Does Dagri Rinpoche’s Response to Attestations of Inappropriate Conduct Embody Lojong? Where is the Compassion?

Post by Joanne Clark

Recently, Dagri Rinpoche, a monk who has been accused of inappropriately touching women on at least two occasions wrote a statement in defence of himself. Here is the English translation:

In this statement, his own version of events is very different from the version of the two women making the allegations. He is stating that the women are lying, that they have no basis whatsoever for their allegations and are making them up out of thin air. He also suggests that the woman who made the allegation in the UTube video was mentally unstable.

Then in the final paragraph, after making an assumption about the “contempt” of those who have “made these baseless allegations and have accused me of misdeeds that I did not commit”: he then declares some Lojong-style (See footnote on Eight Verses, below) statements in regard to these accusations, saying somewhat proudly that “I welcome you to use whatever means you can to continue to wrongly accuse me”.

Sadly, I feel that the tone of this declaration feels a little confrontational to me. I don’t think one can practice Lojong at the same time that one is publicly accusing someone of lying. The declaration feels a little proud too while Lojong is a unique practice of humility. Now, I am no great practitioner or scholar of Dharma, but I do treasure Lojong teachings and have used them frequently to help me through troubled times. It strengthens my resolve, compassion and patience to take on the ill will and harm done to me by others, to take all suffering and blame onto myself—and to put all victory onto others. It is really a miraculous and transformative practice in my experience.

So I agree with Dagri Rinpoche about the value of cultivating gratitude towards harm-doers for their gift of giving us the practice of patience. But I question whether one can view the two women in this case as “harm-doers”. And Lojong is a very private practice in reality and I wonder about the worth of declaring this gratitude publicly. So I question his purpose in doing that now.

And there’s another problem with this, the bigger problem. At least one of the women who have made allegations regarding Dagri Rinpoche’s misconduct has spoken about the many years of suffering she has undergone as a result of his actions. She claims that her spiritual path has been ruined. Watching her on UTube, it is clear that she is in distress and a natural response to her would be some compassion. However, there is no mention throughout his letter about that, about her clear suffering, no compassion expressed.

The only reference to suffering Dagri Rinpoche makes is to the suffering of bad karma experienced by those who make false allegations and hold “contempt” for him. The only compassion he expresses is for those who are behaving wrongly. Now again, I am no scholar or great practitioner, but the essence of Lojong in my experience is compassionate humility, a special kind of strong humility that is hard to explain to those who have not experienced it. It is not about beating one’s chest and declaring oneself a practitioner, nor is it self-debasing, but it does increase self-confidence, quiet self-confidence. And it increases one’s capacity to deeply feel the suffering of others. Sadly, I see no evidence of that in his statement.

Here is a suggestion I have for how Dagri Rinpoche might have demonstrated that he was practicing Lojong, without once needing to even quote from the Lojong instructions. He could have said:

“I have always said that I am full of flaws and I deeply regret the harm that I have caused these women who have made allegations against me. I take full responsibility and blame for their suffering and will do anything in my power to help them find peace and to insure that I never harm any being in this way again.”

It is said that the essence of Lojong is to take all blame and defeat onto oneself and to give all praise and victory to others. If so, isn’t it better to do this than to say you’re doing it? Wouldn’t that statement above be more in line with the practice than repeatedly accusing those who have made allegations regarding his behaviours of lying?

Also, there have been statements from teachers both within the FPMT and within Rigpa that we should see our teachers as Buddhas and their “supposed” faulty actions as simply “manifestations” to help us on the path. They say this in response to our distress over seeing teachers abuse students. However, I suggest that a Buddha manifesting such flaws that cause harm to others would necessarily follow up with manifestations of how we can honestly own our flaws and take proper steps to end the suffering. Surely that would be the least a skilful Buddha would do?

