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This week we have a post by Joanne Clark.
One belief on Tahlia’s list of “Beliefs We Need to Examine” has spoken particularly strongly to me: You must see your master as the Buddha if you want the blessings of the Buddha; This belief pervades Tibetan Buddhist culture. I had received that instruction myself, first from Sogyal Lakhar and later in a Kagyu monastery, years before I had even received a teaching on the Four Noble Truths. I had also heard the story of the woman who achieved realization as a result of praying to a dog’s tooth while believing that it was the tooth of the Buddha. Both teachings convey the idea that faith alone is sufficient to attain blessings and even realizations, that Buddha has that power through faith alone, like the power of Jesus Christ.
But this does not seem consistent with the Buddha’a teachings. In Vajrayana, seeing the master as a Buddha has a specific meaning and purpose, one that is profound and never divorced from discerning wisdom. However, when it is practiced without the necessary understanding and wisdom of discernment, then all of that meaning and purpose are lost—and dangerous abuses can easily occur.
About ten years ago, there was a big earthquake in Tibet. Some monasteries were destroyed and lives were lost. It was a terrible tragedy. During a broadcast interview of a Tibetan woman at the scene, she repeated several times the idea that they were waiting for the “living Buddha” to arrive and help. In her grief, that anticipation seemed to be the one thing that mattered to her. “The living Buddha is coming,” she said.
Shortly after, I heard that a teacher I knew had travelled to the scene. He was a renowned lama connected to one of the monasteries. Here in the West, some thought he was a crazy wisdom lama. There were stories about his unusual antics. The first time I met him, he smelled of smoke and alcohol and he could be pretty brutal to some of us as well. I wondered if he was the living Buddha?
Certainly, in the midst of tragedy, faith is a tremendous help, so I would never want to suggest that this woman’s faith was misguided. Nor can I judge who is and who isn’t a living Buddha. Faith gives us hope. I also have prayed simple prayers of faith to the Buddhas during my journey through trauma. But how far do we let simple faith go?
Some years ago, I visited a website of a well-known lama. There was a banner running across his homepage which read “If you see the lama as a Buddha, you will receive the blessings of a Buddha. If you see the lama as an ordinary being, you will receive the blessings of an ordinary being.” In light of the fact that this was the first page someone would find who might be just exploring the dharma for the first time, this was strange. It seemed no different than visiting the homepage of a Christian leader, with a banner that instructed followers to take Jesus Christ as their savior—except that Jesus Christ isn’t a man who could enter one’s bedroom some night.
When Milarepa was giving parting advice to his chief disciple Gampopa, he had this to say about seeing the lama as a Buddha:
“You can start to teach and spread the Dharma when you behold and stabilize the realization of Mind-Essence. In time you will see it more clearly, which will be quite a different experience from those you are having now. Then you will see me as the perfect Buddha Himself. This deep and unshakable conviction will grow in you. Then you may start to teach.” (The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa; translated by Garma Chang; p. 490-491)
In Milarepa’s perspective here, the experience of seeing the guru as a Buddha is the result of advanced realization and wisdom—not as something taken on as an early, naïve belief, not something separate from practice and wisdom—Milarepa doesn’t even present it as an instruction, but as a realization. This is an important distinction.
In Precious Garland, Nagarjuna wrote:
“4. High status is considered to be happiness,
Definite goodness is liberation.
The quintessence of their means
Is briefly faith and wisdom.
“5. Due to having faith one relies on the practices,
Due to having wisdom one truly knows.
Of these two wisdom is the chief,
Faith is its prerequisite.” (Precious Garland, First Chapter)
Nagarjuna is clear. We cannot have faith in the absence of wisdom and it helps to know the purpose for having faith. We can have beliefs and they are necessary, as long as they do not compromise our discernment, wisdom and practice, as long as we aren’t blinded by them and led astray by them. Simple, yes, but I think in practice it is not so simple, especially in the Vajrayana and for those of us who come from Judeo-Christian cultures. There is very little space between the instruction of seeing the master as a Buddha and the born-again experience of a Christian.
In a recent publication, HH Dalai Lama referred to the story of the woman who prayed to the dog’s tooth in a discussion on excessive faith. He wrote:
“It is easy to conclude from this story that blind faith is necessary on this path. This is clearly contrary to the Buddha’s emphasis on developing discriminating wisdom. I do not see much point in this story and propose, replacing it with the following, a more suitable account to illustrate the benefit of having confidence in the Three Jewels.
“Two or three centuries ago, a great teacher and sincere practitioner named Togyen Lama Rinpoche lived in Tibet. He had a small clay image of Tsongkhapa on his carefully tended altar. One day, due to Togyen Lama’s genuine practice and heartfelt aspirational prayers, that image of Tsongkhapa actually spoke and gave teachings to him. This came about not from the side of the statue but mainly due to Togyen Lama’s excellent practice. Due to his spiritual experiences and confidence in Tsongkhapa, this clay image became the real Tsongkhapa and spoke to him. However, for ordinary people who lack that kind of spiritual experience and faith, the statue just looked like clay.” (The Dalai Lama and Thubten Chodron, Approaching the Buddhist Path; p. 140).
Once again, in this story of strong faith, it is not separated from practice or discernment. Faith strengthens the practitioner’s wisdom—the statue is perceived to give teachings, not just blessings.
Thirty years ago, HH the Dalai Lama made a strong statement about the dangers of instructing students to see the guru as a perfect Buddha and sacrificing discernment to do so. These words are still relevant:
“It is frequently said that the essence of the training in guru-yoga is to cultivate the art of seeing everything the guru does as perfect; but personally, I myself do not like this to be taken too far. Often we see written in the scriptures, ‘Every action seen as perfect,’ but this phrase must be seen in the light of Buddha Shakyamuni’s own words: ‘Accept my teachings only after examining them as an analyst buys gold. Accept nothing out of mere faith for me.’ The problem with the practice of seeing everything the guru does as perfect is that it very easily turns to poison for both the guru and the disciple…” (Essence of Refined Gold, Commentary by Tenzin Gyatso; p.54).
And later, he made an ominous warning:
“As for the guru, if he misrepresents this precept of guru-yoga in order to take advantage of his naïve disciples, his actions are like pouring the liquid fires of hell directly into his stomach.” (p.55)
And he spoke about pure perception:
“The disciple must always keep reason and his knowledge of the Dharma as principal guidelines. Without this approach it is difficult to digest one’s Dharma experiences. Make a thorough examination before accepting someone as a guru and even then follow him within the conventions of reason as presented by Buddha. The teachings on seeing the guru’s actions as perfect should largely be left for the practice of highest tantra, wherein they take on a new meaning. One of the principal yogas in the tantric vehicle is to see the world as a mandala of great bliss and to see oneself and all others as Buddhas. Under these circumstances it becomes absurd to think that you and everyone else are Buddhas, but your guru is not!” (Essence of Refined Gold; Commentary by pp. 55-56)
So these beliefs do serve a purpose, as with the woman after the earthquake described above, but more particularly in the Vajrayana and even more so in Dzogchen. When we sit on the cushion, there is a purpose to viewing the lama as the Buddha, a purpose that increases the power of devotion and does not skew our critical awareness. There is a purpose to pure perception off the cushion for the practice of highest yoga tantra. There are many statements from Dzogchen masters about the importance of strong devotion in order to practice Dzogchen. It is essential for the introduction to the mind’s nature.
The vital point being made in all of these statements is that the practice of seeing the lama as a Buddha is an advanced Vajrayana practice and it does not mean that we give away our capability of seeing truth clearly as a result of that practice. It is not a blinker. If the lama is abusing students, then these are not the practices of a Buddha. To say that they are the practices of a Buddha—because we are training to see the lama as Buddha—is to sacrifice our discernment and decency. That is blind faith and never a Buddhist practice.
Blind faith is a linear perspective, which sees reality in black and white, simplistic terms. Blind faith cannot allow for troublesome conflicts of interest or complicated realities. For example, how can Rigpa students account for the fact that the lama they perceive as Buddha himself, the lama who has brought them teachings and profound experiences, is behaving like a cruel criminal? Blind faith would say to simply deny reality, blinker the truth.
