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.
Emotions in Buddhism & Rigpa
This story begins with allowing myself to truly feel that helplessness, trusting the wisdom in that and allowing the results of feeling deeply to naturally unfold. Too often in the past, I’ve given no credence to my emotions and not taken note of their message. Aspects of Buddhism can be misused or misunderstood in a way that diminishes the importance of paying attention to our emotions.
There’s a lot of helpful advice and teachings in Buddhism about dealing with emotions in a way that trains us not to get caught up in them, but if we’re someone who comes to Buddhism with a childhood training in repressing emotions, then these teachings can be used to continue that repression – especially if it’s in the interest of your teacher to stop you from listening to or acting on what you emotions are telling you.
In Rigpa, for instance, we were trained to watch Sogyal abuse others without having a reaction. If something ‘arose’ in us in reaction to his bullying, we were taught to ignore it, told to just ‘let it go’. Never were we allowed to consider that that feeling might have an important message for us – like, ‘Hey, wake up; this guy is abusing those people.’ No; emotions were to be mistrusted. Essentially, we were taught to ignore our emotions and see their expression as an indication of a lack of spiritual progress.
That isn’t what the Buddha actually taught, however. The basic meditation instructions are to neither repress nor indulge thoughts and emotions, but to simply watch and they will naturally pass. Some teachers – such as Tsoknyi Rinpoche – teach you to acknowledge feelings as part of the process of letting them go. In Rigpa, that part was missed out, and so ‘letting go’ easily became pushing them away or squashing them.
The mindfulness of feeling is an important part of Buddhist training, but it wasn’t something we spent much time on in Rigpa. We learned about it, practiced it for a bit and then ignored it, probably because having us all aware of our feelings wouldn’t serve Sogyal’s purpose. More of us would have left earlier had we listened to the feeling in our gut telling us that what we saw wasn’t kindness; it was verbal abuse.
Having emotions doesn’t mean you’re stupid
Even this wise quote from Shantideva can make you think – if you’re someone with a tendency to repress – that being unhappy is a problem. That you’re stupid because you’re unnecessarily feeling helpless or sad or whatever.
“Why be unhappy about something if it can be remedied? And what is the use of being unhappy about something if it cannot be remedied?”
Shantideva. Chapter 6, vs 10 of Bhodicharyavatara
I know that quote well. I’ve used it as a guide ever since I first heard HH Dalai Lama say it. It’s very useful in reminding us that there are simply some things that we can do nothing about, and accepting that fact is necessary for our own happiness. I can’t help vote Trump out and that doesn’t make me feel helpless, and I can’t stop a wildfire racing towards me, but that does make me feel helpless, no matter how pointless that feeling is according to Shantideva.
So to break out of the tendency to repress, I need to remember that it’s okay to feel something uncomfortable or even get upset, and HH Dalia Lama demonstrates this – I saw him weeping on a video when he heard about the way some teachers were abusing their students. I have to remind myself that it’s not only okay to feel however you feel, it’s also healthy and even wise – if you pay attention; it’s not foolish if it’s over something you can’t do anything about.
I can’t do anything about Trump, but I can still weep for all those people who died because of his negligence. If it throws me into a deep depression, that’s something else, but if we have a way to express our feelings in a healthy way – even if it is over something we can do nothing about – then they will naturally pass. It’s going over and over the same issue in our minds that will keep those emotions around and cause long term issues, not simply feeling it in the moment without indulging or repressing. And the feeling of it doesn’t mean you’re paralysed by it, not if you watch it with awareness, then it can lead to surprising realisations. Not allowing ourselves to feel, however, that is a problem. Now I’m learning the wisdom of acknowledging what I feel.
Breaking the pattern of repression
I have to consciously make an effort to pay attention and overcome my training from childhood and Rigpa in order not to rush to the ‘letting go’ stage. I have to allow myself to feel it and acknowledge it and then allow it go, rather than actively ‘letting it go’ which becomes more of a pushing it away. And if anyone suggests that there’s something wrong with me having a feeling of any kind, I have to remind myself that whatever I feel is okay, no matter what it is, and no matter what caused it. My psychologist emphasises this point – she also teaches the grounding techniques I mention in the video.
It’s interesting how insidiously the application of the teachings we received infiltrates our way of being. To overcome that warped application, we have to: – know the actual teachings (neither indulge nor repress our emotions, and pay attention to them with mindfulness); – understand in what way we were taught to apply them was twisted – it became repression/dissociation in the service of enabling an abuser; – watch for negative attitudes – that displaying emotions indicates some lack of spiritual maturity – and habits – such as the habit of ignoring them – when they arise in ourselves; – and notice when and how other’s reactions to our emotions affects us – perhaps making us feel bad about ourselves.
So that’s the background for this video. For me to be so public about feeling a feeling was quite a challenge.
Feeling helpless can lead to action
If you watched the video, you’ll see that the process of feeling and watching that feeling with awareness takes me to a place where I recognise that I’m not quite as helpless as I might feel. But even on a relative level, sometimes being unhappy about something that you think you can’t remedy pushes you to find a way to actually do something.
