Hollywood & Rigpa Comparison, pt 4 – Time to Stand Together

The alleged abuses by Sogyal Rinpoche and Harvey Weinstein have been going on for decades, sometimes in situations where others were aware of the behaviour, so why did it take so long for people with complaints to be taken seriously? Where they not aware, or were they complicit by their silence?

Just rumours

Again some of the statements made by celebrities about Weinstein echo the feelings of many Rigpa students about Sogyal:
Kate Winslet acknowledged that there had been whisperings over the years: ‘I had hoped that these kind of stories were just made-up rumours, maybe we have all been naive.’
George Clooney said, “The rumours in general started back in the 90s, and they were that certain actresses had slept with Harvey to get a role. “It seemed like a way to smear the actresses and demean them by saying that they didn’t get the jobs based on their talent, so I took those rumours with a grain of salt.”
In the past when other accusations came to light, Rigpa management held special sessions for instructors to tell them what to say to anyone asking about the accusations. In these sessions we were told that the women making the claims were unstable or simply a girlfriend who felt jilted, and senior instructors running the session assured us that they believed that Sogyal had never harmed anyone.

Normalising the abuse

Many students (if not most) who have experienced being hit or publically humiliated do not consider it an abuse but an act of love.  Earlier this year Sogyal Rinpoche gut punched a nun in front of around 1000 people, but despite her obvious distress at the time, a year later in a private letter she explained how she didn’t see it as abuse at all.
Rigpa students are taught from their very first retreat with Sogyal to see his public humiliation of students as a form of kindness and the actions of an enlightened being or ‘crazy wisdom’ master. They are told to suspend their critical mind and drop their concepts of good and bad. The result is a normalising of abuse as happens in the case of abusive families. It’s also one mark of a cult. Even with Sogyal resigned from his position, if students are still being taught in that way there is still a problem.
The equivalent in the Weinstein case would be his employees accepting that abuse by Weinstein was perfectly normal and acceptable, and those effected not being aware that they had, in fact, been abused.
The normalising of the boss’s behaviour appears to apply in both cases. In an article titled ‘The Cult of Harvey’, The Guardian reports that ‘Webster admitted that Weinstein’s predatory behaviour towards young women was common knowledge but that the culture of Miramax led them to “compartmentalise it”.’
Statements in the article make it clear that, according to these employees, Weinstein’s behaviour was not only damaging to women. Paul Webster, who was head of production at Miramax between 1995 and 1997, said, “Everything Harvey did was all about manipulation and fear. He was a massive bully. He would flatter people, get the best out of them and then dump on them really, really hard to destroy them. It was this whole thing of breaking people down so you could build them up in your own image.”
And from the letter from the 8 students:
“Your emotional and psychological abuse has been perhaps more damaging than the physical scars you have left on us. When we have worked for you while organizing and setting up the infrastructure for you to teach at different places around the world (Europe, North America, Australia, and India and Nepal), your shaming and threatening have led some of your closest students and attendants to emotional breakdowns. You have always told us to be appreciative of the personal attention that you give, that you were “pointing out our hidden faults” in our character, and freeing us from “our self-cherishing ego.” We no longer believe this to be so. 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.”
These similarities remind us that the case of Sogyal Rinpoche is not an isolated one, and not exclusive to any organisation.  However, when it occurs in a ‘spiritual’ organisation, it is even more shocking and reprehensible.

Silence suggests support.

