Recently, author and journalist Michaela Haas asked the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama for a statement about the current situation in Rigpa, in particular the allegations of abuse made by 8 former and current students.
In response, they referred to the following remarks the Dalai Lama gave at the Inauguration of Seminar on ‘Buddhism in Ladakh’ on August 1, 2017.
This is a transcript of his remarks. There’s a video clip of this part of his address at the end of this post.
It can be helpful to listen to the video in addition to reading the transcript so you can hear the emphasis the Dalai Lama gives certain points. For example, he’s quite adamant when he says, “That’s totally wrong,” in reference to following a spiritual teacher blindly.
“I feel some of these lama institutions have some sort of influence of the feudal system. That is outdated and must end – that feudal influence. Then eventually a lama institution creates lama politics [DL laughs heartily]. That’s very bad.
An individual lama’s disgrace doesn’t matter, but it gives a very bad impression about a monastery or a monk. Very bad. So we must pay more attention.
You should not say, ‘This is my guru. What guru says I must follow.’ That’s totally wrong! Buddha himself mentioned, ‘You must examine my teaching’. Similarly if one particular lama says something, you examine whether this goes well according to Buddhaʻs teaching or according to the circumstances in society. Then you must follow. If the lama says something; if you investigate and it’s not proper, then you should not follow the lama’s teaching. Even Dalai Lama’s teaching; if you find some contradiction you should not follow my teaching.
As far as Gelugpa is concerned, Lama Tsonghkapa clearly mentioned: if a lama teaches something that is against the dharma it should be avoided and opposed. If the lama’s teaching is in accord with the dharma it should be followed, if it is in discord with the Dharma it should not be followed.
Many years ago in Dharmasala at a Western [Buddhist] Teachers Conference, some Western Buddhist teachers mentioned some Zen masters and Tibetan Buddhist masters had created a very bad impression among people. Then I told them then; these people do not follow Buddhaʻs advice, Buddhaʻs teaching. We cannot do. So, the only thing is to make it public, through newspapers, through the radio. Make it public!
These lamas, although they don’t care about Buddha’s teaching, they may care about their face [points at his face, indicating shame]. I told them at that conference, almost 15 years ago I think. Now, recently Sogyal Rinpoche, my very good friend, but he’s disgraced. So some of his own students have now made public their criticism.”
Some Rigpa students refuse to accept this statement from the Dalai Lama. They say it’s not relevant to the Dzogchen tradition, although the Dalai Lama himself has received, practiced, and taught the Dzogchen teachings.
In the past, a segment of Rigpa students have also discounted the Dalai Lama’s remarks made at the 1993 Western Buddhist Teachers Conference, which he references and points us to in his current remarks, as not relevant to the tradition they practice.
However, in his 1993 teachings at the Western Buddhist Teachers Conference, the Dalai Lama specifically speaks about Vinaya, Sutrayana, and Tantrayana and the behavior of “lamas,” a term used in Tibetan Buddhism, so it’s quite clear he means all schools. These remarks can be found in Video 4 of the conference teachings, in which he responds to a question about sex scandals and alcohol abuse involving Zen and Tibetan Buddhism teachers. Teachers present at the conference (including a representative from Rigpa) represented the Theravadin, Zen, and Tibetan Buddhist traditions, so it’s nonsensical to claim he was speaking only about one tradition or one school.
View the videos of these meetings yourself. Don’t just trust what someone else says, listen to the teachings and discern for yourself. The series of videos from the 1993 Western Buddhist Teachers Conference covers a wide range of topics. Video 4 (from about 40 mins in), the first part of Video 5, and 60 mins into Video 5 are very relevant to the topic at hand. Or you can read excerpts in this article: What the Dalai Lama Says About Teachers and Unethical Behavior.
In his current statement, the Dalai Lama also says Sogyal Rinpoche is his good friend. The Dalai Lama always advises to point out a teacher’s good qualities when you criticize their behavior. Although clear they cannot accept abuse, many current and former students continue to express immense gratitude for all that they have received from Sogyal Rinpoche, and do not deny his brilliance as a teacher.
Here’s the clip of the Dalai Lama speaking about the teacher-student relationship and the letter sent to Sogyal Rinpoche.
If you would like to verify the authenticity of this clip, here’s a link to the Dalai Lama’s full teaching. His remarks concerning Sogyal Rinpoche and the allegations of abuse start at 01.14.00.
We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. How do you understand the Dalai Lama’s statement?
Note: The photo is from the HHDL Facebook page, and not a photo of the event mentioned in this post.
If you have felt harmed, confused, or conflicted, the links on our resources page and the sangha care resources page may be of help.
More personal and private support for current and previous students of Rigpa can be found in the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite. Include a link to your Facebook profile or the email address you use on Facebook.