Is Tibetan Buddhism Really a Complete Path?

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? groupApply via the contact form here, telling us about yourself and why you want to join the group. 

Students from other Vajrayana communities who need somewhere where they can talk about abuse and find survivor support 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’.

Abuse-Enabling Beliefs Remain

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? groupApply via the contact form here, telling us about yourself and why you want to join the group. 

Students from other Vajrayana communities who need somewhere where they can talk about abuse and find survivor support 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’.

Spiritual Practice or Spiritual Bypassing?


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.

Active repression

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?

Jeff Brown: Spiritual Graffiti

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.’

https://upliftconnect.com/spiritual-bypassing/

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? ‘

https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/emotional-sobriety/201110/beware-spiritual-bypass
I filmed this a while ago, so I don’t remember exactly what’s in it, but it includes my experience of spiritual bypassing in the Rigpa context and a method for avoiding spiritual bypassing in our meditation.


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, and tell 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’.

Is a Master Needed in Order to Recognise the Nature of Mind?

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 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.

What it's like to be in the line of Sogyal's fire: a personal testimony.

Later on in this post I share a video interview I did with ex-monk Sangye Nawang in which he tells us just what it was like to be in the firing line of Sogyal Rinpoche’s temper, but first some introduction to help explain why students entered into a close relationship with their guru.

The fire analogy

One of the teachings that I remember on a student’s relationship to a lama is the fire analogy. It goes something like this: If you’re too far from the lama you won’t feel the heat; it you’re too close, you’ll get burned. I presumed that the aim of this teaching was to make the the student aware that they needed to find a distance that was neither too close nor too far away from the lama, but it was also a warning that if you did dedicate yourself to working closely with a lama, you might  get burned, or maybe even will get burned.
Being burned, however, meant that your ego got burned, and that was seen as a good thing. Once again we see a word being used that means harm. If we’re burned, we’re harmed. The bit being harmed is supposed to be your ego (grasping at a false sense of self), but these ideas of burning, attacking, crushing, and destroying ego are problematic in a world where students may be lacking in a basic healthy self-esteem, and that problem is compounded one-hundred fold if the lama has narcissistic personality disorder. In these cases, as I’ve seen with Rigpa inner circle survivors, an aggressive approach is more likely to cause harm than benefit. Instead of having their ego dissolved, they tend to end up having physical and/or mental breakdowns, and their basic sense of self is crushed, so that they see themselves as worthless and useless, and so on. This is in fact strengthening ego, because now the student associates him or herself with negative attributes.

Why put yourself in the line of fire?

In Rigpa, the idea of being close to the fire meant that you had the guts to commit yourself fully to a relationship with a person that, though most of us didn’t know was abusive, we all knew was highly demanding, but the pay off for being close was a better shot at enlightenment, the opportunity to be fast tracked along the path. The route was dangerous, and it took guts to take it, but the potential benefit was huge – at least that’s what we were told. This romanticised ideal of a spiritual warrior willing to take the blows coupled with a genuine desire to help spread the dharma teachings in the West drew people close to the raging inferno of Sogyal Rinpoche/Lakar.
But being close to the fire meant that you put yourself directly in Sogyal’s firing line.
I doubt that those who entered the inner circle knew the degree of his ‘burn’ before they took up their roles – did they know they would be hit, asked for sexual favours and be always found lacking? – but we all knew that working closely with him would be highly challenging. That was the point. We believed it was a kind of ‘trial by fire’ that if survived would be a great purification, a furnace in which to burn away your obscurations, in reality, however, a large number of people simply got third degree burns.
I sometimes used to wonder how I would handle the intensity of that level of ‘Rigpa work’, and all I knew in that regard was that I never wanted to find out. When I was offered the role of National Director for Rigpa Australia a decade or so ago, I said, “No way, I don’t want to get that close to the fire.” I feel for those who did.

A personal testimony

In August 2017, I interviewed Sangye Nawang, and ex-Rigpa monk and a good friend of mine. We didn’t release the video at the time, feeling that the time wasn’t right. Now, however, we feel it is time for the world to see Sangye tell it as it was, and I challenge those who think this is somehow made up, or some plot or campaign to deny the truth that comes through this interview. This is just someone who has been burned telling us about the fire he fell into through no fault of his own.
May sharing his story, told openly and honestly, be of service to others.

 

What being in a narcistic relationship does to you

This next video is long, but it’s well worth watching if you want to get an idea of the true cost to those in Rigpa’s inner circle who were or still are close to Sogyal Rinpoche/Lakar.  If you were one of those people then you’ll find it immensely helpful to realise that other people experience this kind of thing in domestic and work relationships; it’s not something restricted to the guru/student relationship, and, in fact, it has no place in that environment at all. In this video you’ll hear just how crushing being in a narcissistic relationship is.
Please note that I am not making a diagnosis on Sogyal’s personality, just sharing the experience of people who were in a similar relationship because fits with the results I’ve heard from and seen in Rigpa inner-circle survivors. You’ll see the correlations with Sangye’s experience. As Dana mentions in the video, survivors of cults and abusive relationships will also find it very helpful to find language they can use to describe their experience. 
NB: CPTSD  is Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

In this video Dana of Narcissist Support says, “In a narcistic relationship it’s all smoke and mirrors. It’s all a lie.”
Which leaves me wondering: was the love I thought I experienced from Sogyal real or just my projection? Dana talks about how her narcissistic boyfriends fed off her need for love that came from a sense of lack of love in her life; how many of us saw in Sogyal what we wanted to see? Did our projections blind us to the red flags that screamed, “Fire. Fire. Danger. Do not enter!”?


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 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.
 
 
 

Should a Spiritual Teacher Attack Your Hidden Faults?

Finally we’ve got to our examination of the beliefs we held without question. The first is one that we often heard from Sogyal Rinpoche, “A Spiritual teacher should attack your hidden faults” or other versions of that same idea. Looking back now, it seems like an attempt to justify abusive behaviour! And he did use it to calm people down if they’d just witnessed some form of abuse, and all of us who went to a retreat did see emotional abuse; we called it “training”. Ouch. Just what exactly was he training us to do? Witness abuse without reacting? How healthy is that? Is this what the Buddha would want his disciples to learn in the name of Buddhism?
So many questions arise when you start examining, but it’s very important that we ask them and consider the answers because this is what we didn’t do in Rigpa. We never questioned anything, and accepting everything I was told is why I remained in a cult for 20 years. I trusted that everything I was taught to belief was for the benefit of the students. Now I know just how badly many students were hurt, how these beliefs were used to justify and cover up abuse.
Anyway, the idea of our belief examination posts is for you to discuss what you think about the belief. Sogyal didn’t make it up. It comes from the introduction to The Words of My Perfect Teacher as something Patrul Rinpoche said.
This video is my contemplation on this one and it includes Sangye’s thoughts on the matter as well. Please share your thoughts on this belief in the comments. I look forward to a lively discussion.


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 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.

Some thoughts on DZK's talks

I’m not writing posts for this blog anymore, but I am still updating it, and so I’m interested in publishing suitable posts from you, our readers. Just send it via the contact page. I can’t guarantee to publish it, but I can guarantee to read it. Just make sure that you read the About page before you write anything, as it will tell you the editorial perspective, and so the kind of thing we’re interested in.
At the risk of further abuse, I offer this!