Part 2 of a post by a ex-student and Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist.
Note that this is not an attempt at a diagnosis and should not be read as such. We merely aim to present an alternative framework through which to view the situation.
After the death of his Master HH Dilgo Khyentse, and also before that, I had perceived SR to be struggling with unresolved grief and to have very real psychological problems. I had tried on a number of occasions to help him with this, but those close to SR thought I had no right to perceive SR in any way as an ordinary human being who might be need of psychological and emotional help. However, in my view we are all human and it is possible for any of us to be seriously fragmented and act from split aspects of ourselves, despite having otherwise real and valuable spiritual gifts.
To elaborate further, unresolved grief can often bring out earlier splits in the psyche, (replaying traumatic losses experiences by the child self). It appeared to me that SR went through quite a ‘manic’ phase after HHDK’s death, which is often a feature of unresolved grief, known as a ‘manic defence’. Unresolved grief can also result in psychotic episodes. I also perceived SR to be suffering from grandiose delusions after this period of loss, which were to my mind psychotic, such as when he declared at the three month retreat in 1992 that he could fly.
I tried to talk with SR (as have many others on many occasions) and said that I felt he needed help. At one point he momentarily agreed and a divination was done affirming that the person I suggested he go and see would be helpful to him; however I understand that he did not follow through on this.
Paranoid schizoid position
When people suffer from uneven psychological development, it is perfectly possible for them to be well developed in the ‘higher charkas’ while at the same time having rather wobbly foundations – a lack of Bowlby’s ‘secure base’. The earlier that trauma occurs – especially if it happens in infancy – the more likely we are to be caught in what in psycho-analytic terms is named the ‘paranoid schizoid position’. This is the place where everything polarises, swinging between extremes of good and bad and feelings of persecutory anxiety. Integration is possible when we can bring these splits into a state of equilibrium resulting in a more grounded balanced position.
We could say at the moment that Rigpa as a whole is going through a kind of group psychosis and is fundamentally split in this in the paranoid schizoid position, leaving people feeling raw, anxious and uncertain, because the ‘secure base’ has been taken away.
Splitting can occur in multiple ways. Naturally each of us is capable of acting from our various ‘child’ and other states of mind if we are ‘triggered’ by some traumatic memory. This can happen even when we are relatively mature grownups. Unfortunately the splits and fractures which to my mind seem apparent within SR, and may even involve fragments from past incarnations are explained away by Rigpa and SR as being ‘The eight manifestations of Guru Rinpoche’. Indeed there may be aspects of this which contain a grain of truth, which makes it all the more confusing.
Dissociative identity disorder
Looked at another way, when the different aspects or our being are not properly integrated into a unified whole, we could also perceive this to be a form of DID (dissociative identity disorder), or some other dissociative diagnosis, where a person can ‘switch’ from one state to another and behave completely differently, depending, on which aspect of the personality they are inhabiting. Unfortunately, if the different self-states are disconnected from one another, and the compassionate part is not connected up when the wrathful side manifests, a student at Rigpa who has an abusive childhood will experience the inconsistency of SR as matching the inner dynamics of their own abusive upbringing. This significantly adds to the student’s trauma, rather than as SR claims, healing it.
To my mind SR exhibits the features of someone with multiple splits in his psyche which are not at all integrated or under control. An added difficulty is the danger of him having considerable power – including spiritual power. Also when close students have either directly or indirectly been in or been affected by sexual relationships with their spiritual teacher, an extremely incestuous environment is created which is compounded by any underlying psychological disturbances.
There is a bitter irony here in that the practice of Vajrakilaya is supposed to cut through such delusions and confusions of ego, and yet we can see SR as a man with considerable spiritual and communicative gifts who is caught up in his own Rudra – the delusions of his own fragmented ego.
I offer these thoughts with the intention and wish for benefit to come from the ‘clearing out’ that is happening at Rigpa – may we find a way of integrating all of this experience into a deeper understanding – and ‘May confusion dawn as Wisdom’.
The writer of this piece wishes to remain anonymous.
A further perspective.
A note from the editor. An examination of the dynamics of abuse in relationship to the beliefs of the students around S will be undertaken at a later point.
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81 Replies to “Crazy Wisdom or Mental Imbalance? A psychological perspective: Part 2”
Interestingly, the paranoid-schizoid position is Melanie Klein’s description of the originary pre-objective, undifferentiated state, not dissimilar in its aspects to the primordial nature of pure potentiality. It would seem not uncommon to find a belief in ‘spiritual’ circles which aims at such a regression to this imagined oneness as if someone is actually capable of inhabiting and claiming this unconditioned space as their own, rather than following the path in a forwards direction to arrive at Chatral Rinpoche’s, “we live nowhere, we posses nothing”.
Psycho babble de luxe. Would like to see your analysis in plain English.
What I’m saying is that in object relations theory, the undifferentiated state (which similar to the idea of the unconditioned in Buddhism), is viewed as a paranoid-schizoid position. The child at this very early stage is viewed as being helpless because it cannot articulate anything and cannot even distinguish between itself and other, no inside nor outside, it is a very uncomfortable position for the child to be in.
Now, very often in ‘spiritual’ circles there is a fantasy of this return to ‘wholeness’, which could be seen as a yearning to crawl back into the womb, and it is viewed very differently to Melanie Klein’s description, rather, it is seen as an original state of unity and bliss.
In Buddhism, this is in fact an error, the point of the primordial nature of mind is not in fact a place we as individuals should strive to inhabit. In fact it can be very dangerous for an individual to make such claims to be ‘the one’, both in terms of them becoming a total fascist with delusions of unlimited and absolute grandeur, but also as described in the above article, an inability to gain any distance or perspective on its situation, desires, and cravings.
Thank you. How does this map onto the Dzogchen perspective. ..Nothing to change?
