Help for Students Processing the Attestations of Abuse in Rigpa

The attestations by 8 long term close students of Sogyal Rinpoche that he had emotionally, physically and sexually abused students over a period of many years rocked the Rigpa community.  Early posts in this blog gave an indication of the kinds of issues students faced and how some managed the shocking revelations of abuse in Rigpa, but though some have found a level of equanimity about the situation, others are still struggling to come to terms with it. At the core of their struggle are the teachings on devotion and pure perception that don’t sit comfortably with humanitarian ethics and the behaviour of their teacher. Though many found statements by Tibetan Lamas helpful, their understanding of their Western students and what they are going through is limited simply because they have never been a Western student.
Venerable Thubten Chodron the abbess of Sravasti Abbey in the USA, however, was a Western student (of Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa), and she is now a teacher. She has given a series of talks in response to the attestations of abuse in Rigpa that many students have found really helpful in processing the revelations. It clear from her talks that she understands exactly what students are going through and the misunderstandings Westerners tend to have on certain aspects of the teachings.
The What Now? team highly recommend watching the following teachings




Here are the links to the videos on You Tube
When things fall apart.
How could it happen:
Confusion in Tantra:
What it means to see the teacher as a Buddha:

Be sure to check out the What Now? References page for links to a wealth of articles in the topics related to abuse in Buddhist communities. For links to places to assist in healing from abuse see the sangha care resources page.
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. Please use the email address you use on Facebook.

52 Replies to “Help for Students Processing the Attestations of Abuse in Rigpa”

  1. Thubten Chodron–not to be confused with Pema Chödrön, another Tibetan Buddhist nun who writes popular books on Buddhism–is affiliated with the FPMT, and is active in the campaign to ordain Buddhist nuns into the Sarvastavada vinaya lineage followed by Tibetans. I personally wish we could look beyond the coterie of Buddhist authors and speakers who have been promoted by the likes of Tricycle, Shambhala / Wisdom, etc., and who leads workshops and speaks at conferences.
    Like Thubten Chodron, I first studied Tibetan Buddhism through the FPMT’s month-long course at Kopan Monastery, and have experience with other FPMT groups as well. For years I had good memories of / associations with the FPMT, until about 10 years ago, when controversy arose over the FPMT “Maitreya Project.” This was their attempt to build a giant statue in Bodhgaya or Kushinagar, for essentially magical reasons. It surfaced that the FPMT had asked the Indian government to force local farmers to sell their land for the project, as a means of promoting tourism. By now the project has been reduced to something more reasonable–not because of any change of heart, mind you, but because the 2008 financial crisis interfered with their fund-raising. Still, the whole episode impressed upon me the reality that the FPMT, despite its good reputation, is basically just one more top-down dharma organization with a self-perpetuating board, and a mass of followers (not “members”–technically, only dharma centers can be members) whose role is mainly to carry out the pet projects of their lamas.
    And what did Thubten Chodron have to say about all this? As far as I know, not a damn thing. I see no reason to credit her with any moral authority.

    1. I agree the Maitreya Project is diabolical and wish that Lamas would focus on uplifting the lives of the poor Indian villagers around Bodh Gaya (perhaps they are? I’m not up to speed) instead of predictably channelling their Dharma activity through monuments and monasteries. However, that is an entirely separate issue. It seems like a really cheap shot to blame Anila for the actions of her teachers. Imagine if she was to be openly critical of Lama Zopa’s Maitreya statue – that would open another samaya can of worms!
      Beidawei, move beyond your narrow conceptions!

    2. Those sound like harmful actions indeed. These, however, are valuable, timely teachings. Let’s not discount them because there are other problems in an organization.

      1. What you see as “valuable, timely teachings,” I see as patter calculated to move books and position her as a public Buddhist teacher. She’s not doing it for you, she’s doing it for her.

        1. Bei Dawei, you can’t possibly know her motivation, so why attribute impure motives to her teaching activity? Unless there’s evidence of opportunism on her part, there’s no reason to taint her actions with such poisonous attributions. She is an on the bodhisattvic path, so in the absence of evidence to the contrary, we can pretty safely assume that her intentions are benign. In recommending her teaching, the What Now crew managed to get beyond sectarian pettiness but it seems you are unable to do so.