But Rigpa students can only truly account for the situation through a discerning wisdom capable of seeing a many dimensioned, complex and murky reality—difficult as that is. The challenge of balancing the perception of Sogyal Lakhar, a deeply flawed man who has abused students and must account for his misdeeds in courts of law, with the perception of Sogyal Rinpoche, the lama who brought the Dharma into their lives and whom they have perceived as a Buddha, is huge. Certainly, to acknowledge these two realities in one mind is difficult or impossible for most. But for Rigpa students who have been practicing Vajrayana for many years with Sogyal Lakhar, discounting those years of practice is not tenable either—but nor is it tenable to ignore the harm being caused to themselves and others. I think everyone is seeking their own way of moving forward through this murkiness. For myself, like many other ex-Rigpa, cautions about devotion and viewing the lama as a Buddha are burned into me after years of struggle. In my opinion, teachers and students of Vajrayana in the West must acknowledge the murky terrain we are on if Vajrayana is to survive in the West. Thanks for your thoughts Joanne. Another post on the topic of seeing one’s teacher as a Buddha can be read here https://whatnow727.wordpress.com/2017/10/04/are-vajrayana-teachers-really-buddhas/ In that post I draw on Alexander Berzin’s writing on the matter, writing that I highly recommend.https://studybuddhism.com/en/advanced-studies/lam-rim/student-teacher-relationship/seeing-the-spiritual-teacher-as-a-buddha/is-the-guru-really-a-buddha
“The sole purpose of viewing the teacher as a buddha is so we can see these same awakened qualities in ourselves, in others, and in the world around us. It is a tool that helps us to gain confidence in the purity of our true nature.” Minguyr Rinpoche. Lions Roar, Sept 24th 2017
The instruction that we should see our teacher as a buddha if we want the blessings of a buddha is clearly problematic in a world where teachers cannot be trusted to behave as decent human beings, so how are we to practice this under these cricumstances?
Private discussion on this and other related topics can be had on our Secret What Now Facebook Group. It is only for current and previous students of Rigpa, however, and we do moderate it closely. If you’re interested in joining, please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite. People from other sanghas can join the Dharma Friends Beyond the Temple Facebook Group . It’s a support group for anyone who has left their Buddhist sangha after hearing revelations of abuse by their teacher or after experiencing such abuse. It’s for people who see ethical behaviour, love, compassion and introspection as the core of their spiritual path. The aim of the group is to support each other in our spiritual journey wherever it takes us. Click here and request to join. The What Now?Reference Material pagehas 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. .
Speaking out publically is tough. Why? Because you wear a target on your back, and people just love to take pot shots at you. I have recently been accused of being self-serving, of using other people’s suffering as a means to elevate myself and I figured that if people were seeing my vlogs that way, then I had probably best keep them private – hence the title of my last post, ‘Going Private’ At the end of that post, I was very happy to think that I was moving out of the public sphere, but a few things have happened to change my mind.
First, I have this weird should I/ should I not relationship with being so public about my opinions. On the one hand I am aware that I am no one special, just an ordinary person who likes to live a quiet life free of personal attacks – hence my happiness to return to the shadows where my ego feels safe. On the other hand I am very aware of how much still needs to be examined in order to make sense of what happened, and I am driven to assist people in that examination for the sake of their psychological and spiritual health, and if I can help more people by being public, then public it must be.
Being in the public firing line is not a happy place for my ego, who would rather stay out of sight, but though some find my opinions not worth listening to, many others have told me that my vlogs really help them, and that they need to be seen by as many people as possible. As someone dedicated to acting for the benefit of beings, it seemes that for so long as people find me sharing my processing helpful, then I must find the courage to overcome my personal reticence and keep sharing publically. It seems that for the moment, exposing myself to possible ridicule this way is my path, arrows and all. At least I am becoming more immune to them.
I also watched an interview I did via Skype with Menno on his Bodhi blog and what I said in answer to his questions made me rethink my stance to go private. The interview is also on You Tube and you can see it below. Menno is doing a series of interviews with Rigpa members so take a look at them and keep an eye out for more.
I originally planned to share publically a vlog on why I wasn’t shutting up, then I decided to shut up. Now I realise that not shutting up is more important than any arrows that might pierce that target on my back. The reason is given in this vlog.
If we don’t examine the beliefs that got us into the Rigpa bind, then we can’t move on with our lives without there always being an unhealed wound in our heart. This blog and the What Now? facebook group was set up to help people process the revelations of abuse, and though I would like to be out of the firing line, the processing is not finished. Not by a long shot. In some ways the What Now Facebook group is hotting up again as we evaluate the things that we previously accepted without question. My vlogs are designed so people (particularly those not able to join the Facebook group or pay a $1 a month to be a patron) can follow our journey and be stimulated to process in the same way, and I say ‘our’ because I speak not just for myself.
What do you think?
Private discussion on this and other related topics can be had on our Secret Facebook Group. Is is only for current and previous students of Rigpa, however, and we do moderate it closely. If you’re interested in joining, please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite. Ex-Rigpa students and their Rigpa 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 pagehas 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. Want to inspire me to continue and get vlogs just for patrons?Become a Patron!
How is Rigpa doing now? Can we see any indications that the organisation is changing to the degree that is needed for it to become a healthy organisation.
A heartening apology
From Feb 2018 Sangha Connection Newsletter
“The boards and the national teams feel deeply sorry for any hurt experienced by past or present members of the Rigpa sangha. The allegations of the 8 students and anyone who speaks up with criticisms or stories of hurt or wrongdoing will be respected and heard – not marginalised or suppressed. We take full responsibility for ensuring that Rigpa provides a welcoming, open and safe environment for all. These are our heartfelt commitments to our community.”
The use of the word “experienced” is significant, as is the acknowledgement that people who speak up have been marginalised and suppressed in the past. Of course those who are criticising have left and even if they wish to return are not allowed to, so this is a bit like closing the gate after the bull has bolted. Nevertheless, the rest of the letter does show that they have listened to people, because they list the concerns they have noted, for these reasons, this communication can be seen as a big step forward. Actions speak louder than words, however, so let’s see if anything changes in their actions.
Sogyal’s message to the Australian retreat
Sogyal’s audio message to the Australian retreat was shared with the whole sangha at a sangha day recently and was widely seen as a true apology. I was told that it is obvious that he is reading a prewritten script but those who have heard it say that his tone of voice is such that the message appears to be truly heartfelt. One person who heard it was surprised, therefore, to discover the actual wording. Here’s the transcript of the relevant part:
“I know that some of you in the Sangha still feel very hurt and upset, perhaps even at me. I really want to acknowledge your feelings of hurt and once again offer you my deepest apologies for anything you feel I may have done to cause you really pain.
”Not a single day goes by where I don’t take these things seriously, and ask forgiveness for whatever I may have done knowingly and unknowingly in the presence of all the Buddhas and also in your presence I invoke you, the sangha, too, really heartfelt, and pray that the healing will take place soon, that something really good may come out of this.”
Sincere apology or pseudo-apology
Sogyal’s apologies have always been dependent on the feeling of harm, not the actual harm. This article in the Tricycle points out the difference between a sincere apology and a pseudo-apology https://tricycle.org/magazine/forgiveness-not-buddhist/
“Apology is part of the third force, remedy. An apology can do much to mitigate the harm done and to set things in a more constructive direction. Even in serious medical situations, when a doctor does something wrong, in many cases what the aggrieved party wants most of all is a sincere apology. To know that the doctor knows he or she did something wrong and sincerely regrets it may put patients at ease, if only because now they have some confidence that no one else will suffer the same fate.