In one article, The Guardian says that they ‘contacted more than 20 male actors and directors who have worked with the movie mogul over the years. … All declined to comment or did not respond to inquiries about the accusations.’
Very few Tibetan lamas have said anything on the matter.
‘Migdia Chinea, a film-maker and screenwriter, said it was “outrageous” that so few men had been willing to speak up.
Many feel the same about the lack of comment by Tibetan Lamas.
‘Rose McGowan, one of the most prominent Weinstein accusers, has called for the entire board of men in Weinstein’s company to resign and tweeted that men have remained silent because “they are weak and scared”.’
An article on the What Now? blog also called for the resignation of Rigpa’s upper management and the accusation of them being weak and scared could equally be applied to them. Though five members of the Weinstein Company’s board have resigned, no one has resigned from Rigpa’s upper management.
Laura Finley, a Barry University professor and author of Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault in Popular Culture, said it can make a huge difference when men publicly support women who have come forward.
It also makes a huge difference when other women come forward, and when members of a community as a whole support those who speak out. This has happened a lot more in the Hollywood community than in the Tibetan Buddhist community where the silence of so many Tibetan lamas is seen by many to make them supporters of the abuse.
Many Rigpa students are also remaining silent, but isn’t it time, given the overwhelming indication about how the majority of the Western world feels about abuse that they, and those men contacted by The Guardian stand by those who have spoken out, and support them for their courageous stand. It appears that those who stand up in support have more courage and moral fibre than those who remain silent.

Further cases make the mood clear

Allegations of sexual abuse has destroyed the reputation of actor Kevin Spacey, and The Minister of Defence in the UK and comedian Louis CK confessed that allegations made against him were true. Complaints are stacking up in the Illinois Capital, and the Gate Theatre in Ireland made a statement in the wake of claims of abuse and misuse of power. The reactions to these are the same as they were for Harvey Weinstein, making it quite clear where the Western world stands on this issue.
The success of the #Me Too campaign also highlighted the extent of the problem,  the desire for change and the power of people standing together.
In a discussion on News Hour Lynne Bernabei said, ‘I think that’s why this talk of banding together, the #MeToo campaign, all the campaigns to bring women together to sort of create that change or break through this sort of veil of silence on this issue, is going to be the most important thing we can gain from this series of scandals.’
Not only does the success of this campaign make it clear that sexual abuse is rife in our society but also that it’s clear that the time has come to act decisively to stop it and other forms of abuse.  Buddhist organisations are not exempt from this movement in our society, and if they do not reframe the beliefs that allow these abuses to flourish, they will be discredited. The very institutions they think they are saving by holding onto antiquated ideas will die because they are holding on. Change has always occurred when Buddhism enters a new country, and the West is demanding that the abuse cease. Considering that ethics is the very basis of the Buddha’s teachings, it is hard for people to understand why this should be an issue. It’s time to stand together and stand up against abuse in all its forms.


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

Hollywood & Rigpa: a comparison. Part 3 – Reactions

The news of Weinstein’s abusive behaviour set off a landslide of comments by celebrities against sexual abuse and in support of those who spoke out .
“It’s with a feeling of nausea,” Colin Firth said, “that I read what was going on while I was benefiting from Harvey Weinstein’s support. He was a powerful and frightening man to stand up to. It must have been terrifying for these women to step up and call him out. And horrifying to be subjected to that kind of harassment. I applaud their courage.”
 
The Guardian Reported that:
‘Pulcini, a writer and director, emailed a statement to the Guardian after publication of this story, saying: “I have such admiration for the women who have spoken up. What bravery. There should be zero tolerance EVERYWHERE for this kind of horrifying behavior.”
 
‘DiCaprio published a short statement late Tuesday night that did not name Weinstein but said: “There is no excuse for sexual harassment or sexual assault – no matter who you are and no matter what profession.
 
‘Affleck also released a statement Tuesday, saying: “I am saddened and angry that a man who I worked with used his position of power to intimidate, sexually harass and manipulate many women over decades.”’
 
These reactions reflect the responses of the broader community to the Wenstein scandal, and they also reflect the reactions of a large number of Buddhist students both in and outside of Rigpa to news of Sogyal Rinpoche’s allegedly abusive behaviour.
 