I would say that there is mind in general and then there is the dimension of each individual, so there is an obvious danger to one person believing they are in sole possession of the truth, at the expense of failing to respect others’ personal boundaries, like we see with Sogyal’s behaviour.
There’s also this idea of a dissociative identity disorder, which may be an attempt at compensating for the lack of a stable distanced perspective due to this schizoid position, so it’s all or nothing, everything seen in absolutes.
I would say that even the basic idea of non-self is aimed at people with a stable sense of self with clear boundaries rather than giving carte blanche to this unregulated behaviour.
The Dzogchen point of view very much places Vajrayana in the realm of ‘speech’, as the path of transformation aimed at the symbolic and energetic investments on both an individual and a social level, there clearly needs to be established reference points prior to viewing them as ’empty’. One cannot simply jump into another reality, so if there is no adequately established sense of reality in the first place then it all becomes a bit chaotic, and possibly the tantric rituals start to be used as a kind of defence mechanism to try to impart some kind of order on this perceived chaos.
Very well said. I was a chaotic mess at the point of entry into Vajrayana. La La land but I loved it! Matched the LSD fantasies and insights but did not take me any further. Then oh the blissful relaxation that came from the inherent kindness of the Dzogchen POV explained by someone who had been there and knew the territory well enough to genuinely help others along the way.
I should add that the someone was not Sogyal. Along with several others I left Sogyal’s group when Chogyal Namkhai Norbu first taught in London in 1979.
@ Adrian C
Funny that, I can’t ever remember meeting a lama who lived nowhere and possessed nothing.
But it might be a good advertizing slogan: ‘Start practising Tibetan Buddhism today! You too can end up homeless and destitute!’
Mingyur Rinpoche spent 4 1/2 years wandering in India with nothing. He returned to the West only a year ago. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYBiF0Jv3n4&t=411s
Thanks, I watched it but I don’t understand the point of this. It seemed very contrived . As a monk in India he knew he’d probably get fed, which he obviously was, since he came back alive. It was a choice.
It’s a kind of insult to people who are really homeless and destitute : they tend to die from disease, starvation, heat exhaustion, freezing to death and so on. He knew he could go back at any time and eventually he did.
Now he’s back to cash in on his experience.
He seemed very pleased with himself and his near-death experience which was probably brought on by hunger. (It’s understood that fasting mimics the effects of MDMA and LSD in the brain.)
If he’d have spent the time working in a hospital for destitute people or using the resources that he undoubtedly has as a lama, to help others rather than just trying to buff his spiritual credentials as a ‘wandering yogi’ then I’d be impressed. In 4 years he could have studied to become something useful like a doctor.
What a pretentious, self-indulgent trip. A priviledged, healthy young man being a parasite by choice, is this an example to follow ?
Very interesting to someone like me who was involved with Sogyal in the early days. There he was in 1973 a young man from a dysfunctional traumatised background parachuted into an alien culture. He landed into a group of university educated intellectuals who knew a thing or two about consciousness because they had experienced psychedelic drugs. We were also street wise Londoners. It did not take long for us to realise that Sogyal was out of his depth. He compensated for this with a remarkable ability to shape shift. What you see today is not necessarily what you will get tomorrow. We puzzled over this sex and TV addict who giggled a lot then morphed into a serious dharma teacher who was respected by the senior lamas who turned up at his request. His eating habits and filthy temper added to the confusion. A fascinating episode in those days when Tibetan lamas were as rare as hen’s teeth in the UK.
There’s a lot of serious stuff to consider here, but more importantly: my thanks to the author for making me laugh so much that I almost spat coffee over my laptop……” when he declared at the three month retreat in 1992 that he could fly.”
I was there but I missed that, probably working at the time.
As we used to say in the building trade to express skepticism: “Oh, look mate, there goes another flying pig.”
I found Part I interesting because it focused on the possible childhood origins of Sogyal’s mental instability; the understanding that childhood abuse and deprivation of maternal affection can produce sociopathic traits in adult life.
But to me, this section 2 seems to suffer from a clumsy attempt to mix psychotherapeutic insights, psychoanalysis and Buddhist beliefs. The result is a disappointing mish-mash of reasonable assumptions and very speculative theories, liberally sprinkled with evidence-free Buddhist beliefs, which I would call superstition.
( In the interests of disclosure: I’m not a fan of psychoanalysis , because it relies heavily on the existence of a complex series of unprovable non-empirical theories….rather like Buddhism itself )
I won’t go into this in great detail but just cite a few phrases to illustrate my point:
“When people suffer from uneven psychological development, it is perfectly possible for them to be well developed in the ‘higher charkas’ while at the same time having rather wobbly foundations” –
“….if the different self-states are disconnected from one another, and the compassionate part is not connected up when the wrathful side manifests….”
“….the splits and fractures which to my mind seem apparent within SR, and may even involve fragments from past incarnations….”
“Higher chakras”? “wrathful side”? “fragments from past incarnations”?……. What on earth does this mean? it’s trippy, psycho-spiritual gobbledegook.
The central idea seems to be that Sogyal is suffering from ‘unresolved grief’ especially after the death of Dilgo Khyentse.
This is a faintly ridiculous idea: that because a couple of elderly people he liked died, ( This describes almost everyone over the age of 25.)…… a grown man should be driven to become a serial abuser, and this while he’s also supposed to have ‘considerable spiritual gifts’.
My other main problem is the way that the author arbitrarily divides his personality up into multiple sections. This may happen to some individuals, but my experience of Sogyal was that his personality was remarkably consistent: he exhibited a variety of exaggerated moods, but the over-riding self-absorption and desire for control was constant and thoroughly integrated into every aspect of his behaviour and personality. In fact he was aggressively single minded.
