Shamatha as Visual Art

In response to my request for artwork that expresses one’s spiritual journey or awareness, artist William C. Johnson, sent in this pencil piece inspired by his Shamatha practice. It may not be the kind of image you’d usually associate with meditation – no cliched sunrises and lotus flowers here – but spend some time sitting with it and allow the imagery to wash over you before reading William’s commentary on the piece below the image. Regardless of what we see or don’t see in it, as an artist myself, I know that the act of drawing it in pencil is meditation. Meditation that produces a physical result.

Bill says of this work:

You will no doubt recognize the transliteration for the Tibetan shinay (Tib. ཞི་གནས༽ or shamatha. My pieces sometimes blur the distinction between inside (the body) and outside (the body). Sometimes I create an exterior with some references to the internal channels and chakras. So, the vertical conduit pipe running top to bottom is the central channel. There is a distortion of the pipe with some bends there midway.

If you look closely, you will notice the Tibetan word for “blockage.” Not meant to be taken literally, but to suggest that anyone delving deeply into shamatha practice will encounter obstacles to their practice as things get dredged up from the substrate. The hint of a ladder suggests movement up through the nine stages and is a positive symbol. The striped pole references the two qualities necessary to attain shamatha, viz.,  mindfulness and introspection. Or more loosely, single-pointed concentration.

The plumb bob is a stand-in for what is exactly true (our true nature, emptiness, finding emotional and mental balance or well-being). The small sliding door below and to the left of the plumb bob, which is slightly open, portends a glimpse into the true nature of the mind. Sometimes I will reference this by creating a window or portal looking out onto a night sky full of stars. Space and Dharmakaya are infinite.

What did you get out of this piece?


Oh, and don’t forget, if you dabble in art in any capacity or variety, I’d love to post it here, so please send photos of it to tahlia (at) beyondthetemple.com

When will my goodbye come? – Contemplative Poetry

pond

This morning I went for a swim in the rain, then I wrote what I guess you could call a piece of contemplative poetry. I share it, not because it is anything special, but because it’s not. I want to celebrate the ordinary, the freedom of not trying to be anything, of not seeking, not chasing after peace or enlightenment or anything else, just being me – whatever that is. Not knowing is fine. Not defining anything is fine. Everything is fine, even when it’s not.

Here’s my poetic contemplation:

When will my goodbye come?
When will be the last moment my eyes look upon this beauty?
This fresh green;
This velvet water.
Caressing my skin as the cicadas sing.

So fleeting is my life,
My stewardship of this land with which I am one;
All that I have built;
All that I have nurtured;
One day I must say my final farewell.

I do not know when;
Be it soon or later, this moment is all I have;
The birds chirping;
The gentle falling rain;
I greet you with gratitude for the gift of this moment.

These photos are of my garden. It’s what I looked at as I wrote. Yes, I am truly blessed to live somewhere so beautiful.

If you have any artistic expressions in words or photos that you’d be willing to share, please send them to me at tahlia (a) beyondthetemple.com. (Replace the a in brackets with the usual email form. I write it this way so bots can’t grab the email address.) I think we all have something to contribute from our own experience, something that will resonate with others living beyond the temple.

3 Years After the Fall: How Do You Feel Now?

The letter written by 8 students detailing Sogyal Rinpoche’s abuse of his students was sent to the Rigpa Sangha in July 2017. Three years on, we can look back with some distance. I contemplated my feelings in this video, but I’d like to hear how you all are feeling these days? What are you up to now? What do you think/feel about all that has happened? What do you see for your future?

Featured image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

We don’t want to Hear About Abuse, but What is the Price of Denial?

A guest post by Ayya Yeshe

What is the cost to Buddhism if we turn away from survivors and try to keep Buddhist hierarchies and our faith intact in the #metoo age?

None of us want to wake up each day and hear about more teachers that have been accused of abusing their students (mostly women). None of us want to engage in the in-fights as we see groups of those who support survivors of abuse, those who think we should be silent and those who choose to defend their teachers attack each other. None of us want to have to question the system of faith that brought us so much benefit. None of us want to hear a very powerful lama say that his students should visualize a teacher accused of molesting multiple women and abuse as a Buddha. Very few of us want to hear that the manager of a large centre decided to throw out a monk who instigated a report against an abusive lama out of a puja. We don’t want to hear that male managers of large European dharma centres are trolling respected female journalists who simply did their jobs in exposing abuse. Most of us don’t want to see 12 powerful lamas praising a deceased lama and known abuser and bypassing his abuse and the pain and trauma of his many victims.

Abusers don’t work alone

Seeing people in power behave this way, it’s clear that abusers don’t work alone. They are supported by systems of enablers that shore up their power. Another name for this system is patriarchy – a system that ensures male privilege and power. In the case of Tibetan Buddhism, it ensures that most of the power remains in the hands of a small racial group of males from noble or well-educated and wealthy Tibetan families or those propped up by that system of privilege. That does not mean that the lineage does not have good to offer. But it does show that all too often absolute power corrupts.

Its horrifying when you realise that men you’d seen as compassionate and awakened deny the testimonies of rape survivors and disparage open and scientific means of investigation in favour of protecting those in power. It’s a field of landmines. It’s easier just to turn away. No one wants to have to see the shadow side of their own faith. No one wants to watch the inevitable clash of cultures.

