion is in a highly controlled fashion, kept strictly to set questions and allowable responses – eg sharing only feelings and personal stories not broader concerns – and only within the context of set workshops with set parameters. Many students frustrated with this limited discussion and faced with antagonism (sometimes veiled sometimes overt) from other students have left.
  3. Online, official and unofficial Rigpa groups have been shut down or tightly controlled, immediately ejecting anyone who is seen to be questioning beliefs or saying anything ‘negative’ about the organisation or Sogyal. This shows dogmatism and intolerance towards different thinking.Efforts by some to bridge the gap between reformists and fundamentalists have met with silence from those who support the status quo or thinly veiled aggression.
    Some people are banned from certain groups simply because they are known to be part of the What Now? group. They are not even given a chance to say something positive. It’s the ‘if you’re not with us, you’re against us’ mentality that allows no room for those with a moderate approach and removes all dissenters.This behaviour indicates that there is no real interest in healing the rift between the reformist and fundamentalist factions. Reformists are being made to feel unwanted. Once they all leave, there will be no impetus to change from within.
  4. Limiting information to only that that supports the existing culture. The only information being shared within the organisation and on social media from associated Lamas reinforces the culture that allowed SR’s behaviour to go unchecked for decades. We’ve seen statements on samaya from ‘respected’ Lamas associated with Rigpa that lack any compassion for the victims and, given the present circumstances, look a lot like victim blaming, scare tactics to keep people in line, and support existing power structures. Since Rigpa has not responded by saying that those statements do not necessarily reflect the approach of the organisation, or released other teachings that provide a broader perspective, then these are seen as the official position.Links to His Holiness’s replies to specific questions on this exact situation from the Western Dharma Teachers conference in 1993 have not been shared with the whole sangha. Why not? What do they have to fear from a Lama who says you can speak up without fear of going to vajra hell so long as you keep respect for the person and the good you received?
  5. Denigrating those who are seen as negative and making them feel guilty. The victim blaming continues and is supported by the messages to the sangha from the Lamas mentioned above. One, in speaking about demons and negative forces, virtually demonised those who had spoken up. This has gone as far as dismissing criticism from Lamas previously treated as supporters such as HHDL.
  6. Personal attacks on those who have spoken up or who have supported those who have spoken up have come from all levels of individuals from within the organisation.
  7. Evidence of brainwashing in those who use beliefs as a reason to deny that the attested behaviour constitutes abuse, despite the fact that any normal Westerner has no difficulty assigning that term to the behaviours outlined in the letter.

These points are only those that are easily observable by any student. What is happening at the core of the organisation is, as before, not something the ordinary student knows about. But certainly leaving is not so easy when you are financially dependent on the organisation and important to it.
 

Still a complete lack of concern for those who feel harmed.

There has been no apology and no indication of concern for those who feel harmed, just communications that have clearly been checked by a lawyer in order to protect the organisation and the people involved.
They failed in their duty of care to the people who felt abused and they are still failing now. Remember that nothing official has been said to the Eight from management, no enquiries as to their present well-being. Nothing. The organisation is involved in discussions with members on cultural change, but they are not including those most able to see the problem.
The way Rigpa has acted since they received the letter from the Eight goes a long way to confirming that everything in that letter is real.

Is this a healthy environment for walking the spiritual path?

Rigpa students must decide two things: whether they can in all conscience still receive teachings from SL (Rigpa uses video recordings in their courses) and whether they can stay in a community where senior students use abusive language to threaten and demean those who question, and where upper management are the very people who enabled and covered up the abuse for decades. Such behaviour shows a personal lack of commitment to ethics at the core of the organisation.

Is there still a chance they could turn this around?

Only if those at the centre of the organisation for the last few decades resign and are replaced with people who are willing to apologise.


Be sure to check out the What Now? Reference Material page for 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.
More personal and private support for current and previous students of Rigpa can be found in the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite. Please use the email address you use on Facebook.

 
 

His Holiness the Dalai Lama again mentions Sogyal Rinpoche.