But since this post is long enough already I’ll go into that in my next post.
Does any of this resonate with you? What’s your relationship to your emotions these days? Has it changed since your time in Rigpa?
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.
As I see it, everything we do is self-expression, but by focusing on self-expression in the form of something that we find aesthetically pleasing, we nurture the light that is specifically ours and help it shine forth to lighten the darkness for others.
So, please, if you’re someone who creates and has a photo of the results that you can link to in the comments, please do. I think we can all gain inspiration from what others are doing to reclaim their spiritual life.
Do you do any conscious creating? Or use art making as meditation. If so, please tell us what you do and any special way you do it, and if you have any image or recording of it online, please put a link in the comments.
(You could also try right clicking on a Facebook photo, choose copy and see if you can paste it into your comment. )
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.
It’s these shared values – and where we diverge – and challenges that we all face that can be the basis of on ongoing conversation. I really enjoyed our discussions about the lama abuse debacle and I’d love to see those lively conversations continue. I figure that if I just follow my inspiration, as I did with the Tibetan Buddhist failings that drew us together, then something worthwhile might come out of it.
These videos are part of my spiritual path – believe it or not – because I took a vow to live according to my deepest nature, and inspiration is that deepest nature guiding me.
And if you’re wondering about the change of name for the You Tube Channel and my Facebook page from Living in Peace and Clarity to Beyond the Temple. I tell you why in the video above.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, covid hair refers to the shaggy look some of us are getting because we’re not visiting the hairdresser. Are you letting your hair grow? Or not having it cut so often?
So this is me mulling over the question of what we can talk about now that we’re all pretty much over the Buddhist bullshit, but I’d like to hear what you think in the comments below.
Here’s one person’s suggestion for you to bounce off.
It would be nice to talk about ethical, psychological and philosophical topics that people struggle with in everyday life. Topic could be ‘what to do with a narcissistic colleague’ or ‘how to determine goals in your life’. I think you are good at bringing heavy subjects lightly, without compromising the seriousness. Ask viewers to give their opinion by commenting under the video. Take interesting answers and comments again as a starting point for another video. And so on. Maybe this will create a lively interaction between you and viewers. Together we gain more insight than worrying about things on your own.
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.
Ah, back to Buddhism. Wait, no. That’s simply a statement of truth. Life is impermanent. That’s a fact, not a belief. But let’s not let be distracted …
Civilisation as we know it is dying. I can see it in the destroyed forests just south of me, and in the dead animals lying in the paddocks. We will not be able to feed ourselves if we don’t have sufficient water, and the fighting over water has already started here. It isn’t machetes or guns, it’s protests and angry voices, but it’s still a fight because it’s unjust, ordinary people’s rights are being ignored in favour of the rich.
We either change or die out along with all those other species going extinct through humankind’s negligence.
At times I’ve had to wear breathing apparatus to go outside. I felt as if I was living in an apocalyptic world.
Oh, wait. I am living in an apocalyptic world,
We can’t grow food without water. It’s that simple.
The Garnaut Review concluded that unmitigated climate change would be “bad beyond normal human experience”, both due to the extreme weather and the consequences that those extremes would have on the safety of our societies. Even with immediate action, the impacts on Australia will be far more severe than they are now. It is likely that, even if we do everything we can to cut emissions, the Great Barrier Reef will be dead, or close to dead, if temperature rises reach 2 degrees. Such a path may become inevitable by 2030.
“Without mitigation, the best estimate for the Murray-Darling Basin is that by mid-century it would lose half of its annual irrigated agricultural output,” says the Garnaut Review. “By the end of the century, it would no longer be a home to agriculture.” Since then, the temperature rises driven by rising emissions have been causing impacts that are tracking at the more dangerous end of scientists’ forecasts.
The challenge of the decade is lowering carbon emissions and dealing with the environmental issues arising out of our lack of care of our earth since the industrial revolution. But there is a lot of resistance from the Australian government and in right wing sections of governments all over the world. In Australia, our politicians are virtually dictated to by the coal industry. The coal industry gives both major political parties huge amounts of money. Corruption is rife in water management, too, with the interests of big business being deemed more important than the right of ordinary folk to water to drink, wash in and farm their land.
It’s been a miserable start to the decade for me. Climate change has become very real. And the old ‘righteous anger’ has returned, but this time it’s not because of a corrupt guru and the system that supported him, it’s because of those morally bankrupt and corrupt politicians and big business who are actively destroying this planet. Now that we know what is coming, to do nothing or not enough is worse than negligent, it’s criminal.
If emissions aren’t cut drastically before the end of the decade, my daughter will face starvation at some point in her life. Her children, if she has any, will not be able to go outside for much of the year because the heat will be higher than a human can survive.
If you aren’t joining protests asking for greater climate action, it’s time you did. And yes, I’m telling you that you should do this because if you don’t, you’re being someone who sits by, saying nothing while evil proliferates. I doubt any of the readers here want to be that kind of person. Perhaps you are already out on the streets and gathering your friends to join you. If so, tell us what you’re doing.