The price of turning away

But think of the price of turning away; of not holding abusers accountable; of not questioning people who kill the messenger rather than acknowledge the ugliness of the violence unleashed by the abusers. For those who appeal to survivors to be silent, what if your daughter was next? What if your lama continued to teach in centres where known child abusers are still in charge? How many more people need to be abused and lose faith because we think that keeping face is more important than protecting followers of Buddhism?

Facing the shadow side

If we don’t question the shadow side of our faith, our tradition’s good aspects will never be able to shine. Women – 50% of the population – will never have equality or safety, and there will be no justice, ethics or trustworthiness in our tradition. If you have to live in denial about women and children being raped, how enlightened is your Lama anyway? How many more people need to suffer until all that is good in our tradition just becomes an empty shell with a nice veneer, but inside is empty and hollow and full of trauma survivors and traumatised enablers? The Buddha predicted his tradition would not be destroyed by outside forces, but from inside elements, like a mighty oak eaten inside by wood worms.

The age of kings is over. Women need an equal share in resources and systems that their labour and faith have so long maintained. Rape survivors need justice, and we need to stop using the idea of faith to hide abuse. This is the only way the beauty of our tradition will survive. Not by regression and suppression.

Ayya Yeshe

Sadness, yes, but …

Guest post by Sel Verhoeven . Thanks Sel for your honesty.

I felt sadness when I heard the news that Sogyal Rinpoche has passed away. Sadness, because I knew and loved him for almost thirty years. At times he helped me tremendously, with just a few personal words, in difficult periods of my life. Even after the abuse came out, I still cared for him, in the way that you would still care for a brother or child who has really done wrong. You can’t just stop caring if you have a deep connection with someone. I also felt sadness because the hope evaporated that he would ever confess his wrongdoings. As long as he was alive there was a chance that he would come to understand what he had done and make amends. The chances of that happening might have been microscopically small, but nevertheless, they were there and now they are gone.

I also felt anger that he had gone without making amends. What a mess he has left behind. A split sangha, a large group of students who have turned away from Buddhism altogether. He could, and should have prevented this by taking responsibility for his actions and thus saving the face of Buddhism. Instead, he allowed his students to carry on with the fairy-tale of crazy wisdom and a teacher whose every action is beneficial to his students, even if it’s abusive and they are left in shambles. At the same time I felt gratitude for the fact that he brought the dharma into my life. I will never cease to be grateful for that. He has brought many people in contact with the dharma and has helped many, that is his merit. All in all, a sense of soft sadness prevailed, and I was ready to do practise for him and everyone else who suffered in this samsara we’re all stuck in.

Then I saw the ‘homage’ page that is now up on https://sogyalrinpoche.org/paying-homage-to-sogyal-rinpoche, and got infuriated. Out the window went the soft sad inspired-to-practise mood. What bad taste of Rigpa to display these homages of a man who has seriously harmed students who trusted him and relied upon him. And what delusion or willingness to lie these teachers have when I’m sure they know there has been an independent investigation, instigated by Rigpa themselves, that has confirmed the abuse!

At the same time I received the messages that Rigpa sent out to their students, saying, amongst other practice advice: ‘Rinpoche is resting in tukdam meditation and all signs of a great practitioner are present. Now is the time to deeply and profoundly unite your mind, to merge your mind with Rinpoche’s wisdom mind. This is the most powerful time to do so. This is the crowning moment.’  And I got really worried, thinking it definitely would not be a good idea to be infuriated at such an important moment! It took me a while to see through it. Even with death they manage to manipulate us. To install fear in us of somehow missing out on something, or not doing the right thing. The same tactics they had used all along.

And making use of the proverb ‘do not speak ill of the dead’, they saw their chance to blatantly praise Sogyal Rinpoche, as in the old days. The last 2 years Rigpa kept it down a bit. But now, by ways of these other teachers paying homage, they could have a go at it again. And so they show their true face at last. Withstanding all the talk of a new Rigpa, with protocols, a code of conduct, and a place for students with their own opinions, in the end they worship their teacher and willingly close their eyes to the truth.

It almost feels like they don’t allow space to really mourn. For that, you need to see and remember a person warts and all, not some deified version of them. You need to embrace the uncomfortable truth that a person can be both good and bad at the same time.

In the end, I did the only thing I could do. I found the one picture of him I didn’t throw out, lit two candles, and just sat with it all wishing him, his victims, his disappointed students, his devotees and everyone else who is suffering, well.

Sel Verhoeven

Vajrayana Buddhism Issues – Arrogance

Vajrayana Buddhism issues abound and if you’ve been around a Tibetan Buddhist sangha for any time, you may have heard a teacher talk about the supremacy of the Vajrayana, how it’s the fastest path, has the most skilful means, is for students of the greatest capacity and so on. If we heard someone from another religion talk like this, we’d probably scoff, so is this kind of arrogance something we should buy into? And if we do, what are the results, apart from soothing our ego by making us feel that we’re on the one right path?

The following quote, written by one of the members of the Beyond the Temple Facebook group, inspired this post.

I’m going back to so-called Basics. The 4 Noble Truths, the Noble 8 fold path. I’ve already decided it’s well worth focusing on that for me. The Noble Eight Fold Path is full of suggestions and statements that are more than enough for me to validly follow and see how that works (not just read about and then move on to ‘posher’ ‘clever’ stuff.)

