Trust, Communication and an invitation from An Olive Branch

Ordinary people

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

Working together?

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


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:


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

Managing the project.

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

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

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

Listening Post

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

Community Reconciliation and Healing

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

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

Good News – An Olive Branch

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

Community Reconciliation and Healing

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

Is it too late?

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

What about the investigation?

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

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

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.

Why didn’t they leave?

One of the questions we often hear about those in Rigpa who attested to the abuse they experienced is: “If they felt abused why did they stay so long?”
To cast some light on this we have a post by an ex-student and UKCP Registered Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist and Energy Psychotherapist.

Why didn’t they leave?

For those with histories of abandonment, the thought of further abandonments is terrifying and anxiety provoking. People with a background of insecure attachment in childhood, often struggle to fully respect themselves and often feel they do not deserve better treatment.  Abuse also creates attachment to the abuser, so that people will endure unacceptable treatment and cling on. Intransigent dysfunctional attachment patterns may stretch back over many a generations resulting in feelings of hopelessness, emptiness and despair of ever being loved, so attachment to the Lama becomes even more important.
The traumatic humiliations at Rigpa would activate these family patterns. I know for myself when I was at Rigpa that when I was regularly publicly shamed, I would completely dissociate, including disconnecting from my Vajra nature, and instead I would get stuck in ‘fight flight freeze’ – a trauma mode for ‘survival’. For me it was generally the freeze variety of trauma mode which renders us helpless and immobile – it played right into my own patterns where I was regularly humiliated by both parents. This public shaming did not help me at all to become liberated from these traumatic patterns. Instead, when I left Rigpa, I had no sense of a healthy self, and it took me many years to build some self-esteem – although I will nonetheless always grateful for the introduction to the nature of my mind which kept me sane.

Attachment to the ‘bad object’

Bullying, which creates ‘victims’ and ‘abusers’, is a particular feature of some attachment disorders. Research in attachment theory shows very plainly that if people are bullied and treated badly it creates attachment and dependence on the bullies. (e.g. Stockholm syndrome where people who are being  tortured become attached to and dependent upon their torturers). People often wonder why people remain in situations of domestic violence, where the combination of abuse followed by love is very toxic and creates further dependency, especially if it mirrors attachment patterns from the person’s own traumatic childhood.
In the psycho-analytic language of ‘object relations’ theory, this is a well know problem which is termed “attachment to the ‘bad object’“ ( theorists Fairbairn, Sanders  and others write extensively about this.) Research shows unequivocally that the primary need of human beings is for connection (i.e. Love). This need for connection is a survival issue which takes priority over anything else, and is more important even than the need for food.

Better the devil you know

Since the bully destroys any sense of self of the person they are bullying, when the bullied person gets used to the situation, it ironically feels  ‘safer’ to  stay with what  is familiar – what we know and retain attachment to/connection with the abuser – than to leave. So bullying relationships twist us up. If the person who bullies (parent /vajra master/sadistic torturer) is also at the same time your object of safety (dependence/taking refuge) it becomes very confusing. Better the devil you know, than abandonment and no connection/attachment at all.
This is further compounded when we add the spiritual dimension. Since the word tantra means thread – our sacred link or connection – it becomes even more traumatic when a teacher abuses that link of trust, particularly if students feel they may go to Vajra hell if they speak out. When we impose on this the view that “everything the teacher does is a teaching”, and that we must maintain our “pure perception”, students end up losing their discriminating wisdom and accept abusive behaviour as normal. This is a very twisted dynamic.

The Rigpa ‘dysfunctional family’

The dynamics of the Rigpa ‘dysfunctional family’, with its incestuous undertones of ‘keeping everything in the family’ plays its part in keeping everyone in place.
When students are required to witness group humiliations meted out to ‘errant’ students as part of their ‘training’, many  similarly freeze, and end up resorting to the defences of their  ‘adapted’  compliant  self –  what Winnicott  ( a psychoanalyst) termed  the ‘false’ self’ as a defence against facing the truth of how terrible such public shamings actually are. It also means that those who feel abused rather than more enlightened from a public shaming do not feel they can talk to anyone about it; after all, hundreds of people watch the proceedings without batting an eyelid. If everyone else thinks it’s okay, then to step outside of that dynamic and say, ‘No this is not okay,’ is very difficult.
It may be useful to reflect on how individually and collectively we have all contributed to this situation. A spiritual teacher’s narcissism becomes inflated by blind devotion from close students who model how students are supposed to behave. Both teacher and student then are caught in a dysfunctional double bind which makes it difficult for people to leave.  In the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ phenomena, we may have felt too frightened to own our perceptions, and instead, deferred to the group norm or someone else’s supposed ‘authority’.

Blessing or abuse?

The other factor in this spiritual environment that keeps students in place is the idea that the behaviour that looks to any normal Westerner like abuse is not abuse but ‘crazy wisdom’ – the unconventional behaviour of an enlightened being exhibited for the purpose of bringing a student closer to enlightenment. Students believe that they are special for being singled out for this kind of treatment, and they do not see it as abuse, they see it as a blessing, indeed as a form of great love. They believe it is a teaching for them, and so they genuinely try for years to use it as such. This is why people remaining in the organisation even if they have been subjected to the same behaviour as that attested to by the Eight may still deny they have been abused. For some, since they use it for that purpose, such treatment may well unblock something. For those it does not have a beneficial effect on, however, it takes some time for the realisation to dawn that it is not bringing them closer to enlightenment, but rather closer to physical and emotional breakdown. After that realisation, they still face the difficulties of leaving, which for those financially reliant on the organisation or valuable to its functioning can be considerable.
Though it is relatively easy for the general student to leave. It is not a simple matter for someone trying to escape a situation with the dynamics of domestic abuse. Fear is a real factor in remaining in an abusive situation.

The domestic violence answer

Note Leslie Steiner’s rationalisation of her situation. “I never once thought of myself as a battered wife. Instead, I was a very strong woman in love with a deeply troubled man.”
She didn’t see the abuse as abuse. In Rigpa the rationalisation is that it is ‘training’ or ‘crazy wisdom’.  The general pattern is that students ‘close to the fire’ have emotional or physical breakdowns before they leave, and even then, they will not see what they experienced as abuse. For so long as their trauma goes unacknowledged they are not in a healthy state of mind.
This link is to the specifically relevant part of Leslie’s TED talk posted on Facebook
This is her full talk.