In an article in The Lion’s Roar Mingyur Rinpoche, a respected Tibetan Buddhist teacher, said:
“We must distinguish teachers who are eccentric or provocative—but ultimately compassionate and skillful—from those who are actually harming students and causing trauma. These are two very different things, and it is important that we do not lump them together. There are plenty of teachers who push and provoke students to help them learn about their minds, but that is not abuse. Physical, sexual, and psychological abuse are not teaching tools.
… It should go without saying that when schools, businesses, and other public institutions are expected to adhere to a code of conduct and the laws of the land, then spiritual organizations should be role models of ethical behavior. And teachers even more so.”
 
On the 1st of August in Leh, Ladakh, India, His Holiness the Dalai Lama said, ‘Now, recently Sogyal Rinpoche; my very good friend, but he’s disgraced.’  
And in Frankfurt on 14th September 2017, he said that lamas that do wrong should be arrested. He also said that such behaviour is not in accord with Buddhism:
‘The ethical principles of how to behave as teachers are clearly stated in the Buddhist texts. And these cases of abuse, which are reported, are clearly diametrically opposed to these principles.’
The Buddhist Union in France revoked Rigpa’s membership, and many Western teachers spoke out, most notably Mattheiu Rickard who said, ‘The behavior described in this letter and in the other past testimonies is obviously unacceptable—from the point of view of ordinary morality and especially from that of Buddhist ethics. This is all the more so given the considerable suffering that has resulted from such actions.’

Differences in Reactions

You’ll notice how very polite these statements from Buddhist teachers are and how they do not actually criticise Sogyal Rinpoche or his behaviour. Instead they speak in general terms. This is because in Tibetan Buddhist Culture it is not considered right to criticise other teachers. In light of that, these statements by His Holiness and Mingyur Rinpoche are very brave. Most Tibetan teachers have remained silent on the issue.
Many Buddhist students, however, in private or on social media were less polite in their responses, and were the letter to get into the NYT it’s likely that the reaction would be the same from the general population. It’s only within the Buddhist community that reactions are muted and even supportive.
Despite Weinstein sending an email to ask for support, no one spoke up publically in support of him, and yet many still support Sogyal Rinpoche and even feel he has done no wrong. Those voices are loud in certain Facebook groups. The most notable support for Sogyal Rinpoche and his behaviour are the statements made by fundamentalist lamas who cling to unnecessarily rigid ideas in stark contrast to His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s position on the beliefs involved.

Supportive comments

Dzongsar Khyentse addressed the situation specifically, and though he raised questions about Sogyal’s qualifications as a teacher and lacks in adequately training his students, he basically said that the students should not have criticised their teacher or spoken up about the alleged abuses.
This is in direct opposition to what His Holiness the Dalai Lama said:
‘Buddhist teachers who abuse sex, power, money, alcohol, or drugs, and who, when faced with legitimate complaints from their own students, do not correct their behavior, should be criticized openly and by name. This may embarrass them and cause them to regret and stop their abusive behavior. Exposing the negative allows space for the positive side to increase. When publicizing such misconduct, it should be made clear that such teachers have disregarded the Buddha’s advice. However, when making public the ethical misconduct of a Buddhist teacher, it is only fair to mention their good qualities as well.’
Dzongsar Khyentse also said: ‘However you describe Sogyal Rinpoche’s style of teaching, the key point here is that if his students had received a Vajrayana initiation, if at the time they received it they were fully aware that it was a Vajrayana initiation, and if Sogyal Rinpoche had made sure that all the necessary prerequisites has been adhered to and fulfilled, then from the Vajrayana point of view, there is nothing wrong with Sogyal Rinpoche’s subsequent actions.’
All the students who spoke out had received the ultimate empowerment of the nature of mind, so according to this view, they should have seen nothing wrong with being hit, humiliated and sexually harassed. And if they did see it as wrong then they shouldn’t have spoken out about it. Furthermore, he is saying that according to his religion there is nothing wrong with a teacher abusing students so long as he has given them an empowerment.
Imagine the furor if someone said the following about Weinstein:
However you describe Weinstein’s style of management, the key point here is that if his employees had received a contract, if at the time they received it they were fully aware that it was a contract, and if Weinstein had made sure that all the necessary prerequisites has been adhered to and fulfilled, then from the contract’s point of view, there is nothing wrong with Weinstein’s subsequent actions.
 