There was nothing even slightly fragmented about his ambition, deviousness, manipulation and obsession with domination and when dealing with other lamas whom he considered superior or of value, or wealthy donors, he was perfectly capable of adapting his behaviour. Even at the same time as violently attacking students, ( which some people have excused as diabetic rage,) he could be quite charming and obsequious to visiting lamas and celebrities.
As far as I know, he didn’t punch the Dalai lama for turning up in flip-flops.
So it was all a deliberate and conscious act, nothing uncontrolled or fragmented about it at all.
To me the article suggests that Sogyal has ‘multiple personalities,’ because this is a convenient explanation that allows students to say: “Yes, he abused and humiliated people,…..but that was ‘Evil Sogyal ‘
But I had an experience of the Nature of Mind….and that of course was ‘Enlightened Sogyal’, so my experience must be real, mustn’t it?.”
What exactly is he supposed to be, some sort of Tibetan version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr.Hyde?
Believe this, and the huge glaring contradiction that disturbs his apologists goes away and they can complacently continue to luxuriate in their spiritual status as having been ‘introduced to the Nature of Mind’……..by a mentally disturbed, violent sexual abuser.
It’s a kind of sanctimonious, self-serving denial and it’s disrespectful to all his many victims.
Who was it that said, “Women tend to cooperate where men conflict and seek domination, have conversations rather than deliver pompous monologues”?
My reading of the article was that the reader had the option to join the dots, but it was left open to allow you to match the suggested possible analysis with your own perceptions rather than closing down the dialogue with a definite ‘diagnosis’.
To summarise what you’ve written, there’s a clear lack of comprehension there. For you, neither Buddhism nor psychoanalysis hang together as a cogent theory. Now of course, many people would consider that this is a failing on their part to comprehend what is quite a complex set of variables, but you chose not to take this path, nor show any hint that the failing was located anywhere other than the theory itself, despite your obvious lack of understanding there – the result, quite an opinionated post from you which entirely misses the point.
To me it made sense. I don’t know exactly how relevant it all is to this particular subject matter. I don’t know that it’s necessarily the best model to use here. But what I do know is that it is a model – your need to pin down some sort of definitive truth, as with your comments in part one concerning Buddhism and science, make you very much a man in cases such as these.
This is just one person’s view. I (as the blog editor) considered removing the more personal aspects, but decided to keep it because it makes it clear that it is just someone’s perspective.
@ Adrian C
That’s fair enough, you may use my own words to infer that my analysis of the article is a pompous monologue, but since I was responding to a series of assertions that I disagree with rather than making assertions in the first place and you’re responding and now I’m replying……so this is a conversation.
You may not like or agree with my analysis, because it contradicts yours, which I respect, but your disagreement is as much conflict as my disagreement with the article. No need to be squeamish about that.
You disagree without refuting my points, but that’s ok, because to be brief: yes, I do think that “Neither Buddhism nor psychoanalysis hang together as a cogent theory.”
You say this is a “failing on their part to comprehend what is quite a complex set of variables,”……. but I would say that the variables are certainy complex ( uneccessarily so ) but there is no evidence for so many of them that you can’t so much comprehend them as take them on trust as as an article of faith.
I prefer not to do that.
In terms of my skepticism about psychoanalysis, well, I’m in good company because many people who are vastly more intelligent than me think the same: here’s a very small list:
Karl Popper; Imre lakatos; Martin Seligman; Noam Chomsky; Steven Pinker ( he might even be a Buddhist) Steven Jay Gould; Hans Eysenck; Richard Feynman; Jeffrey Masson….and so on….how’s that for name dropping? I’m more than happy to be as ‘opinionated’ and to ‘lack understanding’ like them.
As for Buddhism: whatever it’s internal logic, complexity and apparent sophistication, it’s still a primitive a Bronze-Age religion that has propped up feudalism and inequality for two and a half millenia……and as such, not a ‘model’ that I think is relevant at all.
Perhaps the author is a qualified medical practitioner, I don’t know, but if I went to a therapist who started referring to ‘higher chakras’, and ‘fragments of past incarnations’ I’d assume them to be a New Age quack. It’s entirely possible that you might not of course, but I don’t know that either.
Still, I’m surprised that you don’t find the central proposition weak, suspect and the rather obvious subtext to be essentially apologist.
Well Pete, I didn’t get the impression that the article was claiming the only cause was the death of Sogyal’s mentors, as you say, it is a ridiculous idea, but it was considered as a possible trigger for an underlying issue. This issue was not that Sogyal’s personality was divided up into various disparate sections, but rather a consideration of how we all learn to compartmentalise ourselves in order to constitute our own sense of reality, with varying degrees of success.
It has become obvious that a lack of a definitive, authoritative narrative makes you somewhat uncomfortable, at which point you tend to wade in to close down the discussion. You seem to be far more comfortable with a well established hierarchical set of values which define the debate. It suggests that your discomfort with the company of men is not due to their vying for dominance, but rather because you are uncomfortable without an established vertical authority. Clearly, the company of women would present no challenge to the only man there due to his symbolic status as the ‘alpha male’.
@ Adrian C
“…..but rather a consideration of how we all learn to compartmentalise ourselves in order to constitute our own sense of reality, with varying degrees of success…… ”
You’ve neatly summarized just one aspect of the article there, and it would have been better if it had been put like that instead of the author adding layers of speculative complication.
I see my gender preference seems to have upset you to such a degree that you’re even prepared to analyse my psychology on the remote basis of a few lines of text. Are you some sort of therapist by any chance ?
Anyway, you’re right, I do seek a definitive authoritative narrative in most things , although I would describe that as a respect for rational evidence-based thinking and competence that is able to produce tangible benefits. That’s why I would see a doctor rather than a faith-healer and why I wouldn’t bother getting a clairvoyant to tell me what’s wrong with the car .
