Is Vajrayana Buddhism a Cult Religion? Part 2

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

Feudalism

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

Complete obedience

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

Silencing dissent

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

The ultimate red flag cult indicator for vajrayana

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

Conclusion

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


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

Trust, Communication and an invitation from An Olive Branch

Ordinary people

It must be frustrating for those in Rigpa who organise the initiatives and write the communications to have everything they do viewed critically, and publically. Of course, if I and those I speak for had a voice inside Rigpa, I wouldn’t have to do it publically, but for the moment, this is the only voice many of us have.
It’s easy to forget that those doing all the work are ordinary people with jobs and families who are doing their Rigpa work for free in their spare time, so things move more slowly than people like me would like. I don’t doubt that they are doing their best, as we all are. I also suspect that most of the people engaged in this debate over unacceptable lama behaviour are working to protect the dharma. We just have different ideas of what that protection entails; for some it means sticking rigidly to every instruction ever passed down, even if it’s potentially damaging to student’s health, and for others it’s stepping outside of the provisional meaning of instructions on things like samaya and pure perception, examining the definitive meaning and, with that understanding, interpreting it for the modern world. Luckily His Holiness the Dalai Lama and other lamas have done that already, so no one has to make it up.

Working together?

Wouldn’t it be great if those working for the protection of the dharma and the future of the vajrayana in the West could work together rather than in opposition? Couldn’t we find a solution that is true to vajrayana and also healthy for students? Certainly it’s what I want. No one has to impose their views on others, we just have to be willing to find a solution that has a place for all views and is a healthy environment for everyone. Together we could re-brand Rigpa into an organisation with many options for how students interpret certain teachings rather than a one view, one lama organisation it is at present.

Change

Sogyal Rinpoche has often said that the cultural aspects of Tibetan Buddhism must be stripped away if it is to flourish in the West, but that it isn’t something that can be done quickly, so to assume that those running Rigpa are not aware of the necessity of real change is likely a misperception, but until we see action that indicates a willingness to change on a deep level – like having discussions with Mingyur Rinpoche and His Holiness the Dalai Lama or making a statement that individual lamas’ points of views, even those advising the Vision Board, do not reflect any ‘Rigpa policy’– we have no indication that any deep discussion on interpretations of samaya, pure perception, and so on are taking place or will take place in the future. From outside and from the point of view of an ordinary student all we see is what Rigpa does, not what they think or what they are discussing. If there was more communication misperceptions as to their motives and thinking would be avoided.
Negative perceptions may also be solidified, of course—that’s the risk of communication—but if one is speaking face to face or via video call, then people can clarify and discuss points of conflict in a way that, simply because they are being discussed, will garner greater understanding from all sides. Those who have managed to speak to people in management in Australia and the USA have discovered a greater openness than expected, but frustration continues when the openness is not reflected in action or initiatives fall short of expectations. Such falling short could be avoided if people like those in the What Now? Facebook group were consulted as part of the process. The criticism could then happen privately, and those involved, even if they don’t like the results, would at least understand the reasons for the outcome.

Why is such communication not happening?

Some time ago I suggested instituting a liaison person between the What Now? Group and Rigpa international management, but the suggestion was ignored, and yet, a greater understanding of the issues and discussions behind decisions would most likely result in less of a negative view. I would find it hard to be negative about someone who is actually bothering to talk to me, and, after all, we are all vajra brothers and sisters with a shared past and experience of the teachings.
I suspect that one of the reasons why that suggestion was not taken up, and why I was not allowed to go to the Australian Retreat, was fear that such communication or attendance would result in terrible things being said on the blog, a fear that comes from a lack of trust, which (if the lack of trust is unwarranted) comes from a lack of personal knowledge of the individual involved. If you don’t know a person, if you haven’t spoken to them personally, you don’t know if you can trust them to view your actions in an unbiased way or not. If you speak to them, the trust issue can be discussed and resolved. At the very least you can decide after such discussion whether they are trustworthy or not.
Lack of trust is at the core of the lack of communication and consultation, and reconciliation cannot happen without trust being established first.
The lack of trust, of course, goes both ways.
People who, for good reason, do not trust those running Rigpa view them very critically, and the only way for Rigpa management to change that is to talk to them, to hear what they say and take it into account.  And they must behave in a trustworthy way and understand just why they have lost people’s trust.
Acknowledgment of the harm done, an apology and a promise not to continue in the same way would do the trick!

Can we trust again?

