What does Compassion look like?

Best wishes for 2018.
This blog is by nature of its topic – in the wake of revelations of abuse in Rigpa – tied to what happens in Rigpa and how those affected are processing the revelations, so I don’t know where the journey will lead us. However, the moderators remain committed to a balanced and reformist approach to the issues raised by the letter written by the 8 students of Sogyal Rinpoche in July 2017.
I thought to start the new year on a contemplative note that might be of benefit to us all no matter what our opinion on the issue of abuse in Rigpa. Hopefully it will help us to see each other with eyes of compassion.
Concern for others helps to break down the barriers that separate us and soften our obsession with ourselves, thus opening our heart and mind so that we are more able to see things as they truly are.

Compassion in Buddhism

In the Buddhist Mahayana teachings, which include Vajrayana and therefore Tibetan Buddhism, genuine compassion of the highest level is not separate from wisdom. Wisdom here doesn’t mean knowledge; it means a realisation of the nature of reality itself, an understanding of the way things are, the way appearances are empty of inherent existence, and yet nevertheless do appear. This realisation of the nature of reality is absolute great compassion (or absolute bodhicitta) because in that state of awareness, compassion arises naturally. Compassion dwells at the heart of wisdom. It is simply part of the realisation, inseparable from it.
On the other hand, the practices of relative compassion help to open us so we are more able to realise the nature of reality. The very essence of great compassion is wisdom. In this way, the two aspects of relative compassion and absolute compassion or wisdom go hand and hand on the spiritual path. Someone with true realisation cannot act in a way that is not compassionate, and great compassion is an indication of one’s level of realisation.
This great compassion or bodhicitta may seem like a very lofty ideal, but we can all bring whatever glimpses of wisdom we’ve had into our relationships with others, and we can all practice relative compassion. The teachings abound in instructions for ways in which we can do that.

Checking ourselves

What is particularly relevant to us here, though, in light of the topic of abuse by a Buddhist teacher and its effect on the Rigpa sangha, is to notice how easy it is to evaluate others’ level of compassion and forget to check ourselves. Certainly when one is publically calling out an organisation for its apparent lack of compassion, it can appear that one has forgotten to turn one’s mind in and evaluate one’s own heart and mind. That those speaking out here have forgotten to do so is an assumption, of course, since we can’t know what anyone else has in their mind or heart. Since I’m pretty sure that no one would be interested in hearing my evaluation of my own failings, it is not the topic of blog posts; that doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t regularly check myself with uncompromising honesty. It also does not mean that I have no compassion for those I appear to malign. My aim is to be of benefit, and yet, I am fully aware of how that was also Sogyal Rinpoche’s aim, and look how that turned out!
Delusion is an insidious beast, and that’s why wisdom is so vital. Wisdom is what gives us the insight to see more widely than the view that comes from our own emotional pain, it allows us to respond rather than react. Wisdom allows us to see the myriad of interdependent causes and conditions that contribute to any single situation, and that view allows us to go beyond ideas of blame. We see that we are all victims of our circumstances, victims of our habits, our karma, our beliefs, and our emotions. We are all in the same boat, all rocking on the ocean of samsara. Once we see that, compassion for all flows naturally.
Such a view doesn’t excuse any of us from any negative actions we engaged in, of course—we still need to take responsibility for our actions—but it does ease our emotional turmoil and help us to act in a wise and compassionate way. And why should we aim to act in a wise and compassionate way? Not because Buddhism says that’s what we should do, but simply because it makes the most effective action.

When we do need to check others

Judging is not the same as discerning. Judgement includes a value judgement of something being better or worse than something else. Discernment, however, simply discerns what is what and how this is different to that. We don’t need judgement because it keeps our hearts and minds small and tends to lead to harm, but we do need discernment. We need to discern whether it is safe to cross the road, whether that food is healthy for us, whether that person is someone we should risk accompanying on a date and so on. And we need to discern whether or not a spiritual teacher is someone we can trust, whether his words constitute the truth and when a spiritual community is a healthy one.
The single most important quality that a spiritual teacher should have is compassion, and the same goes for the community of practitioners around the teacher. It is vital not only for our spiritual path but also for our mental health that we discern whether or not a likely candidate for spiritual teacher and community have this quality or not.
But as we check the following aspects of what compassion looks like, let’s not forget to check ourselves as well.