“The bushfires have shown that doing nothing is itself a choice,” says Herd, “with radical implications as Australia is highly vulnerable to the frontline effects of climate change. As such, we are choosing to lock-in climate change and the damage it will bring rather than reduce the emission intensity of our economy. And the extent of this damage will worsen the longer we choose not to act and the more temperatures increase.”
We can live a life with the lowest carbon footprint we can manage. And we can educate ourselves with the facts on climate change and share what we learn. But don’t forget to check that you’re sharing from reputable sources and not sharing misleading information or outright lies – there’s a lot of that about, unfortunately. And we can join the protests, email our local MP and vote for politicians committed to saving the planet.
Some people find the sharing a bit much doom and gloom, but it’s only gloomy if we fail to act. We have a decade to save our future from the worst predictions. If we don’t recognise just how gloomy that future is if we don’t severely cut emissions ( to near zero ) by 2050, we likely won’t act in time.
It’s just like all the stories of abuse in Rigpa; we had to know just how bad it was. We had to know the truth. It’s the same here. We have to come down from our lofty spiritual mountains and see what’s happening in the real world. We can’t spiritually bypass this crisis!
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?
The downside of religion
Most of the readers here have discovered how corruption can infest even a religion that purports to teach wisdom and compassion. We’ve seen how Tibetan Buddhist beliefs on the student teacher relationship can result in abuse. This is a result of holding onto beliefs created for another place and time, beliefs that have a questionable basis to start with, and that certainly have no place in the modern world.
Most of us probably thought that Buddhism was better than the other religions, but as we’ve seen, just like all religions, when Buddhism is taken in a rigid way, it stops people thinking critically, logically or even sensibly. The danger of following stupid beliefs isn’t just for individuals, it can be seen on the level of society in the way our politician’s religion affects how they run the country.
“From an analysis of their theology and the political company they keep, it is evident that neo-Pentecostal churches are content to leave global ecological issues up to God. They believe that God loves humans and, ultimately, humans can do what they like with natural resources, because God will take care of the global climate.”
When held by people in power, the consequences of this kind of belief has negative ramifications for the whole planet. Though Australia is presently feeling extreme effects from global warming, our prime minister, Scott Morrison, rather than using it to bring in the kind of strict emission reduction measures the world needs, does nothing to lower our emissions further because he believes that God will take care of it. Duh!
This is just one example of how religion can have a negative effect on society, all while those who follow it believe that they are the chosen ones, the ones who have it all worked out, the ones who will be saved, the ones on the right path and so on.
Why bother with religion at all?
Most religions seem to have some teachings that encourage people to be kind and ethical to some degree, but just how far that actually goes probably depends on the practitioner more than the religion. Since people seem to find it easy to be selfish and hurtful, encouragement to moderate that kind of behaviour is surely a good thing. And if we don’t occasionally remind ourselves of the importance of being kind, we’re likely to forget about it and stumble blindly through life hurting people and ultimately ourselves. But we don’t need a religion to remind ourselves to be kind and so on, we just need a way to help us remember.
Given that religions most likely also have some harmful beliefs or teachings, surely we’re better to come up with a way to remind us of the spiritual dimension of our lives without submitting to a dodgy package deal. The Christian Bible, for instance, has some truly hideous things in it! Like this one in which Samuel, one of the early leaders of Israel, orders genocide against a neighbouring people:
“This is what the Lord Almighty says … ‘Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’ ”
1 Samuel 15:3:
And here is St Paul’s advice about whether women are allowed to teach men in church:
“I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.”
1 Timothy 2:12
Doing it for ourselves
I never wanted a religion, but I found that the Buddhist teachings on mind, particularly the dzogchen teachings and practice spoke to me, so I ended up in one. But the teachings and practices that speak to us can be used outside the framework of the religion that brought us the teachings. There are plenty of books from which we can learn, after all, and we can join in events lead by various spiritual teachers without getting caught up in their whole deal.
We can do yoga classes and/or Tai Chi or meditation classes and spend time walking in nature and reading whatever book has caught our eye at this stage of our life without having to subscribe to whatever yoga, tai chi, meditation or belief system our teacher follows. We can do them all at once and simply use what they each have to offer to help us make time for the spiritual dimension of our lives … to remind us of what we likely already know, but can so easily forget, and to help us tune in to unbounded awareness.
We could have a journal where we write down anything we read that speaks to us and so create a personal book of spiritual guidance. And we can make a schedule for ourselves to help us to take time for whatever practice we find nourishes us and our spiritual awareness – or just our kindness. Or we can just wing it without any structure and trust ourselves to remember.
This I see as the challenge of living beyond the temple, and I talk about it a bit more in this short video.
Of course, our spiritual and daily lives are not necessarily separate. But most people need committed time in individual spiritual practice to develop the qualities that will make them truly spiritual people in daily life.