Many of us were drawn to the Dharma because of its unique, profound and vast teachings on how to cultivate love and compassion. The Lojong teachings are a great example of that. Every time I see a teacher within this tradition using the teachings in order to turn coldly away from a suffering human being, it chills me to the bone. I continue to pray that someday the unique and transformative teachings preserved within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition will be used properly to honestly and courageously address these challenging situations and to alleviate the suffering caused from them. It is time to stop using these teachings improperly in order to pile harm on top of harm.

Here is an example of a Lojong Text, treasured particularly in the Gelug tradition:

With a determination to achieve the highest aim
For the benefit of all sentient beings
Which surpasses even the wish-fulfilling gem,
May I hold them dear at all times.

Whenever I interact with someone,
May I view myself as the lowest amongst all,
And, from the very depths of my heart,
Respectfully hold others as superior.

In all my deeds may I probe into my mind,
And as soon as mental and emotional afflictions arise-
As they endanger myself and others-
May I strongly confront them and avert them

When I see beings of unpleasant character
Oppressed by strong negativity and suffering,
May I hold them dear-for they are rare to find-
As if I have discovered a jewel treasure!

When others, out of jealousy
Treat me wrongly with abuse, slander, and scorn,
May I take upon myself the defeat
And offer to others the victory.

When someone whom I have helped,
Or in whom I have placed great hopes,
Mistreats me in extremely hurtful ways,
May I regard him still as my precious teacher.

In brief, may I offer benefit and joy
To all my mothers, both directly and indirectly,
May I quietly take upon myself
All hurts and pains of my mothers.

May all this remain undefiled
By the stains of the eight mundane concerns;
And may I, recognizing all things as illusion,
Devoid of clinging, be released from bondage.

The Eight Verses of Mind Training

How do you feel about this response?

Image by omer yousief from Pixabay

27 Replies to “Does Dagri Rinpoche’s Response to Attestations of Inappropriate Conduct Embody Lojong? Where is the Compassion?”

  1. I don’t want to comment on this post regarding Dagri Rinpoche because Dagri Rinpoche is a Vajrayana teacher of me, and I feel some restrain is good.

    On the other hand, I believe the allegations to be true and I totally support all survivors to speak up (or to unite and help each other) and I urge the FPMT to quickly appoint an independent investigator! (Just as a side point, four accounts of reported abuse are already known to me. Accept with the airplane case (I don’t know the details), all the other three cases are very convincing and ring very true to me.)

    I wrote to the international office of the FPMT already. But neither they nor their websites offer any qualified contact person – as if there is not the slightest interest to get at the bottom of these things. Or is it at the end Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Roger they expect the victims to turn to – who both are not qualified to deal with these matters in any way?

    However, what I want to add to the discussion is, the Lojong teachings, which I deeply admire and love too, have been abused already in the past by Rigpa in their Press Release from 2016 . Read it. It’s very revealing.

    Basically Rigpa media people declare Sogyal Rinpoche to be holy – just as Lama Zopa Rinpoche did with DR – and then they attack Marion Dapsance’s studies – critical of Rigpa, to have followed an “opinionated, incomplete, and biased approach”, “which clearly lacks thorough and objective research of either our organisation or Buddhism in general”. They claim also wrongly “Marion Dapsance’s studies have been financed by Chinese benefactors…”. – I think they should have included Shugden as a power behind the book too 😉

    If you understand a bit the mind of Lojong and the meaning of the training, Rigpa media people have totally perverted the idea of Lojong. They give Sogyal Rinpoche the victory and Marion Dapsance the defeat. Lojong would have been to give her the victory and to accept the criticism in a humble manner. But instead they boast SR as a super holy being, a master of Lojong, while putting down by all means Marion Dapsance.

    Take the victory and offer the defeat! Wow!

    1. Yes, Rigpa has perverted Lojong as well. Sogyal even mentioned the third verse in his first or second letter to the sangha – I don’t recall which one it was. I remember thinking that had he been looking at his ‘mental and emotional afflictions’ as they arose all along, which he should have been practicing if he’d been walking his talk, then he should have confronted and averted them and never would have hurt anyone. And yet he used that verse to suggest that he was being humble and looking at his motivations.