What does compassion look like?

Absolute compassion is practiced and realised through meditation, in particular meditation on the true nature of reality. Relative compassion is practiced in two ways: in aspiration and in action. Someone practicing compassion aspires to treat all beings with love and compassion. They aspire to see everyone as a friend, and not see some as enemies and others as friends, not see some as worthy of their love and compassion and others as not. They aspire to bring happiness and the causes of happiness to all beings, to help them all be free from suffering and the causes of suffering, and to rejoice in any happiness that anyone has. Aspiration is not easy to see in others, but it’s easy to check in ourselves. The first thing to ask ourselves is do we see everyone as equally worthy of our love and compassion? If our love and compassion are limited only to some, it’s better than having no compassion at all, but it’s expanding our love and compassion to all beings equally that will bring us closer to wisdom. It’s not easy to do in practice, of course, but we can at least aspire to treat everyone with the same love and compassion.
Aspiration is only a start, though. It’s easy to sit back on your cushion after a session of meditation on love and compassion and think that’s enough, to think that you don’t need to do anything other than feel compassionate, but the way to grow compassion and the way to see it in others is in action, in putting ourselves on the line for others – like the 8 authors of the July letter did – in actually putting yourself out for others.  Compassion in action in Buddhism consists of generosity, patience, ethical discipline, joyful diligence, meditative concentration and insight or discriminating awareness wisdom. Once again, we see the importance of wisdom, of actually using our discriminating awareness in our action so that we make the best choices in terms of action.
These 6 perfections as they are known can be broken down into subsections and examined at length. They can also be simplified into one word – kindness. A kindness that genuinely cares for the well-being of others.

Remember the boat

Everyone, unless they are a fully realised Buddha, fail to live up to these ideals all the time, which is why humility is also considered an important quality for spiritual teachers and practitioners alike. If one has true humility, admitting one’s failings is not an issue, and seeing the failings in others is a reason for compassion not hatred, because you recognise your shared humanity; you recognise that you are in the same boat on the same ocean, subjected to the same swells, troughs and storms. When someone falls overboard in danger of drowning in the ocean of samsara, compassion isn’t just praying they’ll be safe, it’s reaching out over the waves, putting yourself in danger to try to pull them back on board.
At least that’s my understanding. I might be wrong, of course. What do you think?
Post by Tahlia. 

Current and previous students of Rigpa wanting private support are welcome to join the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
Ex-Rigpa students and their dharma friends who want to move on from the discussion of abuse in Rigpa can stay in touch through the Dharma Companions Facebook Group.  
The What Now? Reference Material page has links to a wealth of articles in the topics related to abuse in Buddhist communities. For links to places to assist in healing from abuse see the sangha care resources page.
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What Those Harmed by Sogyal Rinpoche Experienced & How to Help Them Heal

What those harmed actually experienced from their trusted teacher.

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

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

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

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

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

The kind of effect their experiences may have had on them

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

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

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

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

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

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

The cost

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

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

What can Rigpa students do to help those harmed?

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

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

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

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

The power of apology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How hard is it to say sorry?

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

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

Love and disapproval can go together

I’m interupting the series comparing the Weinstein accusations with those of Sogyal Rinpoche to remind us all that everyone involved in both scandals are just human and therefore like us. We all have failings and we all have our special abilities and these two sides of us can and do go together.
Some of you are not going to want to hear what follows. Some of you will likely leave terrible comments. Others will simply not believe it, but since I have been putting my name to my writing here recently, I want to be clear on my personal ‘position.’ I believe there are some misunderstandings floating around due to the fact that our deluded minds tend to be very dualistic. We assume that if something is so, then its apparent opposite cannot also be so.
Language requires that we decide at what point something is this and what point it is that and label it so others will understand. Black contains no white, and white contains no black, so they should be easy to ascertain. But where there is no light, everything appears black. Grey, however, has a much greater breadth of meaning because grey can be dark or light and every shade in between. One thing we know about grey is that, regardless of how much of each colour it has, it contains both black and white. People are like that. We have within us the seeds of happiness and the seeds of suffering. Sometimes we water the seeds of suffering, and sometimes we water the seeds of joy. That’s how it is. Buddhism teaches us to water the seeds of joy, but that doesn’t mean that all Buddhists manage to do that all of the time. That’s why we need teachers and sangha, to remind us of the dharma.

