After Tibetan Buddhism, after you’ve left the religion, what happens to your spiritual life?
I was a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner for 20 years and left the religion 5 years ago when I discovered that my teacher Sogyal Rinpoche was abusing his close students and those running the organisation not only enabled it but also saw his abuse as a beneficial teaching, not something harmful. In the video below, I reflect on what of value has remained with me and how I view the religion now in light of my knowledge of abusive gurus/lamas, the cult dynamics they often employ, and the teachings that enable abuse.
It’s a long video (40 minutes) because I cover a lot of ground, so I hope you can take time to watch or listen to it.
The answer to the question of what remains from the tradition after Tibetan Buddhism and your perceptions of Tibetan Buddhism and its lamas after you’ve left will be different for different people, so please note that this is only my personal opinion and evaluation of my own experience. I know that some have been left with nothing but trauma after Tibetan Buddhism, and some are still struggling to sift through their experience and find anything worth keeping.
Though I share my understanding of dzogchen practice, please don’t take anything I say as any kind of teaching. My purpose in sharing my perspective is to provide the stimulation for you to reflect on these matters for yourself.
Please like the video and share it as it helps get it to more people.
If you were a Tibetan Buddhist and have left the religion, what has remained for you?
One of the things I learned about in the year after I discovered that Sogyal Rinpoche abused his close students was narcissistic personality disorder. In order to avoid potential abuse, all spiritual seekers should examine the question, is your guru a narcissist? Or was he or she a narcissist?
Narcissists are everywhere, and they are dangerous people who manipulate others for their own gain. They are masters at coercive control and often become abusive. If you know what to look for, you can see the signs of narcissistic personality disorder in people around you. Donald Trump is a good example of someone with narcissistic personality disorder and so was Sogyal Rinpoche.
I think it’s vital that we all know how to spot a narcissist so we can avoid being manipulated by one. They are able to be very charming, loving and alluring when it suits them, so it’s easy to get sucked in.
We see reality though the filter of our thoughts, emotions and beliefs. When beliefs don’t align with reality, they distort perception. This is why, according to the Buddhist teachings, one of the obscurations we need to dissolve if we are to be enlightened – i.e., see reality directly – is the cognitive obscurations, the area of beliefs.
It’s why when we meditate, we train in not labelling or thinking about what we perceive, we simply see, simply hear, simply be without engaging our conceptual mind. But even those who practice this in their meditation find it hard to practice in daily life, especially if they hold tight to beliefs that aren’t in alignment with reality. And sometimes those beliefs are the very beliefs that were designed to point them in the direction of reality.
Look at those in the US who believe that Trump won the election.
I recently recorded a video in which I shared what I do when I feel helpless. I shared it because I figure that I’m not the only one feeling helpless, at least occasionally, when we look at the world situation, particularly climate change and the dire predictions for our future. In the video I share how the way I deal with such an emotion takes me from a place where I feel helpless to a place where I realise that I’m not actually as helpless as I think I am. In the video that’s a kind of esoteric place – for want of a better word – but that’s not the end of the story. What I find interesting is how the sense of empowerment gained through working with an emotion in that way can help me find ways to help on the level of action in the physical world.
In this video I talk about creativity as a form of meditation, art as meditation, and personal art as a focus for contemplation. I talk about visual art and craft – including flower arranging – but it also applies to the performing arts, of course. And even to creating gardens and home decorating, anything where you can put aside your thoughts and tune into the deep well of creativity inside you, the creative mind that, in my experience, is the same as the ‘meditative’ mind.
I know quite a few in the Beyond the Temple community who find a refuge in creativity and who create art of some form. Some of them do use art as meditation and contemplation. I mention colouring in in the video, but I also know a painter, two photographers, several musicians and many who create beautiful gardens and homes or who simply appreciate looking at something beautiful.
Some of you will have already seen this video, but I’m posting it here so we can talk about it in a more ‘private’ setting, and also so more of you can see it and give me your ideas. As I say in the description for the video:
The Beyond the Temple community is primarily made up of people who have left a Buddhist cult like Rigpa or Shambala. In the past few years, we’ve made friends and deepened existing friendships based on our shared disgust with abusive lamas and the people and organisations that protect and enable them. Now, as we go on with our lives, and don’t want to talk about abuse anymore, we can still foster those relationships based our shared values as we look at the world around us and our shared experiences of creating our own spiritual path free of dogma.
I have lots of ideas for posts for this blog that take the idea of ‘beyond the temple’ broader than it has been, but it could take a while for me to get around to writing them. Those who are my friends or followers on social media will know that I’ve been consumed by the bush fire crisis facing my home state, NSW. I even had to evacuate one day. But today we have a little rain, so perhaps we’ll dodge the bullet this time. The nearest fire is about 20 kilometres away, but it hasn’t moved towards us for a week now, so the ever present anxiety has eased.
The expected rain isn’t enough to put out the fires, though, just slow them down, nor is it expected to be enough to fill the dams and break the drought. Ferns and trees are dying. Kangaroos are coming into the garden to get water and vast areas of Australia are burned and/or in severe drought. Wildlife is devastated. I read somewhere that scientists predicted that Australia would be one of the first countries to feel the effects of climate change, and here we are.
So discussions around Tibetan Buddhism all seem rather inconsequential and even indulgent in light of the fact that if we don’t act in the next decade to lower carbon emissions, we truly will be facing the extinction of life as we know it.
We are truly, all of us, facing the great impermanence.
One of the reasons people join a religion is because the structures of that religion help them make time to contemplate the spiritual dimension of life. Christians head off to church every Sunday, for instance. Many people who aren’t Christians or who don’t belong to a specific church believe in God, but without the ritual of church and listening to a priest give a sermon, they may never take the time to think outside of their worldly existence. And most people do need something to remind them to at least aim to be a good person. It’s easier for the worries of life to take us over if we don’t take time to meditate or contemplate or pray or just sit and enjoy some mental space or peace and quiet.
So what do those of us who don’t want a religion do?
Rigpa’s gaslighting skills are making a strong showing in the wake of Sogyal’s death. Gaslighting is a nice term for what some might call outright lies. It’s a way of obscuring the truth and manipulating people to perceive things in a way that suits the gaslighter’s agenda. Rigpa needs students to deify Sogyal, to keep the fantasy alive so they can keep the money rolling in, so they’re doing everything they can to assure their devotees that Sogyal was truly an enlightened master – and therefore, according to their beliefs, he didn’t harm anyone.