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.

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.


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?

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.


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 
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.


HH the Dalia Lama Mentions Rigpa again.

On the 6th of Sept 2017 at his residence in Dharamshala, His Holiness mentioned Rigpa in a talk to some students from the University of California. Among other things he said that “If [institutions] use name of Dharma [for] exploitation, they, themselves, not properly practised  Dharma, including some Tibetan Lama.”
It’s short, so doesn’t take much time to watch.
A viewer made the following transcript:
“In the west when I use the word ‘secular’ some of my friends say secular means a little bit negative towards religion. You see, it’s understandable, during the French revolution and the Bolshevik revolution in Russia there is some sort of tendency [of a] negative attitude towards religion. That actually is not religion, but religious institution. Religion, real religion, means love. Even animal[s] appreciate love. So nobody can [be] against religion, or love. But, you see, these institution[s], frankly speaking, I think [in] many cases religious teachers or religious spiritual leaders or institution[s], frankly speaking, in some cases [are] rotten. [HHDL puts his tongue out]
So, it’s worthwhile to [HHDL makes a fist] against these things. During French Revolution, before that, the elite, or kings or queens, elite people very much related with religious institution. So, they got benefit from these group[s] so automatically they support them. So, when people really suffer due to exploitation, then people should develop courage in order to topple that institution. They also need courage to [go] against religious institution. Isn’t it? What do you think?
Now recently in Haryana some problems, now you know [HHDL points towards audience]. So the Dharma, if [institutions] use name of Dharma [for] exploitation, they, themselves, not properly practised Dharma, including some Tibetan Lama also like that. Now recently in America, Rigpa, you may [have] heard Rigpa Dharma Centre, the leader, I know him. Now recently one open letter, or against, full of criticism about that person. So, therefore, religious institution quite often, you see, spoilt, not caring [about] the real sort of message of religion, but rather use the name of religion, religion used [as an] instrument for exploitation. So French Revolution and Russian Bolshevik Revolution, some tendency against religion because of that.
So, when I say ‘secular’ some of my friend[s] have a little sort of reservation. But in this country [India] secular means respect [for] all religion and also, I think, one unique thing is according [to the] Indian concept of secularism, secular [is also] respect [for] non believer.”

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.


Help for Students Processing the Attestations of Abuse in Rigpa

The attestations by 8 long term close students of Sogyal Rinpoche that he had emotionally, physically and sexually abused students over a period of many years rocked the Rigpa community.  Early posts in this blog gave an indication of the kinds of issues students faced and how some managed the shocking revelations of abuse in Rigpa, but though some have found a level of equanimity about the situation, others are still struggling to come to terms with it. At the core of their struggle are the teachings on devotion and pure perception that don’t sit comfortably with humanitarian ethics and the behaviour of their teacher. Though many found statements by Tibetan Lamas helpful, their understanding of their Western students and what they are going through is limited simply because they have never been a Western student.
Venerable Thubten Chodron the abbess of Sravasti Abbey in the USA, however, was a Western student (of Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa), and she is now a teacher. She has given a series of talks in response to the attestations of abuse in Rigpa that many students have found really helpful in processing the revelations. It clear from her talks that she understands exactly what students are going through and the misunderstandings Westerners tend to have on certain aspects of the teachings.
The What Now? team highly recommend watching the following teachings




Here are the links to the videos on You Tube
When things fall apart. https://youtu.be/WxucVpOV2FY
How could it happen: https://youtu.be/njY9kwgOXpA
Confusion in Tantra: https://youtu.be/b88r4NdHZVU
What it means to see the teacher as a Buddha: https://youtu.be/H9UVSw-OnDU

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.

Is It Really the Nature of Mind?

Translator, Author, and Buddhist Teacher, Erik Pema Kunsang has provided important clarifications on the meaning of root guru, the nature of mind, and samaya in his article, Club Nondualité.
First, Kunsang clarifies that a root guru is not automatically the teacher who gives you refuge. He further explains that a root guru is not necessarily a teacher from whom you’ve received an empowerment or even the introduction to the nature of mind, if it has been given in a large crowd.
Continue reading “Is It Really the Nature of Mind?”

Process and the Belief at the Core of the Problem


The Good and the Bad

Though I will always love Sogyal Rinpoche (just as I love my child regardless of any poor behaviour she may exhibit) and honour the benefit I have gained from my association with him, the more first-hand accounts I hear from people who have found themselves harmed by their association and those within his ‘inner circle’, the more difficult it is to accept that the good this spiritual teacher has done outweighs the bad. Sometimes, it seems to me that the only ones that have benefitted from his despicable/enlightened (choose which word choice suits you best) behaviour are therapists and psychiatrists.
However, regardless of how you see his qualifications as a teacher, we cannot deny that he did introduce a great many people to Buddhadharma, the teachings of which are a huge benefit to all who hear them.
Continue reading “Process and the Belief at the Core of the Problem”

Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche On the Situation in Rigpa

On the 15th of August, Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse wrote an article on his Facebook page about the situation in Rigpa, called “Guru and Student in the Vajrayana.” His approach to the topic was, as expected, the same as what he expressed in The Guru Drinks Bourbon, that you have to be careful in choosing your lama, but once you have received empowerments from him you must see him as a Buddha, do whatever he tells you to and see everything he does as enlightened action.
On my first, rather quick, reading I saw nothing new or particularly helpful there for someone who didn’t know what his or her lama was until after they had taken them as their teacher, and I felt that Dzongsar Khyentse was somewhat confused himself.
Continue reading “Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche On the Situation in Rigpa”

Mingyur Rinpoche Clarifies Ethics in the Student-Teacher Relationship

Mingyur RinpocheMingyur Rinpoche has provided important clarifications about the role of ethics in Buddhism and in particular, about ethics in the student-teacher relationship in a recent Lion’s Roar article published on August 9th. In the introduction to the article, he says,   “The one time people ask me about ethics is when scandals or controversies happen in Buddhist communities.”
He answers critical questions in this piece, ones plaguing the minds of many Rigpa students, including whether it’s okay to leave a teacher and how to do so, how to respond when a teacher appears to be committing serious ethical violations, and how to differentiate between “crazy wisdom” and abuse.
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche is a master of the Karma Kagyu and Nyingma lineages of Tibetan Buddhism.  Sogyal Rinpoche holds him in the highest regard, and once asked him to guide his students in the future. In his letter to the Rigpa sangha, penned after allegations of abuse surfaced, Sogyal Rinpoche said he would especially seek advice from Mingyur Rinpoche.
Continue reading “Mingyur Rinpoche Clarifies Ethics in the Student-Teacher Relationship”