Hatred or compassion?

So if someone does something unskilful, they have watered the seeds of their own suffering. For that reason they are due our compassion, not our hatred. Hatred does not help them, and it does not help us; in fact hatred when we cling to it harms us, not just the person to which our hatred is focused. I don’t have to tell a Buddhist that.
Buddhaghosa, in discussing anger said: “By doing this you are like a man who wants to hit another and picks up a burning ember or excrement in his hand and so first burns himself or makes himself stink.” Visuddhimagga IX, 23.


Emotions tend to polarise people. If we are angry, then we are not happy, that’s clear. However we label our own feelings is up to us, but when we try to label other people’s feelings we can misread situations very easily. We can be angry one moment and happy the next, so if we note an angry tone in someone’s voice, that does not make them an angry person. What we read as angry, may not even be anger at all; it may be its purified form, mirror-like wisdom. Avoiding projections is not easy when emotions come into play. Judgement can leap to the fore, and we can forget that it is human to feel, and that it is not the arising of emotion, or even the brief expression of it, that causes us problems, but the holding onto it. We think of anger as bad, but anger purified is wisdom. Our task is to see the true nature of the anger and release the wisdom at its core. That frees us of its hold and frees us to act without agenda.

Negative or positive?

What appears negative may not be negative in the long run. Maybe you know the story of the old man, his horse that ran away then brought back more horses, and his son who broke his leg by falling off the horse then avoided being drafted into a war. The old man never framed any of the events as good or bad, because though they appeared bad or good at the time, later circumstances changed them to their opposite. So if you think this blog is all negative, all against Sogyal Rinpoche and Rigpa, remember that story. And the same applies if you think it is too positive. If the results of what you see as negative (or not negative enough) is a clarification of our understanding of what dharma truly is, and particularly if it contributes to removing abusive behaviour from Buddhism, then even the (to some) apparently negative words here will have served a good purpose.
The aim of my writing on this topic, and of this blog, is not to bring anyone down, but to help wake people up, to make them aware of the bigger picture, and rouse them to act for the benefit of the future of the dharma in the West.

As His Holiness said in Dharamsala in 1993:
“What is in the best interest of the Buddhadharma is much more important than anything concerning an individual guru. Therefore, if it is necessary to criticize a guru to save the Buddhadharma or to benefit several hundred of their disciples, do not hesitate. Afterwards you can go to that teacher and explain that you acted as you did with a pure motivation.”

Sometimes I may sound a little harsh, and I apologise if that hurts anyone. I do try to walk the middle way, but I am a deluded being like all of us and prone to the same lacks of judgement we all display sometimes. The point I am making here is that, just as SR was quite certain that he had never acted with the intention to harm anyone, I too have the intention only to benefit. If my methods seem harmful to you, then understand that, in the same way, SR’s methods were also harmful to some. If what I write does not contribute to the benefit of the dharma, then I apologises for my lack of skill.

The behaviour is not the person.

If someone expresses their love for someone who has behaved badly, that does not mean that they support the person’s behaviour, but our dualistic minds tend to make those kind of assumptions. As a parent I could scold my child, but my love for her never waned. I could tell her that her behaviour was inappropriate or unskilful, but my love for her never wavered for a moment. It was necessary for her development into an ethical human being that I made it clear when she stepped over the line between what is beneficial and what is harmful, and so it is for me with Sogyal Rinpoche and Rigpa.
So let’s get this straight.
Though I have zero tolerance of abuse in all its forms, and I do not condone in any way at all the behaviour attested to by the 8 students in their letter, I still love Sogyal Rinpoche. My heart connection with him is unbreakable. I still pray for him and wish him well.
Though I no longer wish to receive teachings from him, I still honour him as my root teacher.
Though I recognise that the interpretation of certain teachings contributed to a lack of ethical discernment in both student and teacher, I still recognise the value of what SR taught me, the heart-warming interactions I had with him, and the good he brought to many.
I still love my Rigpa friends, even those who have abused me.
I still care for the Rigpa community and, even when most unforgiving of the organisation’s failings, pray that it will truly heal.
I find myself in a position to be a necessary voice for those who see the need for reform, but I bear no ill will to anyone, including those with more radical views on either ‘side’, and I see the validity of all points of view, even when most vehemently stating mine.
I respect the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and do not want to see the power of it as a means of personal transformation diminished, and since His Holiness the Dalia Lama and Mingyur Rinpoche have shown the way forward with their enlightened commentaries, it’s clear to me that removing the feudal structure will not diminish its effectiveness in any way.
I am deeply sorry for the harm people have allegedly experienced at the hands of my teacher and from the lack of care from my vajra brothers and sisters.
I am sad that the alleged actions of my teacher have harmed the reputation of Tibetan Buddhism, and I pray that my words may go some way towards the reparation of that harm and that they will contribute to the causes and conditions for a more enlightened future.
The reason I am still here, still writing, is because I care, and because others care enough to support me to keep writing. If I didn’t care, I would have walked away months ago.
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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Have you broken Samaya? If so, what does that mean?