I’m using yoga each morning to help me take time for the spiritual aspect of my life, and I’m dabbling with tai chi, but my ongoing practice, as I say in the video, is still dzogchen. But, at this point, it has nothing to do with any guru or religion; it’s simply a way I work with my mind.
So what helps you to live beyond the temple? If you haven’t entirely given up on the idea of having some form of spiritual practice or contemplation or self-reflection time, do you need a structure to encourage you to make time for such things? If so, what kind of structure do you use or could you use? Do you use anything you’ve learned from Buddhism – either consciously or unconsciously?
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.
Report recommendations being followed?
The Rigpa website has a page titled Rigpa Moving Forward on which they list all the ways they are instituting the recommendations of the Lewis Silkim Report on Sogyal Lakar/Rinpoche’s abuses. If you raise the issue of Sogyal’s abuse with a Rigpa devotee, they will point to this page to show that they have changed. But if you look closely at the recommendations and at what is written on that page, you’ll see a vast discrepancy between the actual recommendations and what they’re doing, and between what they say they are doing and what they have actually done.
If they were actually working systematically on each recommendation, why have they organised their page in a way that doesn’t relate to the recommendations? To check if the recommendations are actually being followed, you have to go to the report and try to check whats on the Moving Forward page with the recommendations, and who is going to do that? Not your casual reader, and not the devotees who only want to be reassured that the right thing is being done. The page organisation acts as a smokescreen.
For instance, for the recommendation, “Rigpa leadership in each country (being the trustees or equivalent) and the Vision Board should, as necessary, be refreshed in order to ensure that; its members are unconnected with the harmful events referred to in this report and so can credibly lead the programme of changes required; …” But Rigpa have removed from management only 3 of those who enabled the abuse for decades. The Vision Board and management in various countries still contain people well connected to the harmful events. This is typical of Rigpa’s approach to the recommendations – do enough that it looks like you’re making changes, but not enough to actually make a change.
And then there’s the look-how-wonderful-we-are language they use to distract readers from remembering that the man they are devoted to was the perpetrator of serious physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Apart from the usual important-lama name dropping and insistence that Rigpa offers “a complete and authentic path of Buddhist study and practice”, their words make it sound as if they’ve done more than they actually have. For instance, if you click on the link on the word ‘apology’ you’ll find only a pseudo apology. They look like apologies to anyone who doesn’t look closely, but despite using the word ‘sorry’, Rigpa and Sogyal have never actually apologised for hurting anyone; they’ve never said, ‘we’re sorry we hurt you’ only sorry that people ‘feel hurt.’
Their apologies aren’t for those they harmed, they’re to gaslight their devotees into thinking that they actually have apologised. And they’re still doing it.
The gaslighting continues with another psudeo apology for the faithful
Rigpa put out a statement on Sept 5th, a few days AFTER the petition asking for the lamas to retract their homages , presumably to make it look as if they actually cared about those who objected to their hideous display of hypocrisy. In Rigpa’s statement they use the word ‘deepest apologies’ to make it look as if they’re apologising and ‘again’ as if they have apologised before, but now instead of talking about people who have ‘felt hurt’, they’re talking about members of the Rigpa community who have ‘experienced hurt’. Still the passive voice that makes it sound as if the hurt happened without anyone actually causing it. Still they’re not admitting that Sogyal and Rigpa management and culture actually did hurt people, still not saying, ‘we’re sorry we hurt you’. The expressing our ‘deepest apologies’ doesn’t even say what the apologies are for!
Rigpa acknowledges that this may also be a difficult period for past and present members of the Rigpa community who have experienced hurt, and wishes to express again our deepest apologies. We continue our process of healing and reaching out, and the reforms that Rigpa has taken over the past two years.
And they have the gall to say that they’re continuing the process of ‘healing and reaching out’. Their efforts at ‘reaching out’ were extremely limited and misguided, and last I heard, the communication set up with two of the victims has stalled. To even talk about ‘our process of healing and reaching out’ as if it’s some ongoing initiative is highly misleading.
The Rigpa website has a page called SOGYAL RINPOCHE’S PARINIRVANA in which they say, “Sogyal Rinpoche entered into parinirvana on 28th August, 2019.” Parinirvana means “The final passing beyond suffering manifested by buddhas and highly realized masters at the end of their lives. ”
Just using that word gaslights the gullible. What actually happened was that a serial abuser died. Yes, he did some good stuff, but people who hurt others – and he hurt hundreds of people – are surely not real candidates for parinirvana. If your belief system allows a serial abuser to be enlightened, then that belief system must be seriously flawed.
“On behalf of Sogyal Rinpoche’s private office: From the time when he passed away on August 28th, Sogyal Rinpoche has remained in a state of meditation (thugdam) at his residence in Thailand. Yesterday, Tulku Rigdzin Pema, a close disciple of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and a highly accomplished and knowledgeable master, arrived and confirmed Rinpoche’s profound meditation. Today, three days after his passing away, Rinpoche left his meditative state, and Tulku Rigdzin Pema performed all the necessary rituals and prayers. He also noticed a gentle fall of rain at that time, which he considered a very auspicious sign.