What I don’t trust is complex unproven theory pretending to be authoritative….psychoanalysis and Buddhism for instance.
Your last few lines contain some convoluted and mutually exclusive propositions, because frankly if you think it’s even remotely possible to be an ‘ alpha male’ in the company of intelligent women, then your experience of women is obviously very different from mine.
Significantly, instead of trying to refute my arguments with logic, you ignore my points preferring to presumptiously tell me about myself and make facile judgements. Surely you understand that ad hominem attacks are not a substitute for reasoned debate.
You seem to have great distaste for all things esoteric. The material world is your sole domain. Trying to debate with someone whose view incorporates the subtle realms seems to me to be a fruitless endeavour. I know you and your other half had very bad experience with Sogyal. You are not alone in rejecting Tib Budh as a result of this. But every time I encounter this level of disillusionment it makes me sad. And even more determined to do what I can to remedy the present widespread corruption.
I’m glad to hear that you’re still determined and I wonder how many people commenting here know just how much you’ve done over the years to expose that corruption. After all this time, I’m still puzzled as to how anyone could get involved with Sogyal and Rigpa post ‘95 when, thanks to people like you, his abuse has been in the public domain. Still, who would have thought it would have blown up quite like this?
You’re probably right about the futility of debating in that context, but perhaps in some ways you’ve been doing that too, but as a practitioner rather than an apostate .
I know that what you correctly call my ‘distaste for all things esoteric’ will seem extreme and cynical to some, but I like to think that maybe my own experience and materialist views may help a few people to break free, if only from Rigpa. Since this blog will certainly be monitored by the hard-line faithful, it’s got another function.
Like you, I went from a chemical trip to a spiritual path, although for me the latter was a huge disappointment compared to the former, there were a lot of similarities but both are well behind me now. Now I can’t say I know what the subtle realms are, but I love the material one and I’m still in awe of it’s beauty and complexity: but in the form of music rather than mantra, for instance, if you see what I mean. There’s so much about the material world that I don’t understand that I’m not concerned with the subtle one.
We became so much happier the day we left Rigpa, so that disillusionment was an instant gateway to a much better life and complete freedom from religion, rather than a kind of lasting trauma with a lingering sense of loss.
I think maybe Tibetan Buddhism is like addiction: class A’s are fun until people start to pay the real cost, at that point some stop altogether, some can’t and keep going while others switch to something more benign like weed, so perhaps it’s a question of personality and what works for you. I don’t know how it work’s for others though.
@ Adrian C
Sorry, I forgot:
You don’t know if it’s relevant or the best model…..but it made sense to you. I’m afraid you’ve lost me there: made sense about what exactly? Just according to its own terms of reference?
Yes it’s a model, but that’s my point, what use is any model in itself without relevance?
Also this particular model is mostly speculative and based on un-provable religious assumptions rather then based on events or experience, so how useful is that in this kind of situation where people are already confused and actually do need to try and ‘pin down some definitive truth.’ ? Why is that a bad thing to attempt in this context?
After all, we’re talking about serious abuse and the many victims of that abuse, rather than just some people with an armchair interest in abstruse religious and psychoanalytical philosophy.
I fail to see all these ‘victims’ demanding that we shut down this debate in favour of a legalistic, evidence based one. The only person demanding that here is yourself.
@ Adrian C
Yes, you do “fail to see”…….
Why should Sogyal be psychoanalyzed in the first place? I am not a fan of psychology either, but I am even LESS a fan of “merging” Buddhism with psychology, which is worse than either Buddhism OR psychology by themselves. I think the worst thing to EVER happen to therapy AND Buddhism was this “merging” of the two “sciences” together, which makes for a stupid, messy soup of crapola, which is NEITHER Buddhism or psychology anymore.
New Age merging with Buddhism is also a disaster!
Debates about the language used and the objects designated, fascinating as they are, would appear to serve only to detract from the actual idea being presented here, to which there is understandable resistance. Namely that Sogyal is not some kind of conniving inhuman monster with an evil master plan, but a rather mundane, flawed and damaged human being.
I don’t think anyone thinks Sogyal is an ‘inhuman monster,’ but saying he is a ‘mundane, flawed, and damaged human being’ is an understatement! It’s pointless to try and figure him out with a soupy mix of watered-down, New Age influenced “Buddhism” and pseudo psychology. Leave the psych theories to the professionals. Many of the lamas are no better behaved, or at the very least, they don’t bat an eye at this kind of behavior, so it seems to be normalized within the lama tradition. It is more disturbing that the whole establishment rallies around a sick person and treats him like a god without having the common sense to realize when there is a disturbed individual in a position of power and authority. I think that’s the real issue, and for me it’s the most significant, important part. If everyone was just concerned about Sogyal’s mental health, and people weren’t defending and framing it as “crazy wisdom” or something to do with Tantra, then it would be a simple matter of a disturbed individual, who needs a combination of help and legal intervention. But it appears that this kind of behavior is considered acceptable in Tantra, which is why a lot of people defend it, and/or cover up. That’s the disturbing part.
@ Adrian C
You think one excludes the other?……. have you met him?
Although commenting under the headline of this blog post, I don’t want to comment on it.
But – as I don’t know any other way to contact any of the 8 students who wrote the letter to S.R. –
I see no other option to do it here and feel very uncomfortable about this indirect and precarious (my comment might not be published) way of communication.
The only reason commenting here is my wish to get the following message across to the 8 students:
Please let us know, if we can give a hand :
@Susanne That’s a lovely thought. Thank you for considering it.
The best thing is if you contact the editor privately via the contact form here on the contact page, then she can forward your message to the 8. https://whatnow727.wordpress.com/contact/
@ Susan Hornig
Just for your information Susan:
The Rigpa administrators have engaged lawyers from the UK, but from what we understand so far, they insist it’s only to fulfill the requirements that may be imposed on the organisation by the ongoing investigation into Rigpa’s status as a charity by the UK Charities Commission in the UK, which has already contacted the lawyer working for the Procureur de Montpellier in the current legal investigation in France.