In contrast to the comments by Khenchen Namdrol we discussed in our last post, His Holiness the Dalai Lama during day 1 of his two day teaching on Kamalashila’s “The Middling Stages of Meditation” and Tsongkhapa’s “Concise Stages of the Path to Enlightenment” at Skonto Hall in Riga, Latvia on September 23rd, 2017, again questioned Sogyal Rinpoche’s level of practice (making an unprecedented four times). He was speaking on the qualities of spiritual teachers.
 
Some relevant quotes to provide a context for the mention are as follows:
“The Four Noble Truths are the basis of the basic teachings in the all the teachings of the Buddha and that the teachings of Mahayana, Hinayana on and so forth and so this is how you also should lead your disciples, your students, on the basis of the teaching of the Four Noble Truths. So otherwise the teachings of the Buddha would also be like other traditions where, the other traditions such as the theistic religion say that, if you don’t believe in God you’ll go to hell. It would be similar to that and then we also come across mention of all the different kinds of the hell realms, say eighteen different layers of hell and so forth if you don’t practice well you’ll go to hell and so forth. And so this what these teachings would be like: scaring people without giving them good understanding of their teaching as a whole. “
And later:
“With regard to the teaching of the Dharma we are not telling stories we’re not going through some history or anything like. We are talking about disciplining one’s own minds, taming one’s own minds.

Therefore, someone who claims to be a Dharma teacher, must become tamed themselves.
And therefore, master Tsongkhapa mentioned that, and with regard to taming the mind, you cannot just have anything that it comes across that you come across as a practice, but, you actually should follow the pattern that is found in the general teaching of the Buddha itself.
And so what that means is this one should be actually tamed through the three trainings: – the training of morality – the training of concentration and through – the training of wisdom.
And so master Tsongkhapa’s writings are quite, they’re comprehensive. He says you cannot just have any kind of practice, and any kind of experience, but, you should actually go through the training based on the three trainings, and the general teaching of the Buddha. …
And so a lama must be someone who has all these qualifications mentioned in the Sutra Alamkara in in short the lama must be a learn-ed, as well as experienced. So we have in the Kadam tradition, the scholarly Kadam tradition, studied these texts, the six different texts so such as <lists six texts @ 2:22:45>.
So these must be used as texts for study. Of course you could be really learning, but if you don’t have experience and practice that doesn’t make you a qualified teacher as such, Dharma teacher as such.
And therefore you must be experienced, while being scholarly, learned ones.
And therefore you should also be someone who is learned.
That learning, that scholarship does not actually undermine or kill being disciplined and [having] humility.
So Sogyal Rinpoche was disgraced recently in America. And so he maybe learned, but without any practice and experience of the teaching, therefore, abusing disciples, deceiving them.
And so there were people in Taiwan and other places in Tibet also this happen.”

Khenchen Namdrol's Comments Raise Questions on Rigpa Management's Committment to Change

Khenchen Namdrol speaks at Lerab Ling and takes a dogmatic view that supports existing power structures.

A video of Khenchen Namdrol Rinpoche speaking at the end of his recent teachings in Lerab Ling was uploaded to You Tube on the 23rd of September on an account with no other teachings on it and no name or information about the owner of the account.
In the video he talks about the students who wrote the letter that broke the silence on abuse in Rigpa and gives a narrow view of the instructions on not criticising the teacher – one that is not in accord with His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s advice or the perspective of Mingyur Rinpoche, Matthieu Ricard, Erik Pema Kusang, Venerable Thubten Choden, Dr Alexander Birzin, Rob Preece, Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche, and Jack Kornfield to name a few. (Links to their articles can be found on the Reference Material page)
He does not address the abuse at all, just condemns the letter writers. It’s victim blaming couched in religious terms, the sort of thing one would expect in any fundamentalist religion where those in power have their power base threatened. Make them the bad guys, not the ‘perfect’ guy at the helm.
This indicates to me how ingrained the problem in Tibetan Buddhism is. For all their supposed wisdom, there appears to be, in some of the lamas, a selective blindness or inability to adapt. This viewpoint is what you get if you look for answers/advice in teachings that don’t deal with this situation directly, so he takes the nearest applicable teaching, the ‘you must not criticise your teacher and if you do you’ll go to hell’ line, but it’s the very instruction that allows abusive behaviour in Tibetan Buddhist communities to flourish. And it’s a view that keeps the lamas firmly in their place at the top of their fuedal power structure.