We are being guided by a number of eminent lamas. The two most important considerations now are creating an opportunity for as many students as possible to pay their respects to the kudung sometime in the coming weeks, and making arrangements for the cremation, to be performed according to the authentic Tibetan tradition. We will soon have clarity where and when these events will take place and will share more news.
Sogyal Rinpoche’s private office team
The Facebook notice that Sogyal was going into hospital was dated Aug. 28, 4:47 am, It told us that there was a team of doctors working with him and he was in and out of intensive care and no visitors. The message telling us that he had died was the same day, August 28, 8:27 pm, 16 hours later. In that message, again the team of doctors working to save his life was mentioned, and it’s clear that he died in hospital. That message was from Jackie Lee, but now, the message about his remaining in thugdam – written by Sogyal Rinpoche’s private office team – states, “On behalf of Sogyal Rinpoche’s private office: From the time when he passed away on August 28th, Sogyal Rinpoche has remained in a state of meditation (thugdam) at his residence in Thailand.”
According to Tibetan Buddhist belief, if you touch the body in the first 3 days, the consciousness will leave the body at the point where it was touched and so make ‘resting in meditation’ after death (thugdam) impossible. Sogyal’s corpse was moved from the hospital. Rigpa’s story doesn’t hold together at all. But the devotees won’t notice or care, and so Sogyal’s last day was spent, as so many others have been, in deception.
And they’re even going to let people view the kudung – the sacred body of a great master who has passed away. Have they trussed him up to sit in the right position? For sure he didn’t die sitting in meditation.
Do any of the devotees question this story? No, they’re fed what they want to hear to keep them happily in their Rigpa fantasy.
Ugh. There’s something really disgusting in all this. Why not just be honest? I guess that just isn’t Rigpa’s style.
Rigpa asked as many lamas as they could think of to write a homage to Sogyal Rinpoche. In accordance with Tibetan culture, most of them wrote glowing accolades, as if Sogyal had never done anything wrong. This brought an outcry of disgust from Western students more familiar with the kind of obituary we saw in The Telegraphthat acknowledges both the good and the bad. In response to the outcry, and some letters written to the offending speakers, some of the ‘homages’ were taken down. Read the Tricycle article for details.
Some of the lama’s responses, however, merely gave condolences and advice for students, but Rigpa still posted these as if they were homages on a page titled Paying Homage to Sogyal Rinpoche. Isn’t it dishonest to post messages of condolence as if they are homages? The unquestioning follower will look at the page, see all the photos and names and, without reading and evaluating, think that all these masters have actually paid homage. Look at Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s one for instance. It isn’t a homage; it’s advice for students.
And yet, many of the lamas who’ve taught in Rigpa have said nothing publicly. In a culture where one is expected to say nice things about someone who has just died, to say nothing says a great deal. It’s the old ‘if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.’
Notably, wrote nothing, and neither did HH Dalai Lama. Others who have remained silent are Dzogchen Rinpoche, (previously joint Spiritual Director of Rigpa and is SR’s brother); Dodrupchen Rinpoche; HH Sakya Trizin; HH Karmapa XVII and Gyalwang Drukpa Rinpoche. Even Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, one of Rigpa’s main advisers, has no statement on that homage page. And those are just some of those who have remained silent.
Just as it’s a basic courtesy in the Tibetan tradition not to mention a deceased person’s bad deeds when expressing condolences, it’s also traditional to express disapproval by not saying anything, even if asked. Of course, Rigpa would not draw attention to the silences.
Edited addition 15th September.
Mingyur Rinpoche has now written a message of condolence, but like his brother says nothing good about Sogyal and acknowledges those students who have left Rigpa. At first Rigpa placed it on its Homage page, but some of the Tergar students protested and Rigpa took it down. This is what he said:
In the past weeks I have been approached by many of Sogyal Rinpoche’s current and past students who have asked me to offer guidance for how to practice at this time.
I was saddened to hear of the passing away of Sogyal Rinpoche. I have known him for many years and have a close connection to many of his students. Of course all of life is subject to impermanence, but it is always a surprise when we lose someone we have known for a long time.
I am aware this has been a very painful time for Sogyal Rinpoche’s students, his present students and those who have decided to leave the community. I am thinking of each of you and dedicating my practice to your well-being.
Death reminds us that there is no certainty in life and calls to us to open our hearts wide enough to hold whatever arises. It is my personal wish that all of you, wherever you find yourselves, keep each other in your hearts at this time. You are in my heart and in my prayers. Please remember that regardless of whatever happens, the teachings of the Buddha are always completely reliable. This is the time for us to dedicate ourselves to the path. By practising the teachings that we have received, we can free ourselves from the bonds of duality and merge with the luminous nature that never dies.