It doesn’t seem to be with the intention of intimidating the 8, but rather to defend themselves as the Rigpa administrators.
It’s very difficult in the present context, to see on what legal basis Rigpa could take civil action against the 8, and everyone else who has ever criticized them publicly for that matter. In the light of the ongoing investigations this might be interpreted as an obstruction of justice.
On the other hand there are adequate grounds for civil action to be taken against Sogyal and Rigpa.
If they only wanted to satisfy a requirement why hire a high profile, very expensive firm? This is all part of their strategy to bring sl back. If it was only to satisfy a requirement then why is the US, who has no such requirement also hiring them. This move has even fooled people who are close to the center of the controversy.
They could have given lessons to the Machiavelli family. They would not be spending the money to fly a lawyer around the world, with an assistant to take notes, if they weren’t gambling on bringing sl back. They have already set the ground for why they can only talk to a limited number of people, they will only investigate until the money runs out, which will conveniently happen right after they have ‘interviewed’ the 8.
None of them should talk to them without legal counsel. Please don’t be gullible and think that somehow they are sincere. PP and PG are brutal pathological liers who have covered for sl for decades. This was their opportunity to say, yes we too have been victims (which they are, as sl is also a victim of his madness).
They want to limit their personal legal liabilities.
And, possible, take legal action against the letter writers. We’ve already seen that they have been accused of slander, by Dzogchen Sangye Dorjee. It seems that SR gets full honors and respect from “Nyingma leaders”.
So we don’t all live in the same reality here.
My response wasn’t intended as an ad hominem towards you. Rather, I would prefer if you would simply disagree without rubbishing other points of view. My focus wasn’t on the idea of a pompous monologue, nor on your gender preference, but rather the idea of seeking dominance rather than having a conversation.
Your preference for empiricism does not reasonably equate to the need to invalidate the viewpoint presented in the article. The fact that you disagree with what it being said is enough for you to then state your case without being dismissive.
The idea that there is only one single valid approach and viewpoint is, to me, a facet of masculine logic which results in this urge to seek dominance when it is not really necessary – the fact that your contribution is at odds with someone else’s does not preclude both parties making a contribution.
Thanks, that is an interesting observation. Personally I got the impression that, if this was situated in Tibet, that Sogyal would have a very small following due to word of mouth – whispered gossip rather than public denouncement – and so the issue would be contained in that way.
It’s possible that Sogyal’s reputation among Tibetans would have been different, but so many of them behave in a similar fashion, so I doubt it. They are better at hiding it though. I have to wonder why the Tibetan lamas rallied around him, if it was just a cultural difference that made him popular in the West. I think that the family he came from was what established him as a big wig among the Tibetan elite. Even in old Tibet, lamas were often chosen because of their connections to the elite, (or they were actually the children of lamas who had affairs with various “consorts.”) I think it would be naive to think otherwise. The fact that he became rich and successful in the West only added to his importance among lamas. Unfortunately, money and power seems to be what most of them care about. I never saw a group of people who are more interested in the 8 worldly concerns, such as reputation, money, comfort, fame, shame, blame, etc. It’s ironic, since they are always scolding the West for oping the same thing, lol!
@ Adrian C
That’s a reasonable response but I don’t think we will find common ground here.
The article was almost entirely speculative, some of it based on magical thinking. So it automatically invalidates itself from an empirical standpoint. I personally don’t understand why anyone would present or trust a set of theories that were not empirical, especially given the context of years of serial abuse that are still being justified by exactly those kinds of theories and magical thinking.
Of course if anyone wants to accept something just on trust, that’s their prerogative but I prefer to examine it thoroughly in the light of evidence. ( I even agree with the Buddha on that subject )
Yes, by pointing this lack of an empirical basis out, I am effectively dismissing it…..but not ‘being dismissive’. I think this would only apply if I just disagreed without explaining why. Instead, I’m refuting, which involves reasoned argument, rather than simply rejecting it out of hand. Everyone is free to do likewise here.
The idea that logic is ‘masculine’ doesn’t hold up, and sometimes there is only one a single valid approach and viewpoint that works; whether it’s the sequence of baking bread or landing a passenger jet, you can’t assign a gender to that.
It’s actually quite simple: I think the article is full of baseless assumptions and adds a layer of confusion; my highlighting that isn’t ‘an urge to seek dominance’, it’s just a refusal to accept nonsense masquerading as professional insight, because I believe it to be potentially damaging.
But I’m open to counter-argument, for instance: I’ll even concede the author has a valid viewpoint if someone posts a link to MRI images of those ‘ higher chakras.’
*I meant to say “scolding the West for *doing* the same thing, lol!
Just to clarify, I meant that many of the Tibetan lamas behave in a similar manner. (I didn’t meant the common people necessarily behave that way, because the behavior of lamas has to do with corruption, due to power and being worshiped on thrones). But since the common people often respect lamas who do behave in a bad way, I think that Tibetans have the same problem that we do here in the West, (idolizing people with clay feet). That’s what I meant.
Also when I said “group of people” I meant the lamas and people around them, not the common people. I just don’t want to be accused of putting a whole culture down, because I am talking about the religious establishment, not everyday folks. It is often the case that common people aren’t as interested in the religious establishment as a whole, but people in general the world over often worship people with clay feet, and they may n0ot know how they behave privately. I don’t think you could name many heroes in the West who didn’t have clay feet. I think the lesson is to not worship human beings. None of them can live up to it.
Catlover, I take your point, but wasn’t the issue that the other Lamas merely tolerate Sogyal, who are the ones doing the worshipping here? Isn’t the complaint that the other Lamas didn’t step in to try to stop the westerners worshipping him?
