How Words can be used to Manipulate Your Perception

I expect that some of you will not want to consider the possiblity that Rigpa students’ perceptions may be being subtley manipulated, either consciously or unconsciously, by selective use of language. However, whether it’s true or not, I think it would be wise for you to read this guest post, anyway, since it doesn’t hurt for you to be aware of how it can happen.  Only when you are aware of the possibility can you be sure that you are free to make up your own mind up rather than think the way someone else wants you to think.
 

The non-apology

In comments to the last blog post, someone said that they felt that Sogyal had apologised, however if you look carefully at the letter he sent to the 8 students (see the it here) the language does not actually give an apology, it only appears to. He says,” I acknowledge that there are feelings of hurt,” and, “hurt has arisen.” He does not acknowledge that he hurt the students or even that the students were hurt, just that they “feel” hurt and that “hurt has arisen.”
He defends himself by saying, “it was never, ever, my intention to hurt you or any other person, and if this is how it appears, then I am deeply shocked.”  Though this is no doubt how he felt,  the words “how it appears” suggests that events are not necessarily as they see them, and this subtly undermines the reader’s perception, making them think that it is all in the letter writer’s minds. No wonder this, “it’s just your perception,” idea is bandied about by his ‘true-believer’ students in their defence of him.
He virtually says that he has nothing to apologise for. “My conscience is clear on this.” Though he refers to his belief that “I have never, not for one moment, had any intention other than a genuine wish to benefit others,” the statement that his conscience is clear was completely unecessary and it’s inclusion leaves the suggestion in the minds of the unwary reader that he is innocent.
He does, however, “humbly ask your forgiveness,” which might sound to some like a kind of apology, but it doesn’t say, ‘I’m sorry I hurt you.” when put in context  it actually refers to the actions that “have been perceived in another way” and “the distress this causes me.”
This is the kind of gaslighting that Rigpa is very good at and continues with every communication, subtling altering student’s perception to minimise the damage.

Another way of reading that letter

This parody of Sogyal’s reply to the 8 letter writers was written by one of the recipients as “part of a process of coming to a more compassionate space.”  It shows how once the bubble of believing everything you’re told and taking everything at face value has burst through honoring the truth of your own feelings and experience things can look very different indeed. The sentiments expressed in this parody may asome to stomach, but others will have no difficulty seeing this kind of motivation behind not only Sogyal’s letter of reply but all of Rigpa’s handling of the situation.


Dear Mark, Sangye, Damcho, Joanne, Matteo, Graham, Michael and Gary
I have received your letter and have read it through very thoroughly and I am deeply saddened and shocked that my carefully crafted culture of silence and suppression of the truth has been exposed.
Why I am responding to this letter at all is that it is apparent that you have the means to “bring everything down” which causes me great distress.
Even though it is almost impossible for me to take responsibility for my actions and I even question whether I am actually responsible at all, my most ablest students have informed me that it is in my best interests to appear to.
The critical mass of evidence against me and the karmic effects of my actions have finally caught up with me and exposed me and I find that I am reluctantly forced to respond.
Victor Hugo stated it best:
“There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”
I will try to kick the ball down the road for a few more years until we can emerge chastened and reformed but where I can still keep my castle and court.
Please accommodate any apparent outreach to this effect as it would benefit me greatly.
Sincerely,
Sogyal
(Parody included with permission. Author’s name withheld for privacy)

How word choice can manipulate your perception

The following words in italics are from the Lerab Ling website as their official statement on the letter from the 8. 
“There is no place for abuse in our community.” Makes you think there is no abuse, but the truth is that they don’t recognise abuse as abuse. I wonder what they think constitues abuse?
Press campaign.” This is complete misinformation. The letter was never intended as a press campaign. And even now there is no press campaign that we know of. The story has got into the press, but that is not a ‘campaign’. A campaign suggests some organised assault on someone, and giving the attestations of abuse an offhand term like ‘press campaign’ diminishes it  and makes it easy to disregard as ‘just a press campaign’ by some disgruntled students. It is not a press campaign; it is genuine testimonies detailing abuse and a request for real reform.
“… in a way that is entirely consistent with Buddhist values.” Makes you think they are behaving in a way consistent with Buddhist values even though the facts suggest otherwise.  False speech, for example, is one of the ten negative actions to avoid. Nevertheless, use of the adverb ‘entirely’ give great emphasis to this point of being consistent with Buddhist values. In an organisation accused of behaving in a way that is not consistent with Buddhist values, this statement is clearly a way to gaslight people into believing it simply can’t be true.
“… in a true spirit of collaboration.”  The word ‘true’ is not necessary for the meaning to be clear, so why is it there?  Only to suggest that there is truth here and that they are actually concerned about truth.