Surely it’s all meant to be about doing It – walking your talk. And if anyone tries to tell me I’m not Buddhist because I reject the clever, complicated Vajrayana practices etc, that’s their problem. I wonder if sometimes people simply (not that simply) just try to do too much and get scattered and forget the really crucial stuff like right speech etc etc. It leads them away from the well-being of all, including themselves, despite their good motivation. And teachers should help remind them when they go down a wrong, time-wasting or unkind side alley. I am not trying to tell a teacher what their remit is, but surely that is blindingly obvious.

Beyond the Temple member

These kinds of thoughts and approach to their spiritual path moving forward are shared by many ex-students of abusive vajrayana teachers and their cults. Below I pull out the main points and expand on them.

Many paths, all valid

  • The Buddha taught many paths to suit different kinds of people. All are complete paths and all lead to liberation – why would he have taught anything less? If you look closely, you’ll see that all the Buddha’s teachings are contained in the foundation yana in an implicit way if not explicit. Later teachings – if they are genuinely Buddhist – simply build on what’s there. Any Buddhist path is as good as any other Buddhist path.
  • The idea that the vajrayana is somehow better than other forms of Buddhism is just arrogance, and yet that’s what we were taught. Such elitism – the idea that vajrayana is the best/fastest/most skilful path – is common in cults, and is as ridiculous as saying that the Christian or any other religion is the best one. The idea that it’s faster is misleading since if it isn’t the right path for you, then you may just be wasting your time, and if you have an abusive guru, then vajrayana will bring you more harm than good.
  • Vajrayana arrogance leads to people not paying enough attention to the foundation teachings on which vajrayana is supposedly built. They skip over it or give lip service to it, but don’t actually study and put into practice things like the 10 negative actions to be avoided. If they had done that work, they would be able to discern right from wrong action and never consider that the kind of abuse we saw in Rigpa was anything other than wrong action. A house without a strong foundation will eventually fall down, and isn’t that what we’ve seen here with this massive failure of vajrayana to uphold even a basic ethical stance?
  • What use is the study and practice of a path that supposedly teaches wisdom and compassion if it doesn’t lead to followers living the teachings and becoming genuinely good people?
  • Isn’t it better to follow a simple path that leads you to be a genuinely good person than to follow a complex one where you get confused about what is right conduct?

Is vajrayana Buddhism truly Buddhism?

After the rose-coloured glasses fell from my eyes in the wake of the revelations of Sogyal Lakar’s abuse, I saw how wafting off into vajrayana land of rainbow light and mantras had resulted not in wiser and more compassionate people, but in minds and eyes closed to the truth of what was actually happening before them. Like the commenter above – and many others – I decided that the most important thing in life was not to follow a complex spiritual regime, but to actually be a good person.

It seemed bizare to me that teachings full of compassion and wisdom could have led to such a result, and I wondered just how far Rigpa had departed from what the Buddha actually taught. To find out, I spent some time looking at the Buddha’s earliest teachings, and some of what I found made it look as if vajrayana wasn’t even Buddhist. Certainly the Tibetan emphasis on unquestioning devotion and ritual seemed the opposite of what the Buddha taught.

The Buddha before Buddhism

One of the books I read was The Buddha before Buddhism: Wisdom from the Early Teachings by Gil Fronsdal. It’s a translation of one of the earliest of all Buddhist texts, the Atthakavagga, or Book of Eights, which comes from the earliest strain of Buddhist literature, before the Buddha came to be thought of as a ‘Buddhist’. The approach to awakening laid out in the Book of Eights is incredibly simple and free of adherence to any kind of ideology. Instead of doctrines to be believed, it describes means for realizing peace that bring genuine results to those who live by them.

What may be perplexing to many is that the Book of Eights does not espouse a religious doctrine that exists in opposition to other doctrines. Nor does it put forth a teaching that is meant to be seen as superior to other teachings. In a manner that challenges the religious beliefs of many people – including many Buddhists – the test explicity denies the role of ultimate religious “truth” and “knowledge” in attaining personal peace.

Gil Frondsdal. The Buddha before Buddhism

Truth or arrogance?

Of course those who like to maintain that the Mahayana and Vajrayana are superior to the early teachings of the Buddha on the basis that the attainment of ‘peace’ is not full enlightenment will scoff at this simply for the use of the word ‘peace’, but really, why would the peace the Buddha referred to in the first turning teachings be anything other than the peace of full enlightenment? If he was enlightened, why would he teach a path that lead anywhere less than the full state of enlightenment? That idea simply doesn’t make sense. And the Buddha would agree that we shouldn’t accept something as truth just because some lama says so!

Nothing basic about the basics

How does following the ‘best’, ‘the fastest’, or the ‘most skilful’ path that requires us to sit on our bums for hours spacing off in a rainbow realm help us if we can’t even follow the noble eightfold path? ( Right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right meditative absorption.) And let’s be honest here, can you? Do you? I certainly don’t. I have plenty to work on without falling for the ‘enlightenment-in-one-life-time’ hook. I’m not saying I didn’t benefit from vajrayana, I did, a lot, but I still have to come back to earth and live the teachings in the real world, and what does that come down to? Following the eightfold path!

There is nothing basic about the Buddhist basics and nothing simplistic about their simplicity. The point is that you can have the teachings and practice the practice without all the bullshit. These days, there are so many books and talks and videos around, that you don’t even need to go anywhere near a physical teacher. Like with husbands, you’re better off with none than with a bad one.

I find it very useful to have a valid, real-live teacher, but if I feel a need to see him/her too often, that may be a danger sign – for me anyway. It shouldn’t be necessary really.

Beyond the Temple member

What do you think?
Leave your comment below.