Establishing trust is the challenge, because without trust communication either won’t begin or it will fail, and reconciliation cannot happen without communication based on trust.
Trust
Lack of trust of Rigpa management, of the people who, by their indifference, added to the trauma of abuse victims, is the core reason why every communication is dissected so critically here, and would explain to a large degree why some of the 8 may not participate in the investigation. I’ve personally seen some of Rigpa’s initiatives a lot more positively than it would appear from my blog posts, but I am the voice of those who have experienced abuse first hand, who have born the trauma of betrayal by their lama and of not being cared for by those running Rigpa. They have shared the reasons for their traumatisation, and they tell me how they feel about what they see and read. I hear their voice and speak for them because they have no voice inside Rigpa. Since I only write about what I know about and reflect the opinions of those who talk to me, if Rigpa wants more balanced articles here, they need to share their process with me.
As for trusting me, the primary writer and editor of this blog, I would never share anything divulged in a private conversation without permission.
Openness can only come after trust is established, and in this instance Rigpa is dealing with people whose trust in the lama and the organisation has been completely blown. How can they re-establish trust and institute real communication? An Olive Branch should help with that. And I see no reason why what happens in the USA would not become the model for a similar process in other countries.
Rigpa US employing An Olive Branch for healing and reconciliation is the best chance we have for restoring trust. They have a big job ahead of them, and I wish them well. But what is required to even get it started? Trust. Those harmed will need to find it within themselves to trust An Olive Branch enough to participate.
For some it will be quite a leap of faith to trust anything arranged by Rigpa, but I hope they will set aside any reservations they may have and be part of what, by the very fact that it is being run by An Olive Branch, I see as a genuine attempt at reconciliation.
Of course if you want Rigpa to disappear from the face of the earth, then you will have no interest in healing and reconciliation, in which case, the following is not for you.
Post by Tahlia Newland, editor & author

An Olive Branch Invitation to participate in reconciliation and healing

Here is the letter sent to the US sangha inviting past and present students to be involved. It’s restricted to the US because AOB is not an international organisation, but what happens in the US will have an effect elsewhere and will likely be used as a model for other national management teams to follow.
Please share this invitation with anyone in the US who has left Rigpa and is interested in participating in the healing and reconciliation lead by An Olive Branch.
January 15, 2018
Dear Current and Former Members of the Rigpa US Sangha:
We are writing this letter to introduce ourselves and announce that the Rigpa US Board of Directors has engaged the services of An Olive Branch to support the sangha’s reconciliation and healing in the wake of complaints that have been raised about ethical misconduct on the part of Sogyal Rinpoche. We also want you to know about the ways you can be involved in our work, if you so choose.
On December 19, 2017 a letter from us — similar to this one — was sent to the eight former and current Rigpa members who wrote to Sogyal Rinpoche in July 2017 to share their concerns about his harmful behavior. Portions of our December letter have been shared via social media so you may have already read about our work with your sangha. Our intent in this letter is to provide more detail and also to inform everyone equally.

About An Olive Branch

An Olive Branch was formed in 2011 as a project of the Zen Center of Pittsburgh. Growing out of the need for greater understanding and reduction of ethical misconduct on the part of religious leaders, we provide services to organizations in conflict after a beloved teacher has been accused of misconduct. We promote understanding and healing and work to strengthen organizations’ boards and policies to reduce the likelihood of future misconduct. We have expertise, knowledge of best practices, and standards of excellence for our services. Our consultants have complementary skills related to training, facilitation, governance, and intervention.
Questions about this project or about An Olive Branch may be directed to me, Katheryn Wiedman, Co- Director of An Olive Branch and Project Director for the Rigpa US effort: katheryn@an-olive-branch.org

Timeline

On October 18, 2017 Richard Snow, Treasurer of the Rigpa US Board of Directors, contacted An Olive Branch on behalf of the board. He inquired about our services and asked how we could help with the situation precipitated by the July 14, 2017 letter to Sogyal Rinpoche from eight former and current Rigpa members. The letter detailed four abusive behaviors: 1) “physical, emotional, and psychological abuse of students,” 2) “sexual abuse of students,” 3) “lavish, gluttonous, and sybaritic lifestyle,” and 4) undermining the letter writers’ “appreciation for the practice of the Dharma.”
In Ventura, CA on November 29, 2017 the Rigpa US Board of Directors met with Co-directors of An Olive Branch: Rev. Kyoki Roberts, Dr. Katheryn Wiedman, and Leslie Hospodar. The purpose of the meeting was two-fold: 1) for the Rigpa US board to describe the needs of the US sangha and to ask questions about our services and 2) for An Olive Branch to learn more about the situation within Rigpa and to determine the appropriate services to include in a proposal.
During December, we developed a proposal that includes six elements:
Collaborating with the Rigpa US board to communicate with the sangha regarding our work together
Making recommendations regarding the forthcoming Code of Conduct and Grievance Procedure
Providing a “Listening Post” for individuals who have been harmed
Leading a Community Reconciliation and Healing meeting
Strengthening the organizational structure and board governance

Managing the project.