What constitutes a sincere apology? A sincere apology consists of an admission and expression of regret not for the results of an action but for the action itself. Feel the difference between the words “I’m sorry if I offended you” and “I’m sorry I spoke harshly to you,” or even “I’m sorry—that was insensitive on my part.” In the latter two versions, I am acknowledging my action. I am not making the apology conditional on your state of mind. We can only take responsibility for our actions and the intention motivating our actions.”
Note these parts of the ‘apology’: ‘your feelings of hurt” and “anything you feel I may have done”. This use of the word feel makes it another pseudo apology, indicating that he has not accepted that he actually caused hurt, only that people felt hurt. This puts the responsibility for the hurt on the person harmed, on their feeling of hurt. He’s sorry for their feelings not for his actions. Can one heal with a pseudo-apology?
Of course, it is also possible that a lawyer got to the script.
Want to know who’s running Rigpa these days. Take a look here: http://www.rigpa.org/rigpa-vision-board. Oh, look who it is? The people who enabled and covered up the behaviour outlined in the July letter for decades. Are we really supposed to trust that they can suddenly start doing a better job than they did before?
Code of Conduct
The first draft is out and they are taking feedback on it now. Of course, it’s wonderful that they are working on such a thing, but as it stands at the moment, there is nothing in it that will stop abuse by a lama of his close students because there is a special category for the student who has accepted a teacher as their vajra master. This section has has little in it at present because ‘the lamas’ are looking at it, so we can’t really say anything about it except that it exists, and that’s a worry in itself.
However we can say a little about other parts: The document suggests that students use lojong practices to look at their feelings and perception. Do such directions, ones that suggest that the problem is the student making the complaint, have a place in a code of conduct? One student in evaluating the code said that this focus simply ‘codifies the cult.’
A student joining Rigpa presumably accepts this code of conduct, but a new student does not even know what lojong is, let alone have the spiritual experience and knowledge to apply the practice with a correct understanding.
And sexual relations between students and teachers are permitted, so by agreeing to this code, a young woman may be putting herself in a worse position than if there wasn’t a code. She is joining a group where, though harm is not permitted, sexual relations with teachers are, and teachers in vajrayana are powerful people who can flatter potential conquests with their attentions and promise all sorts of spiritual rewards if they accept a sexual advance. How does one define ‘harm’ when it comes to what happens in the privacy of a lama’s bedroom and a woman has agreed that such relations are permissible. Where is her protection? With such an allowance in a code of conduct any woman who feels as if she has been sexually abused will be at a disadvantage similar to a married woman trying to convince someone they have been raped.
They would be better to keep the philosophy out of it and make it based on behaviour not perception of behaviour, because focusing on our perception of behaviour rather than the behaviour itself is what got Rigpa into this mess in the first place. Any special category for the vajra master and their student that gives the vajra master special licence in terms of conduct is also completely missing the point that this special relationship is exactly what was abused in Rigpa.
The key to proving they aren’t a cult (any more)
Regardless of the outcome of the court case Lerab Ling has undertaken to try to prove they aren’t a cult, for so long as they do not denounce the behaviour laid out in the July letter, everything they do will remain suspect, and people will have good reason to see Rigpa as a cult. On French TV the lawyer the Lerab Ling community is suing emphasised the importance of the fact that they have not denounced the abusive behaviour. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWiIA8TUMYs&t=3s
What point is a code of conduct if management still sees abusive behaviour as acceptable? Can we trust management if they don’ t denounce it? NB: The attitudes and feelings of people commenting on this blog do not represent those of either the members of the What Now? Private Facebook group or those running this blog. The blog administrators are not responsible or liable for comments left here. We request that people refrain from personal attacks, spreading gossip and speculation. Please keep to things you know from personal experience. We apologise for any hurtful or offensive comments you may have read here. Please contact us via the contact form if you see any such comments and we will remove them without discussion.This blog is not the place for people wishing to destroy Tibetan Buddhism or any human being be they associated with the religion or not.
I received this guest post from someone who was at Dzongsar Khyentse’s second London talk. It’s well written and engaging, so I hope you enjoy it. At the end I’ve also posted a vlog that sums up my feelings at the end of DJKR’s 2018 European tour – Tahlia.
“Read my lips” as Ronald Reagan would have said, if he was a Vajrayana guru. Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche says what he means and may even mean what he says, so don’t let his style of presentation distract you from his message.
Let me begin by saying that I find Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche a very engaging speaker. He explains ideas well, thinks carefully about his words, uses humour very effectively, enjoys being provocative and has a disarming combination of being both arrogantly opinionated and surprisingly frank about his own shortcomings. It’s easy to see why he is such a popular teacher.
I have now watched every minute of every one of the public teachings he gave on his recent tour of Rigpa in Europe – except for the carefully excised part where a man burst into the first London session screaming that Sogyal Rinpoche was a rapist and DJKR was covering up for him. The man was jumped and the story was disseminated that he was mentally ill (I can’t verify that).
I was able to attend the final session in person and it was good to look DJKR in the face when he spoke, not just at a screen. I’m not here to get into deep discussions of the Vajrayana – that’s for others, far better informed. I’m here to talk about what I saw of the man and some significant things I heard and did not hear.
First of all, there needs to be some kind of special oratory prize for a person who can go on a speaking tour of Rigpa, prompted by the scandal around the abuse that was committed by its leader, several of these talks taking place in the actual locations where physical, sexual and psychological abuse occurred, and talk for over TWELVE HOURS without ever using the “A” word. It really is not an easy thing. It’s got to be in your mind, tickling your tongue. You really have to check yourself to make sure it doesn’t slip out in an unguarded moment. So I’m going to stand up right now and give DJKR a round of applause for this remarkable achievement. Please join me.
In fairness to him, he did, just once, in his first talk, utter the word “victim”, as part of the phrase “alleged victims”. Somebody must have got on his case afterwards because in London he mentioned that he had been told that “alleged” was the wrong word to use. He blamed his poor English, although I was impressed by what a good mastery of the language he has. It was a very odd moment indeed. He apologised for his use of the word “alleged” but clearly could not bring himself to utter the word that had previously been linked to it, so many in the audience were left a bit bemused as to where this had come from or what the purpose of the comment was. It was as if putting the word “victim” out there without the protective cocoon of “alleged” was simply too intimidating for him to deal with.
Every place he talked you could see the same thing; when he was in full flow about Vajrayana he appeared confident and spoke eloquently. Every time he approached the nitty-gritty reality of what the consequences of Vajrayana being misused were, he would stumble, trail off into long pauses or simply change the subject. The maker of the pointed but amusing spoof video, which re-edits his Berlin talk, did put his finger on something, triggering a tirade of insults.
During his travels, DJKR did, apparently, reach out to some of the victims of abuse. Certainly, several of the eight letter writers were known to him personally and were people he trusted. One might have hoped he would have done this research in advance, but it is welcome that he did it at all. By the time he got to Paris, then London, there was a distinct change of tone. He repeated again and again and again “Do no harm”, which is rather astonishing. Although he is talking to an audience of people who have spent many, many years in Vajrayana Buddhist study and practice, he is having to remind them of the most basic principle of all. I mean, even someone with the most superficial knowledge of Buddhism, who never once meditated, would know about the principle of not doing harm. This was like an eminent English Literature Professor doing the keynote address at an international conference, finding it necessary to repeatedly remind his academic audience that to fully appreciate the work of Dickens, you first need to learn your ABC.
The fact DJKR felt the need to do this speaks volumes. He had been reading many people’s comments about their confusions and opinions, and hearing accounts of wrongdoing and abuse, and it had become clear to him that the most basic tenet of Buddhism was being completely ignored. What a terrible indictment of where group thinking in Rigpa has led them.
In his final talks he spoke far more plainly than at the start, perhaps more plainly than he has ever spoken on such matters. It is NEVER acceptable for a guru to harm somebody. YES, you MUST respect the laws of the land. You CAN’T deny that people have suffered. There HAS been pain – it is NOT a story or an illusion. [Sogyal] Rinpoche HAS TO address this.