No place for victim blaming

When teaching in Lerab Ling, Namdrol Rinpoche, another Tibetan Buddhist teacher, said about the student’s speaking up, not about the teacher’s behaviour: ‘From a spiritual point of view it [speaking up] goes against every aspect of Dharma. And from a worldly point of view it is so disrespectful and unnecessary and also instilling doubt and wrong view in the minds of so many disciples unnecessarily, to the point where they may even turn their minds away from the Dharma for good.’
Here he says that the ‘problem’ lies with the students who spoke up, not with the unethical behaviour itself. It’s akin to blaming the child abused by a Catholic priest of breaking the sanctity of the confession box, while ignoring the crime committed by the priest.
Try substituting the word ‘it’ for the word ‘abuse’ and the above statement makes a lot more sense.
Unsurprisingly, the words of Namdrol Rinpoche infuriated some, confused others and reassured those who want to hold onto the idea that their teacher is enlightened and the apparently abusive behaviour is only the complainant’s perception, not reality. For many it was the final thing that turned them away from the religion. And yet, Namdrol Rinpoche blames the students who spoke up for turning their minds away from the dharma, not the teacher who abused his students and the lama who defended him.
This is in stark contrast to the enormous support those who spoke up about Weinstein received in the general community. Imagine the backlash that would occur if someone publically stated that it was wrong for those women to have spoken up? No one would suggest that those who came forward in the recent investigation into abuse in the Catholic Church should not have done so. They were applauded for their courage, and many Buddhists also applauded the 8 letter writers for their courage. The idea that people should not tell others that they have been abused is untenable in today’s Western society.
Orgyen Tobgyal is another teacher who takes the same stance. He told one of the 8 letter writers that he had broken samaya (his spiritual ‘contract’ with his teacher) and would go to hell for speaking out. In a subsequent statement, he essentially blamed the students who spoke up for Sogyal’s ill health, and in a teaching at the Rigpa Paris centre, he said that he saw ‘no problem’ with Sogyal’s behaviour, that ‘beating increases wisdom’ and that if a great master kills someone it is not problem.
Is anyone saying that Weinstein’s alleged behaviour is not a problem? No. They are not. Clearly it is a problem, and so is the allegedly abusive behaviour of Sogyal.
An article in the Seattle Times made it quite clear that in the modern world there is no place for victim blaming, and this is true no matter which way you phrase it. Blaming the girl who is raped for her rape is something we relegate to third world countries with medieval beliefs and to our own past in less enlightened times. These ‘fundamentalist’ teachers are showing that their ideas on the matter of abuse by a spiritual teacher do not belong in the West. Luckily there are other lamas with more enlightened views, thus the problem is not with the religion itself, but with how it is interpreted.
The mainstream Western world would not tolerate support for such behaviour in Weinstein’s case, and they would not tolerate support for it in Sogyal Rinpoche’s case either – if they knew. Though they published an article on allegations of abuse by Sogyal Rinpoche back in 2011, The Guardian, whose articles I have sourced here, has so far not published anything on the recent scandal. An article has appeared in The Telegraph, however, but the story is yet to make it to the New York Times. If it does will the Western world make allowances for Sogyal Rinpoche because he is a religious figure? No. They are more likely to be more horrified than they were over Weinstein, not less.
There are two more parts to this examination, so stay tuned …


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

Hollywood and Rigpa: a comparison. Part 2 – Culture

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

High-powered, entitled men

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

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

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

Consensual sex and power imbalance

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

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

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

Excuses and support

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

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

Enablers

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

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

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


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

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

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

Apology

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

A history of cover ups

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

Code of silence

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

Resignations

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

Investigation

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

Code of Conduct

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

How does Rigpa compare?