Sogyal Rinpoche is not well. He hasn’t been well for many years, but now it’s known that he has colon cancer, has had an operation and is facing chemotherapy. Orgyen Tobgyal, a lama who often taught at Lerab Ling recently gave a message to the Rigpa sangha asking students not to break any more samaya as it affects Sogyal Rinpoche’s health. It’s a simple statement, but it’s loaded with assumptions and ammunition for those who hold the kind of fundamentalist views that have polarised the sangha. He could have called for a healing of the rift in the sangha, something that would have a positive effect on the situation, but no, he had to call out the ‘samaya breakers’, an angle that only fosters the view point of those who blame their personal distress on those who have spoken out. Now they may blame their lama’s poor health on those who speak out – conveniently ignoring the fact that the cancer will have been there long before the end of July 2017. On top of that, he could also be seen as ‘laying a guilt trip’ on those who have spoken up and spoken out. This shows how little this lama understands the situation and the Western mind with its tendency for carrying guilt – something that is highly damaging for one’s psychological health. He seems to only be able to see the situation through the lens of Tibetan superstition. Either that or he simply lacks compassion for those who have been harmed.
For those of you who saw something helpful in Orgyen Tobgyal’s words, before you jump on the samaya breaker bandwagon and repeat the phrase like a war cry, consider that a better way of contributing to Sogyal Rinpoche’s recovery would be to heal the rift in the sangha, to reach out to those you may have maligned and offer them love and compassion instead of judgement and blame. Love and compassion sounds like dharma to me; blame doesn’t sound like dharma at all.
But rather than dwell on this man’s words, I’d like to reassure students that they have nothing to fear, that they don’t have to buy into a guilt trip.
First understand that this is just a belief system, one that you do not need to subscribe to. It is just a bunch of beliefs with no inherent reality, and you can choose to believe them or not. Even if their aim is to help you on your spiritual path, when used as a method of control (as in “shut up or go to hell”) they are not being used in a dharmic way, so have no qualms about ditching the whole lot. If beliefs have no meaning for you, then they will have no effect on you. Beliefs are only relevant to you if you believe in them. Do not confuse reality with beliefs about reality.
However, if the idea of samaya is not one you can’t or don’t want to simply discard (and I’m not saying you should, just that it is an option) then remember that samaya only applies to you if you have received empowerments from a lama, if you had a choice, and if you understood the commitment BEFORE you had the empowerment. (See Erick Pema Kunsang’s article.) For this lama, his speciality was giving the ultimate empowerment of the nature of mind, and that was often given before a student heard any mention of the concept of samaya. Also there was never any ‘if you don’t want samaya, leave now option’. If you never ‘got’ an introduction by not becoming certain of the nature of your mind, or you don’t have any idea of what samaya is all about, then you have no samaya with Sr. Many of us do, however, and many of us who maybe aren’t sure do ‘feel’ as if we have samaya, so let’s look a bit further into what this means for us.
Samaya is one of those concepts in Vajrayana Buddhism that can be quite complex and so easy to get confused about, but SR taught it quite simply. He said that in the context of Dzogchen it is simply your heart connection with your lama, and that for so long as we kept that connection pure, we were keeping our samaya. If you are a student of SR concerned about your samaya with him, I suggest that this is the meaning you should take, because this is how he would have explained it to you.
Under this interpretation, no one can say what your heart connection with your lama is, no one except you. Only you know whether or not you still appreciate what you received from him. On the matter of breaking samaya when speaking out about a lama’s unethical behaviour, His Holiness the Dalai Lama in the conference for Western Buddhist teachers in 1993 said:

“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 wants to be happy and overcome suffering, and once their negative action stops, they will become a friend. The troublemaker is the afflictions and actions. Speaking out against the action does not mean that we hate the person. For example, we Tibetans fight Chinese injustice, but it doesn’t mean we are against the Chinese as human beings, even those who are ruthless. 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 bad behavior will continue and will harm the Buddhadharma, and we still remain silent, that is wrong.”