The proposal was accepted by the Rigpa US board and our two organizations have been working together since December 17, 2017. The scope of this project is limited to current and former members of the Rigpa US sangha as well as the eight individuals who wrote of their concerns in July 2017; the project is designed to respond to the needs of this specific group. Other Rigpa sanghas are continuing to hold their own sangha processes, and look forward to learning from the work of An Olive Branch in the US through the investigation and reconciliation committee.
Three of the elements listed above are of importance to individual current and former members of the US sangha because they involve your participation and thus are the subject of the remainder of this letter:

  • Code of Conduct and Grievance Procedure
  • Listening Post
  • Community Reconciliation and Healing Meeting
  • Code of Conduct and Grievance Procedure

Since August, an international task group has been working to develop a code of conduct and grievance procedure. Rigpa members world-wide have been informed about the process and input has been solicited. The group working on these documents hopes to share a draft with the world-wide sangha in February, 2018.
An Olive Branch is reviewing and providing recommendations on Rigpa US’s draft ethics policy and grievance procedure. Our advice is based on best practices for organizational ethics policies that define acceptable/unacceptable behavior for teachers and students and specifies fair grievance procedures. In the US, boards have a fiduciary responsibility to develop and enforce policies that define clear boundaries that protect both teachers and students in the sangha.

Listening Post

An Olive Branch offers a Listening Post for individuals who have been harmed, providing a way for them to tell their story to a neutral third party and to be heard in a safe, compassionate, and confidential manner. The Listening Post is available to receive the experiences of any current or former Rigpa US sangha member, as well as the individuals who wrote the July 14, 2017 letter, who experienced harm as a result of the actions of Sogyal Rinpoche or other Rigpa teacher(s). The harm may have been direct – such as physical, emotional, sexual, psychological abuse – or indirect – such as guilt from witnessing abuse but not stopping or reporting it, or severe stress related to the situation. Any current or former Rigpa US sangha member who has been harmed may participate in the Listening Post along with letter writers who are not / were not members of Rigpa US.
It is important to us that people who have left the Rigpa US sangha receive the information in this letter so they may participate in the project if they want to. If you know of such individuals, will you please forward this letter to them?
The Listening Post has three objectives: first, and most important, is to provide some measure of relief to people who are hurting; second, is to help respondents formulate any requests they would like to make to Rigpa; and third is to expose the full extent of damage to the fabric of the sangha.
To accomplish the third objective, above, a summary of the information collected via the Listening Post will be reported to the Rigpa US board and later to the sangha during the Community Reconciliation and Healing meeting, described below.
Reporters of harm have the right to remain anonymous; both An Olive Branch and the Rigpa US board respect this right. Names and identifying details of the participants in the Listening Post will be carefully omitted from all reporting, unless requested by an individual reporter.
Current and former Rigpa US sangha members and letter writers who want to participate in the Listening Post should contact Dr. Barbara Gray via email: Barbara@an-olive-branch.org. You may request a private, confidential telephone interview or submit your personal experience via email message and make any requests you may have of the Rigpa US board.

Community Reconciliation and Healing

The Rigpa US board and An Olive Branch will collaborate on the design of a two-day, face-to-face Community Reconciliation and Healing meeting at a date and time to be determined. Members of the Rigpa US sangha and leaders of Rigpa sanghas in other nations will be invited. We currently envision the following components:
 
Led by An Olive Branch, there will be opportunities at the meeting for attendees to:
Hear the summarized information gathered in the Listening Post
Process the events (raise additional concerns, share residual feelings, etc.)
Learn about the new US sangha’s Ethics Policy and Grievance Procedure
Receive training on the misuse of power in spiritual relationships.
 
Led by Rigpa, there will be components such as:
Spiritually-based opening and closing ceremonies
Traditional ceremonies of reconciliation, forgiveness, and peace-making.
Underlying our proposal is the intent to help return the Rigpa US sangha to health and balance. We believe that through working together with open hearts and minds everyone can learn from this situation, strengthen the sangha, and restore peace and stability to the Rigpa community.
Katheryn D. Wiedman, Ph.D. Project Director
Co-director of An Olive Branch