If you’d like a more private place to chat about your ongoing spiritual path after you’ve left an abusive community, you can join the Beyond the Temple Facebook group. This group is for people who don’t want to talk about abuse, but want to keep in touch and share their discoveries, inspiration and challenges as they move on with their lives.

If you want to talk about abuse, then Rigpa or ex-Rigpa students can join the secret What Now? groupApply via the contact form here, telling us about yourself and why you want to join the group. 

Students from other Vajrayana communities who need somewhere where they can talk about abuse and find survivor support can join the Survivors of Vajrayana Abuse and their Allies group.  

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What Now?

Eighteen months after the revelations that Sogyal Lakar/Rinpoche was abusing students rocked Rigpa student’s world, I once again ask, What now? Where do we go from here?
What now is a great question, and one I think we should ask often because it has an openness to the unknown to it, and the future is unknown. Anything we plan or expect is just a projection.
When I see on the news stories of people killed in car accidents, by a falling tree, or being caught in a rip and washed out to sea, it reminds me that I could be dead this time tomorrow, and that reminds me that I have no time to waste in my life if I’m to die without regrets, to die having lived a worthwhile life. And so I must live that worthwhile life now in this very moment.

What makes your life worthwhile?

For me it is a life focused on meditation and contemplation undertaken in a quiet household. In meditation I can help heal the world with light, sound and visualisation. In contemplation I listen to teachings and read books that remind me of the important things in life: love, compassion and wisdom. And I try to live my life in peace and clarity using the wisdom and compassion I foster on my cushion.
During the last 6 months of 2017, my spiritual practice was moderating the What Now Facebook group and writing blogs posts for this blog, I had no time for sitting on a cushion, and no time for earning a living during that time, but supporting others is one of those things that makes a worthwhile life. This last year I have managed to earn a small income, and I’ve returned to a formal meditation practice with an enthusiasm I haven’t had for years.

A spiritual path after Rigpa

I have to thank Mingyur Rinpoche and Tergar for my renewed enthusiasm for meditation. Their Mahamudra course came at just the right time, a month or so after the letter by the eight revealing the abuses came out. And Tergar opened their hearts to any Rigpa student who had studied ngondro. Many of us ex Rigpa students ended up there, but I doubt that any of us have taken Mingyur Rinpoche as their teacher in the same way we took Sogyal; we won’t give up our discernment in the way we did for Sogyal, and that’s a very healthy thing.  But the course was excellent and introduced us to Clarifying the Natural State by Dakpo Tashi Namgyal, a Mahamudra meditation manual with clear instructions on detailed enquires into the mind that we never got in Rigpa. My present practice is following those vipashyana instructions. The commentary on that text, Crystal Clear by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche is also excellent.
So there is a spiritual path after Rigpa and other sanghas where abuse has occurred. For some it will be no path, for some it will be a different kind of path, for others a different form of Buddhism, and for some it will still be Tibetan Buddhism, probably because they have a deep appreciation for the teachings, likely especially Dzogchen and Mahamudra, even if they no longer trust the religion or the teachers.
I don’t consider myself a Tibetan Buddhist anymore, and that leaves me free of the entanglement of the cultural and feudalistic baggage carried by the religion, but not being part of the religion doesn’t stop me listening to teachers and practicing according to their instructions.
I mean, here’s a quote from the book I mentioned above:
“With the various types of thoughts, from the very moment they appear, they are mothing other than the aware emptiness of unidentifiable mind.” P33 Clarifying the Natural State by Dakpo Tashi Namgyal
Isn’t that beautiful, profound, and incredibly helpful for developing a healthy relationship to our thoughts and emotions? I think so, and it’s in Tibetan Buddhism where we find such teachings. Because of that, many of us will still want to take teachings from Tibetan Buddhist teachers and that is a risky business, because we’ve learned over the last eighteen months that it’s not just Sogyal who behaves badly; there are many other Buddhist teachers and spiritual teachers from all religions who abuse students.

Choosing a teacher

So what do we do if we want these teachings? We have to choose our teachers wisely and cautiously. No matter what style of spiritual path we choose, a teacher of some kind will probably be involved, and the same requirements are necessary whether it’s a Tibetan Buddhist lama or some new age guru.
There is plenty of guidance on this in The words of My Perfect Teacher by Patrul Rinpoche, but as he says “nowadays it is difficult to find a teacher who has every one of the qualities described in the precious tantras,” so I suggest that we choose only those teachers who have made a clear public statement against abuse, one that does not blame the students in any way, who honour the role of discernment in the Tibetan Buddhist path, who show respect for their students, and who have otherwise shown that they are worthy of their role as a spiritual teacher. We have to check their behaviour and not be fooled by fancy hats and titles, prestigious lineages and charisma, or by many devoted students—blind and emotional devotion is a cult warning sign; intelligent appreciation is not. The high level lamas are the aristocrats of Tibetan culture, the most entitled, with the kind of power held by a feudal lord, and they’re brought up with the expectation that they will live just as the masters before them lived, and so they are the very ones of which we need to be most suspicious.
“Sexual misconduct is very common within the circles of high level lamas.” (Dr Nida Chenagtsang from Karmamudra: The Yoga of Bliss)
But there are some teachers in Tibetan Buddhism that don’t abuse their students. Our task as students is to find the reliable teachers and expose those who do abuse their power. The What the Lamas Say page will help you with that.
We also need to check anything a lama says about politics or society and see whether he or she is indicating an attitude that is in accord with the dharma. Are they showing love and compassion for all, or are they seeing with an us-against-them attitude? Arrogance is a huge red flag—it’s the opposite of humble. And if a lama’s disciples are not seeing that that lama is not speaking in accord with the dharma, then stay far away from that sangha, because if they’re not using their discernment, it’s a cult, not a healthy spiritual community.
Watch carefully how they treat their students during a teaching, and at any hint of unkindness or arrogance, leave. The only way the corruption will leave, or at least lessen, in Tibetan Buddhism—apart from legal action against the abusers—is if we give our money only to teachers who teach, practice and embody a healthy interpretation of the teachings. Organisations cannot survive without student’s money, so the corrupt will die out, or at least diminish. So be careful where you spend your money.
Of course, we don’t need to have just one teacher. We can have many. You Tube is full of free teachings from many teachers, and in vajrayana practice we use a symbol representing all the great teachers, not just one. If Guru Rinpoche has bad connotations for you, then try the ah symbol used by Namkhai Norbu.