That’s how you keep your samaya pure. It’s quite simple. It’s not speaking out that breaks samaya; it’s speaking out of hatred or a desire for revenge; it’s rejecting the good along with the bad. The instruction to keep samaya shouldn’t be a way to stop us speaking up about a lama’s bad behaviour, surely it’s supposed to help us to remember to value what is valuable, because that is beneficial for us. So even while we discard some aspect of the lama that is not valuable, if we still value what is valuable from our time with them, then we have not broken samaya. All it really means is that we are walking away with a balanced view, one that, surely, is healthiest for our sanity.
You can examine his lack of qualifications for teaching madyamika (which would be why he never taught it) at the same time as recognising that he did an excellent job of teaching Dzogchen, and at the very least introduce you to dharma. Separating the man’s Buddha nature from his confused nature, also helps. The benefit you received came when he was in the nature of his mind, the bad behaviour came when he was in his confused mind.  We can respect the Buddha nature in everyone, even in the perpetrators of abuse. That is the dharmic way.
What is this vajra hell we’re supposed to end up in if we break samaya, anyway? Surely it is merely the anguish of being in the mental state of hatred. Worse would be rejecting your experience of the nature of your own mind. That would probably set your spiritual path back a bit.
If you look at yourself and admit that you hate Sr through and through and can see nothing good about anything he has done at all, then you could simply drop the whole belief system, and move on with your life, unsubscribe from the belief that samaya exists or has relevance in your life. But if you keep picking at the wound over and over again, it’s not healthy for you; it simply hurts you over and over again. (This is not just dharma, it’s basic psychology.) If you can’t manage to unsubscribe completely, then remember that samaya can be repaired. Reparation does not require shutting up or apologising for speaking out, it simply requires accepting whatever benefit you got as still being valid. Perhaps you might also learn one day to see him as a victim of his own upbringing and circumstances and learn to forgive.
Though some Tibetan lamas seem to use the idea of samaya in an unhealthy way, I doubt that control was the original intention. I certainly aren’t buying into any guilt trip!
If you scholarly types are looking for references for this understanding, try putting aside what you think you know, look into your heart and ask yourself if this perspective makes sense, or if it is not in accord with what His Holiness says. Do we need a reference for everything we believe, anyway? Can we, many of us after 20 or more years in the dharma, not look at things as they are for us directly and have some trust in that?


A Healing Contemplation for Students of Problematic Teachers. Berzin. Part 2

This is the second installment of our blog posts referencing Dr Alexander Berzin’s  Wise Teacher, Wise Student: Tibetan Approaches to a Healthy Relationship. Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2010.  Part one on historical and cultural factors affecting the student teacher relationship in Tibetan Buddhism can be found HERE.
The chapter on Dealing with Problematic Teachers includes a contemplation that could be used in centres to help students balance the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ and focus on the good for the purposes of their spiritual practice, while also acknowledging the ‘bad’.  I think this could help a lot of students to heal.
Though he calls it ‘sutra-level’ guru meditation and it’s from the Gelupka school of Tibetan Buddhism, do not make the assumption that that means it’s not relevant for Rigpa students. It’s extremely relevant.
The contemplation is for all students of problematic teachers, not just those who felt emotionally, physically or sexually abused. This debacle has hurt us all in one way or another.

“For thorough healing, spiritually wounded disciples need eventually to be able to view their mentors’ faults and mistakes clearheadedly, free of naivety, anger, or recrimination. … Guru-meditation does not ask us to deny the accurate conventional appearances of what our mentors’ faults or mistakes may be. … Such an understanding allows us to see how our mentors’ faults and mistakes have arisen dependently on an enormous number of complex factors.”


The topic headings are:

The sections in bold can be used as a contemplation for general students. The last two sections are most relevant to those who have felt the full force of a teachers abusive behaviour and are having trouble seeing the positive aspects of the teacher.