A conflict of interest
So this is how Rigpa keeps on behaving like a cult, how they continue to gaslight their students, manipulating their perspective in ways that will confirm their idea of Sogyal as enlightened. Any student who wasn’t sure about Sogyal, given this manipulation will now likely be thinking, “Oh, he must really be enlightened. He’s resting in meditation; Tulku Rigdzin Pema even confirmed it and said the gentle fall of rain was a very auspicious sign. And lamas are calling him a great master. “
I’ve heard that Tulku Rigdzin Pema is Rigpa’s stupa builder. The greater the master, the bigger the stupa, the more money for him, so it’s in his financial interest to make Sogyal out to be a great master. But most Rigpa students wouldn’t know this, and if they did, they certainly wouldn’t allow the knowledge to put a crack in their blind devotion. Nevertheless, there’s a conflict of interest here, a reason for him not to check too carefully.
Personally, I don’t believe a word Rigpa says anymore.
Can Rigpa reform?
As many of you know already, the BBC focused on the Rigpa debacle on a couple of their recent Sunday shows. The first interview was on the 1st of September with Mary Finnigan and she spoke of Sogyal’s history as presented in her and Rob Hogendoorn’s book, Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism. She mentioned, among other things, how important success and supporting success was for the Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy, another reason why lamas are so keen to support what he’s done.
The next week on the 8th of September, the Sunday show interviewed several exRigpa students, including me, and the focus was on whether Rigpa could be called a cult and whether they could reform. I think I made my perspective on that quite clear. As I said n my book, Fallout: Recovering from Abuse in Tibetan Buddhism, Rigpa can never be considered a safe organisation unless they denounce Sogyal’s behaviour as wrong and inappropriate for any teacher. Unless they do that, they don’t know the meaning of the word harm, and that makes their code of conduct worthless.
The question also arose in the talk I gave at the Cult Information and Family Support network’s meeting in Sydney on the 28th August. They hosted my book launch, and I talked about how Rigpa operates the same way as all cults operate. People in the audience with experience in a wide variety of different cults were nodding their heads; they knew the cult markers and recognised them when I spoke of how we were brainwashed and how I woke up from my naive trust in Rigpa as an organisation.
One of the result of Sogyal’s betrayal for me is questioning EVERYTHING about Tibetan Buddhism. I realise that I accepted too much on faith alone. I had faith that ‘Buddhism’ was all good. But the Buddha himself said we shouldn’t take what he said on faith alone, let alone what some teacher 2500 years in the future might say.
I tested some of it, the stuff that related specifically to me, my mind, and how I handled my life, but I never doubted that Tibetan Buddhism was a complete path as Sogyal said. It certainly appeared to have everything covered, and we did have a step by step progression to follow that was supposed to end up with us being enlightened – in one lifetime. Given the actual results, however, I now have to ask whether or not this is actually the complete path we were told it was.
What are the results?
After forty years in Rigpa, and longer for Shambala, do we have any enlightened beings amongst the students? Are Sogyal and Trungpa’s oldest students the wise and compassionate beings they should be if this path according to them is truly what they say it is? And look at these abusive lamas; If they did actually practice the path they taught – which is highly doubtful – then they are hardly a good advertisment for their path. They may be highly developed in the area of meditation and be able to share some dharma gems, but they are also emotionally immature and highly manipulative people. This is hardly the kind of person we should be aiming to emulate, and they are clearly further from any genuine ‘enlightenment’ than the average law abiding citizen, so something must be amiss in what they taught.
Look at those still running Shambala and Rigpa. In both organisations we see the same kind of DARVO responses (Deny. Attack. Reverse Victim and Offender) as given by every person and institution accused of abuse. There is nothing enlightened or even genuinely compassionate in their behaviour – and certainly no following the vajrayana teachings on purification of bad karma as the basis for their actions (confession, regret and reparation before a witness). What we’re seeing is people concerned primarily with protecting and continuing the very institutions, teachings and teachers who caused and enabled the abuse in the first place.
Can a cult stop being a cult?
In both cases, Shamabala and Rigpa, the changes are superficial, and will remain so unless they actually denounce the behaviour of the teachers who perpetrated the abuse – and in Shambala that’s a lot of teachers, since abuse of one kind or another seem to be throughout all levels of the organisation. These organisations are clearly cults, and I don’t believe they can be redeemed, because though they may remove their teachers from the organisation, they will not denounce their behaviour. They still think it was crazy wisdom and therefore accept abuse as a legimate part of the vajrayana path. For so long as this is the belief at the core of these organisations, their codes of conduct are only for show, and the lovely facade they present at local centres are nothing more than cult induction techniques.
Does the path work with the whole of us?
I realise now that I suppressed my feelings for years under Rigpa’s tutelage, so though my awareness of my own mind and the empty nature of reality is fairly firmly established, I’m underdeveloped in terms of my emotional intelligence – just like my lama. I’m grateful for what I gained in the area of mental awareness, but I can’t say that it’s a complete path.
I’d done a lot of work on my childhood patterns before coming to Rigpa, and I have a high level of physical awareness gained from years as a dancer, but there was no place to work on those aspects of ourselves in Rigpa. The physical aspect of ourselves was simply ignored, and we were advised against looking into our past to examine what we might have picked up from our childhood that is holding us back today.