What now?

I ask “What now” again now because this blog is winding down. I’m done with Rigpa. They’re a lost cause. This blog’s focus on Sogyal’s abuse and Rigpa management’s cultish manipulations of students limits the scope of it, and my interest is moving towards the wider issues of following a spiritual path—or forging our own—and back to my own spiritual practice and writing. I shall be in retreat from Dec 26th to Jan 21st.
There might be a different blog to take over from this one in the new year, but I’ll let you know. If we get another reply to our letter to the lamas, we’ll post it, of course, but other than that, we’ll wait and see what arises from my retreat.
Thanks to all of you who have engaged in conversations here over the last eighteen months; I hope you all have a happy holiday season.
Tahlia

News

The Dharma Protector’s Facebook page is no longer operating. If you want to follow me on Facebook please Like my Living in Peace and Clarity page.
My latest vlog has some news about the Sakyadhita Conference next year,  a big thank you to all the What Now team supporters, and a bit about a book I’m attempting to write.

Want to help with the Sakyadhita conference fees? Click here: https://www.gofundme.com/manage/confe…
Want to support my book project and get updates on progress? Click here: https://www.patreon.com/TahliaNewland
 
 

The Importance of Outrage

When the Lewis Silkin Report detailing the results of the independent investigation into Sogyal Lakar/Rinpoche and the cover up by senior Rigpa management came out, it reawakened my outrage over Sogyal Rinpoche’s abuse of his close students. This video is a rant that includes satire of Tibetan Buddhist beliefs as taught in Rigpa and a call for people to do whatever it takes to make sure that the kind of abuses detailed in the report never happen again anywhere.

Why this took so long to post

I wasn’t going to post this video at first because I felt the outrage expressed in it might retraumatise or upset people or inspire them to negative actions, so this is a warning for those who are feeling tender or sick of all this, that maybe this isn’t the video for you.
In the end, I decided to post it because I realised that there is nothing wrong with outrage, so long as we don’t allow it to govern our actions. There is wisdom in outrage; it tells us that something is very wrong, and so it can motivate us to change things which can and should be changed. If we forget our outrage, we might become complacent, and spiritual abuse is not something we should ever be complacent about. The challenge in acting on something that outrages us is not to act out of anger or hatred or for revenge (acting that way doesn’t get the best results), but to act out of a genuine motivation to improve the world for the better.
The full  Lewis Silkin report can be read by clicking this link.

Destroying or preserving?

A comment left on the You Tube channel for this video says a lot: “A straight talking lady who fearlessly spells out the distorted views being taught in certain Tibetan Buddhist sanghas by inept Lamas and their senior students who are destroying the pure authentic wisdom lineage of Tibet.”
Though it’s nice to be called “fearless”, what struck me about this comment was the understanding that the kind of behaviour shown by Sogyal and Rigpa (and is still being shown by Rigpa) is destroying Tibet’s “pure authentic wisdom lineage”, not saving it.  We were taught in Rigpa that we were being taught the true vajrayana, but it’s a distorted interpretation of the teachings that allows abuse, fosters mindless lama worship, encourages manipulative cultish tactics, shores up the fuedal power structure, and treats students as slaves and women as sex objects.
Interpretations of the religion that lead to these kinds of things in practice are – despite what some lamas say – not vajrayana, and they certainly aren’t Buddhist – given that the essence of Buddhism is non-harming.  Sticking to beliefs that foster these sorts of things is only being true to the worst of Tibetan culture, the parts that both Tibetans and Westerners need to leave behind.
See this great article The 7 Worst Excuses for Ignoring Women’s Rights by Kunsang Dolma in which she talks about the attitude to women in traditional Tibetan culture and the need for Tibetan society to grow, not remain stuck in the past.


Current and previous students of Rigpa can participate in private discussion on this and other abuse-related topics on our What Now? Facebook Group. If you’re interested in joining, please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
People from any Vajrayana sangha can join the Survivors of Vajrayana Abuse and Allies Facebook group for support. Click the link to request to join.
Anyone who has left a Buddhist sangha that had an abusive teacher can join the  Beyond the Temple Facebook Group. The focus in this group is not on the abuse, but on ourselves and our spiritual life as we recover from our experience and look to the future. Click here and request to join.
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, which posts links to related articles as they come to hand.

‘Rigpa’ Reborn? What a Viable 'Rigpa' Might Look Like.