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

True Teachers are Kind: A Second Letter to Sogyal Lakar

I received this letter to Sogyal Lakar today along with permission to post it on this blog. 
“…true teachers are kind, compassionate, and tireless in their desire to share whatever wisdom they have acquired from their masters, never abuse or manipulate their students under any circumstances, never under any circumstances abandon them, serve not their own ends but the greatness of the teachings, and always remain humble. Real trust can and should only grow toward someone who you come to know, over time, embodies all these qualities.”
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, page 134
January 11, 2018
Dear Sogyal Lakar,
We join with many members of the Rigpa sangha, and the greater Buddhist world, who wish that you would explain your actions that we attested to in our July 14, 2017 letter, so that reconciliation and healing can begin.
Our original letter six months ago was to you, our Buddhist teacher, asking for clarification on a number of matters. First, are your sexual relations with many of your female students in accordance with the Dharma? Second, are your physical beatings and emotional abuse of us and other students in accordance with the Dharma? And third, is financing your sybaritic lifestyle by using donations from students in accordance with the Dharma? If those actions are not in accordance with the Dharma, we asked you to refrain from them now and in the future. We expected answers to our questions.
The teachings you have shared in the past thirty years, including writing the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, have benefitted us and so many people around the world. We do not believe that this benefit is an excuse for you to abuse students sexually, emotionally, physically, and financially. Should you choose to explain your actions to us, we will listen to you intently—not through your proxies or other Buddhist teachers. If you concur that your actions have harmed students, we believe the first step towards healing is for you to publicly admit, and apologize, to the many who you have harmed. We are waiting.
Instead of responding to our original questions, it seems that you and Rigpa are engaging in a massive public relations effort to deflect attention from your actions. First you replied to our letter by saying that you were very sorry for our having misunderstood your intentions. You did not deny your actions but deflected blame by implying it was due to our own ignorance.  Rigpa has continued in this vein by promoting Orgyen Topgyal’s comments made in Lerab Ling, Rigpa Paris, and online that our attestations of your behavior guaranteed that we were samaya breakers and bound for the hell realms. Rigpa also released on September 23, 2017 the video of Khenpo Namdrol telling the gathering at Lerab Ling that the eight of us are agents of demonic forces, accused us of the heinous crime of causing schism in the sangha, which is morally equivalent to killing one’s parents, killing an arhat, or drawing the blood of a Buddha.
Then, on December 19, 2017 we received a packet of communication from Rigpa US, Rigpa UK, Rigpa’s law firm Lewis Silkin, and An Olive Branch, requesting our participation in an investigation into the veracity of our attestations, and to respond within 10 days (over the Christmas holiday). In our original letter to you, which is a matter between a teacher and students, we did not include our views on Rigpa, nor on the enablers who supported your abusive behavior. In fact, we took responsibility and apologized in our letter for our own support of you and how it may have harmed others. Our intention with the letter was solely focused on the issue of your behavior that harmed others. We did not expect, nor need any communication from Rigpa or their lawyers because you can speak for yourself.
Three days after we received the packet of communication, Rigpa announced publicly to the greater Rigpa Sangha that we would participate in the so-called investigation and speak to Rigpa’s lawyers. We were neither consulted as to whether we wished to participate with Rigpa’s law firm, nor did we give our consent to said participation. This suggested to us that Rigpa was not intent on truly listening, but instead, managing their public image and in fact saving themselves from scrutiny by legal authorities. Despite all of that, some of us still considered speaking to Rigpa’s lawyers with a hope that it might bring about some kind of healing for Sangha members.
Then, on January 2, 2018 you and Rigpa announced the establishment of a Vision Board to guide Rigpa’s future activity. You said that Orgyen Topgyal guided the decision making, and that Khenpo Namdrol was named as a principal advisor. Relying upon Orgyen Topgyal and Khenpo Namdrol,  following their defamatory remarks about the eight of us, indicates what you and Rigpa think about our motivation and character and the content of the July 14th letter.
Our July 14, 2017 letter stands as an attestation to your sexual, mental, and physical abuse of students and misuse of donations for the Dharma.
We regret that neither you, nor Rigpa’s leaders, have acknowledged the abuse and trauma that you have caused, so that deep healing can begin. We hope that you and Rigpa will reconsider your approach and be truthful and act in accordance with the Buddha’s teachings.
In the spirit of transparency and to avoid confusion and misinformation, we will share this letter with various people who have expressed an interest regarding these matters. Regarding our communication with Rigpa, Lewis Silkin, and An Olive Branch, they will be receiving a letter shortly.
We deeply regret the necessity of our letters. We, like so many others, have seen greatness in you. We pray that you can live up to the level of integrity of which we know you are capable. Please take responsibility for your actions and begin the path to healing. Please seek the counsel of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and mend this stain on your reputation that is causing so many to lose faith in you, the lineage, and the noble Dharma.
We were sad to hear of your ill health and hope you recover completely so that you can fully enter your retreat.
Signed,
Michael Condon
Gary Goldman
Matteo Pistono
Graham Price
Sangye
Joanne Standlee
Mark Standlee


Note that an Olive Branch has not reached out to any of the 8 as yet.

Latest News from Rigpa: How the future looks

Two pieces of news just came out.