Not all teachers are the same
Other teachers don’t ignore the physical aspect, however. Namkahi Norbu had his Vajra dance (which I always wanted to learn and never managed to) and Tsoknyi Rinpoche talks about dropping our mind down into our body and tuning into what is happening there. He also talks about acknowledging our feelings by giving them a ‘handshake’ before letting them go. So clearly there is variety within the tradition which makes a general evaluation impossible.
Some people tell me that there are some teachers who are genuinely good people. His Holiness the Dalai Lama appears to be a fine example of compassion and wisdom, so really here, I’m talking about Tibetan Buddhism as it’s taught in Shambala, Rigpa and other organisations of abusive lamas, because in these organisations, the results are not well-balanced wise and compassionate people, and those that are were likely like that before they joined up.
Because there is no central authority in Tibetan Buddhism, many lineages, and individual lamas can basically do and say what they want, there will always be exceptions to disprove any evaluation of the tradition as a whole. But in general the teachings do primarily work with one’s mind, emotions are the enemy and the body is ignored, and so it’s easy to end up with people (including teachers) who are not grounded in their body and in the world, and who are experts at bypassing their issues and emotions rather than dealing with them.
If you have experience of teachers who do seem to teach and embody a path that acknowledges and works with all aspects of ourself -physical, mental and emotional – please do share in the comments. I’d also like to hear your thoughts on how Tibetan Buddhism did or did not live up to your expectations. Do you feel as if you’d been sold a lemon?
For more on this topic check out my vlog.
If you’d like a more private place to chat about your ongoing spiritual path after you’ve left an abusive community, you can join the Beyond the Temple Facebook group. This group is for people who don’t want to talk about abuse, but want to keep in touch and share their discoveries, inspiration and challenges as they move on with their lives.
If you want to talk about abuse, then Rigpa or ex-Rigpa students can join the secret What Now? group. Apply via the contact form here, telling us about yourself and why you want to join the group.
Someone sent me the latest Rigpa sangha news and it inspired another vlog. I know I said I was planning on not talking about Rigpa, but I did say that I would respond when something called for it, and this did. I find that the way Rigpa continues as if everything is solved or being dealt with when the core issue of their thinking on the matter remains unexamed kind of sleasy. It’s like car salesmen giving a speel on a car that’s had a new paint job but the engine is barely holding together. Buy at your own risk.
The vlog is about 20 mins.
If you’d like a more private place to chat about your ongoing spiritual path after you’ve left an abusive community, you can join the Beyond the Temple Facebook group. This group is for people who don’t want to talk about abuse, but want to keep in touch and share their discoveries, inspiration and challenges as they move on with their lives.
If you want to talk about abuse, then Rigpa or ex-Rigpa students can join the secret What Now? group. Apply via the contact form here, telling us about yourself and why you want to join the group.
in the early 1980s, psychologist John Welwood coined the phrase spiritual bypassing to refer to the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with uncomfortable feelings, unresolved wounds, and fundamental emotional and psychological needs. When I first came across this term, I didn’t think it applied to me, but when I looked at my reaction – or lack of it – to the verbal abuse I witnessed while in Rigpa, I realised that I had certainly been bypassing my discomfort – and in a very active way.
I had been taught to bypass any feelings of discomfort or disgust in response to anything Sogyal did. Remember being told not to think too much, to let our feelings just rise and fall away without paying them any attention, to not ‘go there’, to see our reactions to the verbal abuse we all witnesses as just our ‘judgemental mind’? Any kind of normal reaction, like horror, disgust or even concern, were seen as a lack of a stable mind – an attitude I’ve unfortunately also seen in the response of some lamas to those who speak out about abuse or show any kind of emotion due to the abuse.
Of course, we’re not supposed to repress our emotions, but that’s what I did, and I suspect that a whole lot of others did as well. Why else (apart from the brainswashing discourse of, ‘Oh he’s a crazy wisdom master, what you’re seeing is love, not anger’) did we sit unreacting and with blank faces?
Meditation isn’t the answer to everything
My daughter used to say to me, ‘Oh, Mum, you think everything can be solved through meditation.’ I don’t think that way now, not now that I’ve seen it used to make people pliable so they can be more easily controlled and manipulated, and not now that I know that even with the right kind of instructions, it can be used to set aside issues that we really do need to face and deal with.
I also used to think that Buddhism was the answer to everything, and perhaps if we could hear the Buddha himself speak to us it might be, but not the way some teach it–especially in Tibetan Buddhism. Teachers talk about our emotions as ‘poisons’ and ‘enemies’ and refer to psychological methods of examining our problems as some kind of inferior activity, while teaching us to simply ignore our problems under the guise of ‘watering the seeds of joy’. But pretending issues don’t exist doesn’t make them go away. Look at Rigpa’s track record with Sogyal’s abuse. If we hadn’t tried so hard to ignore our feelings – the ones that were sending us a very valid message that something was seriously wrong – Sogyal would have been stopped a long time ago.