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


Current and previous students of Rigpa wanting personal and private support in regards to the abuse issue can be found in the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite using the email address you use on Facebook
If you would like to stay in contact with and support ex-Rigpa students, we have created the Dharma Companions Facebook Group.  The group files include lists of online courses with reputable teachers, and members can join monthly Skype meetings and retreats. If you’re interested, click the link and ask to join. You will need to answer some questions before being admitted to the group.
Be sure to check out the What Now? Reference Material page for links to a wealth of articles in the topics related to abuse in Buddhist communities. For links to places to assist in healing from abuse see the sangha care resources page.
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Wake up Tibetan Lamas: Are You Destroying Your Religion?

The Chinese tried to destroy Tibetan Buddhism inside Tibet. They failed, but outside of Tibet some Tibetan lamas (not all) are destroying it all by themselves. No help needed. Ignorance parading as wisdom will do it all by itself. Just take a person brought up to believe they are some kind of god, feed them ‘teachings’ designed to support the power structure that sets them up at the top of their own little kingdom, and let them loose on the Western world where there are plenty of naive students willing to turn to them as their saviour and do everything they say without question and you have a situation ripe for abuse. Unless they are good monks or their own teacher has made it clear to them that being a Vajrayana master doesn’t give them licence to ignore basic Buddhist ethics, there is nothing to stop them, no governing body. And the attempts of some lamas to cling to their cozy little kingdoms in the guise of maintaining authentic teachings may bring about the end of Westerners respect for Tibetan Buddhism.
 

What destroys the religion

  1. A lama physically, sexually and emotionally abuses some of his students and uses others as slaves who do his bidding without question or concern for their own health. Lamas who destroy Western respect for them and their religion will say that:
    • It isn’t abuse, it’s crazy wisdom. This makes it look like they think their lamas are above the law.
    • It’s only a worldly perspective and not a dharmic perspective. This makes it look as if Tibetan Buddhism is not at all concerned with ethics or compassion. It also appears arrogant and condescending, and again as if they think they are above the law of the land in which they teach.
    • Once you accept a teacher as your teacher you have to obey them in all things and if you have correct perception, you would not see it as abuse but as a blessing. This makes Tibetan Buddhism look like a cult and lamas more interested in maintaining power than benefiting their students. Why? Because students are being asked to set aside their right to say no, and their right to use their discernment as to what is best for their own health. That is a very unhealthy situation for the student.The important thing for lamas to realise here is that, regardless of the truth of these ideas from a religious point of view, they are teaching in the West which is full of Westerners, therefore they would be unwise to disregard or demean Western perceptions and values. Also they are subject to the law of the land in which they teach.
  2. Other lamas and students support the lama who has been exposed as indulging in abusive behaviour. This invariably takes the form of:
    • Victim blaming – the students aren’t ‘right’ for Vajrayana, they don’t understand it or the true importance of their lama’s behaviour, they should have checked the lama thoroughly before committing themselves to him, or they should be practicing a ‘lower’ yana which is not quite so risky. This appears very condescending. It also sidesteps the issue of the teacher’s poor behaviour by denigrating the victim.
      Victim blaming is a ruse that has been used for years to keep women from speaking up about rape and to turn juries against them in trials. All it does is contribute further to the suffering of those who have been harmed, which adds to the perception by Westerners that these lamas have no compassion.
    • Superstition and fear tactics – the students are at fault for speaking out and will be punished for it. One said they have been possessed by evil spirits or maras (negative forces). Another well-known denigrator of those who speak out says that they have broken their samaya (or sacred bond with their teacher) and will go to hell. Again these stances shows a complete lack of compassion for those harmed, says nothing about the actual problem, which is the abusive behaviour, terrifies people into silence, and maintains the power structure of the religion which keeps the lama at the top of his feudal kingdom. Where, a normal Westerner wonders, is the benefit in this for the student?
    • Support for physical abuse as a genuine spiritual teaching tool – In the Paris Rigpa centre recently one lama said that beating was a means to increase the student’s wisdom and realization. This is simply incredibly backward thinking to any normal Westerner. Thinking like this belongs in the dark ages. He also suggested that a lama killing someone was acceptable if the murderer is a Mahasiddha (a self-appointed title in this case). That idea is extremely dangerous particularly in those with delusions. Again this man thinks some lamas are above the law.  This is simply not acceptable in the West.
  3. Some lamas while not overtly supporting the abusive lama still support the ‘do as I say or go to hell’ idea, and go even further to belittle Westerners and trivialise the attestations of abuse with illconceived ‘humour’ that expose their misogyny and arrogance. Lamas that don’t respect the culture in which they teach have no business teaching here.
  4. Many lamas say nothing, thus making it look as if they condone the behaviour.
  5. The lamas (His Holiness Dalai Lama and Mingyur Rinpoche) who do speak out against abusive behaviour are few, but it is them that will save Tibetan Buddhism, not those who cling to literal understandings of teachings designed for uneducated people in the feudal system of the 8th Only those with a deep understanding of the absolute meaning of the teachings have the ability to apply them effectively to the present. These two lamas have this ability, others clearly don’t.