Sure, that is one of the issues. I never said otherwise.
“When people suffer from uneven psychological development, it is perfectly possible for them to be well developed in the ‘higher charkas’ while at the same time having rather wobbly foundations”
My interpretation. A psychopath or sociopath may be very intelligent (6th chakra – head), articulate and persuasive (5th chakra – throat), but have issues with power and control (3rd chakra), sexuality and sexual dominance (2nd chakra), staying centred (base chakra), or issues with intimacy and sharing (4th chakra – heart).
Either you speak someone’s language, in which case you can interpret it for yourself, or you don’t, in which case you will not understand. You can’t really claim to not understand while at the same time refuting them!
All this speculation about chakras and which of Sogyal’s chakras are malfunctioning is really not very helpful, as far as I’m concerned. For one thing, a spiritual teacher’s chakras should be more clear than the charkras of most of the unenlightened peasants who follow that teacher. Otherwise, what is the point of having spiritual teachers in the first place if they are more damaged than the rest of us?
I can’t say I really understand the idea of malfunctioning or clear chakras, to me it is simply a way of organising a conception of a person’s emotional and mental structuring, a slightly more complex way of thinking about it than more common phrases such as “having emotional issues”, or “not being right in the head”. Feel free to choose whichever phrases suit your description best.
In my lifetime I’ve had teachers at school, they were arguably quite frustrated and even quite emotionally disturbed, political leaders, again, not the most honest nor altruistic people, university lecturers, Buddhist Lamas, parents, etc. etc. they have all had their own personal quirks and inadequacies, so it is a very good question – what is the point? Do we even have a model of mental and emotional health which is fit for purpose?
What is the motivation for following certain folk? Do we believe they have some answers we are looking for? Is it that we are searching for something and we believe they have found it, only to later discover that no such exists? Sorry I have no answers, only more questions!
Having teachers of mundane subjects, who have their ‘issues’ is quite different than having a spiritual teacher with ‘issues’ because a spiritual teacher isn’t just someone who reads from a book, lectures you on a subject, or teaches you how to do a skill so you can get a job. While these things are important and useful, they can be taught by someone who has a lot of personal problems. A spiritual teacher, especially a guru, is someone who is supposed to lead by example, teach others how to love with equanimity, and how to be better. more patient, tolerant human beings. If the teacher has NO CLUE clue how to do those things him/herself, then what good is the teacher, and what can we learn from such a teacher, except how to treat others badly?
@ Catlover – so the mundane is excluded from spirit, somehow located outside of it, while spirit is like some sort of exclusive club only for the elite?
READ what I said!!! I said that spiritual teachers need to be more evolved so they can actually TEACH us something. Other professions don’t necessarily require teachers who posses special spiritual qualities because they are teaching practical things, rather than wisdom teachings. What can a spiritual teacher offer if they are not spiritual enough themselves? If you can’t understand that, then it just shows how being exposed to bad teachers impairs judgement, common sense, and the ability to understand the difference between a spiritual teacher and other kinds of teachers.
I am NOT saying other kinds of teachers should be abusive though.
In THAT regard there is no difference.
No, but you clearly have a concept of the mundane and the sacred which is derived from the Judaeo-Christian tradition.
Sure, if you want to project your own expectations and buy into a hierarchy then it’s entirely self-fulfilling.
At the level of the body (physical existence) you’ve conjured up an idea for which you have no evidence – which Buddhism explicitly defines as dukkha (unsatisfactory), the idea that the unconditioned can be found within conditioned (physical) existence – by placing your own conditions as the measure of this thing you seek, you not only limit your perceptions by your own expectations concerning the result (you’ve put the cart before the horse), but also preclude the actual discovery of the unconditioned by imagining it as an element within the unconditioned itself, which is of course impossible.
At the level of speech, you have thereby placed yourself within a hierarchical system and given away your power, not only by deferring to this elevated ‘spiritual’ leader, nor merely by the act of investing your time and energy into an external hierarchical social structure, but most importantly by blocking your own progress towards realising the unconditioned absolute, which was the very thing which allowed you create all this fantasy for yourself in the first place.
LOL. Exactly. It is not unreasonable of us to expect that they would do better at living a ‘spiritual’ life than those of us who don’t set ourselves up as a teacher worthy of devotion.
I couldn’t bear to have people throwing themselves on the floor at my feet. I remember the first time I saw that thinking how ridiculous it was, and yet I did it myself a few times. 100,000 times actually – but that was to my own Buddha nature not to any person. I always separated the person from the what he was supposed to represent. At least I had that much clear!
@ Adrian C
Yes, ok…..whatever you say, I get the picture, your interpretation of this mysterious language ( that I obviously don’t understand) is very subtle and imaginative, it’s all symbolic and not at all obscurantist ……sorry about that, my mistake for thinking we were speaking English……
I think your mistake is in thinking that any language isn’t a symbolic.
@ Adrian C
Strangely enough, I am familiar with the idea that language or more accurately words, can be symbolic, but the question here is surely one of a multi-dimensional semantic and ontological nature arising from what might be seen as a kind of semiotic heuristic algorithm in the Saussurean tradition as it has been elaborated by Barthes, although we might experience some difficulty in establishing whether it could equally fall within either of the other two categories of pragmatics or syntactics when applied to the distinction between signifier and signified.
Indeed as we are also drawn into the pre-socratic dichotomy of ὅπως ἐστίν and ὡς οὐκ ἐστίν of Parmenides and Heraclitus when trying to evaluate the existential qualities of the chakras, it is essential to define whether this is according to the Sarada-tilaka which also acknowledges the existence of other multiple chakra systems such as 5, 7, 9, 10, 15, 16, 21 or 28 or whether we are to confine ourselves to Purnanda Yati’s Shat-Chakra-Nirupana as you are doing when you use what is basically an interpretation started by Jung, whose knowledge was obviously limited to the latter.