With the results of the independent investigation into Sogyal Lakar/ Rinpoche’s abuse tabled clearly in the Lewis Silkin report, no one can deny now that “based on the evidence available to me [Karen Baxter of Lewis Silkin], I am satisfied that, on the balance of probabilities:
a. some students of Sogyal Lakar (who were part of the ‘inner circle’, as described later in this report) have been subjected to serious physical, sexual and emotional abuse by him; and
b. there were senior individuals within Rigpa who were aware of at least some of these issues and failed to address them, leaving others at risk.”
Karen Baxter recommendations include the following clear directions for Rigpa: 

  1. Sogyal Lakar should not take part in any future event organised by Rigpa or otherwise have contact with its students; 
  2. Rigpa should take steps to disassociate itself from Sogyal Lakar as fully as is possible (having regard to any legal arrangements which may for the time being connect the organisation with him);
  3. Rigpa leadership in each country (being the trustees or equivalent) and the Vision Board should, as necessary, be refreshed in order to ensure that;
    1. its members are unconnected with the harmful events referred to in this report and so can credibly lead the programme of changes required;
    2. its members are all publically committed to the concept that abuse will not be tolerated by anyone, or against anyone, within Rigpa (including teachers); and
    3. wherever possible, the leadership should include some members who are unconnected with the student body, for example lay trustees as such would be recognised in the United Kingdom.

And in their statement on the report Rigpa states that “Rigpa commits to act upon the report’s recommendations.” 

What acting on these recommendations means.

  1. Sogyal must be removed from course materials, and no more audio or video teachings by him should be shown at Rigpa events. Rigpa needs to publicly denounce Sogyal’s abusive behaviour and make it clear that they are no longer a sangha of his students.
  2. And ALL those who were in management roles up until this year need to remove themselves from their roles – not just the three stooges at the top, and they must not still in the background directing behind the scenes in an advisory or any other capacity.
    ALL those senior instructors who still believe and therefore will still teach the ‘crazy wisdom’ excuse for abuse, and ALL who participated in the cover up by delivering the ‘Representing Rigpa’ cover-up sessions need to go – unless they publicly denounce Sogyal Lakar’s behaviour, apologise for their role in the cover up,say that they realise that they were wrong to do so, and that they are now ‘committed to the concept that abuse will not be tolerated by anyone, or against anyone, within Rigpa (including teachers)’
  3. Is self-explanatory.

But what would a Rigpa without Sogyal  look like? 

Some people remain in Rigpa simply because they can’t imagine life without the support of the community and/or because they don’t want to see the infrastructure dismantled, but if you take away Sogyal and all those in management and teaching roles who are not willing to stand up in public and say that they now realise that Sogyal’s behaviour was abusive and that they are committed to not allowing anything like that to happen again, what is left?

Barbara van Schaik has a vision that she agreed to shared with us. I hope Rigpa management read it and take this vision on board, because it’s a vision that could inspire people who are presently terribly disillusioned. 

‘Rigpa’ Reborn

By Barbara van Schaik
There’s a lot of writing and thinking out loud about Rigpa at the moment. Most address the abuse suffered by so many, abuse of a power we all believed in and held in our hearts.
What the outcome will be no-one can say at present – bits and pieces appear, newspaper articles are ‘out there’ now and various people have various pieces of information that don’t amount to a real conclusion. Solution seems as far away as ever.

The big questions

But how CAN Rigpa continue? Really? Sexual abuse, charities seeing fraud, loss of funds as Rigpa is publicly denounced? Yet it seems those in charge are hanging in, hanging on, hoping against hope perhaps that it will all ‘blow over’ and amount to not much, as long as Sogyal stays out of the picture (at least as far as those outside the inner circle of devotees would be aware).
Can they re-form? It’s so hard to know where we stand at present.
But if they can’t, if they don’t – then what of all those physical remains – the centres around the world and the great Mother Ship – Lerab Ling.
Since someone has pointed out that all the centres operate separately it seems there may not be one outcome affecting them all in the same way.
But – RIGPA?? Surely the name is tainted beyond repair now. Another name? Possibly – but wouldn’t people, the ones who would be interested, know? It has to be more than that.
I personally feel the inner circle/devotees, including those who ‘stepped down’ will not give him up.  That is, if he is around and does regain his health. They will find some kind of different way of being with him – I once (jokingly) mentioned holograms.
But that leaves those buildings – if RIGPA as we know it were to disappear, ‘leave the premises’ to do something secretive elsewhere – what of them?  And in the case of Lerab Ling – so big, so grandiose, so decorated, so TIBETAN – hung and filled with all kinds of precious things – not to speak of the energy generated there – what of that? What could it become?
I was thinking about this and some thoughts did come up. Here they are, for what they might be worth.

Lerab Ling as a true rime centre

Perhaps LL, with all its ‘Tibetaness’ could become a Centre for the preservation of Tibetan thought (Buddhist) and culture.  There would be a Library, bringing together ancient texts, their translations, published books, blogs and videos, articles written, articles about to be written – research materials.
A place where scholars from both East and West would come to sit and read, research, compare, be inspired and confer. There could be screens which would show films relating to TB (not of the ‘7 Years in Tibet’ variety) – although ‘Kundun’ might be an exception! Peoples’ journeys recorded, recent trips into Tibet as well as historical material. There could be lectures from Tibetan ‘experts’ and scholars, open to the public.
Beside the Library, LL could be seen as a meeting place of lamas, khenpos, wandering ngakpas (if they could interrupt their wanderings) lecturers and all involved in the serious study of TB. They would be from all sects, a true ‘Rime’ organization where perhaps new understanding between scholars could take place – debates too, along classical lines, although perhaps without the performance aspect!
Of course students would continue come –  to study (lots of accommodation), to listen to a lama expounding on a topic of choice, and more ‘open’ events where new people could come to hear and see.
There could be ‘residencies’ for various teachers, along the lines of artists’ residences, or writers’ residences. Anything from a few weeks to a few months.