I think we need a more balanced approach. We need to be able to look at our issues, and sort them out without getting stuck in them. We need to honour the wisdom in our emotions – like physical pain, negative emotions are, after all, telling us something is wrong – but that doesn’t mean that we’ll roll around in our emotions ad nauseum or deny the role our own thoughts, beliefs and perceptions play in our happiness and suffering. It’s not an all-or-nothing thing. We can choose the middle way.
‘To me, spiritual bypassing is fundamentally about taking a so-called absolute truth — such as “everything is okay” — and using it to ignore or deny relative truths — such as the grief we feel when we lose a loved one, or the shame that arises when we fail at something important. On the personal and interpersonal level, sometimes everything isn’t okay. And that’s okay.’
Let’s not delude ourselves
When I discovered Tibetan Buddhism, I found it all so wonderful, inspiring, and heart-warming, and the practice made me feel so calm and just plain goooood. But if all we’re doing by buying into any religion is spiritually distracting ourselves from our feelings while thinking that we’re walking a healthy spiritual path, then we’re just deluding ourselves.
So what to do about it? Ask questions of any teacher who seems to be straying into this area in their instruction, and take control of your own path by tuning into your body and feeling what’s there to be felt. Your body doesn’t lie. It knows what you might be unwilling to feel.
‘We need to remember that spiritual practice and emotional growth are not about achieving a particular quality of feeling (“good”). Being a human being on a spiritual journey isn’t about getting cash and prizes all the time, it is about being in the present moment, whatever it happens to look like. What are you experiencing right now? And how about now? Can you be present to all of your feelings without any one of them defining you? ‘
What about you? What’s your experience? Do you think you might have used Tibetan Buddhist practices to spiritually bypass some issues? And what does knowledge of spiritual bypassing mean for our spiritual path going forward?
If you’d like a more private place to chat, you can join the Beyond the Temple Facebook group for discussions not about abuse but about your ongoing spiritual path, or if you need to talk about your experiences of and healing from guru abuse or about Rigpa’s ongoing bungling, ex-Rigpa students can join the secret What Now? group, (apply via the contact form here, andtell us about yourself and why you want to join the group). And if you’re not a Rigpa or ex-Rigpa person and need support related to abuse in Vajrayana you can join the Survivors of Vajrayana Abuse and their Allies group. Note that you will not be added to these groups if you don’t answer the questions.
The Facebook page and You Tube Channel associated with this blog are called Living in Peace and Clarity. Click the relevant link on the side bar to ‘Like’ and ‘Subscribe’.
Today’s post has two videos in it, one by me, Tahlia, and the other by Sangye, but we’re both talking about the same topic. We are examining whether or not a master is needed in order to recognise the nature of mind. The videos compliment each other, and I hope you will watch both and that they will encourage you to examine the question for yourselves. The literature on recovering from a cult says that it is important for cult survivors to examine the beliefs they held, and so this is what we’re doing.
We are not trying to teach anything or convince anyone of anything, or even suggest that we have some definitive answer to the question, these vlogs are simply how we see the situation from our present viewpoint.
As Sangye says in the description of his video:
“A personal investigation, applying critical intelligence to the topic. Looking at the broader truth in and around all the constituent elements and implications of this belief that “The master is needed to recognize the nature of mind”. Beliefs are risky formations that often masquerade as knowledge and proven truths. Investigation can benefit one to improve, confirm or disprove part or the whole of the belief.” In this video (it’s about 19 mins) I try to use logic to evaluate the belief that you need a master to introduce you to the nature of your mind, and I make a clear distinction between experiencing the nature of mind and being introduced to it.
Warning: possible Dzogchen blasphemy. Don’t watch if you’re inflexible in your beliefs.
Sangye goes into the topic in more depth and makes some points I didn’t, for example that once you have recognised the nature of mind, you don’t need to be close to a master anymore. You just need to work on stabilising what you’ve recognised.
In Rigpa we became dependent on the ‘master’ continuing to go to retreats in the constant hope of ‘getting it’, even if we’d already got it. We became like junkies hooked on having the kind of spiritual experience we experienced with Sogyal which actually may have been nothing more than a trance state.
Sangye raises doubt as to the real nature of the introductions we were given. Staring without a focus as we were taught as part of our meditation instructions in Rigpa creates an experience recognised by psychologists as the Ganzfield effect, something that induces altered states and even hallucinations. Sogyal also asked us to stare into this eyes when introducing us to the nature of mind, and Giovanni Caputo from the University of Urbino did an experiment in which he discovered that staring into someone’s eyes for ten minutes induces an altered state of consciousness. None of the people in that study were masters, and yet “The participants in the eye-staring group said they’d had a compelling experience unlike anything they’d felt before,” Christian Jarrett wrote for the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest at the time.
Sangye’s examination is broader than mine and compliments it nicely. It’s about 40 mins long.
What are your thoughts on this? Can you step outside of the Tibetan Buddhist belief system and examine it from a different perspective?
Private discussion on this and other related topics can be had on our Secret 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. 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.