      I find this kind of perversion of the teachings quite alarming. They are destroying Buddhism from within.

  2. Excellent analysis, thank you. I hope this reaches many westerners, as it reveals what has largerly been missing in Tibetan Buddhism and how it can be corrected.

  3. Brillilant post Joanne. Yes, for me the springboard to cultivating compassion and wisdom is to own your own flaws. Without the capacity for uncompromising self-honesty, the generation of bodhicitta and wisdom becomes like planting seeds in rotten, denuded soil. This man is untrue to himself, he’s not owning his own actions and expects the Dharma community to swallow his denials of transgressive behaviour. Good luck with that.

    Also not impressed with Lama Zopa’s teaching – whilst it’s understandable that he reached out to Dagri Rinpoche’s students who may well be confused right now, once again there was negligible compassion expressed towards the victims, if i read his statement correctly. From Nyingma to Gelug, the synergies in the responses to allegations of sexual impropriety from these ‘cream of the crop’ Lamas are disturbing.

  4. Using quotes from the teachings as a defense against accountability has a long history now. Almost 30 years ago, when his own misbehavior came to light, the Vajra Regent Osel Tendzin said “There is no fault so grievous that it cannot be purified.” Then, later, he quoted Saraha to prop up his fast-crumbling public image: “If I am like a pig that covets worldly mire, you must tell me what fault lies in a stainless mind.” These, and many of the similar statements we’re hearing these days, are the “defenses” of a sociopath.

  5. Buzzfeed wrote about Tony Robbins:

    “Licensed professionals who treat mental health issues must undergo extensive training and follow strict ethical guidelines governing their relations with their clients. Self-help coaching requires no such qualifications or standards. But it creates a potent recipe for the abuse of power, setting its leading lights up as godlike figures with answers to life’s most painful questions, and placing the supplicants who seek their wisdom in their thrall.”


    Likewise, Buddhist gurus in the West, big and small, who are just as untrained, unqualified and untethered to ethical guidelines routinely ‘treat’ mental health issues and ‘answer’ life’s most painful questions while placing supplicants in their thrall as a matter of course.

    As a rule, Westerners tend to highly overrate Buddhist gurus’ knowledge and skills.

    Faced with mental health issues—including those that derive from (sexual) trauma, personality disorder, pediatric and developmental pathology, depression, addiction, psychoactive drugs, et cetera—most every Buddhist teacher is a well-meaning dilettante at best and a dangerous ignoramus at worst. Even so, they continue to operate in settings that require no qualification other than the ‘ professional license’ their own tradition or lineage affords—or the semblance of such license.

    The widespread abuse of power—of which sexual abuse is a special case—is endemic to the reception of Buddhism in the West. It is preprogrammed in early Western Buddhist generations’ acritical stance—not involving or applying any critical judgement. Abdicating the right to speak truth to power, they assumed that the Buddhadharma is good in and of itself, so that it justifies any means. It’s not. It never did. Indeed, it’s a potent recipe for any type of abuse. Until recently, such abuse was the price Western Buddhists were willing to pay.

    In real life, most Buddhist teachers are not so different from most self-help coaches at all. And neither are their supplicants.

    1. This is a very good point. There are exceptions, fortunately: Akong Tulku Rinpoche, skilled in Tibetan medicine, co-operated with psychologists and developed Tara Rokpa Therapy. Some other lamas have also recognized the need to address mental issues professionally according to scientific methods while dealing with students in the West.

    2. You hit the nail on the head Rob. On a positive note I do think that many long-term committed students who have also seriously studied ethical western and eastern wisdom traditions are coming to the same conclusion, as well as a degree of spiritual maturity to be able to appreciate the authentic form of spiritual training that Tibetan Buddhism does have to offer, and will not settle for anything less. There will I think always be a critical area regarding the understanding of relative v absolute with the danger of lamas who are not really qualified and their students falling into spiritual bypassing, the home of super-subtle egotism for both parties. This seems to be a hazard of Vajrayana with its much misunderstood Guru yoga.