A store house of Tibetan culture

Then I had the thought that LL (in particular since it is so Tibetan in every way) could be a storehouse of the culture of Tibet. Tibetan Medicine (my own particular interest) could be represented with visiting doctors from Asia – India, Nepal and Bhutan for example. They could hold surgeries, so helpful for people unable to reach them in their home countries. They too could hold talks about the basics of TM. And bring supplies of the marvellous little brown pills! I am particularly interested in those European plants which correlate to some of the Tibetan ones.  Plant-finding expeditions could take place and there could be a medical department.
There is Tibetan thangkha painting, artists could come and stay, too – holding classes and giving lectures on the subject. There is one Bhutanese-trained thangkha painter already living in France.
There is Tibetan food, dance, costume, jewellery… I remembered the magnificent ‘tormas’ made for pujas, sand mandalas, all that space to create these things, and involve groups wanting to learn more about their history as well as ‘how to make’. All these are of course subsidiary to the Library, but could provide a ‘way in’ for the public: held outside in the grounds in the summer months, a way to open the windows and let in the air, after all that secrecy and shutting away.
There are holy relics and all the paraphernalia of TB – I could see a Museum too  – there are already precious things at LL and this could be built up with people who have spent time in those countries where Tibetans have their culture donating their items as they might wish.
Open to the public of course – no secret ‘lama’s room’ any more.
So this is how I could see LL rise again, in a different form, but building on the best of all that energy over the years, devotion properly channeled, away from a charismatic leader who brought so much to so many, particularly in his youth, but in later years became a travesty of what he set out to be.

Other centres

The other centres could be more diverse in terms of their lecturers and focus – maybe a look at Buddhism from other sources, Theravada, Zen, the Pali canon from Sri Lanka. Each one could choose its own particular style. Certainly, they could invite teachers from all traditions and become, rather than a centre for the students of any particular lama, a centre for dharma teachings in general. True Rime.
… and a Board: Karen Baxter’s (Lewis Silkin) suggestions for a board, including some lay people, representation from charity – sounds excellent.

And – of course – a new name!

This has gone on longer than I thought it would.  Thoughts, sketches – let’s see what happens.
Thanks Barbara for sharing your vision.
Perhaps such an organisation could be called whatever the Tibetan word for Phoenix is. Certainly it’s time to put the word rigpa back where it belongs as a word meaning the true nature of mind/pristine awareness, not the name of a cult. To give up that name, and choose a new one and a new vision would be the only way I can see that Rigpa can survive this with any integrity. Their integrity as an organisation is as shot as that of their lama. If they are to survive, they need this kind of radical change, not bandaids and half-hearted attempts at appeasing the Charity Commissions.
Over to you my vajra brothers and sisters who still have some faith that there is something worth saving.


Current and previous students of Rigpa can participate in private discussion on this and other abuse-related topics on our What Now? Facebook Group. If you’re interested in joining, please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
People from any Vajrayana sangha can join the Survivors of Vajrayana Abuse and Allies Facebook group for support. Click the link to request to join.
Anyone who has left a Buddhist sangha that had an abusive teacher can join the  Beyond the Temple Facebook Group. The focus in this group is not on the abuse, but on ourselves and our spiritual life as we recover from our experience and look to the future. Click here and request to join.
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, which posts links to related articles as they come to hand.

Can You Still Take Sogyal as Your teacher?

It’s okay to leave

Many lamas have said that if you discover, even after making a commitment to them, that a lama is not who you thought they were, or if they are not good for you, or if the relationship has broken down for whatever reason, then one can walk away from one’s vajra master without an issue with samaya, so long as one retains respect for the good one gained from the relationship.

And HH Dalai Lama said in Dharamsala 1993, “If you have already taken tantric initiations from them [a guru], you should not develop disrespect or antipathy. In such cases, the Kalachakra Tantra advises us to maintain a neutral attitude and not pursue the relationship any further.”
Chokyi Ngyima Rinpoche told a friend of mine, “If you can no longer see your tantric guru as a Buddha, then you should leave quietly.”

The usual advice is to leave quietly, but both His Holiness Dalai lama and Mingyur Rinpoche have said that when serious abuse has occured if a teacher does not respond to private requests for the behaviour to stop – as is the case with Sogyal – then it is necessary to make the abuses public in order to protect others and the purity of the dharma.

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.” HH Dalai Lama. Dharamsala 1993.

That’s why people have spoken out publically or have spoken to Karen Baxter as part of the independent investigation into the allegations raised in the Letter to Sogyal Lakar 14-07-2017

A master of serious physical, sexual and emotional abuse

The results of the independant investigation confirmed that the behaviours outlined in that letter are true:

Based on the evidence available to me, I am satisfied that, on the balance of probabilities: a. some students of Sogyal Lakar (who were part of the ‘inner circle’, as described later in this report) have been subjected to serious physical, sexual and emotional abuse by him;

Karen Baxter in the Lewis Silkin report  details  widespread evidence that members of Sogyal’s inner circle – who catered to his every need, including providing massages as he fell asleep – were subjected to repeated acts of brutal violence. The lama’s wooden backscratcher was a favoured method for beating people, as was punching them in the stomach. Baxter says she has been provided with evidence of one individual being knocked unconscious, others being left bleeding and concussed.