All these things were good to hear. But it feels like they had to be shocked and shaken out of him. As he made plain in his first talk, he has his “agendas” and over the course of the tour he had realised that trying to wave some of these issues away with mystical ambiguity was simply reinforcing the narrative of Vajrayana as a cult. His mission was to save Vajrayana and if that meant being more explicit than he liked to be, then he would do it. As long as it didn’t involve mentioning rape, beatings, theft or using the word “abuse”, that is.
In many ways he was extremely honest, even if it didn’t necessarily show him in the best light. He admitted that when the letter came out, his first instinct as a tulku was to protect the teachings (rather than people). I think he very much sees himself in the role of Defender of the True Faith. In all the hours he spoke I never discerned a hint of compassion for the victims of Sogyal Rinpoche. With well-practiced phraseology, DJKR made plain that he cared for them only in the sense of their spiritual futures. But it didn’t occur to him that if someone like Sogyal Rinpoche has, as he put it, “burned the seed of the Bodhichitta” in these victims of abuse, they are not likely to be won back to Buddhism by a person who appears terrified of the words “victim” and “abuse”.
In fact it seemed profoundly ironic that whilst DJKR spent hours selling the audiences on how radical and fearless Vajrayana is and stressing that relative and absolute truth are of equal value, this fearlessness did not stretch to acknowledging the truth of the elephant in the room, let alone confronting it. The best that can be said is that, by the end of his speaking tour, he was occasionally gesturing in the general direction of the elephant, without actually looking at it directly – or calling it an elephant.
When asked “What do you think about the Rigpa inner circle covering up Sogyal Rinpoche’s misdeeds?” he dismissed it with “I already answered this question”. He hadn’t. When asked “What is meant by crazy wisdom?” he abruptly called for a break. On his return, when the question was eventually put again, he reluctantly gave a brief reply, saying that all Vajrayana was Crazy Wisdom, which he knew perfectly well was not what was being asked.
His discomfort in dealing with any of the nitty-gritty of the consequences of Sogyal Rinpoche’s misdeeds, and those of the people who covered up for him, was sometimes displaced with humour to take the sting out. When acknowledging that “there has been pain” he made the point that if it’s lunchtime and you’re hungry, you can try repeating “fulness is emptiness and emptiness is fulness” but you’ll still have a pain in your stomach. People laughed.
But there were also warnings hidden inside his jokes. More than once he said “I’m a Gemini: we can sell ice cubes to Eskimos.” Everybody laughed heartily, but he’s serious. He knows a lot of his followers will swallow whatever he says, if he presents it the right way. He’s probably Vajrayana’s top-ranking salesman right now (assuming there’s a leader board somewhere in Bhutan). He even refers freely to some of his followers – quite correctly – as sycophants, but they still follow him, like good Eskimos.
Likewise, he doesn’t hide where he’s coming from, ethically. When asked about bad behaviour by gurus he twice made his approach clear: he personally wouldn’t mistreat anyone – not because he’s a great guy but because he would be worried about what people would think of him and what they would say on social media, plus he wouldn’t want to lose students. Again, everyone laughed, but he didn’t repeat this without reason. We should listen. This is absolutely not about ethics for him – he never even used the word – it is about trying to protect reputation; his personal one and that of the Vajrayana.
He used stories and metaphors about magic and magicians many times, where the teacher is the magician who knows it’s a trick, but presents it convincingly. “I think you want magic, don’t you?” he asked his attentive London audience, who noisily expressed their enthusiasm. David Blaine may have a new rival.
After the final teaching, I was talking to a member of the new “Vision Board”. He raved about how great the teachings were, so I asked him – as he had been present at all of DJKR’s recent teachings, both public and to the sangha, and had doubtless had the benefit of private discussions too – what did he feel about everything he had heard? With the careful tones of a politician who has weighed up whether being wishy or being washy would be the best approach, he replied “I’d have to re-listen to it. I had a lot on my mind.” He had come to realise that the problems stemmed from the transition from Asia, he said. The one thing that felt meaningful was when he added, “I wish someone had told me this 30 years ago.”
But of course, there was not a flicker of acknowledgement of the meat of what had been said. DJKR himself talked about how, as a younger student, he had been forbidden from taking notes and had to simply remember what had been taught. Here was a senior leader who was claiming that, having heard the same messages repeated and repeated for a fortnight, they had not sunk in. If I was Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche I would be deeply disheartened by this. If nobody in leadership is really listening and nobody is ever going to start talking about the elephant in the room, the outcome for Rigpa, and possibly Vajrayana in general, is pretty obvious.
DJKR several times used the classic image of Ganesh as an illustration of Vajrayana concepts: the elephant is depicted standing upon a mouse, as his vehicle, and the mouse is magically unharmed. In the less magical world in which most of us live, we know that any mouse that chooses to disregard the fact that an elephant is about to stand on him, doesn’t have much of a future.
DJKR’s talks may have repercussions for my vlogs for a while, I expect, but my main feeling at present is one of relief and gratitude. I also remembered an analogy for the spiritual path that Chogyan Trungpa gave that seems pertinent to remember in these circumstances.
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Dzongsar Khyentse’s Rigpa London talk has been posted on You Tube. It’s in two parts. They’re 4 hours in total.
You could listen on your phone with ear buds in while you clean the house, or weed the garden or drive to work! Or not.
Anyway, if you watch them, let us know your thoughts, and if you don’t watch you could maybe tell us why. A good questin to ask is have these talks (this and the others in this tour) helped ensure that the abuse that occured in Rigpa will never happen again in any Tibetan Buddhist organisation? That is what I’d like to see come out of all this.
The following, written by Topden, appeared first as a comment on a Facebook post as a reply to someone who essentially said they were finding it hard to see anything positive about DZK’s talks because they had experienced abuse at the hands of two Tibetan Lamas who were operating under the same belief system as DZK was expounding. I asked permission to post it here as an example of one way to view the teachings. Anyone with a different view is welcome to submit a guest post. Sorry it’s so long. Tahlia
Any kind of abuse, physical, emotional or psychological can be deeply damaging, and I truly wish healing to those who experience it as well as those who are the perpetrators, as the pain they inflict on others arises out of their own suffering and confusion. I also deeply wish that it doesn’t turn into an obstacle that cannot be worked with and transformed on the path for spiritual practitioners.
My experience of the talks is not any less influenced by my own pre-conceived notions or previous experiences, because naturally they are, and that is true for everyone. The interesting point simply is my experience is quite different. To out myself from the start, I do like DJK’s teaching style, approach and explanation of the Dharma and feel I have benefited (and been challenged) by him in that regard. Also I have no personal experience of abuse of this kind in a Dharma setting so that might make me a bit naive.
What DZK is and is not doing.
As far as I see it, and by what he has said in his talks, DJK isn’t coming to Rigpa to play judge and jury or directly try and heal the emotional and psychological damage of those who were subject to the abusive behaviours outlined in the letter. I am not even sure if that is his role to play, but in any case it is a role he isn’t trying to play, rightly or wrongly. What he does seem concerned about is trying to explain and correct misunderstandings about the Vajrayana in particular, which from my point of view is a way he can help contribute towards the reduction of further abuse and harm occurring in the future, as well as preserving a tradition that for many is beneficial and free from the kind of abuse we have heard about at Rigpa.
DJK is also trying to make sense of the immensity of the situation and is but one voice in a dialogue to that end. In the meantime he is teaching the Vajrayana from what he has learnt from his teachers and the texts and encouraging others to study and not just take the Lamas’ words for it.
Here are some of the points that I can remember him making in his writing and talks so far, that I think help towards these ends:
Points for the future.
He emphasised more study, practice and preparation, which, as we know, is a protection against being duped or sucked into harmful relationships or situations. Knowledge and insight is empowering.
He said that it is the Tibetans who are at fault for joining spiritual power with temporal power and making the Vajrayana into a public affair with mass empowerments etc. which is not how it originally was in India, where instead there were very private Vajrayana student-teacher relationships between competent individuals.
He said that SR was at fault in recreating the spiritual/temporal Tibetan cultural set up within Rigpa, which has nothing to do with Dharma, Vajrayana or otherwise.