This of course entirely neglects the intended function of the chakras as vizualisation tools to gather and direct subtle psychic energies and instead arbitrarily superimposes a set of modern concepts that has no scriptural foundation whatsoever.
One might also ask why for example, if the Sahasrana is a symbol for the intellect or the Svadisthana a symbol for sexuality, then why not simply say ‘intellect and ‘sexuality’?
These are important questions don’t you think ?
Subtle psychic energies? Scriptural foundation?
There’s nothing arbitrary about the Buddhist method of dissolving imaginary objects, it would seem rather pointless to see through one set of deluded objects only to then replace them with another.
As I said, I don’t buy in to this conception of the chakras that you are putting forward here. To me it is almost as idiotic as the modern secular physicalist viewpoint. That is why I suggested we try to discuss the ideas themselves without becoming too hung up on either language or the objects they appear to posit.
In other words, Barthes’ interpretation of Saussure with his idea of ontology is clearly addressed by Lacan’s focus on the material aspect of the signifier.
Without this we are straight back into metaphysics, the territory of new-agers and hippies who can’t seem to tell the difference between Buddhism and the Vedas, and who thereby unintentionally reinforce a hierarchical version of a caste system which they then complain about when it turns out to be elitist, much like someone who repeatedly votes Tory but can’t work out why public services are appalling.
@ Adrian C
I’m sorry but I couldn’t resist the temptation. I knew you’d get suspicious when I used the phrase: ‘Subtle psychic energies’….
In fact my comment was a very modest, whimsical homage to Alan Sokal’s ‘Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity’…..( or was it ‘Quantum Gravy’? ) A loosely woven web of mostly meaningless gibberish carefully camouflagued with thinly scattered droplets of fact.
Adrian, it was a joke.
But I agree with you wholeheartedly about people who vote Tory, so at last we finally agree on something that actually is important.
Apologies for my warped sense of humour.
there’s never a truer word said in jest, lol
so, Pete, you seem to have some direct experience here, both of meeting Sogyal and some unpleasantness with the Rigpa sangha too, if I’ve understood correctly. It seems that your impressions are at odds with the analysis given in the article above, but I’m still a bit unsure what your analysis of the situation is. Presumably you formed you own ideas concerning what is going wrong there?
@ Adrian C
I’m glad you didn’t take my attempt at satire amiss. Luckily I never lost my sense of humour even through 15 years in Rigpa, which may be why I was able to walk away with relative ease. But then humour is not the salient characteristic of religion.
Yes, both my wife and I do both have very considerable experience of Sogyal through our respective roles, and a lot of authentic information about him from another reliable source, the details of which aren’t important or appropriate here, I’m not interested in posting personal information but just to give you an idea:
We were among what you might call the first ‘high-profile defectors’, soon after Sogyal turned up unexpectedly to plead with my wife not to leave, he was desperate and told her she was as important to him as Patrick Gaffney and that she could become a teacher….she laughed in his face and he left with his tail between his legs. Subsequently we received two calls trying to lure us back by offering us the job of running Lerab Ling, which elicited an even more brutal response. Obviously we and what we knew were perceived as a threat.
I have a fairly good idea who wrote the article, but in any event I can say with absolute confidence that compared to us the author’s knowledge is almost negligible.
Analyses of the origins of his dysfunction are important but much less so than understanding the incredible damage that dysfunction has done and preventing it or anything like it happening again under cover of Tibetan Buddhism. This is something that we vowed to try to do if the opportunity ever arose.
Sogyal and Rigpa as an organisation are now under investigation, and hopefully they should face justice.
Among the stated aims of this blog are: There is no intention to destroy Sogyal Rinpoche or Rigpa, only to hold him and the organisation accountable for any questionable actions. We support postive change within the organisation, and hope that our deep examination of relevant topics can assist in the healing and renewal process.
Be that as it may, Sogyal is an abusive cult-leader and Rigpa is a cult, and as such, he should be jailed and his organisation shut down, it’s assets confiscated, liquidated and used to help victims of abuse, distributed to charities that run refuges for domestic abuse victims for instance.
The idea that ‘positive change’ or ‘healing and renewal’ are even possible in a cult is naïve optimism and plain wrong. But judging from the excellent article that Tahlia has just posted, it seems as if this conclusion is now being drawn more widely due to the appalling way Rigpa has reacted over the past months.
Some of us with more experience predicted exactly this, but it’s only to be expected that people need to experience it directly to understand.
Yes, when the threats stop working the flattery and bribery start. Very familiar with that territory. I would have had some respect for him if he’d pulled out the vajra master card and tried to intimidate me when I told him rigpa had broken the law, at least it would have meant he was just deluded, not a lying psychopath. The cunning manipulation that informs every breath he takes is impressive in a very dysfunctional and perverse way.
I wouldn’t respect him more either way, whether he pulled out the “vajra master card,” or used some other tactic.
Thanks Pete, of course it is entirely your choice to reveal personal information or not, but that’s not really what I was asking. I also agree that the option of reform seems practically impossible.
For me, the crux here is the idea of preventing it happening again, which raises the issue of what actually happened there. The issue is one of insight, knowledge, and as we see in this thread, the difficulty of reaching a consensus, both on the details and the model which would help to make some sort of sense of it.
I see this as useful not only for future prevention, but actually right now in terms of dismantling the ideological mechanism which gave rise to this in the first place.
@ Adrian C
“Dismantling the ideological mechanism which gave rise to this in the first place.” ……yes, absolutely, and that’s what some of us are trying to do,but it’s quite a tall order when so many people accept that mechanism because they believe it to be authentic Buddhism.
