Is a Master Needed in Order to Recognise the Nature of Mind?

Today’s post has two videos in it, one by me, Tahlia, and the other by Sangye, but we’re both talking about the same topic. We are examining whether or not a master is needed in order to recognise the nature of mind. The videos compliment each other, and I hope you will watch both and that they will encourage you to examine the question for yourselves. The literature on recovering from a cult says that it is important for cult survivors to examine the beliefs they held, and so this is what we’re doing.
We are not trying to teach anything or convince anyone of anything, or even suggest that we have some definitive answer to the question, these vlogs are simply how we see the situation from our present viewpoint.
As Sangye says in the description of his video:
“A personal investigation, applying critical intelligence to the topic. Looking at the broader truth in and around all the constituent elements and implications of this belief that “The master is needed to recognize the nature of mind”. Beliefs are risky formations that often masquerade as knowledge and proven truths. Investigation can benefit one to improve, confirm or disprove part or the whole of the belief.”
In this video (it’s about 19 mins) I try to use logic to evaluate the belief that you need a master to introduce you to the nature of your mind, and I make a clear distinction between experiencing the nature of mind and being introduced to it.
Warning: possible Dzogchen blasphemy. Don’t watch if you’re inflexible in your beliefs.

Sangye goes into the topic in more depth and makes some points I didn’t, for example that once you have recognised the nature of mind, you don’t need to be close to a master anymore. You just need to work on stabilising what you’ve recognised.
In Rigpa we became dependent on the ‘master’ continuing to go to retreats in the constant hope of ‘getting it’, even if we’d already got it. We became like junkies hooked on having the kind of spiritual experience we experienced with Sogyal which actually may have been nothing more than a trance state.
Sangye raises doubt as to the real nature of the introductions we were given. Staring without a focus as we were taught as part of our meditation instructions in Rigpa creates an experience recognised by psychologists as the Ganzfield effect, something that induces altered states and even hallucinations. Sogyal also asked us to stare into this eyes when introducing us to the nature of mind, and Giovanni Caputo from the University of Urbino did an experiment in which he discovered that staring into someone’s eyes for ten minutes induces an altered state of consciousness. None of the people in that study were masters, and yet “The participants in the eye-staring group said they’d had a compelling experience unlike anything they’d felt before,” Christian Jarrett wrote for the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest at the time.
Sangye’s examination is broader than mine and compliments it nicely. It’s about 40 mins long.

What are your thoughts on this? Can you step outside of the Tibetan Buddhist belief system and examine it from a different perspective?

Private discussion on this and other related topics can be had on our Secret Facebook Group. It is only for current and previous students of Rigpa, however, and we do moderate it closely. If you’re interested in joining, please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
Ex-Rigpa students and their Rigpa dharma friends who want to move on from the discussion of abuse in Rigpa can stay in touch through the Dharma Companions Facebook Group.
The What Now? Reference Material page has 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.
Those of you who are interested in ‘keeping Buddhism clean’ could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page.

3 Replies to “Is a Master Needed in Order to Recognise the Nature of Mind?”

  1. Tahlia also raised a whole slew of great points I didn’t discover in my investigation video. Mahamudra contrast helped show something I suspected.

  2. Thank you Sangye and Tahlia. I think this is such a difficult subject and you both address it with care.
    My own journey has taken me from Dzogchen to Mahamudra to the highest yoga tantra of Gelug. Nature of mind, clear light nature, many believe there is no difference. In terms of practice, however, there seems to be inherent in Dzogchen practice a greater risk for troubles with boundaries and mental health. In Rigpa, students are told that the lama can access their minds and “show them” their mind’s nature– they are told to hold their questions in their hearts and they will be answered– this already places those with vulnerabilities open to trouble. Without a proper and sound foundation, misunderstandings, psychotic and other mental health troubles all can occur– which has been the case.
    There are many experiences on the spiritual path, sometimes they might be quite wild and difficult to comprehend, even after years of meditation and experiences of realization– it is the lama’s job to work with the student to understand those. There are stories of Milarepa and Gampopa that are poignant in showing that relationship. On one occasion, Gampopa experienced the entire environment as covered with thick smoke and he had to crawl all the way to see Milarepa for an explanation. I am very concerned that the stories of Dzogchen that abounded in Rigpa were like the story Sangye told about the old man. There’s nothing wrong with that story– as a woman who is aging myself, I love stories of old people becoming realized! However, there’s too much emphasis in Rigpa on sudden realization due merely to devotion– too little emphasis on the dangers and on proper understanding.

  3. This was a very good discussion/contemplation, Sangye. I hope others found it as validating as I did. I was a distant student for over 20 years which kept me relatively safe from the damage that was being done to those of you working..and suffering–so hard to bring the Dharma to us. I always appreciated it greatly and like so many, had whiffs of the BS that was going on, but no evidence. Absolutely nothing in the brave and wonderful letter that came out a year ago surprised me, though. I can say for myself that the experiences and practice that I received being nothing but serious student and practitioner are still with me, and being away from the Rigpa circus is almost a relief. The first few times I received teachings from other Lamas and felt the sanity in other Sanghas, was beyond the mind blowing of the little frog who left his well for the first time. And it made be appreciate you and respect you and all the other letter writers even more.

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