Adverbs and Adjectives

Adverbs (words that describe verbs such as ‘entirely’ as used above) and adjectives (words that describe nouns such as ‘true’ as used above) are never needed in communications designed to give information. They are only used to add an angle on the information and consistent use of adverbs and adjectives with a particular angle encourage that interpretation in the reader. For instance in Rigpa international’s first letter to the sangha they say in regards to S’s letter, “his poignant response.”
Advertising uses such words, of course,  but Rigpa doesn’t just use them when advertising courses and retreats. We hear them from the instructors once we’re there, and we keep hearing them over and over. We also hear them a great deal in the “feedbacks” read out at retreat, and we see them in the comments on Sogyal Rinpoche’s Facebook pages as well, almost as though the students are brainwashed with these words.

Words to lure you in & make you think its the real deal

These are the kinds of words that hook our grasping for the ‘best’ and stimulate our spiritual materialism. They keep us coming to retreat after retreat, along with other things like having to write a personal letter to Sogyal to explain why we can’t come:
High, very special, profound, transformative, dzogchen, restricted, eminent, only chance, genuine, authentic, precious, powerful tools of Tibetan Buddhism, what promises to be a very special retreat.

Feel-good buzz words

These are the soothing words that make us feel as if we belong to something special and as if people truly care for us:
Personally reassure, open process, careful attention, positive intention,  benefit,  precious time,  spiritual, care, support, vast, vision, blessed, skilful, sensitively, beautiful, heart warming,  inspiring, deep, outstanding, perfect, special, especially for us.
Such words are commonly used in sentences such as this: The sangha is in a deep process of transformation. It has been wonderfully inspiring to see how our communication has deepened. People have shared in an amazing atmosphere of openness. It is great to see we are all in this process together so we can keep receiving these precious teachings.
Here’s an example from a Lerab Ling newsletter from this year: “Lerab Ling is so warm and cosy around this time of the year. We will be offering amazing events led by the next generation of Buddhist teachers, as well as by specialists sharing deep insights on topics like compassion.”
 

Words & concepts that can be used to control & silence

These words and concepts are not designed to be used for control, subjugation and silencing, they are valid ideas, but they can be, and most certainly have been, used in this way. The important thing to consider here is whether or not they are being used in a way that will benefit the student or the teacher, the student or the organisation.
Committment, devotion, faith, dedicated, unity, determination, strengthening Rigpa, perception, samaya, karma, death, hell, sangha, pure perception, special dakini, fast path, accelerated spiritual development, training, exposing hidden faults. 

Is it really manipulation?

The use of the phrase “press campaign” is clearly manipulative as are the other words I highlighted in the Lerab Ling statement on the letter, but, in general, the use of these words doesn’t necessarily mean that what they say isn’t true in any individual situation. The issue is that their continual emphasis gives us a feeling of belonging to something special, something that simply cannot be ‘bad’ or even have a ‘bad’ side.  For so long as the organisation and its teacher appear to be ‘good’, these words are quite innocuous, but once it becomes clear that things are not so wonderful, the continued use of words that make it seem wonderful take on the feeling of brainwashing. Tell people often enough that everything is all right and they’ll believe it, especially if they are people conditioned not to question or doubt.
Those writing advertising copy will know that they are trying to make the retreat sound good so that people will come, and we cannot expect them to do otherwise, but I expect that the ordinary person simply believes it all. When I, as an instructor, spouted the same words, I didn’t think I was being manipulative; I thought it was all true – until I found out that the teacher was not who I thought he was.  In the light of the big lie finally being exposed it would be wise of us to not take anything from this organisation at face value. We all know they have to keep the money rolling in. There is a great deal of reason for Rigpa management in all countries to continue to supress or downplay the truth.
The post raises the question of why would you feel the need to pretend that there is nothing wrong, that everything has been done perfectly, when clearly to any normal Westerner looking at this situation, it hasn’t? Why pretend? Why ignore? Why not examine, define, analyse, visualise, doubt, debate use all of those wonderful critical thinking skills Westerners have? That’s what this post is about – questioning the truth of everything we believed to be true. It’s a very healthy thing to do.
And just when the Rigpa communications are looking most reasonable, ask yourself if there is anything they are ignoring completely. Like the elephant in the closet, or the fact that they haven’t simply answered the questions raised by the 8 letter writers.