  • Applying Sutra-Level Guru-Meditation to a Faulty or Abusive Teacher
  • Reviewing a Teacher’s Faults and mistakes
  • Creating a Protected Mental Space for Addressing Spiritual Wounds

  • Examining the Appearances That the Mind Creates

  • The Analogy with Contextual Therapy for Victims of Abuse

  • Teachers Involved in Controversy

  • Overcoming Emotional Blocks in Appreciating Kindness

  • Overcoming Emotional Blocks in Showing Respect

A surgical procedure

Berzin likens this proces of reviewing a teacher’s faults to a surgical procedure, and points out that this can’t be done until the student has recovered from the initial trauma – be it the trauma of being abused or the shock of discovering your teacher has behaved badly:

Before discerning and focusing on the good qualities and kindness of their mentors, disciples need to bring to conscious awareness the teachers’ shortcomings and work on their view of them. The process resembles a surgical procedure. Cleaning an infected wound requires cutting it open, even though lancing the abscess and exposing the infection temporarily increases the pain. In the case of a festering spiritual wound, the hidden infection may be denial or suppressed rage. To purge the infection requires reopening the wound and bringing to the surface what festers beneath, even though the procedure temporarily may bring more emotional pain. The operation must wait, of course, until the injured person has sufficiently recovered from the initial trauma and has regained the emotional strength to attack the problem.

Read the full chapter here: https://studybuddhism.com/en/advanced-studies/lam-rim/student-teacher-relationship/the-dynamics-of-a-healthy-student-teacher-relationship/dealing-with-problematic-teachers
The next post in this series will be looking at the queston, ‘Is the Guru a Buddha?’

Be sure to check out the What Now? Reference Material page for links to a wealth of articles in the topics related to abuse in Buddhist communities. For links to places to assist in healing from abuse see the sangha care resources page.
More personal and private support for current and previous students of Rigpa can be found in the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite. Please use the email address you use on Facebook.


A Heartfelt Response to Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche on "Guru and Student in Vajrayana"

A number of  Rigpa students have said they resonate with Bernie S’s honest and heartfelt response to Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche’s 10,000 word Facebook post on  “Guru and Student in Vajrayana.”  Some feel he’s uncannily described their own experience and written what they have been unable to fully express themselves.
Bernie has studied with Sogyal Rinpoche for almost thirty years, and held various positions in Rigpa U. S., including Study and Practice Director and Director of the Distance Learning Program.  He also was an Instructor and an Instructor Training Facilitator.
This is how Bernie’s begins his message to Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche: Continue reading “A Heartfelt Response to Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche on "Guru and Student in Vajrayana"”

Process and the Belief at the Core of the Problem


The Good and the Bad

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

More Students Respond to Latest Plans from Rigpa: "Not Ready to Trust"

Not everyone is entirely pleased with the two letters received by the Rigpa Sangha on August 11, one announcing Sogyal Rinpoche’s resignation as a spiritual director of the organization, and the other explaining Rigpa’s plans for moving forward with an independent investigation of abuse allegations.
Some feel hesitant to trust, and others feel the matter goes beyond trust.
This long-time former student, expresses her hesitations after reading an optimistic post in the What Now? Facebook group, recently shared on this blog.
Continue reading “More Students Respond to Latest Plans from Rigpa: "Not Ready to Trust"”

Students Respond to the Latest News from Rigpa: "Content to Wait and See."

I was extremely pleased with the two letters received by the Rigpa Sangha on April 11, one announcing Sogyal Rinpoche’s resignation as spiritual director of the organisation, and the other explaining the position of the Rigpa management and how they intended to proceed.
After His Holiness the Dalai Lama said that Sogyal Rinpoche had been disgraced and that his students had done the right thing in publicising his unethical behaviour, stepping down was the only way to give Rigpa, the organisation, a chance to continue without continuing to be tainted by Sogyal Rinpoche’s unethical actions into the future. Now that he has done this, it is clearly the students’ responsibility to clean up the organisation. Rinpoche suggested that Rigpa could continue by bringing a range of teachers to the West from all the Tibetan traditions, a direction I always saw as the way forward for the organisation. So I feel this is very good.
Continue reading “Students Respond to the Latest News from Rigpa: "Content to Wait and See."”