He said that SR is totally wrong if he did not correctly prepare his students and then acted as if they were in a Vajrayana student-teacher relationship with him.
With regards to samaya he mentioned that in the above case the so-called teacher is at fault far more than the student, because the teacher should know better.
He said that Student Devotion is equally, if not more important, than Guru Devotion. Personally, I don’t think I have heard much or anything about the concept of Student Devotion from other teachers and am interested to hear more from him about that.
He said in terms of conduct that teachers should act outwardly like a Sravakayana practitioner, inwardly as a Mahayana practitioner and only secretly as a Vajrayana practitioner.
He has said that the Vajrayana isn’t necessary or a path for everyone, and if it is to be undertaken, then it is to be done so after much study, practice and analysis of the teacher and student and through complete choice and volition as a way to train the mind, but once the decision is made it wouldn’t be an effective method if it could be opted out of any moment the ego feels challenged or uncomfortable.I would say this implies that the uncomfortableness is held within the perspective and profound understanding gained from the previous training, practice and analysis of the teacher and is therefore known to be part of the path by the student in a deep way but nevertheless still has to be experientially worked through as a point of mind training. In all the examples DJK uses here to elucidate this point, there is no mention of abuse, be that physical, emotional, sexual or otherwise, rather they are ones like being told to “keep Wednesday a secret” as a way for the student to train the mind and go beyond dualistic thinking.
When questioned about a Vajrayana master using what looks like abusive methods, he says that if they are a Mahasiddha and they are performed out of wisdom/compassion (with the understanding that the student has been properly prepared, both sides have analysed and entered into a Vajrayana student-teacher relationship; because anything less than that is totally wrong) to benefit the student, then there is room for this in the tradition and as we know there are many examples of this, so that should not surprise anyone. If we don’t like that fact about the tradition, then we don’t need to follow the Vajrayana path or engage in a Vajrayana style student-teacher relationship and that is okay. What DJK is continually pointing out however is that the context those examples occurred in are completely different historically, culturally and inter-personally, to the historical and cultural context at Rigpa and the relationship SR had with his students as the relationships were not based on the correct foundations, as far as he is aware and can get a sense of.
Not a mahasiddha, thinking for oneself and opposite interpretations.
When he used the example of the mahasiddha, by saying that he isn’t one, you might interpret it as if he were hiding behind non-discrimination and that no one could therefore judge SR and his behaviour. I interpreted it differently, partly because he immediately went on to make value judgements and discriminate, like the points I mentioned above about Rigpa and SR. Also, he was telling people not to take what he says as the proclamation of a Buddha, as he [DZK] has his own projections. In other words, you need to think for yourself, which for Rigpa students if what people are saying is true, could be quite radical for them to hear. Moreover, within the context of what he said about Tibetan culture and temporal power, he could have basically been saying, “I am not a Lord and you are not my Serf, wake up, discriminate!” Ironically, what I interpret he was saying and doing there has been interpreted by some as the complete opposite. I am not saying here that either of our interpretations are totally right or wrong, but it is interesting that they can be so different based on our individual projections etc, which is what DJK said would happen and is a teaching in itself. So it gladdens me when people highlight this when their opinions have an online following.
Later, using himself as an example, he said there are some things he would not be able to do if his teachers asked him and that was okay, but at the very least he would make an aspiration to be able to do them in the next life. If that personal example isn’t a way to help people relax around what they currently understand as Guru Devotion being a very rigid, completely obedient, blind following of an authority figure kind of trip, then I don’t know what is.
He also mentioned that Tibetan teachers like OTR should know better and make an effort in understanding westerners and western culture more, but many, including OTR don’t and that is a big problem.
Not black and white.
I cannot see anything in what DJK has written or said so far that justifies or legitimises SR at all in terms of SR’s training or lack of training, how he set up the culture in Rigpa, how he hasn’t prepared his students properly and how in not doing so then acting abusively is totally wrong behaviour. However, that does not mean, I am sorry to say, that SR is totally evil or that he hasn’t benefited anyone at all. People are complex, situations are complex, nothing is black and white, inconveniently, but it is far easier psychologically to so order reality in that way.
That’s what the media does, that’s what the human mind which oscillates between extremes does every moment, and that is what the Dharma, the Middle Way, is in part trying to liberate sentient beings from, as far as I understand. That’s not to say no actions are wrong or right on the conventional level because they are, and they should be opposed and rectified or cultivated and promoted, respectively, in ourselves, others, organisations and society at large. But people are not totally bad or totally wrong or totally good or totally right, generally (Guru Yoga and Pure Perception is a practice) and that way of seeing things is what in part entraps people in unwholesome situations and relationships in the first place, as they abandon any critical analysis by blindly thinking and therefore feeling a person is 100% good (attachment/grasping), then after that fantasy is disappointed they become 100% bad (aversion/hatred). That right there is Samsaric thinking; suffering and is to be challenged. Sitting in the middle of that, with all the confusion and unknowing, is as far as I can tell part of the practice. Life is like one big, long (if we are lucky) Zen Koan!
Challenging negativity bias.
What I personally feel needs to be challenged here in particular and generally in life, is negativity bias, which is when the mind is drawn to, focuses on and dwells on the negative at a higher level of frequency and at detriment to the higher instances of positive things or occurrences. Negativity bias, when left unchecked can contribute to general anxiety, low moods and distorts our perception of reality. This has an evolutionary component in so much that noticing what was lacking, wrong or dangerous helped in survival by protecting against all kinds of threat to physical life. Most of these physical threats have been removed for many of us, however the underlying negativity bias mechanism continues to operate on a psychological/identity ego level. To me there is a lot of negativity bias going on in some places with regards to DJK’s talks. No one seems to be acknowledging that he is taking the time to talk, answer difficult questions and provide an ongoing platform for discussion and dialogue. Instead there is cherry picking, extracting a few lines of text from hours of talks or a whole book, looking for what fits an already negative narrative and caricaturing him as a villain. What’s more, some people seem to be responding to him as if he has committed the abuse himself because of his association with Rigpa. A positive aspect of Rigpa, that DJK points out and I agree with, is that it invites and hosts many different teachers, and I wonder where the Rigpa Sangha would be now if that was never the case? So, perhaps the human tendency towards negativity bias and the mindful application of recognising what is good and useful is worthy of some attention here.
Pure perception and trust.
Ironically, the controversial and as far as I can see often misunderstood practice of pure perception, goes against the deepest grain of negativity bias. However, it is a practice to be done only with someone we trust without doubt has our best interests at heart, a conclusion the student comes to due to their previous study, practice and analysis. As we know, the Lam Rim has a lot to say about how to recognise an authentic teacher, what qualities they should have and DJK dedicates time to this in his book, The Guru Drinks Bourbon, as well.
Silence and evaluating a teacher.
As for the question of how we can analyse a teacher if their student’s cannot speak about their methods, it presupposes that the methods a teacher uses with one student shall be the same as the methods they use with another, which as far as I understand may not be true due to the unique, fluid and dynamic nature of each individual Vajrayana student-teacher relationship, therefore, analysis made on that basis may well turn out to be unhelpful in any case. I would suggest it more beneficial to focus on getting to know the teacher’s qualities, (which isn’t a purely intellectual endeavour but one also of the heart that is helped through personal practice) however long that takes, and trusting what their motivation is, however long that takes, because then the methods will be understood within that context, whatever they may be. Moreover, as DJK explained, if you find a teacher that you cannot get close to, then perhaps they aren’t for you. And as has been mentioned again and again, a Vajrayana teacher-student relationship isn’t mandatory at all.
Recognising the difficulty.