Vision Board Announcement

Rigpa has announced it’s Vision Board: Valerie Baker, Mauro
de March, Seth Dye, Patrick Gaffney, Verena Pfeiffer, Philip Philippou and Vinciane Rycroft. These are all long term students, many of whom likely experienced and/or observed the kind of behaviour the 8 attested to in their letter, and some who have actively helped to cover up this kind of behaviour for decades. Instead of their resignation in acceptance of their role in faciliating a culture of abuse, they have been enshrined as leaders of the community.
This Vision Board will be guided by  Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, (who said that once a student had received the pointing out nature of mind instructions “from the Vajrayana point of view, there is nothing wrong with Sogyal Rinpoche’s subsequent actions”) as well as Mindrolling Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche, and Khenchen Namdrol.  The latter is the lama who on the 17th sept 2017 at Lerab Ling suggested that the 8 students had been possessed by demons by saying their letter was “the magical play of non-human entities more than the humans that we are pinning it on” and started the lie that these entities were “Trying to destroy the doctrine. In general Buddhism, in particular Nyingmapa and especially the Rigpa sangha.”  Since that is not the motivation of the 8 letter writers, this man is the source of this lie and responsible for an increase in the malignment of those who had the courage to warn others about what was happening at the core of this organisation.
The communication also said that Sogyal “Rinpoche would continue to teach his students”, and “We all pray that once Rinpoche has recovered and regained his strength, he may continue to teach his students as much as possible.”
And so it appears that nothing has changed. In fact the communication makes it look as if no one ever spoke out about the unethical behaviour at the core of this organisation. This handing over to a team of students is, apparently, all part of SR’s plan and bears no relation to external events. It’s a fine example of gaslighting, of manupulating the devoted into believing that there is no problem. Did the Buddha teach denial of reality? Did he teach that we should cling to beliefs and resist change? Did he teach that honesty, integrity and ethical behaviour were not important? No, he did not.
He taught that impermanence is the nature of reality and that freedom from suffering comes from letting go of attachment, aversion and ignoring what is true. And he taught the importance of ethical behaviour as the basis of the spiritual path.
When Sogyal teaches again, how, I wonder, will he treat his students, these students who apparently see nothing wrong with abusive behaviour?

Legal action from Lerab Ling

http://www.liberation.fr/france/2018/01/02/les-bouddhistes-de-l-herault-de-la-quietude-a-l-inquietude_1620015
125 Lerab Ling members have instructed their lawyer, Jean-Robert Phung, to take action against Jean-Baptiste Cesbron. M. Cesbron is a lawyer from Montpellier who has been collecting testimonies from Ripga and ex-Rigpa students. The 125 Rigpa Lerab Ling members have accused him of defamation for things he said in the the regional daily Midi Libre.
How is this the behaviour of Buddhists? How does it fit with the Mahayana lojong teachings we all learned? Is this right use of money? Spending on lawyers? Is this what ordinary sangha members want?

You might be able to help

If the idea of a man collecting testimonies of abuse being sued by a bunch of Buddhists for saying publically what he discovered appalls you and you saw or experienced abuse at Lerab Ling, especially if it was in the last 5 years, you might be able to help Jean-Baptiste Cesbron in defending the charge of slander.
He is also the one who will assemble the testimony for submission to the Procureur de Montpellier. The sooner he gets information the better.
His email address: jean-baptiste.cesbron@avocat-conseil.fr
Please note: your email can be in English or French, that’s not a problem. Please share this information as widely as you can.
Also don’t forget that the UK Charity Commission is also collecting testimonies. For anyone who wants to send details of their personal experience, or any information they think might be useful, please use the following contact: FAO David Hughes-Jones / Rigpa Fellowship(279315). Email: rccorres1@charitycommission.gsi.gov.uk

But let’s not forget

Before we respond with scorn to behaviour that we may see as not helpful to the long-term benefit of either the students or the dharma, let’s remember that these are just ordinary people struggling with a situation they find incredibly difficult to handle. We expect them to act in a more enlightened fashion because of their Buddhist study and practice, but they are not enlightened, rather they have been indoctrinated for decades to believe that whatever Sogyal does is perfect and that they must remain true to their beliefs about his being a mahaasiddha and silent about his behaviour or they will rot in the worst of hells. They are trapped by their beliefs. Just as we can be trapped by ours if we do not see them for what they are – mere beliefs about reality, not reality itself.
From their perspective they are protecting a way of life. If Lerab Ling and Rigpa fails they will have to find a new way to survive. They know the truth of the letter by the 8; they know that revealing that truth was not a ‘press campaign’ but a message to the sangha; they know their data base was not hacked, since several members of the 8 had legitimate access to it, and they know that they are lying to say it was hacked and to call speaking out a ‘press campaign’ – unless they have repeated the lies so often that they now bellieve them to be truth.  How sad that their path is so fragile that they can throw it out the window to protect a way of life.
Let’s not do the same thing. Let’s live as blameless a life as possible, with as much integrity as we can muster. The truth of the teachings about interdependence, compassion, and love are what brought many of us to the path and what will keep us on the path is to embrace those teachings with all our heart. Let’s show compassion, not scorn, for friends caught in delusion. They don’t want to be going through this any more than any of us do, and they are dealing with it the best they can, just as we are. Let’s send them our best wishes that the cloud of delusion lifts very soon for their sake.
“They who cover themselves with their own corrupt conduct,
Like a creeper covers a tree,
Do to themsleves
What an emeny wishes for them.
“It is easy to do what is not good
And things that harm oneself.
It is very difficult to do
Things beneficial and good.”
The Buddha. Dhammapada, v 162 – 163. Gil Fronsdal translation.