She also outlines “significant” first-hand evidence of young women being coerced, manipulated and intimidated into providing sexual favours. One witness, a teenager who arrived at a Rigpa retreat seeking respite from depression and self-harm, was asked to strip a week after coming to work in the lama kitchen. When she refused, she alleges, she was beaten and then later forced into sex.
If you are a student of Sogyal Rinpoche and haven’t read the full report, you need to. Until you do, you have not fully investigated your teacher.
And you need to try to understand the depth of the harm that Sogyal caused, that the harm was not only in the event that caused the trauma, but also in the resulting Post Traumatic Stress that plagues survivors for decades (if not their whole life) afterwards.
Rigpa communications pay lip service to compassion, but their actions show no real compassion towards survivors of Sogyal Rinpoche’s abuse and no understanding of the long-term results of the trauma they experienced. Research Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the dynamics and results of domestic abuse, and you might start to understand the depth of the harm, and begin to see just how sick the Rigpa culture is in the inner circle. The trauma is similar to that experienced by children with an abusive family. And what you read in the report is only the tip of the iceburg.

Now that you know the truth, can you still take him as your teacher?

So, with that in mind, how can anyone possibly still take Sogyal as their teacher now? I think we can try to rationalize staying faithful with all sorts of philosophy, but it’s likely to be be the same philosophy that allowed it all to happen in the first place – the Rigpa-speak party line of crazy wisdom, pure perception and devotion all slightly skewed to enable the abuse. That’s what we were fed, after all, and it’s what we’ll still believe unless we’ve examined those beliefs in light of what happened and seen how they were used to manipulate, control and silence us.

If you’re trying to hold onto your belief in Sogyal’s worth as a teacher, then ask yourself why, against all evidence to the contrary?
You may have had only good interactions with him yourself, but does that make up for the serious harm he caused others? No it does not, just as in the Jimmy Saville case. No one would say that the good that he did makes up for the harm he caused.
Over the last year I have heard many more stories such as those in the report. This didn’t happen to only a few people, and a lot of people are too scared to speak out. Some are too scared to even consider that they were abused in the name of training. The long-term results of that denial is not good for their mental health. If you’re having flashbacks to your ‘training’, particularly ones associated with a feeling of fear or anxiety in your body, then you have been traumatised, and your mental gymnastics to tell yourself that it was love, not abuse, is the result of the brainwashing you were subjected to that made you ‘take’ it and see people ‘taking it’ without complaint. Listen to your body, not your mind on this, and if you are unsure if what you experienced was abuse or love, then don’t talk to someone in Rigpa (because they’ll pretend to be open but their agenda is likely to be  to try to convince you it was love), find a councilor from outside and have a chat.
Fear is not a good motivation for remaining with a teacher – fear of hell, of being shuned or shamed, of losing one’s practice and so on – but you can leave without breaking samaya. You just say thank you for the good you brought me, but my trust in you is now broken, so I must move on. And there are other lamas who you can go to so your practice need not suffer if you’re afraid of it falling apart. Just substitute one lama for the other. After all, the focus of our practice was supposed to be Guru Rinpoche, the embodiment of the love and compassion of all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
I handle this situation by thinking – he was my teacher and I gained much from my relationship with him. I’ll always be grateful for that, but now he is no longer my teacher. I could not possibly take him as my teacher now that I know what I know. He is, as HHDL says, “Disgraced.”

Were the teachings as pure as we thought?

Now I believe that his teachings on devotion and pure perception, though not incorrect, were subtly distorted in order to set himself up at the centre of our spiritual life, to make us dependent on him, and to make his inner circle his virtual slaves, just as in any personality cult. I doubt this was intentional; it is, however, what happened.
It’s hard to accept that you were, or are, in a cult, but after studying what characterises a cult, and seeing how Rigpa management persists in using cult tactics for manipulation of student’s perceptions, I can come to no other conclusion. Once I accepted that, I found the literature on recovering from a cult very helpful. Here on the blog, we looked at some of the key beliefs we were taught and saw how they had been used to manipulate and control us, and to give Sogyal permission to behave as he liked. Once you see that, there is no going back.

The yes-or-no question

But whether or not you want to use the cult word, and whether or not you want to stay and try to help Rigpa reform, you still have to ask yourself: Is this a man I can follow as my spiritual teacher now? And the answer to that for this moment in time has to be yes or no.
For so long as you avoid asking yourself that question, and for so long as you avoid making a decision, you will be in a state of confusion, and your spiritual life will suffer. So I encourage you to decide. Can you still take Sogyal as your teacher now that you know what he is really like?


Current and previous students of Rigpa can participate in private discussion on this and other abuse-related topics on our What Now? Facebook Group. If you’re interested in joining, please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
People from any Vajrayana sangha can join the Survivors of Vajrayana Abuse and Allies Facebook group for support. Click the link to request to join.
Anyone who has left a Buddhist sangha that had an abusive teacher can join the  Beyond the Temple Facebook Group. The focus in this group is not on the abuse, but on ourselves and our spiritual life as we recover from our experience and look to the future. Click here and request to join.
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, which posts links to related articles as they come to hand.