General perception

All this leaves any ordinary intelligent Westerner with the perception that the Tibetan lamas care more about maintaining their power structures than their students, and that their religion doesn’t work because the lamas appear to have no compassion and no ability to apply the wisdom of their tradition to a modern situation, or to actually live by it – either that or the religion is as decadent as the lamas who abuse their power.
Lamas need to understand that what destroys the religion in the eyes of the West are lamas who behave unethically and the lamas who defend them, not those who point out their bad behaviour.
 

Why it doesn’t have to be this way

Many lamas and Western scholars make it clear that students do not have to give up their discernment for Vajrayana to ‘work’, that the idea that complete obedience is required is an interpretation not an absolute. They speak of samaya as a way of seeing the world, of something we aspire to, rather than a series of rules that if broken lead to punishment in hell. These lamas appear to have a deeper understanding, one that goes beyond the Tibetan cultural bias. And yet, the lamas who are destroying their religion’s credibility will try to say that their interpretation does not apply. This makes it look further as if they are merely trying to maintain their positions of power.
Since it’s clearly a matter of interpretation, then why not choose the interpretation that has the least opportunity for harm, where a student maintains the right to ascertain whether a situation is healthy for them or not and where they feel free to say ‘No,’ and leave without fear of hell?  Such an interpretation still allows those who want to give complete obedience and give up their discernment the right to do so if they wish, but it doesn’t demand complete obedience from the thousands of students these lamas bind with samaya when they give empowerments.
Lamas who root for the ‘shut up and do as I say or go to hell’ team think that only they have the correct interpretation of the teachings, and they fear that Vajrayana will lose its power if their interpretation is not maintained, but this is not true. All they have to do is allow the student to choose for themselves just how far they are prepared to take their obedience. How is allowing the student to determine this for themselves an issue?
And how is insisting that the student give up their right of self-determination in accord with the Buddha’s teachings?
Even an S&M contract between a submissive and a dominant has a safe word, a get-out-of-jail-free card (as used in a board game called Monopoly), which allows the submissive the right to say when they have had enough. For Tibetan Buddhism to survive in the West that proviso must be given.

How to not destroy your religion

  • Talk to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Mingyur Rinpoche on how you should view the issue of abusive behaviour in a lama and take their advice, particularly on the topics of samaya and devotion. They have got it right. Westerners respect them. Follow their lead.
  • Show some respect for the humanitarian values that underpin Western law. They are in accord with the Buddha’s teaching, abuse of power is not.
  • Understand that you are not above Western law and must obey the law like everyone else.
  • Make a committment to ethical behaviour.
  • If you must demand complete obedience in all things from your students, then be very clear about that and tell them so in your advertising for empowerments – e.g. If you take this empowerment, you are accepting that you must obey me in all things and never criticise or complain, otherwise you will go to hell. If having sex with students, hitting them and emotionally abusing them are all acceptable to you, then make sure you tell your students that that’s what you’re offering.