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6 Replies to “How Words can be used to Manipulate Your Perception”

  1. I was an enthusiastic Rigpa student about 20 years ago and gradually detached because my family situation did not allow to stay close. I observed financially stressed students to attend all Rigpas “must haves” as expensive “streams” and retreats despite all the difficulties this would cause in their daily lives and wondered if this was not the kind of attachment Buddhists were supposed to overcome. Not attending Rigpa events anymore, the only news I got for a while where requests for donations until I was so disgusted that I quit my membership. One cause for my estrangement was the language of those demands: the attempt to overwhelm the reader with exaggerated praising of teacher, temple, projects; maybe hoping that the devoted supporter would stop thinking by himself. The only subject clarified without adjective: we want your money.
    As all this happened as the internet was just beginning to develop, I did not realize the early charges of mistreatment and kept very loose contact to Rigpa due to an old friend, one of Sogyals elder students. As I always saw this person as very integer without any longing for personal power or wealth, it was easy to be persuaded that maybe everything is ok and that embarrassing language, building of an overloaded temple and a pampered lama (justified by the Tibetan tradition – you have to do it to “give him face” for the Asian community) is just not my cup of coffee. Now as all the shit wells up and internet alows a discussion unrestricted by ideological codes, I start to wonder to what extend this friend is brainwashed too.

  2. great article. on the spot. when reading the parody of the letter, the black humour made me really laugh. it sounds so true, much more true than the “original” letter from S.L, that rather sounds like a wolf in the disguise of grandmother to me.
    “There is no place for abuse in our community.” that’s the biggest laugh ever, in the context of reality.
    so, yes, i agree, it’s really a lot about the choice of words, when someone wants to convince their audience. people who learned their trade can make a big time in marketing, business, film industry and politics. tricky and dangerous combination when it meets religion…

  3. Just to make it clean clear, what my comment referred to was the Rigpa Press Release from 17 October 2016 in which they portrayed themselves as the victims of sensationalist, self-serving journalists or academics – as the victims of a “malicious media campaign”.
    This concept of a “malicious media campaign” – which is basically based on a conspiracy theory, total denial of the harm been done to faithful followers, the slander of journalists, survivors of abuse (former critical members) or academics they bring into the present discussion by continuing to use the term “press campaign”.
    The term “press campaign” perpetuates Rigpa spins they have told for a very long time and which worked for a very long time – until “the letter of the 8” became known to the public.
    In this press release Rigpa speaks of “unjust and totally false claims that are being made against us”…
    “For several weeks, Rigpa and Sogyal Rinpoche have been the victims of a malicious media campaign based on the publication of a highly critical and extremely prejudiced book, claiming we are not only insane but violent.”,
    “We are deeply shocked and dismayed at the way Lerab Ling and our spiritual director, Sogyal Rinpoche, have been depicted. In no way does this picture correspond to reality.”, “The accusations being made are consistent with sensationalist stereotypes that can easily deceive people who read them without applying their own intelligence and logic to what is being said.”
    Note, Rigpa or SL are always shocked>/strong> about others’ actions or responses to their own or SL’s actions but not about their own!
    They attack and slander Marion Dapsance:
    “this book merely recycles old, unfounded rumours and accusations that have been posted on the internet since the past fifteen years which, in fact, always originate from the same sources.”
    “Rigpa is
    shocked by the opinionated, incomplete, and biased approach of this book, which clearly lacks thorough and objective research of either our organisation or Buddhism in general.”
    “In fact, Marion Dapsance’s studies have been financed by Chinese benefactors …”
    Wow, Chinese benefectors? No, this is not true Marion Dapsance wrote to me.*
    So what is here Lojong, taking the defeat and offering the victory? What happens in this press release is the reversal of Lojong because while Marion is attacked and slandered Sogyal is portrayed to be the purest being which cannot be comprehended by ordinary minds really:

    … when masters of Tibetan Buddhism like Sogyal Rinpoche have been confronted with false accusations, they make no public response. This attitude, which is uncommon in the West and is therefore open to being misunderstood, is rooted in the profound Buddhist tradition of training the mind in compassion, called lojong. The core principle of lojong, enacted by the great kadampa masters of the past like Atisha Dipamkara, is: “Give all profit and gain to others. Take all loss and defeat upon yourself.”

    This approach may be difficult for many people in our modern day to understand and could easily be misunderstood as admission of guilt.

    Rigpa Press Release, Lerab Ling 17 October 2016
    * I’ve asked Marion Dapsance. She said she had no funding for this research! The fundings for her research she has now on Alexandra David-Neel comes from a pro-Buddhist Hong Kong Foundation, Robert Ho. Robert Ho is sympathetic to Buddhism see this link here: http://www.rhfamilyfoundation.org/
    Marion Dapsance didn’t receive money to do her work on Rigpa.