  6. A big part of the problem, I think, is that so many Western students act as if they believe that Buddhism provides a wholesale, full-blown alternative to their native culture, society, and philosophy—including the achievements of the state governed by the rule of law.

    Most Western Buddhists I know, have no clear conception of these achievements to begin with. Nor do they realize how vast the day to day costs of upholding such achievements really are.

    It really doesn’t help that a large percentage of the leading Western Buddhist teachers and administrators consists of college dropouts.

    They’ve received little formal education beyond the impromptu, highly selective Buddhist training ethnic Buddhist teachers provided. They really aren’t in a position to judge which parts of the Western history of ideas—in particular social, political, and legal philosophy—Buddhists can do without, I think. And neither are their gurus.

    Abuses of power are like weeds: they flourish in fields that remain untended by those who believe the field will cultivate itself. To think that morality, ethics, and the law are upheld simply by declaring yourself or your community Buddhist—or communist, maoist, anarchist, et cetera—can have only one lasting effect: more abuse.

    Previous countercultural ideologues and activists have made the exact same mistake. I’d therefore suggest that Western Buddhists would do better to drop their Buddhist studies for a while, and brush up on on contemporary European and American history, in particular of the homegrown communist, maoist, and anarchist movements in the 1960s through 1970s.

    1. Rob, that was a brilliant comment, very insightful, and goes right to the point. Thanks for sharing that with us!

      1. I would only add that instead of putting their Buddhist studies aside, maybe Western Buddhists could continue their Buddhist studies at the same time that they get reacquainted with Western civilization , liberties, and values, so they can maintain their practice while still exploring what’s meaningful about their own cultural heritage.

    2. This is such a wonderful comments thread, and I wanted to especially thank you Rob Hogendoorn for your wise and very insightful posts.

      I think that most Western Buddhist practitioners are both fairly uninformed about their own cultural and intellectual heritage but also even more unfamiliar with the basics of Buddhist history and doctrine – the kind of thing that can be learned by reading a good college textbook on the subject (e.g. Rupert Gethin’s “Foundations of Buddhism”). And in my ~45 years of involvement with the Tibetan tradition my experience has been that Western students in that tradition are especially unlikely to know much about other schools of Buddhism – let alone how very far removed from (and in many cases antithetic to) the teachings and practices of the historical Buddha much of what they’ve taken on actually is.

      I wish every Western Dharma student would read Ann Gleig’s new book “American Dharma.” It is such a wonderful education in how Buddhism has been and is being transformed by its encounters with exactly those aspects of modernity you mention. And of course the lone exception to that transformation is the exceedingly insular Tibetan tradition, which (the Dalai Lama excepted) basically refuses to engage with modernity – or with basic ethical and legal norms of civil society – as is so perfectly illustrated by Lama Zopa’s clueless letters defending Dagri Rinpoche.

  7. You’re right, Been there: a critical reception presupposes that Western Buddhists are as acquainted with the Western history of ideas as they are with Buddhist theory and practice, so they should study both with abandon.

    The Dalai Lama never tires of saying that he’d rather have Westerners (re)acquaint themselves with their own culturally and socially embedded religions than convert to Buddhism. The problem is that Westerners decided en masse that they are the exception which proves the rule, without even asking why he would say such a thing.

    Meanwhile, the Dalai Lama continued to teach ever greater mass audiences in the West as if he remained completely unaware that his counsel was widely ignored. This may have led many to believe—erroneously, I think—that the Dalai Lama’s caution was merely a matter of intercultural, interreligious etiquette, counteracting suspicions that he was proselytizing. I’ve seldom heard the Dalai Lama’s apt remark being echoed by other Tibetan lamas and Western teachers of Tibetan Buddhism. Perhaps they too felt that the Dalai Lama’s advice could be safely ignored.