 


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

Investigation Details Released

Merry Christmas!

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

A shift?

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

Or not?

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

Assurances

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

The report

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

A concern

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

The assumption

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


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

Good News – An Olive Branch

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

Community Reconciliation and Healing

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

Is it too late?

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

What about the investigation?

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


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

How Words can be used to Manipulate Your Perception

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

The non-apology

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

Another way of reading that letter

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


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

How word choice can manipulate your perception

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

Adverbs and Adjectives

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

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

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

Feel-good buzz words

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

Words & concepts that can be used to control & silence

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

Is it really manipulation?

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


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

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

What those harmed actually experienced from their trusted teacher.

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

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

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

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

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

The kind of effect their experiences may have had on them

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

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

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

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

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

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

The cost

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

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

What can Rigpa students do to help those harmed?

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

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

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

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

The power of apology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How hard is it to say sorry?

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


Current and previous students of Rigpa wanting private support are welcome to join the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
Ex-Rigpa students and their dharma friends can stay in touch through the Dharma Companions Facebook Group.  
The What Now? Reference Material page has links to a wealth of articles in the topics related to abuse in Buddhist communities. For links to places to assist in healing from abuse see the sangha care resources page.
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Don’t forget about those who were harmed – Retraumatising

Rigpa’s glaringly obvious failure

Many people are appalled at Rigpa management and many Rigpa student’s apparent complete lack of concern for those who have been harmed by Sogyal Rinpoche’s behaviour as outlined in the letter by the 8 students. Rigpa management has not even given those harmed a simple acknowledgement of their pain.
They speak of ‘challenging times’ and ‘allegations against Rinpoche’, words that say how hard this is for the organisation, but nothing that acknowledges the suffering of those many people who have been abused, as represented by the 8 students brave enough to speak out. This is exactly the same behaviour that added to their trauma in the first place.
And yet, those at the top of the organisation must know that these ‘allegations’ are true. It was so much a part of the culture in the ‘upper circles’ that they must have all seen and, most likely, experienced some of it them themselves. We can only surmise that, like their teacher and some other lamas, and unlike the majority of people in the Western world, they do not think the behaviour outlined by the 8 students is wrong. Clearly, they do not wish to take any responsibility for alleviating suffering even when they have the power to do so. Where, one wonders, is the application here of the Buddhism they profess to teach? Where is the compassion they are supposed to have been practicing for years?

Gaslighting and compounding the harm.

Not only do they ignore the Buddha’s teachings on non-violence and ethical behaviour, and the Vajrayana teachings on healing, but also their maintaining the same behaviour that had a role in the original trauma continues in the present to add to the trauma of those harmed. Such things as not admitting that harm has been done to those harmed, blaming them for their supposed ‘lack’ of pure perception and devotion, targeting them with anger and verbal abuse because their speaking up has reflected badly on their lama and their organisation, and, more insidiously, the gaslighting (a form of manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt about the target’s own perception) in every sangha communication.  An example is the last communication from Rigpa international stating that retiring was Sogyal’s plan all along and that he did it now for health reasons. No; he did it because 8 students revealed his behaviour to the sangha.
Over time this gaslighting brainwashes students into believing that there never was a problem because Sogyal’s retirement was all part of the plan, but those who have been harmed, unlike ordinary students, are aware of this technique and it hurts them that it continues. And who taught it to those at the top of the power tree in Rigpa? A master of the technique.
All those who think Sogyal Rinpoche did nothing wrong use beliefs like weapons in the same way they used them to cover up the abuse for decades and to not take any complaints seriously enough to actually resolve the issue with those who have been harmed. Their initiatives since the letter have all been a subtle cover up, making it look like they’re solving the problem, while their actions actually only add further to the suffering of those already harmed by their teacher.
This is called re-traumatising. Perhaps the very worst thing one can do to an abused person is to pretend it didn’t happen and to look the other way. For all their fine words, Rigpa is very good at that.

Trauma

“Trauma is defined by the American Psychological Association (APA) as the emotional response someone has to an extremely negative event. While trauma is a normal reaction to a horrible event, the effects can be so severe that they interfere with an individual’s ability to live a normal life. In a case such as this, help may be needed to treat the stress and dysfunction caused by the traumatic event and to restore the individual to a state of emotional well-being.”
… “It is also possible to sustain trauma after witnessing something from a distance.” https://www.psychguides.com/guides/trauma-symptoms-causes-and-effects/
So even those not actually abused themselves, can be traumatised by watching someone else be abused.
Domestic abuse is commonly listed as a cause for trauma and is the closest form of abuse in terms of the psychological dynamics and kinds of behaviours involved to the situation in Rigpa and other similar organisations. Where an abused person is not cared for, or listened to, by others in the family or spiritual organisation, their trauma is worsened, their suffering increased needlessly.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse in Australia were scathing in their report on the inadequacy of the Catholic Church’s response to allegations of abuse. They found a culture of secrecy and failures in the church’s structure and the reason for their inadequacy is the same as it is for Rigpa—”It is apparent that the avoidance of scandal, the maintenance of the reputation of the church and loyalty to priests alone determined the response.” http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-12-06/royal-commission-report-on-ballarat-archdiocese/9231832
The report stated: “That failure led to the suffering and often irreparable harm to children, their families and the wider community. …
“That harm could have been avoided if the Church had acted in the interests of children.”
Replace the word ‘children’, with ‘students’ and ‘the Church’ with ‘Rigpa’ and the sentiments fit embarrassingly well. The difference is that the Catholic Church has seen the error of its ways, unlike Rigpa who has not taken any responsibility for their role in harming these students.