I recognise the extreme difficulty here in attempting to call out injustice and abuse to protect future individuals as it is fraught with many outer, inner and no doubt secret (people’s blind spots to mention one) obstacles. It is not one I think I could manage as I would not know where to draw the line between exposing abuse and protecting people and their connection to the Dharma and exposing abuse and therefore turning people off the Dharma before a genuine connection can be made. Gun shots always make more noise than hugs, but that doesn’t mean there are more gunshots in the world than hugs, although it can seem that way if we simply believe our ears and people generally do. To those of you who are brave enough to walk this tightrope, I salute you! 👏
I do believe, or perhaps pray and hope, much like DJK also said, that bringing these issues to light and the subsequent interest and discussions that result, will in the end strengthen the authentic Dharma, help protect future people from being led astray or being prey to those who would use it for their own ends, as it takes root in the West at this relatively early stage.
May it bring benefit!
P.S. DJK can be a provocateur and confronting, and I think that is either a turn on or turn off for many. The good news is that no one has to listen to anything he has to say about anything. We must also know that we do not have to totally accept or totally reject what anyone says, Lamas or otherwise. Instead we can take what we personally find useful and leave what we don’t or are unsure about. Topden
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 pagehas 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.
“O monks and wise men, just as a goldsmith would test his gold by burning, cutting and rubbing it, so must you examine my words and accept them, not merely out of reverence for me.
My teaching is not a philosophy. It is the result of direct experience…
My teaching is a means of practice, not something to hold onto or worship.
My teaching is like a raft used to cross the river.
Only a fool would carry the raft around after he had already reached the other shore of liberation.
If you were to follow the Dharma purely out of love for me or because you respect me, I would not accept you as disciple. But if you follow the Dharma because you have yourself experienced its truth, because you understand and act accordingly – only under these conditions have you the right to call yourself a disciple of the Exalted One.”
From Old Path, White Clouds by Thich Nath Hanh
Dzongsar Kyentse’s talks at Rigpa will be available on You Tube for us all to listen to, and many Rigpa students are probably looking to his words in the hope that he will provide the answers they are looking for, but let’s not forget to examine what we hear, and let’s not forget the main point: a Tibetan Lama abused his close students for decades, and he isn’t the only one to do so. There is something wrong with a religion that not only allows this to happen in the first place but also has teachers that teach that there is nothing wrong with the behaviour, (though let’s also not forget that many teachers have made it quite clear that abusive behaviour is not vajrayana – see links to such statements on our Reference Links page.)
DZK said in his First Facebook post on the topic, “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. ”
It’s clear from his reply to Bernie’s letter that DZK is not going to change his mind about that. He will just elaborate on the idea, and we are supposed to believe him. We are supposed to believe that the issue is lack of preparation, not the behaviour itself. So let’s not lose sight of the fact that no matter how elequently you speak and no matter what philosophical ideas you share, people have been traumatised by emotional, physical and sexual abuse, and (unless you have been brainwashed to ignore common human sense) we all know that is wrong, no matter what spin you put on it.
“Now, Kalamas, don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.’ When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness’ — then you should enter & remain in them.”
Why should we believe that DZK or any other lama has some moratorium on truth. Haven’t we learned from this that we must never give up our own discernment? We need to test what we hear, not swallow it whole just because the words come from a lama.
Those most badly burned by Sogyal Rinpoche find it hard to trust any lama who has not stated clearly that Sogyal’s behaviour was unacceptable, and for good reason since they are cut from the same cloth. This You Tube Video makes me aware of just how subtle manipulation can be, and how we must question whether or not be are being brainwashed to believe something contrary to what out own discernment tells us Are we being hoodwinked again? Is this just another way to secure the power of the lamas?
What this person says is helpful, but it’s not correct from a psychological point of view with respect to covert narcissism. Here is a reliable article on the topic:
“As the voice of your discriminating awareness grows stronger and clearer, you will start to discriminate between its truth and the various deceptions of the ego, and you will be able to listen with discernment and confidence.” Tibetan Book of Loving and Dying p 120.
Yes, even Sogyal honoured our wisdom of discernment/discriminating wisdom, but don’t let someone else tell you what is your ego and what is not. After decades of study and practice of this tradition, if it does work, you should have some connection with that wisdom, so use it. Don’t just believe what someone else tells you.
In a recent Facebook post Hridaya Artha talks about DZK’s ascertion in his reply to Bernie that Dzogchen is vajrayana and can’t be separated from it, that they come as a package deal. I do not know who Hridaya Arthais or how correct his information is, but he suggests that what we are told as being indispensible to Dzogchen is actually a later addition. I post here just his conclusion, but I suggest that you click here and read the whole thing.
“If old style Dzogchen or Mahāmudrā are being taught, since they are a path of direct perception and natural luminosity, beyond sūtra and tantra, then samaya legislation simply doesn’t apply. Gampopa used to give mahāmudrā instruction to those who were not (tantrically or otherwise) « prepared ». Samaya and lack of preparation don’t come into the picture at all. It is not through old style Dzogchen and Mahāmudrā that one gets caught up in samaya troubles.
For those following « package deals », things may be differently according to the specific small print of those « deals ». Fortunately direct perception and natural luminosity are beyond deals.” Hridaya Artha
Regardless of the truth of anything else he says, the last sentence is undoubtably true. True or not, reading this reminds us why we need to connect with our “inner voice, our innate wisdom of discernement” (TBLD p120) and trust only what rings true to us on the deepest possible level – or at least not to accept as truth anything unless “these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness”.
I repost here a comment on DZK’s reply to Bernie’s letter that was posted on the How Did it Happen Blog:
“The very basic moral framework in Buddhism is to not harm others. On that ground we can meet, on that ground we can start any discussion. Were others harmed in long term and short term perspectives by SR? Yes! How were they harmed? Basically through the actions of SR and by (the abuse of) Vajrayana and its concepts or means. A genuine discussion should therefore address these points: the harm been done, how that could happen (from the POV of dependent arising) and what means or concepts of Vajrayana play a key role in that in order to prevent future harm. But such a discussion is totally side tracked by DKR, Rigpa and also by anyone who wants to sale the harm as the result of clashing cultural values.
What YMR stresses are the ethics; what DKR stresses are the “beyond ethics and concepts”.
Funnily DKR‘s statements still involve ethics and concepts which are to totally abide by the view of the guru as enlightened, not to even think “abuse“ and to re-interprete even the vilest actions of the guru as enlightened. You can’t do that by going beyond concepts. You need concepts to do that. (You need many concepts to achieve such a type of “brainwashing”… !!!) You need to ignore ethics, your perceptions, intuition, judgement, moral compass etc. in order to do that, but ignoring ethics and avoidance of even to think of abuse are still ethical guidelines and not beyond ethics and concepts. Such demands, I think, are also not beyond “dualism” either.
DKR‘s approach basically serves the total power of the guru and the submission of the student; it lacks compassion by denying harm. YMR‘s approach stresses ethics, empowers the students, does not deny harm and is also very compassionate and makes far more sense.
So, everybody can think for herself what approach reflects more the teachings of the Buddha or core Buddhist values. It’s not as DKR and also Rigpa want to make us believe a matter of (poor / not well thought out) Western cultural values. I won’t fall pray to that trick and I hope others see through such tricks too.
I leave you with this wonderfully simple statement from the Dhammapada as a reminder of the point some lamas seem to conveniently ignore when it comes to their behaviour.
“Not to do any evil, to cultivate good, to purify one’s mind, this is the teaching of the Buddhas.” Dhammapada v. 183
What rings true for you? PS; yes this is posted by Tahlia, and no, I haven’t started writing posts for the blog again, all I’m doing here is sharing what others have sent my way. If you have anything you think is relevant to the ongoing discussion that you think should be shared here, please feel free to use the contact form to send links or even a post of your own for consideration for posting. Oh, and, Pete, you can comment again, just please remember the point of the blog and the rules for commenting .
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 pagehas 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.
It must be frustrating for those in Rigpa who organise the initiatives and write the communications to have everything they do viewed critically, and publically. Of course, if I and those I speak for had a voice inside Rigpa, I wouldn’t have to do it publically, but for the moment, this is the only voice many of us have.