    By now, the barren ‘discussion’ about the advisability of conversion to (Tibetan) Buddhism between the Dalai Lama and his followers has gone on for decades. I once wrote that ‘in addition to being one of the world’s leading intellectuals, the Dalai Lama is one of its most elusive thinkers.’ To this I’d like to add that in addition to being one of the world’s leading moral philosophers, the Dalai Lama is one of its most ignored religious authorities. We do this at our peril. So let’s take the Dalai Lama seriously, for once.

  8. More advice from Lama Zopa:

    He says: “No matter what people in the world say to criticize Dagri Rinpoche, I keep my mind in the understanding that this is a holy being. I don’t become like a cow with a rope tied through its nose that is led around by people and has to go wherever the people pull it. Even though I am extremely ignorant of the world and I have no understanding of Dharma, I have this slight wisdom and I stay with that. This is a holy being, not an ordinary being, as I mentioned before. (…) So, it is like that. I want to say that I am deeply sorry about all the people who got hurt from Rinpoche’s holy actions.”

    Lama Zopa could not have been more succinct: this, I think, is the crux of the problem with Tibetan Buddhism. So, I’m grateful for his honesty: other Tibetan lamas think exactly like Lama Zopa, but they know better than to state their view publicly—especially if the topic is sexual abuse.

    The problem is this: once the die is cast and ‘holy beings’ (whose epistemological repertoire is unavailable to ‘ordinary beings’ by definition) have decided that some other person is a ‘holy being’, every other ‘holy being’ has a right—and perhaps even a duty—to publicly undermine moral and legal judgements about the (sexual) behaviour of that person by ‘ordinary beings’—even if the accusation is corroborated by other ‘ordinary beings’.

    The best ‘holy beings’ can do to go part of the way to meet the dismay of ‘ordinary beings’—say victims, survivors, relatives, psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists, judges—is to say they’re ‘sorry’ that they got ‘hurt’ by the ‘holy actions’ of the ‘holy being’.

    Such a view and public response by the spiritual head of one of the largest Tibetan Buddhist organizations in the West to accusations of sexual abuse may appear as gaslighting to ‘ordinary beings’, they may constitute a highly unsafe environment for future ‘ordinary beings’ who fall prey to sexual abuse, and they may be morally and legally impotent—those are the least of Lama Zopa’s concerns.

    Lama Zopa counsels Dagri Rinpoche’s students that their main focus and concern at present ought to be to keep their mind in the understanding who’s a ‘holy being’ here and who’s not—just like he does. It’s a breathtaking public exercise of power in the name of doctrinal consistency that’s just very, very revealing.

    1. Yep. Exactly. We come smack bang up against a belief that they are not going to change because it covers the lamas asses and keeps them untouchable on their thrones. The belief is that the lamas are holy and those who say they did wrong aren’t holy, so the unholy are just deluded and it’s all just a worldly display anyway. It’s totally absurd and even more absurd that any Westerner would go a long with it. But they do. They swallow the whole thing, hook line and sinker. I agree that Western people should listen to HHDL and not actually become Tibetan Buddhists. We can study the teachings, we can practice meditation, but taking on board all this feudal and superstitious nonsense is a big step backwards.

      It’s taken our culture a long time to get to the point where equality is enshrined in law and where we value human rights, we should be celebrating that and making sure that when we import a religion from another culture, we don’t throw away our hard-won advances in human rights,

      1. Well said Thalia! I hear you loud and clear! I speak as someone who even more treasures the jewel I found in a pile of shit!

  9. This statement by Zopa Rinpoche was revealing for sure, not only as an exercise in managing other people’s thoughts but in managing his own. It was fascinating to see his reference to people who were hurt by Dagri Rinpoche’s “holy actions.” He obviously had some very specific actions in mind, and I have to wonder what those might have been and how he could have decided they were “holy” instead of “misunderstood” (which has been Dagri’s defense so far) or the deliberate acts of molestation that they probably were.