Retraumatisation

“Retraumatization is a conscious or unconscious reminder of past trauma that results in a re-experiencing of the initial trauma event. It can be triggered by a situation, an attitude or expression, or by certain environments that replicate the dynamics (loss of power/control/safety) of the original trauma.” http://www.socialworker.com/feature-articles/practice/preventing-retraumatization-a-macro-social-work-approach-to-trauma-informed-practices-policies/
So Rigpa’s continuing use of the same modes of behaviour that contributed to the trauma in the first place have the potential to retraumatise those harmed: for example, management’s continual refusal to take any responsibility, their disregard for the well-being of those harmed, and their apparent pretence that nothing is wrong. The employment of lawyers to undertake the investigation can feel like an intimidation tactic, and all of this makes someone who has been harmed by these kinds of tactics, to feel retraumatised.

The impact of trauma on a community

“Trauma is something that has an impact on communities, not just individuals. A community – be it a geographic one, an organizational one, or an identity-based one – can respond in various ways, from ignoring the trauma to offering support, respect, and collaborative action. A community can be retraumatized too.    http://www.socialworker.com/feature-articles/practice/preventing-retraumatization-a-macro-social-work-approach-to-trauma-informed-practices-policies/
All Rigpa students who find the behaviour outlined in the letter abhorrent may be traumatised to some degree, and re-traumatisation can be “triggered by a situation, an attitude or expression, or by certain environments that replicate the dynamics.” Yes, Rigpa is doing an excellent job of re-traumatising everyone, including those who are responding to the trauma by denying the abuse ever happened.
Article by Tahlia Newland.
The second part of this examination, what those harmed actually experienced and how we can help them now, will be posted soon.


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

Credit where credit is due

Folk wisdom is wisdom passed down through families sometimes from unknown sources; one such piece of wisdom I was brought up with was ‘Credit where credit is due’. This reminds us not to forget the good people have done or are trying to do, even if they have also behaved badly. So, with this bit of wisdom in mind, just in case those folk who are trying to forge ahead with Rigpa think that all we do on this blog is criticise, I thought it prudent to do a post that supports those people and initiatives that deserve it. While we wait for news on who is doing the investigation, what its scope, aims and jurisdiction are, let’s not forget that Rigpa has at least promised an investigation. It could have been worse. Only time will tell how meaningful the gesture will be. We also have a code of conduct being worked on and a new advisory body being chosen. Positive changes are happening inside the organisation. They aren’t moving fast enough or going deeply enough for some, but they are happening.

Expectation and disappointment

When our expectations are high, our disappointment and criticism can be correspondingly great, and in a situation with great potential for moving Tibetan Buddhism forward in a healthy way in the West, it’s no wonder that there is disappointment when those who really want to see that development feel that the change is not going deep enough. Criticism is helpful when it is constructive, and I hope the criticism of Rigpa management that we post here can be seen as constructive – sometimes it is hard to keep the tone moderate – but I can see that it may be quite disheartening if those doing their best to institute change, care for present students, and communicate with the wider community feel that their initiatives are being too rigorously criticised or disregarded. So in this blog I’d like to encourage them and honour them.

Keeping Communication Alive

I would like to personally acknowledge the few people within Rigpa who are actually communicating with me. Some I have emailed and they never responded, which I think is very sad, but I have a few people at national or international level who do still talk to me. We don’t talk much, but they do respond politely to my emails or messages, and if they ask questions, I answer. We respect each other’s views (and avoid going there) and I think we all understand that this situation is difficult for everyone. Their communication helps me to remember that there is no ‘they’, just ordinary people doing their best to help an organisation they believe in to survive a crisis. And I hope they understand that I am an ordinary person doing my best to care for those uncared for by Rigpa in the past and to provide a space where they and those outside the organisation can express their views and perhaps have an impact on the way events unfold. If you are reading this, thank you.
A previous post talked about the unskilful behaviour of some members of Rigpa, so I think it only prudent to remind everyone that those were generalisations and certainly did not apply to all members of Rigpa or Rigpa management. There really is no single thing that is Rigpa. It is made up of individuals. However, there is a team at the top that makes final decisions, so in the end, the buck does stop with them, and that’s why our critical pieces refer to Rigpa management, not Rigpa. Even within that group, however, we must remember that they may not be in agreement on certain things. Nouns are merely labels we must use in order to communicate.
Though still no one from Rigpa International management has approached any of the 8—not even just to see how they are—someone in the US management, entirely on his own behalf (not as part of any push from management), has communicated with four of the Eight letter signators in recent weeks. Never discount the actions of one person. Positive actions and kindness, no matter how small, can have enormously beneficial results. They spread like ripples in a pond.