Maybe I am not writing clearly enough. My point was that Sogyal became who he was through his family connections. Then when he became famous in the West, he became an additional asset to the lama community, so they supported him, no matter what he did. I also pointed out that ordinary Tibetans in general worship people with clay feet too, just like in the West, although they tend to be a little less starry-eyed than Westerners are about lamas. That’s because they have lived with lamas for millennia, just as Westerners have lived with the Catholic church. However, I guess one could say it depends on the lama and who they might worship. Many Tibetans still worship the Dalai Lama, and maybe the Karmapa, and a few others, (even if Sogyal doesn’t happen to appeal to Tibetans). Whether the lamas they worship deserve that level of worship remains to be seen, and history will judge the lamas by their actions, not just their words.
Catlover, regarding a comment about respecting him more, I was trying to say that if he had behaved as a wrathful Vajra master then I would believe he was sincere in his delusion instead of the cunning charlatan he’s proven himself to be.
I know what you meant, and I get that. I was merely saying that for me, I don’t respect lamas who use the “Vajra master card” as a way to manipulate and abuse people. In fact, I think they often know exactly what they are doing and they aren’t so innocent. They play the “Vajra card” with the same motivation that you’re talking about, so I don’t see much difference. But I see where you’re coming from, IF you really believe they are just innocent and sincere when they play the “Vajra card,” which I don’t believe.
Thanks for clarifying Catlover. I don’t really know that much about the intricacies of how the Tibetans behaved towards their Lamas, it was your description of being ‘starry-eyed’ which I was alluding to. I am quite careful interpreting Tibetan interactions as they seem quite diplomatic, for example I have heard one Lama question the tulku system without actually standing up and denouncing it outright. He very much left it up to the listener to make the connection that he was actually saying it was BS, and of course quite a few of the audience failed to understand the implications of his view of reincarnation and how it was used to maintain their grip on power. It occurred to me that the reason he was quite guarded was due to the historical situation and the political intrigue surrounding his upbringing. As a result, it seems that ideas such as an outspoken protest or outright revolution are quite alien and very much frowned upon in favour of this political, almost Machiavellian, manoeuvring, which we would see as ‘hedging your bets’.
I think it’s a mixture of attitudes and it’s not so simple to sort out, since it is not black and white. Just like with the false modesty that many teachers pretend to have, (because they know it looks good to others to appear modest), it’s hard to tell when they are being sincere and when they are just talking. Sometimes the only way to tell is by their actions, not what they *say* to an audience. I think the ones who run away are the ones who really can’t stand it, lol! There have been a few, especially some of the younger rinpoches, who refuse to be monks and/or engaged in their tulku role. Even then, they often come back to it later, or remain involved with the institution, to a lesser degree, so who knows what they really think?
As for ordinary Tibetans, it’s hard to evaluate the way they feel about their lamas. They can be more savvy than Westerners, yet they can also be more devotional. It depends on the situation. Like for example, I think their devotion to the Dalai Lama is quite strong. Yet they often warn Western women to stay away from rinpoches in general.
I’m not saying the Dalai Lama would be the type of lama that Tibetans should warn Westerners away from. (I personally don’t know how he behaves in private.) it was not my intention to disparage him. My point was to say that Tibetans can worship blindly too, and it really depends on the situation as to whether they are any more savvy than Westerners.
I am done discussing the topic about spiritual teachers up thread. I am not even sure what point you are trying to make, but you are *overthinking* what I said. I don’t wish to get into a lengthy, philosophical discussion about it. If you think my view is too “Christianized,” then whatever, I don’t really care.
@ Catlover, as I discussed with Pete, there is an aim to prevent this situation from happening again. I guess you can’t appreciate the irony of coming on here and promoting the kind of thinking which perpetuates this undesirable situation. There’s no discussion here, if you haven’t yet seen through some of the mechanisms which cults use to exploit their victims then the compassionate response is to point it out. Apologies if that challenges your belief system.
Where am I supporting cult thinking? If you choose to misunderstand what I say, I can’t help that. I just said gurus show they are not any better than ordinary people, so what’s the point of worshiping gurus? In fact, they are often MORE deluded, like Sogyal. How is that related to cult thinking? It’s the opposite, so if you’re just trying to start a debate with me, and I am not in the mood. Sorry.
I am addressing Adrian C.
I was responding your explanation of, “What can a spiritual teacher offer if they are not spiritual enough themselves? If you can’t understand that… the ability to understand the difference between a spiritual teacher and other kinds of teachers.”
“Other professions don’t necessarily require teachers who posses special spiritual qualities because they are teaching practical things, rather than wisdom teachings.”
I am simply disagreeing with what you wrote here. The idea that that anyone could, “posses special spiritual qualities” which would then cause others to elevate them, giving them status (along with power and wealth).
Now you say, “gurus show they are not any better than ordinary people, so what’s the point of worshiping gurus? In fact, they are often MORE deluded”
It seems the idea that there is some difference between ‘ordinary people’ and gurus is quite pervasive here, based upon the idea of them being in possession of something.
Presumably the motivation is then for ordinary people to seek this thing which the guru ‘possesses’ in order that they to can possess that thing themseves?
Whether being in possession of this imaginary ‘special’ thing makes them better or worse is not what I’m contending.
Okay, disagree if you want to. You missed my whole point and I don’t feel like arguing about it. Maybe someone else here could help to clarify what I meant, if they understood it better.
No, I understood your point, it was the framework that I was highlighting.
Clearly if someone believes that individuals act as containers for properties then they haven’t understood emptiness. This obviously creates a tension between those attracted to Buddhism and Buddhist doctrine itself. For someone to have trained under a guru and still not understood this simply highlights the failing there, and discloses the mechanism of control through perpetuating ignorance as it is defined by Buddhism itself.