It’s easy to forget that those doing all the work are ordinary people with jobs and families who are doing their Rigpa work for free in their spare time, so things move more slowly than people like me would like. I don’t doubt that they are doing their best, as we all are. I also suspect that most of the people engaged in this debate over unacceptable lama behaviour are working to protect the dharma. We just have different ideas of what that protection entails; for some it means sticking rigidly to every instruction ever passed down, even if it’s potentially damaging to student’s health, and for others it’s stepping outside of the provisional meaning of instructions on things like samaya and pure perception, examining the definitive meaning and, with that understanding, interpreting it for the modern world. Luckily His Holiness the Dalai Lama and other lamas have done that already, so no one has to make it up.
Wouldn’t it be great if those working for the protection of the dharma and the future of the vajrayana in the West could work together rather than in opposition? Couldn’t we find a solution that is true to vajrayana and also healthy for students? Certainly it’s what I want. No one has to impose their views on others, we just have to be willing to find a solution that has a place for all views and is a healthy environment for everyone. Together we could re-brand Rigpa into an organisation with many options for how students interpret certain teachings rather than a one view, one lama organisation it is at present.
Sogyal Rinpoche has often said that the cultural aspects of Tibetan Buddhism must be stripped away if it is to flourish in the West, but that it isn’t something that can be done quickly, so to assume that those running Rigpa are not aware of the necessity of real change is likely a misperception, but until we see action that indicates a willingness to change on a deep level – like having discussions with Mingyur Rinpoche and His Holiness the Dalai Lama or making a statement that individual lamas’ points of views, even those advising the Vision Board, do not reflect any ‘Rigpa policy’– we have no indication that any deep discussion on interpretations of samaya, pure perception, and so on are taking place or will take place in the future. From outside and from the point of view of an ordinary student all we see is what Rigpa does, not what they think or what they are discussing. If there was more communication misperceptions as to their motives and thinking would be avoided.
Negative perceptions may also be solidified, of course—that’s the risk of communication—but if one is speaking face to face or via video call, then people can clarify and discuss points of conflict in a way that, simply because they are being discussed, will garner greater understanding from all sides. Those who have managed to speak to people in management in Australia and the USA have discovered a greater openness than expected, but frustration continues when the openness is not reflected in action or initiatives fall short of expectations. Such falling short could be avoided if people like those in the What Now? Facebook group were consulted as part of the process. The criticism could then happen privately, and those involved, even if they don’t like the results, would at least understand the reasons for the outcome.
Why is such communication not happening?
Some time ago I suggested instituting a liaison person between the What Now? Group and Rigpa international management, but the suggestion was ignored, and yet, a greater understanding of the issues and discussions behind decisions would most likely result in less of a negative view. I would find it hard to be negative about someone who is actually bothering to talk to me, and, after all, we are all vajra brothers and sisters with a shared past and experience of the teachings.
I suspect that one of the reasons why that suggestion was not taken up, and why I was not allowed to go to the Australian Retreat, was fear that such communication or attendance would result in terrible things being said on the blog, a fear that comes from a lack of trust, which (if the lack of trust is unwarranted) comes from a lack of personal knowledge of the individual involved. If you don’t know a person, if you haven’t spoken to them personally, you don’t know if you can trust them to view your actions in an unbiased way or not. If you speak to them, the trust issue can be discussed and resolved. At the very least you can decide after such discussion whether they are trustworthy or not.
Lack of trust is at the core of the lack of communication and consultation, and reconciliation cannot happen without trust being established first.
The lack of trust, of course, goes both ways.
People who, for good reason, do not trust those running Rigpa view them very critically, and the only way for Rigpa management to change that is to talk to them, to hear what they say and take it into account. And they must behave in a trustworthy way and understand just why they have lost people’s trust.
Acknowledgment of the harm done, an apology and a promise not to continue in the same way would do the trick!
Can we trust again?
Establishing trust is the challenge, because without trust communication either won’t begin or it will fail, and reconciliation cannot happen without communication based on trust.
Lack of trust of Rigpa management, of the people who, by their indifference, added to the trauma of abuse victims, is the core reason why every communication is dissected so critically here, and would explain to a large degree why some of the 8 may not participate in the investigation. I’ve personally seen some of Rigpa’s initiatives a lot more positively than it would appear from my blog posts, but I am the voice of those who have experienced abuse first hand, who have born the trauma of betrayal by their lama and of not being cared for by those running Rigpa. They have shared the reasons for their traumatisation, and they tell me how they feel about what they see and read. I hear their voice and speak for them because they have no voice inside Rigpa. Since I only write about what I know about and reflect the opinions of those who talk to me, if Rigpa wants more balanced articles here, they need to share their process with me.
As for trusting me, the primary writer and editor of this blog, I would never share anything divulged in a private conversation without permission.
Openness can only come after trust is established, and in this instance Rigpa is dealing with people whose trust in the lama and the organisation has been completely blown. How can they re-establish trust and institute real communication? An Olive Branch should help with that. And I see no reason why what happens in the USA would not become the model for a similar process in other countries.
Rigpa US employing An Olive Branch for healing and reconciliation is the best chance we have for restoring trust. They have a big job ahead of them, and I wish them well. But what is required to even get it started? Trust. Those harmed will need to find it within themselves to trust An Olive Branch enough to participate.
For some it will be quite a leap of faith to trust anything arranged by Rigpa, but I hope they will set aside any reservations they may have and be part of what, by the very fact that it is being run by An Olive Branch, I see as a genuine attempt at reconciliation.
Of course if you want Rigpa to disappear from the face of the earth, then you will have no interest in healing and reconciliation, in which case, the following is not for you. Post by Tahlia Newland, editor & author
An Olive Branch Invitation to participate in reconciliation and healing
Here is the letter sent to the US sangha inviting past and present students to be involved. It’s restricted to the US because AOB is not an international organisation, but what happens in the US will have an effect elsewhere and will likely be used as a model for other national management teams to follow.
Please share this invitation with anyone in the US who has left Rigpa and is interested in participating in the healing and reconciliation lead by An Olive Branch.
January 15, 2018
Dear Current and Former Members of the Rigpa US Sangha:
We are writing this letter to introduce ourselves and announce that the Rigpa US Board of Directors has engaged the services of An Olive Branch to support the sangha’s reconciliation and healing in the wake of complaints that have been raised about ethical misconduct on the part of Sogyal Rinpoche. We also want you to know about the ways you can be involved in our work, if you so choose.
On December 19, 2017 a letter from us — similar to this one — was sent to the eight former and current Rigpa members who wrote to Sogyal Rinpoche in July 2017 to share their concerns about his harmful behavior. Portions of our December letter have been shared via social media so you may have already read about our work with your sangha. Our intent in this letter is to provide more detail and also to inform everyone equally.
About An Olive Branch
An Olive Branch was formed in 2011 as a project of the Zen Center of Pittsburgh. Growing out of the need for greater understanding and reduction of ethical misconduct on the part of religious leaders, we provide services to organizations in conflict after a beloved teacher has been accused of misconduct. We promote understanding and healing and work to strengthen organizations’ boards and policies to reduce the likelihood of future misconduct. We have expertise, knowledge of best practices, and standards of excellence for our services. Our consultants have complementary skills related to training, facilitation, governance, and intervention.
Questions about this project or about An Olive Branch may be directed to me, Katheryn Wiedman, Co- Director of An Olive Branch and Project Director for the Rigpa US effort: firstname.lastname@example.org
On October 18, 2017 Richard Snow, Treasurer of the Rigpa US Board of Directors, contacted An Olive Branch on behalf of the board. He inquired about our services and asked how we could help with the situation precipitated by the July 14, 2017 letter to Sogyal Rinpoche from eight former and current Rigpa members. The letter detailed four abusive behaviors: 1) “physical, emotional, and psychological abuse of students,” 2) “sexual abuse of students,” 3) “lavish, gluttonous, and sybaritic lifestyle,” and 4) undermining the letter writers’ “appreciation for the practice of the Dharma.”