Code of Conduct Workshops

Despite the workshops’ limited format, undoubtably there are some well-meaning and good hearted people doing their best to actually listen to people and collate their feedback into the code of conduct which is also supposed to bring in cultural change. These people are unpaid and giving huge amounts of their time to visit centres and give the sessions on what to keep and what to abandon in Rigpa. All credit to them and their commitment to the organisation.
One person working on the cultural change aspect of the code of conduct even agreed to take feedback from members of the What Now? Facebook group who had left Rigpa via Skype calls for small groups in Australia, USA and UK/Europe.  This person was open and caring enough to give her time to allow those who are most disenchanted with the whole situation to add their opinions to the process. Though not everyone was happy with the results, one member commented to me that if this person were running Rigpa, things really could change for the better. Unfortunately she is only one person, and she is not running Rigpa.
The point here, however, is that every Rigpa member who can show genuine openness and concern for others to the extent that they reach out with respect for others views (without trying to change them) changes the perception of those who might otherwise label ‘Rigpa’ in a poor light. Just as the poor behaviour of some reflects badly on ‘Rigpa’, so the positive behaviour of some reflects well and gives people hope that not all is lost.

Kudos to the German and Dutch sanghas

One initiative undertaken by both the German and Dutch sangha that merits a mention is the establishment of a drop box in which they placed articles and video’s and then sent a link to it to their whole sangha. Included in it are Mingyur Rinpoche’s article, two of HHDL video’s where he speaks of the Sogyal Rinpoche or Rigpa, as well as links to this blog and the How Did it Happen blog. DzKR’s Facebook post in response to the matter and the video in which Khenchen Namdrol speaks about samaya are also in it. Reports are that the included material is very balanced and not biased. Germany goes a step further in that they include letters and texts by individual Rigpa students who wanted their views and feelings shared with the whole sangha. These are indications that those running these sanghas are happy to allow students access to all relevant information and allow them to make up their own minds on the issues this scandal raises.
Unsurprisingly given these initiatives, feedback from students in these sanghas indicates that there is a more welcoming attitude to those with different views than in other countries, even to the extent of once providing a separate session for those who didn’t want to watch a teaching by SR. In other countries students wanting to return to Rigpa or even visit for a particular meeting have been turned away either abruptly or more subtly.

Ordinary students who keep asking the difficult questions

Though many students have left in disgust, leaving a greater percentage of people in Rigpa who apparently don’t care about ethical behaviour than those who do care, some students deeply concerned about all the issues shared in this blog do remain students so they can observe progress, continue to hold groups and care for others and to contribute to positive change. Each time one of them asks a question that those running groups would rather no one asked, or remind them that there has still been no acceptance of responsibility for the care of those harmed and so on, they break through the stupor of other students in the group who have been soothed (brainwashed?) into thinking everything is now fine. Everything is not fine, and I applaud those who remain in order to remind them of that. Don’t stop asking your questions. And please refer people to this blog, the categories on The Root of the Problem is particularly full of the sort of thing Rigpa students need to be aware of.

The man himself

I almost forgot the man at the core of this debacle. For me it’s important to give Sogyal Rinpoche or Lakar or whatever you want to call him credit for the great benefit he has brought to me personally and to many other people. That does not, of course, excuse his behaviour in any way, but I think it is something that we should not forget, for our sake. Despite his apparent limitations, he did introduce a lot of us to the noble dharma, and if we consider it was all a waste of time, we’re cutting ourself off from the benefit. Look for the benefit and you will find what’s worth holding onto.
You could compare denying the benefit gained to someone discarding everything they learned from a brilliant physics professor because they discovered he wasn’t a nice person. People can be brilliant in one area and really bad in another area, particularly in personal relationships. Credit where credit is due does not mean white-washing the bad, just recognising how things actually are.

Not in opposition

I regularly check my motivation and I find that the bottom line for me, as it is for any Mahayana Buddhist, is the desire to help bring beings to enlightenment. Those in Rigpa management are, I expect, aiming to do the same thing. They are just approaching it from a different perspective. In the end we are all just playing different roles in the same drama, a drama from which a great deal of good has already come, and I pray it may result in a renaissance for Tibetan Buddhism in the West, a renaissance that leaves the feudal structures and lama-centric dictates behind. That renaissance is unlikely to come from within Rigpa as I had initially hoped, but the ripples from this revelation will have an effect that goes beyond whatever Rigpa may do.
Keep up the good work everyone.
Post 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.
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