  4. Just to make it clean clear, what my comment referred to was the Rigpa Press Release from 17 October 2016 in which they portrayed themselves as the victims of sensationalist, self-serving journalists or academics – as the victims of a “malicious media campaign”.
    This concept of a “malicious media campaign” – which is basically based on a conspiracy theory, total denial of the harm been done to faithful followers, the slander of journalists, survivors of abuse (former critical members) or academics they bring into the present discussion by continuing to use the term “press campaign”.
    The term “press campaign” perpetuates Rigpa spins they have told for a very long time and which worked for a very long time – until “the letter of the 8” became known to the public.
    In this press release Rigpa speaks of “unjust and totally false claims that are being made against us”…
    “For several weeks, Rigpa and Sogyal Rinpoche have been the victims of a malicious media campaign based on the publication of a highly critical and extremely prejudiced book, claiming we are not only insane but violent.”,
    “We are deeply shocked and dismayed at the way Lerab Ling and our spiritual director, Sogyal Rinpoche, have been depicted. In no way does this picture correspond to reality.”, “The accusations being made are consistent with sensationalist stereotypes that can easily deceive people who read them without applying their own intelligence and logic to what is being said.”
    Note, Rigpa or SL are always shocked about others’ actions or responses to their own or SL’s actions but not about their own!
    They attack and slander Marion Dapsance:
    “this book merely recycles old, unfounded rumours and accusations that have been posted on the internet since the past fifteen years which, in fact, always originate from the same sources.”
    “Rigpa is shocked by the opinionated, incomplete, and biased approach of this book, which clearly lacks thorough and objective research of either our organisation or Buddhism in general.”
    “In fact, Marion Dapsance’s studies have been financed by Chinese benefactors …”
    Wow, Chinese benefectors? No, this is not true Marion Dapsance wrote to me.*
    So what is here Lojong, taking the defeat and offering the victory? What happens in this press release is the reversal of Lojong because while Marion is attacked and slandered Sogyal is portrayed to be the purest being which cannot be comprehended by ordinary minds really:

    … when masters of Tibetan Buddhism like Sogyal Rinpoche have been confronted with false accusations, they make no public response. This attitude, which is uncommon in the West and is therefore open to being misunderstood, is rooted in the profound Buddhist tradition of training the mind in compassion, called lojong. The core principle of lojong, enacted by the great kadampa masters of the past like Atisha Dipamkara, is: “Give all profit and gain to others. Take all loss and defeat upon yourself.”

    This approach may be difficult for many people in our modern day to understand and could easily be misunderstood as admission of guilt.

    Rigpa Press Release, Lerab Ling 17 October 2016
    * I’ve asked Marion Dapsance. She said she had no funding for this research! The fundings for her research she has now on Alexandra David-Neel comes from a pro-Buddhist Hong Kong Foundation, Robert Ho. Robert Ho is sympathetic to Buddhism see this link here: http://www.rhfamilyfoundation.org/
    Marion Dapsance didn’t receive money to do her work on Rigpa.

  5. I found the term “press campaign” from the very start to be highly manipulative.
    It is not a “press campaign” if survivors of abuse speak up or if journalists (the press) or academics give the hurt of survivors and what they have to say a voice.
    With the usage of this term “press campaign” Rigpa continues to spin a conspiracy theory which they have told for a very long time now (of alien forces or [a few] evil intended people who want to destroy Rigpa or Sogyal Lakar).
    Read just their press releases from 2016 and you can see how they moved this spin (and the concepts and the ideas behind it) into the current debate by continuing to use this term “press campaign”:
    Rigpa Press Release, Lerab Ling 17 October 2016
    In that press statement they claim to be “the victims of a malicious media campaign”.
    See also how Rigpa slanders Marion Dapsance and how they use also the term “shocked” – basically as a way to express a “shock” about others speaking up or their responses to the abuse but not about their own or SL’s own harmful actions…
    Everything been said or written about Rigpa / SL in Marion’s work they claim are “merely recycles old, unfounded rumours and accusations that have been posted on the internet since the past fifteen years which, in fact, always originate from the same sources.”, “Once again, the same disaffected people, who are few in number, have taken the stage using every opportunity to discredit Rigpa’s community and the integrity of its founder. Once again, without any sense of balance, the sincerity and intelligence of thousands of Rigpa members who have studied the Buddhist teachings in our centres over the years, has been mocked and disrespected.”
    They claimed in the press release also that SL gives the victory to others and is accepting the defeat – which can of course not be easily understood by ordinary minds, though in fact, what they do in the press release is the exact opposite: taking the victory, offering defeat. In the press release narrative SL is the pure Lojong practicing being, in line with the great masters, while critics are driven by evil intentions, Chinese benefactors, “motivated by their desire for fame and sensationalism.”
    Marion Daspance also denied that her work on Rigpa was “financed by Chinese benefactors”. She said she had no funding for this research! The fundings for her research she has now on Alexandra David-Neel comes from a pro-Buddhist Hong Kong Foundation, Robert Ho. Robert Ho is sympathetic to Buddhism (see http://www.rhfamilyfoundation.org)

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