In Ventura, CA on November 29, 2017 the Rigpa US Board of Directors met with Co-directors of An Olive Branch: Rev. Kyoki Roberts, Dr. Katheryn Wiedman, and Leslie Hospodar. The purpose of the meeting was two-fold: 1) for the Rigpa US board to describe the needs of the US sangha and to ask questions about our services and 2) for An Olive Branch to learn more about the situation within Rigpa and to determine the appropriate services to include in a proposal.
During December, we developed a proposal that includes six elements:
Collaborating with the Rigpa US board to communicate with the sangha regarding our work together
Making recommendations regarding the forthcoming Code of Conduct and Grievance Procedure
Providing a “Listening Post” for individuals who have been harmed
Leading a Community Reconciliation and Healing meeting
Strengthening the organizational structure and board governance
Managing the project.
The proposal was accepted by the Rigpa US board and our two organizations have been working together since December 17, 2017. The scope of this project is limited to current and former members of the Rigpa US sangha as well as the eight individuals who wrote of their concerns in July 2017; the project is designed to respond to the needs of this specific group. Other Rigpa sanghas are continuing to hold their own sangha processes, and look forward to learning from the work of An Olive Branch in the US through the investigation and reconciliation committee.
Three of the elements listed above are of importance to individual current and former members of the US sangha because they involve your participation and thus are the subject of the remainder of this letter:
Code of Conduct and Grievance Procedure
Community Reconciliation and Healing Meeting
Code of Conduct and Grievance Procedure
Since August, an international task group has been working to develop a code of conduct and grievance procedure. Rigpa members world-wide have been informed about the process and input has been solicited. The group working on these documents hopes to share a draft with the world-wide sangha in February, 2018.
An Olive Branch is reviewing and providing recommendations on Rigpa US’s draft ethics policy and grievance procedure. Our advice is based on best practices for organizational ethics policies that define acceptable/unacceptable behavior for teachers and students and specifies fair grievance procedures. In the US, boards have a fiduciary responsibility to develop and enforce policies that define clear boundaries that protect both teachers and students in the sangha.
An Olive Branch offers a Listening Post for individuals who have been harmed, providing a way for them to tell their story to a neutral third party and to be heard in a safe, compassionate, and confidential manner. The Listening Post is available to receive the experiences of any current or former Rigpa US sangha member, as well as the individuals who wrote the July 14, 2017 letter, who experienced harm as a result of the actions of Sogyal Rinpoche or other Rigpa teacher(s). The harm may have been direct – such as physical, emotional, sexual, psychological abuse – or indirect – such as guilt from witnessing abuse but not stopping or reporting it, or severe stress related to the situation. Any current or former Rigpa US sangha member who has been harmed may participate in the Listening Post along with letter writers who are not / were not members of Rigpa US.
It is important to us that people who have left the Rigpa US sangha receive the information in this letter so they may participate in the project if they want to. If you know of such individuals, will you please forward this letter to them?
The Listening Post has three objectives: first, and most important, is to provide some measure of relief to people who are hurting; second, is to help respondents formulate any requests they would like to make to Rigpa; and third is to expose the full extent of damage to the fabric of the sangha.
To accomplish the third objective, above, a summary of the information collected via the Listening Post will be reported to the Rigpa US board and later to the sangha during the Community Reconciliation and Healing meeting, described below.
Reporters of harm have the right to remain anonymous; both An Olive Branch and the Rigpa US board respect this right. Names and identifying details of the participants in the Listening Post will be carefully omitted from all reporting, unless requested by an individual reporter.
Current and former Rigpa US sangha members and letter writers who want to participate in the Listening Post should contact Dr. Barbara Gray via email: Barbara@an-olive-branch.org. You may request a private, confidential telephone interview or submit your personal experience via email message and make any requests you may have of the Rigpa US board.
Community Reconciliation and Healing
The Rigpa US board and An Olive Branch will collaborate on the design of a two-day, face-to-face Community Reconciliation and Healing meeting at a date and time to be determined. Members of the Rigpa US sangha and leaders of Rigpa sanghas in other nations will be invited. We currently envision the following components:
Led by An Olive Branch, there will be opportunities at the meeting for attendees to:
Hear the summarized information gathered in the Listening Post
Process the events (raise additional concerns, share residual feelings, etc.)
Learn about the new US sangha’s Ethics Policy and Grievance Procedure
Receive training on the misuse of power in spiritual relationships.
Led by Rigpa, there will be components such as:
Spiritually-based opening and closing ceremonies
Traditional ceremonies of reconciliation, forgiveness, and peace-making.
Underlying our proposal is the intent to help return the Rigpa US sangha to health and balance. We believe that through working together with open hearts and minds everyone can learn from this situation, strengthen the sangha, and restore peace and stability to the Rigpa community.
Katheryn D. Wiedman, Ph.D. Project Director
Co-director of An Olive Branch
Current and previous students of Rigpa wanting private support are welcome to join the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite. Ex-Rigpa students and their dharma friends who want to move on from the discussion of abuse in Rigpa can stay in touch through the Dharma Companions Facebook Group. The What Now?Reference Material pagehas 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.
A letter arrived from the Rigpa International Investigation & Reconciliation Committee to all the sangha providing details of the investigation. They have chosen a UK law firm, Lewis Silkin, to act as a neutral, third-party investigator conducting fact-finding interviews. The letter came with two attachments, one the agreement with Lewis Silken and the other – and this is the good news – an agreement with An Olive Branch.
We are told:
“In addition, the Rigpa US Board has concurrently engaged An Olive Branch, a Zen-based reconciliation organisation, to help support the US and Rigpa Sanghas in all countries with healing and reconciliation. We consider this to be a crucially important part of the process we need to go through together as sangha. We will provide a more detailed report on the work with An Olive Branch and continue to update you in the Sangha Connection newsletter.”
This is something we asked for in this blog many times in the months immediately following the revelations of abuse, and in one post we looked at what An Olive Branch does. So, of course, we are delighted at this news, because we see in their approach and expertise in this area hope for genuine healing.
What will An Olive Branch do in this situation?
Community Reconciliation and Healing
This is an except from the An_Olive_Branch_Agreement. “Rigpa US board and An Olive Branch will collaborate on the design of a two-day, face-to-face Community Reconciliation and Healing meeting. Members of the US sangha and leaders of Rigpa sanghas in other nations will be invited. We currently envision the following components: Led by An Olive Branch, there will be opportunities at the meeting for attendees to: Hear the summarized information gathered in the Listening Post, (a way for individuals who have been harmed to tell their story to a neutral third party and to be heard in a safe, confidential manner). Process the events (raise additional concerns, share residual feelings, etc.) Learn about the new Code of Conduct and Grievance Procedure Receive training on sexualized spiritual relationships and misuse of power. Led by Rigpa, there will be essential components such as: Spiritually-based opening and closing ceremonies Traditional ceremonies of reconciliation, forgiveness, and peace-making.”
An Olive Branch is a US organisation so they will be working primarly with the US sangha, but since the letter to sangha states that aim is to also help “Rigpa Sanghas in all countries”, I expect that those who go to the US for the 2 day meeting will return to their countries and repeat the process there.
Is it too late?
Is it too late to repair the damage done in the last few months? I hope not, but we shall have to wait and see. It depends on who management includes in the word ‘sangha’. For healing and reconciliation to be effective it needs to include all those who have left Rigpa because of this debacle. It may be too late for some to want to have anything to do with Rigpa in any way at all, but they need to be invited, personally, to whatever sessions are run based on advice from An Olive Branch. This is vital. Real healing cannot occur without inclusion of those who have left, especially considering that those who have been harmed are not the ones that have remained in Rigpa.
What about the investigation?
I’m not going to comment further on the letter to the sangha or provide details of the investigation in this post because the 8 students need time to look at it and make their response before the details are subjected to public scrutiny. Also there is much to consider in digesting the agreement with the law firm. If you have access to the details privately, please do not discuss it here yet. A post on the topic of the investigation will follow in a few days.
Here, let’s just rejoice that something we asked for has finally happened, and let’s do our best to make it work for the benefit of all.