          1. None of us can really know anyone else’s motivations, but we can make educated guesses based (for example) on how much of our lives seem dedicated to self-promotion. As evidence, I append a list of some of her books…mixed together with some of Joel Osteen’s. See if you can tell which is which:
            Dealing with Life’s Issues
            Your Best Life Now
            Seven Tips for a Happy Life
            Pearl of Wisdom
            Become a Better You
            How to Free your Mind
            Think Better, Live Better
            Sectarian pettiness? I have no problem with any of the four (or however many) traditions, Gelugpa and so on, in themselves. My objections to the FPMT are based on concrete organizational issues which would apply to numerous dharma organizations from across the Buddhist spectrum.

            1. Bei, your comments are very misguided, particularly regarding the books. Right now, I am reading a book co-authored by Thubten Chodron and HH Dalai Lama entitled “Buddhism: One Teacher, Many Traditions.” It is a wonderful overview of the Pali and Sanskrit Buddhist traditions, comparing and contrasting them. She in fact lived for several weeks in a Thai monastery, as suggested by His Holiness, in order to better understand Theravada. If you google her on Amazon, you will find she is a prolific writer and covers a huge range of legitimate Dharma topics– and I found none of the titles you provided, at least not in the first fifteen Amazon gave. Are you suggesting that she promotes a surface understanding? I don’t think so! It seems that you are judging her not on her Dharmic qualifications, but on her affiliations?

        2. Thanks, Bei. I don’t want to discount your experience. I don’t know this teacher well and cannot make a judgment for myself.

    3. How about not straw-man fallacy attacking her and just take the words she has to say at face value. This reply is just another attack to undermine anyone that offers a different way of seeing things. Many Rigpa students have studied with her to prepare to possibly take vows as monks or nuns. She is a fine teacher.

  2. Thank you, Matilda7, you have said it nicely.
    And for Bei Dawei, I would add that anyone who can speak from a clear understanding of the teachings and the situation in a way that can help people who are struggling with the issue at hand, has a reason to be heard unless they themselves have behaved improperly.
    I do hear what you’re saying about a different organisation, however. I believe that it’s time the fuedal structure of Tibetan Buddhism was dismantled. None of these lamas or Western teachers should have so much power. Organisations should be run by democratically elected bodies, not by any single person.

  3. We should indeed have more democratically elected organisations. A lama should not have all the power as in feudal organisations. It is still seen as a breakage of the samaya if you criticise the decisions of the lama. I was with the gelug in the time of the Maitreya Project. I also wondered why such a huge statue was necessary, but the scriptures said the lama knows better than the ordinary sangha member. I did not donate to it. At that time I was in doubt. But after what happened with SL and R. I think we now have to take a firmer point of view. There are many wonderful things in Tibetan buddhism but it is also polluted from feudalism and oppression of the ordinary people.

    1. Yes, Tiny, I also think the Tibetan fascination with big monasteries and stupas in the West needs to be re-evaluated. When I was with Rigpa, the talk was all about building the big temple at LL. Then I went to a Kagyu monastery and I thought the monastery was big and beautiful, but the talk was all about building a much bigger and better monastery. And I sat through town board meetings while the monastery officials lied to the town in order to get a permit for the big new monastery. Then I went to a Nyingma lama who had just bought a plot of land and the talk was all about the monastery he was going to build! In fact, we had to pace it out and it had to be bigger and bigger and bigger.
      I no longer go to monasteries. I have a notice on the door of my shrine room that reads:
      This is my simple religion.
      No need for temples.
      No need for complicated philosophy.
      Your own mind, your own heart, is the temple;
      Your philosophy is simple kindness.
      HH Dalai Lama

      1. Yes I do not hope it is just a matter of prestige. Who has the biggest temple? Probably it is SL in LL. That would be very much materialism and wordly dharma.
        Maybe we should not give donations anymore for these big buildings. Without the donation of students it is impossible to build them.

      2. I like having temples and monasteries around, but why couldn’t some of these little groups cooperate and share one? But no, every dharma organization has to be its own sect.
        The whole “bigger is better” mentality (especially as applied to impractical things like statues) doesn’t strike me as very Buddhist. Anyway, once you make a contest out of it, there will always be somebody who builds a bigger one than yours. For instance, no sooner did the FPMT announce the Maitreya Project–billed as the world’s tallest Buddha statue–then the Chinese started building a bigger one.
        A lot of Christian churches–not just megachurches–get swallowed up in building projects. There are a lot of financial hazards, involving calculations of debt and upkeep costs vs. demographics.

  4. For me and many of my ex-Rigpa friends and even quite a few people in Rigpa find it very helpful and liberating to also listen to some Western Teachers like Eckhart Tolle, Gregg Braden, Mariannne Williamson, Bruce Lipton, Dr. Joe Dispenza, Dr. Wayne Dyer. Those teachers are brilliant, and to me they have integrated and adapted the best of buddhist teachings as well as other spiritual traditions to our western civilisation in terms of language, integration of scientific research, methods, etc. They are so inspiring and for me really helped me to deepen my understanding of the essence of Vajrayana by seeing it from a different perspective. And with the grounding we have from the teaching there is less danger of misunderstanding them and making what they say into a “buddhism light”.
    I always thought it would take about 200 years until the Dharma has settled in the West, and the greatest surprise was to see, that it has already happend.
    And they also honor the individual and encourage people to trust themselves. And they do not see themselves as “Gurus” or autorities. Rather they try to teach by exemple.

    1. I think that is a very good idea. Do not throw away your own culture. It is easier to understand for us. There are indeed briljant teachers in the West.

  5. I just finished the four teachings of TC. It is very realistic and gave me a lot of support. ” Do not throw your practice away. It is not for the lama, it is for yourself .
    The story of HHDL two main teachers was very clarifying for me. I could not listen anymore to the videos of the teachings of SL. In the East they react more non-contradictory and not so extreme when somebody does something wrong. Now after a while I may listen to SL videos again but never would attend a teaching with him live, become a member of R. What are other peoples opinions of this? Do you think it is throwing away the baby with the water if you do not want to listen to his videos anymore?
    TC said that Tibetans know of misbehaviour of lamas but do not want to make it public to prevent people loosing their faith.

  6. I think, we can follow our heart. That’s how we came to Buddhism and to SL at the first place.
    So in case you feel inspired to listen to his teachings and they help you evolve spiritually and become a better person, it would not help any “victim”, if you don’t do it.
    On the other side, if you don’t feel inspired to listen to his teachings – why would you? You don’t “have to” listen to his teachings.

  7. A couple of my comments have been deleted along with a quaintly authoritarian warning to “keep the tone respectful”……
    Strangely, my remarks were flippant, sarcastic and possibly funny, but not disrespectful as I understand the word. I suspect the real reason was that the content was too uncomfortable for the people who manage this site.
    Fair enough, but their definition of ‘open dialogue ‘ seems to include my definition of ‘censorship’.
    Given the rather heavy-handed slant of the main articles and links, I had the impression that this site might be an ambiguous Rigpa-related kind of set-up and I would recommend those posting consider that.
    Anyway the deletion reinforces that impression enough for me to stop posting, so my sincere thanks to everyone: it’s been fun.
    Good bye and good luck

    1. I have had sarcastic comments misread too in other forums so I understand how misunderstandings can occur when the sarcasm isn’t clear. It was not the content, but the way it was said that was found offensive. I don’t think the removal of that one small comment removed your perspective, however. Your main points are still here for all to see.

      1. In fact what Alex said was far from offensive, in fact I can say hands down it was the most helpful thing I have read in a really long time. why? because he was being honest and true to himself (the basis of any spiritual path, I would’ve thought) with the amount of issues around hiding, dishonesty and a whole number of other things involved in this rigpa mess I hope you will consider your actions (most specifically on those you are profess to want to help)

        1. what I mean by this is that many people have been silenced for years and it is obvious that you’re only furthering it (when running too tight of a deleting program I understand you have created this website, but is something about running a too tight ship?

  8. why have you closed the comments on other posts?
    Censorship and shutting things down never works, it just goes to show it up even more.
    I thought this place was about the corruption that has taken place in Rigpa – and that appears in a lot of other buddhist centers/groups.
    But obviously not.
    Which make you just as bad Lakar and his supporters.

    1. Comments on older posts have been closed simply for time management reasons. We have lives to lead and simply don’t have time to keep going back and looking at new comments all the time.

      1. Moonfire, as it seems to have provoked some misunderstanding, may i suggest that you do a post on the homepage about the limitations on comment activity and the reasons for it?

  9. It absolutely beggars belief that posts have been edited and comments closed.
    Given the context within which this site came about, absolute transparency and freedom of expression was the very least to be expected. Very poor indeed.

    1. Holding to some standard that in no way exists. Posts are made, comments are made – this is not a public service. I support the moderator. Open discussion that is “on point” will always tend to get a fair hearing. People who soapbox about this or that are often removed in forums because the point is to stay to the topic – the post one comments on. Spam, negativity – you are free to speak, others are free to remove it from their website because … it is not YOUR website.

  10. Joseph, I have spent months in previous years engaging with one of those whose comments have been edited on this thread and believe me, Moonfire’s boundaries were essential. For example, this commenter believes that the Dalai Lama is engaged in a global conspiracy to take over the minds of millions. Engaging in discussion with this person does not achieve a thing except a huge waste of time and resources– and it sends people in sensitive emotional states running. I think there is a real need to protect this space a little so that people can process in meaningful ways. Yes, we can disagree and have strong opinions– but anyone who has spent any time on blogs knows that there are necessary boundaries to that freedom.

  11. @Joanne,
    I don’t think that most of the lamas see themselves as being part of a big “conspiracy” to take over the world, BUT I do believe that most of the lamas are true missionaries at heart. Bodhichitta is the wish to “free” all beings so that all beings can become enlightened. If you examine very carefully what that really means, you’ll realize that this really comes down to “spreading the Buddha Dharma,” even if it takes many lifetimes or thousands of years. Everything lamas do is intertwined with a “bodhichitta” (missionary) intention to “plant seeds” everywhere in the hope that someday all beings will be Buddhist.

    1. Well i’ve never thought of Tibetan Lamas as missionaries, they don’t have the one-eyed zeal of Christian proselytisers. But they are engaged in Empire-Building, that’s for sure.

    2. Catalover, I have thought about that idea a lot, as a Buddhist with the bodhisattva vow who was once a born-again Christian– and who has children and friends who are not Buddhist. The BIG difference between the bodhisattva ideal and Christian missionary work is that Buddhists don’t aspire to make everyone Buddhist– they aspire to bring everyone to enlightenment. There’s a huge difference because I would argue that some of my nonBuddhist family and friends are possibly closer to enlightenment than some Buddhist people I know– and possibly closer than I am myself! Converting people to Buddhism is not necessarily the most efficient way to bring them to enlightenment. Nor is the arrogant attitude that I myself know the best path that someone might need to take.
      When I first became Buddhist, I dragged all my kids to SR’s teachings. Now I regret having done that because I’ve turned them away from the dharma. But my kids are living virtuous, meaningful lives, lives that make the world better for others, so I’m happy. I think only a Buddha can know for sure where people need to be on the Buddhist path.
      And Buddha clearly stated that one should not give a teaching unless asked for it. So if lamas are seeming to be going towards conversion work– missionary work– then that is clearly against the Buddha’s teachings. Certainly the Dalai Lama never encourages people to convert to Buddhism. He starts every teaching in the West with a warning that it is safer to keep one’s own religion and not convert to Buddhism. And he’s right!
      And as for Chris Chandler’s conspiracy theory, this cannot be compared in any way to the bodhisattva ideal, which is grounded in a huge compassion that cannot bear to see others suffer, a compassion so strong that some bodhisattvas will gladly give their lives simply to alleviate another’s suffering.

  12. The lamas don’t SEEM to have the one-eyed zeal of Christian missionaries, but that’s only because they’re not in as big a rush to convert you all in one lifetime. I think the lamas figure that you will be converted eventually if they can plant enough “seeds” in your mind. It isn’t important that you convert right away because they are taking the long view.

  13. By “long view” I mean that they believe that you will have many lifetimes during which you will eventually be converted. They aren’t in a big hurry.

  14. @Joanne,
    I was at a teaching with the Dalai Lama back in 2001 and someone from the audience asked him if other religions can lead to perfect and complete enlightenment, the same as Buddhism. I remember his response very clearly and it made a big impression on me. He said that while all religions have similar teachings on love, and they can all lead to a very high state of realization, only Buddhism has the unique teachings on emptiness, so only Buddhism can lead to absolute and complete enlightenment. I am not making this up. I heard him say it with his own words. He would never say such a thing at a public talk or inter-faith event, but this was at a Dharma teaching. It would not make sense if lamas did not wish to convert people to the “only” path that supposedly leads to perfect enlightenment. While the Dalai Lama does often say it’s good to keep ones own religion, he generally says this kind of thing at interfaith events. I think as far as conversion is concerned, he is taking the long view, (the same as most other lamas do). I have had many Buddhists tell me that everyone will eventually find their way to the Dharma “when they are ready” for it. I was involved with Tibetan Buddhism for many years, so I know what I am talking about.

    1. I don’t doubt what you describe. His Holiness is correct and he’s simply answering the question. Ultimately, one cannot achieve enlightenment without the teachings on emptiness. I don’t see a contradiction with what I said.

    2. Catlover, there’s nothing sinister or wrong in wanting happiness for others and having ideas about what that happiness entails. If lamas exploit or harm others, then this is wrong. It is also very dangerous to convert people or push people into a religion. But the fault is not in the bodhisattva ideal.

  15. @Joanne,
    I’m glad you see my point. The rest of my point was that since Buddhists believe that Buddhism is the “only” path to true enlightenment, that means everyone will eventually have to become Buddhist, even if it takes eons. The Bodhisattva vow is the pledge to become enlightened and stay in samsara until every last being is enlightened, (in other words….when they all become Buddhist and the teachings finally lead them to enlightenment). So that means the lamas are missionaries, pure and simple. Their ultimate aim is to convert everyone to Buddhism, no matter how long it takes. Maybe that’s a crude way of putting it, but in my opinion I believe it is true.

    1. Yes, you can trivialize the bodhisattva ideal to those wordings– but sadly, you’ve missed the meaning completely. Read the birth stories of the Buddha, see how he actualized his bodhicitta in life after life after life. I guess you can call him a “missionary”– but if you mean it in a derogatory way, then we’ll just have to disagree.

      1. @Joanne,
        I am not saying that the lamas are “sinister,” any more than Christians are. Many of them believe that they are working to “save” people. But I do think there is a lot of corruption because of all the worship and adoration the tulkus get. (The Dalai Lama says that too, about tulkus).

      2. @Joanne,
        Bodhicitta is not just about feeding the hungry and helping the poor, etc. Bodhichitta is the wish to FREE all beings from samsara. Sine the ONLY ultimate way to do that, (according to Buddhism), is through the Buddha Dharma, then it is a missionary path, pure and simple. The whole bodhicitta quest is about converting people in whatever way possible. Maybe they don’t put it that way, but I have come to the conclusion that this is what they actually mean.
        I am tired and I don’t want the mods to think I post too much, so I am done commenting for now. It was an interesting discussion.

  16. Joanne,
    surely editing and removing posts – and closing down comments – should be actions of last resort, embarked upon only at the end of a process in which clear boundaries that have been described and agreed are repeatedly transgressed.
    To carry out these actions without warning or explanation ruins this site’s credibility. It gives the impression that arguments that do not meet with the site-owner(s) approval will be – *have been* – arbitrarily censored.
    In recent days, most of the original posts appear to have lent towards being “critical but forgiving” (if you’ll forgive the inevitably summary generalisation) of the Rigpa situation. This is a legitimate position (although not one I share), but does not exhaust the range of opinions out there. To shut any other opinion down – no matter how wildly different – is to add to the impression that Tibetan Buddhism is not interested in a thorough-going self-critique. Censorship often backfires, making the censor look more intolerant than the view it suppresses.
    *You* may have had a negative experience with a contributor before, but some of us may not even know who you are referring to, or what the substance of their argument is. I certainly didn’t and don’t. Ironically, I’m now *more* interested in what they have to say than I would have been. If it’s nonsense, I would have been fully capable of working that out and ignoring it, but I certainly don’t appreciate that decision being made for me.
    And now we find ourselves in a “process” story rather than a “content” story, always the death knell of a debate.

    1. Joseph, I am only speaking from experience– from years of blogging about troubles in Rigpa. Discussions such as those I suffered through on another blog– endless endless harsh merry-go-rounds– are not what’s needed in this forum in my opinion. Tone is important and it is the right of the moderators to set that tone. Some of the comments shared on this forum have been personal and sensitive. I feel a real sense of respect for those who have shared their experiences here and feel also glad that the monitors have stepped in to set boundaries. You can protest, but this boundary is necessary in my opinion.

      1. Thank you for your support. We want to keep this as a place for balanced reasoned discussion and rampant negativity against a religion that the majority of our readers have at least some respect for is not helpful for those who are seeking to expand their knowledge. All it will do is turn them away. Not helpful at all.

    2. @Joeseph You are over reacting I think. The person’s opinion was purposefully retained, so his point of view remains for you to read. Only one comment that was disrespectful of another person was removed. Please read the About page where our policy is clear. We retain the right to remove comments without discussion because this is our blog for our purpose and we have no intention of letting it be high jacked for someone else’s agenda.

  17. necessary perhaps only after open discussion, and clear reasons having been given for deletion. .
    Not because one person finds another person’s point of view slightly offensive – that is after all really quite a subjective thing.
    I don’t deny that problems can certainly occur in a space like this, and I am posting generally regarding moderation not anything specific to this thread.

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