  10. I think we should keep what we find valuable in Buddhism while not accepting anything against our values. This is not easy, it is easier to throw out everything. In Dagri Rinpoche’s case there is now the petition Call for Investigation

    As far as I remember HH Dalai Lama has recomended westerners not to change one’s religion easily (mainly meant for Christians), as it teaches moral values, and if one really wants to change into Buddhism, to do so only after deep consideration.

    1. I’ve met very few people indeed who became Tibetan Buddhists only after deep consideration, Ani Sherab. Perhaps the most heard expression about Westerners’ first contact with Tibetan teachers and/or Tibetan Buddhism is that they immediately felt as if they had ‘come home’. They often ‘know’ this right away.

      This is disconcerting in and of itself, because it takes long and hard work to gain a clear understanding of any Tibetan tradition at all, and even longer and harder work to discern where Buddhism stops and Tibetan folklore begins.

      I sometimes feel that Westerners are much more attracted to the latter: some of them turn into lifelong and passionate practitioners of Tibetophilia—love of Tibet and/or Tibetans—rather than into practitioners of Buddhadharma. It’s very easy to get stuck in this mentality, I think, because Tibetan folklore is hugely entertaining and Shangri-la has become highly portable.

      1. I agree, Rob Hogendoorn, and this discussion is healthy and to the point. It is not easy to discriminate what is valid teaching from the Buddha, and what is distorted by misunderstanding guruyoga. This misunderstanding prevails among the gurus themselves and it really is not fair that westerners have to correct it for them. With very brilliant educated minds they have taken on the job anyway, as we can see from the post above. This to my mind is the right way, if we are to properly apply for example the quoted lojong teachings. Buddhism is not going to go away, it is in our universities now, after the first wave of hippies.

  11. Sexual and financial abuse should always be condemned. I remind my Dharma sisters and brothers that Rigpa and Shambhala had an independent investigation but they did not give a full apology and the perpetrators went into hiding in Asia. If you see five or ten of these guilty lamas behind bars (as HH Dalai Lama has suggested), then I think you would see a diminution of such abuse. And these cases are, alas! the tip of the iceberg. Lama Zopa Rinpoche has already said that Dagri Rinpoche only does “holy actions.” It’s quite obvious there is great need for sexual education for all Tibetan lamas. and students. using the Dharma as base. Now! An investigation alone will not resolve the problem

    1. When I first encountered Buddhism, it was Lojong that really convinced me and caught me. Wonderful Lojong. It is so sad to see it mis-used and abused in this way. And by a lama, a so-called master. The only consolation (a sad consolation) is that his statement is such a transparent and ridiculous defence that it is extremely clear he is mis-using and twisting this wonderful practice/attitude to life and therefore the Lojong itself fortunately escapes being tainted.

      1. Yes. It is a terrible shame. I hope more people begin to see this misuse, but in order to do so, they have to be able to trust their own wisdom, their own sense that this is a misuse. Unfortunately in an environment where all wisdom is projected onto the teacher, this disempowers the student and makes it hard for them to trust their own wisdom. What is even sadder, of course, is that that is the complete opposite of what the Buddha taught.

        Some think that Buddhadharma will be destroyed from the outside, but what we’re seeing is it being destroyed from the inside by this kind of commentary by supposedly realised beings who are clearly merely covering their own asses. They have been seduced by their own power.

  12. ‘Using a standard for civil legal proceedings based on a preponderance of the evidence, FaithTrust Institute concluded from witness interviews, statements and corroborating evidence that Dagri Rinpoche did engage in a pattern of intentional and inappropriate sexual behavior that persisted over many years towards women who were in his company due to his position as a trusted incarnate lama and teacher.

    Despite multiple requests, Dagri Rinpoche did not meaningfully engage with FaithTrust Institute’s investigation. However, when he received a detailed summary of multiple victim statements from FaithTrust Institute, he emailed a written response asking for forgiveness.

    Therefore, we accept that, according to the standard applied by FaithTrust Institute, Dagri Rinpoche committed sexual misconduct, which also qualifies as spiritual abuse given his position as a spiritual teacher.’

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *