How Rigpa isn’t Reforming

Rigpa’s gaslighting skills are making a strong showing in the wake of Sogyal’s death. Gaslighting is a nice term for what some might call outright lies. It’s a way of obscuring the truth and manipulating people to perceive things in a way that suits the gaslighter’s agenda. Rigpa needs students to deify Sogyal, to keep the fantasy alive so they can keep the money rolling in, so they’re doing everything they can to assure their devotees that Sogyal was truly an enlightened master – and therefore, according to their beliefs, he didn’t harm anyone.

Report recommendations being followed?

The Rigpa website has a page titled Rigpa Moving Forward on which they list all the ways they are instituting the recommendations of the Lewis Silkim Report on Sogyal Lakar/Rinpoche’s abuses. If you raise the issue of Sogyal’s abuse with a Rigpa devotee, they will point to this page to show that they have changed. But if you look closely at the recommendations and at what is written on that page, you’ll see a vast discrepancy between the actual recommendations and what they’re doing, and between what they say they are doing and what they have actually done.

If they were actually working systematically on each recommendation, why have they organised their page in a way that doesn’t relate to the recommendations? To check if the recommendations are actually being followed, you have to go to the report and try to check whats on the Moving Forward page with the recommendations, and who is going to do that? Not your casual reader, and not the devotees who only want to be reassured that the right thing is being done. The page organisation acts as a smokescreen.

For instance, for the recommendation, “Rigpa leadership in each country (being the trustees or equivalent) and the Vision Board should, as necessary, be refreshed in order to ensure that; its members are unconnected with the harmful events referred to in this report and so can credibly lead the programme of changes required; …” But Rigpa have removed from management only 3 of those who enabled the abuse for decades. The Vision Board and management in various countries still contain people well connected to the harmful events. This is typical of Rigpa’s approach to the recommendations – do enough that it looks like you’re making changes, but not enough to actually make a change.

And then there’s the look-how-wonderful-we-are language they use to distract readers from remembering that the man they are devoted to was the perpetrator of serious physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Apart from the usual important-lama name dropping and insistence that Rigpa offers “a complete and authentic path of Buddhist study and practice”, their words make it sound as if they’ve done more than they actually have. For instance, if you click on the link on the word ‘apology’ you’ll find only a pseudo apology. They look like apologies to anyone who doesn’t look closely, but despite using the word ‘sorry’, Rigpa and Sogyal have never actually apologised for hurting anyone; they’ve never said, ‘we’re sorry we hurt you’ only sorry that people ‘feel hurt.’

Their apologies aren’t for those they harmed, they’re to gaslight their devotees into thinking that they actually have apologised. And they’re still doing it.

The gaslighting continues with another psudeo apology for the faithful

Rigpa put out a statement on Sept 5th, a few days AFTER the petition asking for the lamas to retract their homages , presumably to make it look as if they actually cared about those who objected to their hideous display of hypocrisy. In Rigpa’s statement they use the word ‘deepest apologies’ to make it look as if they’re apologising and ‘again’ as if they have apologised before, but now instead of talking about people who have ‘felt hurt’, they’re talking about members of the Rigpa community who have ‘experienced hurt’. Still the passive voice that makes it sound as if the hurt happened without anyone actually causing it. Still they’re not admitting that Sogyal and Rigpa management and culture actually did hurt people, still not saying, ‘we’re sorry we hurt you’. The expressing our ‘deepest apologies’ doesn’t even say what the apologies are for!

Rigpa acknowledges that this may also be a difficult period for past and present members of the Rigpa community who have experienced hurt, and wishes to express again our deepest apologies. We continue our process of healing and reaching out, and the reforms that Rigpa has taken over the past two years.

Rigpa Statement, 5 September, 2019

And they have the gall to say that they’re continuing the process of ‘healing and reaching out’. Their efforts at ‘reaching out’ were extremely limited and misguided, and last I heard, the communication set up with two of the victims has stalled. To even talk about ‘our process of healing and reaching out’ as if it’s some ongoing initiative is highly misleading.

Parinirvana? Really?

The Rigpa website has a page called SOGYAL RINPOCHE’S PARINIRVANA in which they say, “Sogyal Rinpoche entered into parinirvana on 28th August, 2019.” Parinirvana means “The final passing beyond suffering manifested by buddhas and highly realized masters at the end of their lives. ”

Just using that word gaslights the gullible. What actually happened was that a serial abuser died. Yes, he did some good stuff, but people who hurt others – and he hurt hundreds of people – are surely not real candidates for parinirvana. If your belief system allows a serial abuser to be enlightened, then that belief system must be seriously flawed.

Thugdam? Really?

“On behalf of Sogyal Rinpoche’s private office: From the time when he passed away on August 28th, Sogyal Rinpoche has remained in a state of meditation (thugdam) at his residence in Thailand. Yesterday, Tulku Rigdzin Pema, a close disciple of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and a highly accomplished and knowledgeable master, arrived and confirmed Rinpoche’s profound meditation. Today, three days after his passing away, Rinpoche left his meditative state, and Tulku Rigdzin Pema performed all the necessary rituals and prayers. He also noticed a gentle fall of rain at that time, which he considered a very auspicious sign.

We are being guided by a number of eminent lamas. The two most important considerations now are creating an opportunity for as many students as possible to pay their respects to the kudung sometime in the coming weeks, and making arrangements for the cremation, to be performed according to the authentic Tibetan tradition. We will soon have clarity where and when these events will take place and will share more news.

Sogyal Rinpoche’s private office team

The Facebook notice that Sogyal was going into hospital was dated Aug. 28, 4:47 am, It told us that there was a team of doctors working with him and he was in and out of intensive care and no visitors. The message telling us that he had died was the same day, August 28, 8:27 pm, 16 hours later. In that message, again the team of doctors working to save his life was mentioned, and it’s clear that he died in hospital. That message was from Jackie Lee, but now, the message about his remaining in thugdam – written by Sogyal Rinpoche’s private office team – states, “On behalf of Sogyal Rinpoche’s private office: From the time when he passed away on August 28th, Sogyal Rinpoche has remained in a state of meditation (thugdam) at his residence in Thailand.”

According to Tibetan Buddhist belief, if you touch the body in the first 3 days, the consciousness will leave the body at the point where it was touched and so make ‘resting in meditation’ after death (thugdam) impossible. Sogyal’s corpse was moved from the hospital. Rigpa’s story doesn’t hold together at all. But the devotees won’t notice or care, and so Sogyal’s last day was spent, as so many others have been, in deception.

And they’re even going to let people view the kudung – the sacred body of a great master who has passed away. Have they trussed him up to sit in the right position? For sure he didn’t die sitting in meditation.

Do any of the devotees question this story? No, they’re fed what they want to hear to keep them happily in their Rigpa fantasy.

Ugh. There’s something really disgusting in all this. Why not just be honest? I guess that just isn’t Rigpa’s style.

The Homages

Rigpa asked as many lamas as they could think of to write a homage to Sogyal Rinpoche. In accordance with Tibetan culture, most of them wrote glowing accolades, as if Sogyal had never done anything wrong. This brought an outcry of disgust from Western students more familiar with the kind of obituary we saw in The Telegraph that acknowledges both the good and the bad. In response to the outcry, and some letters written to the offending speakers, some of the ‘homages’ were taken down. Read the Tricycle article for details.

Some of the lama’s responses, however, merely gave condolences and advice for students, but Rigpa still posted these as if they were homages on a page titled Paying Homage to Sogyal Rinpoche. Isn’t it dishonest to post messages of condolence as if they are homages? The unquestioning follower will look at the page, see all the photos and names and, without reading and evaluating, think that all these masters have actually paid homage. Look at Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s one for instance. It isn’t a homage; it’s advice for students.

And yet, many of the lamas who’ve taught in Rigpa have said nothing publicly. In a culture where one is expected to say nice things about someone who has just died, to say nothing says a great deal. It’s the old ‘if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.’

Notably, wrote nothing, and neither did HH Dalai Lama. Others who have remained silent are Dzogchen Rinpoche, (previously joint Spiritual Director of Rigpa and is SR’s brother); Dodrupchen Rinpoche; HH Sakya Trizin; HH Karmapa XVII and Gyalwang Drukpa Rinpoche. Even Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, one of Rigpa’s main advisers, has no statement on that homage page. And those are just some of those who have remained silent.

Just as it’s a basic courtesy in the Tibetan tradition not to mention a deceased person’s bad deeds when expressing condolences, it’s also traditional to express disapproval by not saying anything, even if asked. Of course, Rigpa would not draw attention to the silences.

Edited addition 15th September.

Mingyur Rinpoche has now written a message of condolence, but like his brother says nothing good about Sogyal and acknowledges those students who have left Rigpa. At first Rigpa placed it on its Homage page, but some of the Tergar students protested and Rigpa took it down. This is what he said:

In the past weeks I have been approached by many of Sogyal Rinpoche’s current and past students who have asked me to offer guidance for how to practice at this time.

I was saddened to hear of the passing away of Sogyal Rinpoche. I have known him for many years and have a close connection to many of his students. Of course all of life is subject to impermanence, but it is always a surprise when we lose someone we have known for a long time.

I am aware this has been a very painful time for Sogyal Rinpoche’s students, his present students and those who have decided to leave the community. I am thinking of each of you and dedicating my practice to your well-being.

Death reminds us that there is no certainty in life and calls to us to open our hearts wide enough to hold whatever arises. It is my personal wish that all of you, wherever you find yourselves, keep each other in your hearts at this time. You are in my heart and in my prayers. Please remember that regardless of whatever happens, the teachings of the Buddha are always completely reliable. This is the time for us to dedicate ourselves to the path. By practising the teachings that we have received, we can free ourselves from the bonds of duality and merge with the luminous nature that never dies.

Mingyur Rinpoche.

A conflict of interest

So this is how Rigpa keeps on behaving like a cult, how they continue to gaslight their students, manipulating their perspective in ways that will confirm their idea of Sogyal as enlightened. Any student who wasn’t sure about Sogyal, given this manipulation will now likely be thinking, “Oh, he must really be enlightened. He’s resting in meditation; Tulku Rigdzin Pema even confirmed it and said the gentle fall of rain was a very auspicious sign. And lamas are calling him a great master. “

I’ve heard that Tulku Rigdzin Pema is Rigpa’s stupa builder. The greater the master, the bigger the stupa, the more money for him, so it’s in his financial interest to make Sogyal out to be a great master. But most Rigpa students wouldn’t know this, and if they did, they certainly wouldn’t allow the knowledge to put a crack in their blind devotion. Nevertheless, there’s a conflict of interest here, a reason for him not to check too carefully.

Personally, I don’t believe a word Rigpa says anymore.

Can Rigpa reform?

As many of you know already, the BBC focused on the Rigpa debacle on a couple of their recent Sunday shows. The first interview was on the 1st of September with Mary Finnigan and she spoke of Sogyal’s history as presented in her and Rob Hogendoorn’s book, Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism. She mentioned, among other things, how important success and supporting success was for the Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy, another reason why lamas are so keen to support what he’s done.

Mary Finnegan on Sogyal and Rigpa, BBC interview Sept 1st. (edited to just the relevant part)

The next week on the 8th of September, the Sunday show interviewed several exRigpa students, including me, and the focus was on whether Rigpa could be called a cult and whether they could reform. I think I made my perspective on that quite clear. As I said n my book, Fallout: Recovering from Abuse in Tibetan Buddhism, Rigpa can never be considered a safe organisation unless they denounce Sogyal’s behaviour as wrong and inappropriate for any teacher. Unless they do that, they don’t know the meaning of the word harm, and that makes their code of conduct worthless.

BBC interview on Sogyal and Rigpa, Sept 8th (edited to just the relevant part)

The question also arose in the talk I gave at the Cult Information and Family Support network’s meeting in Sydney on the 28th August. They hosted my book launch, and I talked about how Rigpa operates the same way as all cults operate. People in the audience with experience in a wide variety of different cults were nodding their heads; they knew the cult markers and recognised them when I spoke of how we were brainwashed and how I woke up from my naive trust in Rigpa as an organisation.

19 Replies to “How Rigpa isn’t Reforming”

  1. Thank you Tahlia for including me in this post and for mentioing our book . Just two niggles. My name is spelled Finnigan not Finnegan. And Rob is Hogendoorn not dorf. You and Damcho came across very well in David Cook’s package the following week. Good news all round.

    1. Argh. I’m so sorry. My eyes aren’t great these days and my mind races ahead of what they see and what my fingers type. Excuses excuses. Yeah, I know. I’ll fix it now.

  2. Thank you Thalia for delivering a clear up to date presentation of facts at the book launch. Important that it has been put on YouTube as a warning to the wider public. Also excellent points made in this blog.

  3. Parinirvana? Thugdam? Pshaw! Even if Sogyal Lakar dissolved into rainbow light and flew up the chimney before our eyes, that wouldn’t change a bit of what he’s done.

    1. Absolutely! It does seem that Rigpa are undertaking this charade in a last ditch attempt to shore up the ‘Rigpa party line’ that Sogyal’s behaviour wasn’t abuse but crazy wisdom. The comments at the end of the ‘Sadness, yes but …’ post are telling:

      French observer said
      ‘We want to see the photo of Sogyal resting in tukdam meditation. AND OF COURSE THE BODY MUST BE WITHOUT BANDAGE, ROPES OR A REVERSED ROBE TO HOLD THE BODY AND LIMBS IN MEDITATION POSTURE. The Tibetans have used often this trick for centuries of maintaining the body in position to make people believe that the lama was a great practitioner.

      ‘Also, it has to be checked whether they are not using a system of conservation of the body. They can put the body directly on a mass of salt or flour to absorb the liquids. So there is no smell, no liquid but the body is reducing because of the natural liquids exiting the body by the natural openings down. At the end, will they save us from the old trick of embalming? They can for instance immerse the much smaller body in milk butter…


      And Matilda said
      ‘Yes. French Observer. Concerning Trungpa’s Parinirvana, one of his wives reported earlier this year on fb that actually the stench on the plane was horrific. And they had to break his bones in order for him to be placed in the meditation posture.’

      Apparently breaking bones to put teachers into meditation posture after death is quite common. And yet to a Westerner, manipulating someone’s body like that is disrespectful.

  4. There’s definitely something morbid about all this……but Tahlia…..the photo…..the bundle on the roof rack…. so absolutely spot on that it made me laugh out loud…..excellent.

    All things considered, Rigpa is trying the moral equivalent of propping dead-abusive-grandad up in the window with a stick so they can keep claiming his pension cheques.

    A belated message for ‘Gerry’: I’ve finally spotted your post on the previous thread ( Sadness but…..’ ) and tried my best to answer your question.

  5. Great post Tahlia.

    I find these cult tactics more disturbing than Sogyal’s abuse. It’s what enables and protects an abuser.

    The first teaching the Buddha gave to his son as a child (Majjhima Nikaya 61) emphasised honesty with oneself as the most fundamental condition for the contemplative life. In other parts of the Pali Cannon the Buddha also says that honesty is the most fundamental of the five precepts. The great contemplative work and second most read book in Christianity, The Imitation of Christ, also clearly describes the fundamental importance of honesty with oneself in the contemplative life.

    So if Rigpa is lying to itself and it’s members it hasn’t even begun the spiritual path – it can’t get past the first step. And oh how advanced they believe they are!

  6. That link is great. I am using it since a couple of month. Its good to study the “basics” thoroughly.

    Its a big heap of problems as soon as an organisation as Rigpa is becomes a accumulation of lies and manipulations, fake presentations and so on.

    I remember quite well that as soon somebody has left Rigpa that how it was discussed to lie towards newer students about the reasons why somebody has left.

    Always lying, always justified with ” dharmic reasoning” and “protecting” newer students of unpleasant and disturbing facts.

    Those institutional lies, when become practiced by almost everybody ( there are exceptional people, even within Rigpa) become a powerful element and component of a subculture. It enable more lies, it becomes a base for everything that happens.

    I can recover as it was the day when Dzogchen Rinpoche started to teach basic buddhist teachings instead of “higher stuff” because he saw the need for it.

    That was the beginning of his end at Rigpa.

  7. Interesting re Dzogchen R Adamo. Can you elaborate on this please? There has been much speculation but no factual information on why he disappeared from the Rigpa portfolio.

    1. I dont have any official and real factual information.
      What I know did I hear from different Rigpa officials at different times and places, when I asked from time to time in order to know something reliable.
      Everything was told as “inofficial, please dont tell anyone else” and so on.

      What I know directly is how disgusted Dzogchen Rinpoche was while teaching at a Retreat in Kirchheim/Germany, I think 1998, maybe one year later or so.

      He seemingly considered the behaviour of many Rigpa officials as strangely or odd, especially of those around the inner circle. That confirmed me guy who took then DR as a teacher and left Rigpa.

      He started to teach in a way that could be seen as most tibetan Lamas are teaching, starting at higher intellectual level for western people and went for dinner to the restaurant for everybody.

      From one day to the other did he change his teaching style and started to teach like he would to it for children, starting with basics, and he said this would be more appropriate here.

      Before that, was DR officially Rigpas spiritual chief number two and declared as the one to take over from Sogyal Lakar, the elder halfbrother.
      He behaved with respect towards Sogyal in terms of gestures, bodily manner and so on.
      Later did he just greet him with a certain distance, even when visiting his mother in LL.

      From one day to the next did he disappeared from Rigpa, a wall of silenced was build, when people asked.
      When I asked a Rigpa official woman did she start to shout at me that I should not ask thinks which are not my business, and that she would do lots of vajrakilaya practice and she would be very wrathful to me in case I would not stop asking ( which was a good reason for me to keep on with asking).

      I heard from people who encountered DR while he was travelling in Europe to go to Rigpa places that he seems to dislike more and more the way Rigpa was acting.

      I dont know how DR would speak out about Rigpa now, and please take my words with care, its still on the level of not 100% factual truth and contains speculations mixed with interpretations many people shared in the same way.

      It fits very well to way Mingyur Rinpoche was “appointed” as Rigpas second highest Lama and declared successor of Lakar.
      MR disappeared as well from one day to the other from the webpages and official statements, and it seemed that nobody could tell or would be willing to tell why.
      Just Omerta.

      From a friend who left Rigpa to join DRs sangha could I hear that has never mentioned Rigpa or Sogyal , nothing bad, nothing good, just nothing, and that he avoided contact with Rigpa as long as possible.

      1. Adamo, i guess this is a worldly gossipy query but i’m wondering why did Dzogchen Rinpoche leave his first wife? He spends some time each year in Australia and he’s pretty impressive. But y’know, the patriarchy, i’m a bit sick of it.

  8. I heard today from an old friend that Rigpa director Gabriella Maaß will have the chance to talk extensively to persons responsible for DBU-Magazine ( buddhist umbrella union in germany for many buddhist organisation, which was, by the way, left from Diploma Lama Ole Nydahls dharma company).

    This might be interesting to read what she had to say. Its good Rigpa is given a chance to reply and to explain their point of views.
    Hopefully can the magazine provide a online platform where Frau Maaß could exchange with people from outside in case she would be open for such a event.
    I wish very much Rigpas official people would establish a truthful manner to communicate, authentic and honest, instead of gaslighting, playing down and so on.
    Just for the sake of Buddhas teaching.

Leave a Reply

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