Lack of compassion

What is really striking here is the lack of compassion by this Khenpo and his audience, who cheer enthusiastically at the end. What are they practicing here? Vajrayana Buddhism is based on Great Compassion and Wisdom, yet neither of those are evident in these comments.

Buddhism is not theistic

KN says that demonic forces are at play, even insinuating that they have taken over the students who spoke out about SR’s behaviour, and then he threatens them with hell. Worse, he speaks of hell and demonic forces as if they are intrinsically real and solid. This makes it easy for some to see it as laughable superstition, but students without an understanding of emptiness may take this view at face value, but such a view is not Buddhism.
The wisdom aspect, emptiness, teaches that nothing is real and solid. The same way as in the visualistion practice, the deities that are visualised are not ‘gods’, they are not intrinsically real. The way he speaks here is as if he believes these demonic forces truly exists and have to be fought and overcome. But are these demonic forces not our own obscurations and obstacles, and are they not supposed to be brought onto the path and seen as not truly existing?
And if they exist, and if the people who signed the letter are in the wrong, as per his point of view, and if they have been overtaken by demonic forces, do they not deserve compassion? True compassion! Not this accusatory way of speaking and solidifying the negativity that has already been directed at them. This is literal demonising!

A damaging statement that solidifies the schism & alienates students

Conveniently neglecting to consider that the cause is the abusive behaviour, not those who spoke up about it, he mentions the schism in the sangha, but he has unwittingly made the situation worse by solidifying some of the ideas that caused the schism in the first place. Hearing this, and particularly if they take it as Rigpa management’s view, may turn some students away, not just from Rigpa but from Tibetan Buddhism entirely.
He (and other Lamas with this view) may be able to teach dharma but it appears that he has little understanding of general Western sensibilities and clearly has no understanding of the dynamics of abuse and of how harmful victim blaming is, not just to those who have been harmed but also to healing the whole situation from all angles.
All his opinion does is reaffirm the power structures in the religion to the detriment of students with genuine grievences.  This is the sort of thing we have to call the Tibetan Lamas out on, but since the kind of reform required will need the lamas to give up a large portion of their power, that level of change will not happen easily – and unfortunately, this statment makes it clear that it will not happen at all in some lama’s communities.
Which brings us to the topic of change.
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Does this narrow view reflect Rigpa management’s stance?

This video came from a restricted retreat, so who put this opinion on You Tube where already over 1000 people have viewed it? Since as a restricted teaching only a few people at the core of the organisation would have access to this video, are we to presume that it is an official or unofficial statement? If so, how can we have any trust that Rigpa will make the wide sweeping changes needed to make it and Tibetan Buddhism a relevant vehicle for Buddhism the West? Or is this an indication that Rigpa and Tibetan Buddhism will become merely another religion full of superstision and dogma. If so, what a shame. What a wasted opportunity.
The statement was made on a Rigpa stage during a Rigpa event, but Rigpa management didn’t offer a statement clarifying that it was KN’s opinion that, as an opinion, does not necessarily reflect the view of management. That neglect implies that this is a Rigpa position, and since this has been their position in the past, it would not be a surprise to learn this, only a grave disappointment.
The link was posted on an official Rigpa Facebook group (The All Encompassing Path) but when asked if it was an official Rigpa position, the link was removed. This is a very good sign, but a statement in response to the video being posted is needed to reassure people who are seeking real change, not window dressing.

Can Rigpa management step up and show good faith?

Clearly someone in the upper management takes this stance, or they wouldn’t have ‘leaked’ the video, and such a stance calls into question just how committed they are to the promises they made in their press release on the Lerab Ling Website in which they say: 

“The governing boards and management teams of Rigpa, having sought professional and spiritual advice, will assure that the following steps are taken:

  1. Set up an independent investigation by a neutral third party into the various allegations that have been made.
  2. Launch an international consultation process to establish both a code of conduct and a grievance process for Rigpa.
  3. Establish a new spiritual advisory group to guide the Rigpa organization.”
In order for these changes to be more than an elaborate smoke screen, Rigpa needs to change at the level of how they interpret such instructions as ‘do not criticise your teacher.’ If they are in accord with KN’s statement, then any findings by the investigation are unlikely to bring any real resolution and the code of conduct will not be grounded in real change. And if the new spiritual advisory body is full of lamas with KN’s view, then anyone committed to retaining their wisdom of discernment or cutting Tibetan superstition from the religion might as well leave Rigpa now.

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Does Rigpa want to be associated with religious extremism?

The kind of view where those who speak up are threatened with hell is religious extremism, tantamount to taking the bible as literal truth; is this what Rigpa wants to be known for? If not, then Rigpa management needs to step up and deny any relationship with his statement in order to show good faith and establish themselves as genuinely interested in change.
If you want to see the clip, it’s HERE. Watch from 17:10 for the most relevant part.
The instruction to never criticise the teacher in any circumstances in fear of going to hell as stated by Khenchen Namdrol is simply not a healthy angle to take in 2017 in the West when several Tibetan lamas have proved they can’t be trusted. If our teachers were trustworthy this wouldn’t be an issue.
However, if we take the viewpoint of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Mingyur Rinpoche, Matthieu Ricard, Erik Pema Kusang, Venerable Thubten Choden, Dr Alexander Birzin, Rob Preece, Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche, and Jack Kornfield to name a few,  students would not feel that they must put up with abusive behaviour from lamas in the future.
Rigpa has a choice, and every student that makes up the community has to make this choice, but Rigpa management can lead the way and choose the view that will further the place of Tibetan Buddhism in the West, not diminish it.
So Rigpa management, if any of you read this, will you assure us that you are committed to deep change by distancing yourself from Khenchen Namdrol’s comments? 
Please remember in your comments that the aim of this blog is to bring about change, not destroy Rigpa or Tibetan Buddhism, and that we honor His Holiness the Dalia Lama as one of our guides.

Be sure to check out the What Now? Reference Material page for 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.
More personal and private support for current and previous students of Rigpa can be found in the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite. Please use the email address you use on Facebook.

 

The History of Allegations of Abuse in Rigpa.

Today we’re directing you to another blog about the issue of abuse in Rigpa. The How Did it Happen blog has posted a timeline of all the allegations of abuse over the years. When the historical context is taken into account, we can see that this letter by the Eight is not just an isolated incident.
If you’re not already aware of how long the allegations have been going on, pop over to the blog and take a look. Though nothing has been ‘proved’ in a court of law, there is certainly enough people who have spoken out about this that the situation should no longer be ignored. It needs to be fully dealt with once and for all.
Is Sogyal Rinpoche’s departure from Rigpa and the letter from the Rigpa Holding Group outlining their new initiatives  (essentially an investigation, more openess and a code of ethics) a resolution for the problem of his behavior or is something else needed?
http://howdidithappen.org/history-abuse-allegations-rigpa/


Be sure to check out the What Now? References page for 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.
More personal and private support for current and previous students of Rigpa can be found in the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite. Please use the email address you use on Facebook.
 

Dr. Alexander Berzin on Issues in Relating to a Spiritual Teacher: Part 1.

The importance of understanding

Many factors come together to create a situation where abusive behaviour can occur and can continue to occur and be covered up for forty years. In a Tibetan Buddhist community, cultural differences in student expectations and understanding of the student teacher relationship is a big factor, as is how the community understands some core Vajrayana concepts. In the next few posts I want to share information from Dr Alexander Berzin that might deepen our readers’ understanding of these factors.
I believe that only by understanding the situation fully can we find the way out of this mess of distortion that will likely do more to destroy Buddhism in the West than anything else. After all, abuse is illegal in the West, so how can any organistion who believes that behaviour recognised as abuse by the majority of the Western population is acceptable possibly survive long term? Even if they have removed the abuser from their role in the organisation, for so long as the misunderstandings that led to the situation are propagated, the same thing can happen again elsewhere.

Introducing Dr Berzin

In order to gain this understanding, I turn to Dr. Alexander Berzin (1944 – present), a Buddhist translator, teacher, scholar and practitioner with more than 50 years of Buddhist experience. After receiving his Ph.D. at Harvard, Dr. Berzin spent 29 years in India training under the guidance of some of the greatest Tibetan masters of our times. There he served as occasional interpreter for H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama and His tutors.

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He is the founder and author of the Berzin Archives and studybuddhism.com and author of many books including Relating to a Spiritual Teacher: Building a Healthy Relationship. Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2000; Second reprint, Wise Teacher, Wise Student: Tibetan Approaches to a Healthy Relationship. Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2010. It is this book that provides the basis of the next few blog posts. Find out more about him here. https://studybuddhism.com/en/dr-alexander-berzin/who-is-alexander-berzin 
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This book provides an in depth look at the student teacher relationship from the perspective of all the different schools of Tibetan Buddhism. It is the best source I have found so far in that the author understands both the Western perspective and has a deep understanding of Tibetan Buddhism. He is aware of the pitfalls Western students fall into and gives clarifications so that we can avoid these pitfalls and common misunderstandings.
The whole book is free on his website. It starts on this page https://studybuddhism.com/en/advanced-studies/lam-rim/student-teacher-relationship/factors-affecting-a-relation-with-a-spiritual-teacher and if you go to the bottom of the page it shows links to the next parts of the book.  Or you can purchase a Kindle copy HERE It’s also available in paperback.
In these posts I will share some main points on the different chapters and direct you to the relevant chapter, but if you want to read the whole thing, I think it would be most beneficial.

Is there something wrong with the religion or is it how we understand it that is wron?

If you are feeling that there is something seriously wrong with the whole Tibetan Buddhist system, this series of posts may reassure you that the religion is not the problem here, rather it is cultural and psychological differences, a misunderstanding of the religion, and a hijacking of it in the service of one individual.
If you are one of those who are determined to prevent this happening again in any Buddhist organisation, you will find Berzin’s words provide a vital understanding of the dynamics at play

The Factors Affecting a Relation with a Spiritual Teacher

He starts with a look at The Factors Affecting a Relation with a Spiritual Teacher. Click the link to read the full chapter.
In this chapter, he covers the following points:

  • The modern Western situation for studying with a spiritual teacher is completely different from the traditional Asian one;
  • Dangers are exacerbated, in the case of the Tibetan tradition, by texts on “guru-devotion.” The audience for such texts was committed monks and nuns with vows, needing review in preparation for tantric empowerment. The instructions were never intended for beginners at a Dharma center.
  • He introduces a nontraditional scheme (that is not included in the book) for analyzing and problem-solving the issue, suggested by and expanded from the work of the Hungarian psychiatrist Dr. Ivan Boszermenyi-Nagy, one of the founders of family therapy and contextual therapy. Here he looks at the aims and expectations of the relationship for each party, the roles and level of committment they take, and the psychological factors affecting the relationship.
    This would be an excellent model for Rigpa to use when looking into any issue a student has with a teacher.
    Then he asks: “Do they student and teacher together form:

    • A good or bad team
    • A team in which both bring out the best abilities in each other or which hinders each other’s abilities
    • A team which wastes each other’s time because of different expectations
    • A team in which a hierarchic structure is maintained and in which the student feels exploited, controlled and thus inferior (reinforcing low self-esteem), and the teacher feels him or herself to be the authority and superior – note that what one side feels may not correspond to what the other feels
    • A team in which one or both feel inspired or drained.”

    Cultural and historical perspectives and the Rise of Confusion

    The second chapter, The Rise of Confusion in the Student-Teacher Relationship, Berzin explores cultural differences and historical aspects that contribute to confusion about the student- teacher relationship.
    This brilliant run down of cultural and historical factors helped me to understand why abuse could happen in a Tibetan Buddhist context. It also shows that the issues go far beyond what can be fixed with a code of conduct. We will have to be much bolder than that if we are to turn this debacle into something that will benefit rather than destroy the dharma.
    Berzin concludes:
    “The recurring misconduct has led some Dharma practitioners to become indifferent. No longer believing in anyone, many find their spiritual practice has weakened and become ineffective. Resolution of the problems and a healing of wounds are desperately needed so that sincere seekers may get on with the work of spiritual development. The student-teacher relationship as understood and developed in the West needs re-examination and perhaps revision.”

  • Be sure to check out the What Now? References page for 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.
    More personal and private support for current and previous students of Rigpa can be found in the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite. Please use the email address you use on Facebook.