Khenchen Namdrol speaks at Lerab Ling and takes a dogmatic view that supports existing power structures.
A video of Khenchen Namdrol Rinpoche speaking at the end of his recent teachings in Lerab Ling was uploaded to You Tube on the 23rd of September on an account with no other teachings on it and no name or information about the owner of the account.
In the video he talks about the students who wrote the letter that broke the silence on abuse in Rigpa and gives a narrow view of the instructions on not criticising the teacher – one that is not in accord with His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s advice or the perspective of Mingyur Rinpoche, Matthieu Ricard, Erik Pema Kusang, Venerable Thubten Choden, Dr Alexander Birzin, Rob Preece, Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche, and Jack Kornfield to name a few. (Links to their articles can be found on the Reference Material page)
He does not address the abuse at all, just condemns the letter writers. It’s victim blaming couched in religious terms, the sort of thing one would expect in any fundamentalist religion where those in power have their power base threatened. Make them the bad guys, not the ‘perfect’ guy at the helm.
This indicates to me how ingrained the problem in Tibetan Buddhism is. For all their supposed wisdom, there appears to be, in some of the lamas, a selective blindness or inability to adapt. This viewpoint is what you get if you look for answers/advice in teachings that don’t deal with this situation directly, so he takes the nearest applicable teaching, the ‘you must not criticise your teacher and if you do you’ll go to hell’ line, but it’s the very instruction that allows abusive behaviour in Tibetan Buddhist communities to flourish. And it’s a view that keeps the lamas firmly in their place at the top of their fuedal power structure.
Lack of compassion
What is really striking here is the lack of compassion by this Khenpo and his audience, who cheer enthusiastically at the end. What are they practicing here? Vajrayana Buddhism is based on Great Compassion and Wisdom, yet neither of those are evident in these comments.
Buddhism is not theistic
KN says that demonic forces are at play, even insinuating that they have taken over the students who spoke out about SR’s behaviour, and then he threatens them with hell. Worse, he speaks of hell and demonic forces as if they are intrinsically real and solid. This makes it easy for some to see it as laughable superstition, but students without an understanding of emptiness may take this view at face value, but such a view is not Buddhism.
A damaging statement that solidifies the schism & alienates students
Conveniently neglecting to consider that the cause is the abusive behaviour, not those who spoke up about it, he mentions the schism in the sangha, but he has unwittingly made the situation worse by solidifying some of the ideas that caused the schism in the first place. Hearing this, and particularly if they take it as Rigpa management’s view, may turn some students away, not just from Rigpa but from Tibetan Buddhism entirely.
He (and other Lamas with this view) may be able to teach dharma but it appears that he has little understanding of general Western sensibilities and clearly has no understanding of the dynamics of abuse and of how harmful victim blaming is, not just to those who have been harmed but also to healing the whole situation from all angles.
All his opinion does is reaffirm the power structures in the religion to the detriment of students with genuine grievences. This is the sort of thing we have to call the Tibetan Lamas out on, but since the kind of reform required will need the lamas to give up a large portion of their power, that level of change will not happen easily – and unfortunately, this statment makes it clear that it will not happen at all in some lama’s communities.
Which brings us to the topic of change.
Does this narrow view reflect Rigpa management’s stance?
This video came from a restricted retreat, so who put this opinion on You Tube where already over 1000 people have viewed it? Since as a restricted teaching only a few people at the core of the organisation would have access to this video, are we to presume that it is an official or unofficial statement? If so, how can we have any trust that Rigpa will make the wide sweeping changes needed to make it and Tibetan Buddhism a relevant vehicle for Buddhism the West? Or is this an indication that Rigpa and Tibetan Buddhism will become merely another religion full of superstision and dogma. If so, what a shame. What a wasted opportunity.
The statement was made on a Rigpa stage during a Rigpa event, but Rigpa management didn’t offer a statement clarifying that it was KN’s opinion that, as an opinion, does not necessarily reflect the view of management. That neglect implies that this is a Rigpa position, and since this has been their position in the past, it would not be a surprise to learn this, only a grave disappointment.
The link was posted on an official Rigpa Facebook group (The All Encompassing Path) but when asked if it was an official Rigpa position, the link was removed. This is a very good sign, but a statement in response to the video being posted is needed to reassure people who are seeking real change, not window dressing.
Can Rigpa management step up and show good faith?
Clearly someone in the upper management takes this stance, or they wouldn’t have ‘leaked’ the video, and such a stance calls into question just how committed they are to the promises they made in their press release on the Lerab Ling Website in which they say:
“The governing boards and management teams of Rigpa, having sought professional and spiritual advice, will assure that the following steps are taken:
In order for these changes to be more than an elaborate smoke screen, Rigpa needs to change at the level of how they interpret such instructions as ‘do not criticise your teacher.’ If they are in accord with KN’s statement, then any findings by the investigation are unlikely to bring any real resolution and the code of conduct will not be grounded in real change. And if the new spiritual advisory body is full of lamas with KN’s view, then anyone committed to retaining their wisdom of discernment or cutting Tibetan superstition from the religion might as well leave Rigpa now.
Does Rigpa want to be associated with religious extremism?
The kind of view where those who speak up are threatened with hell is religious extremism, tantamount to taking the bible as literal truth; is this what Rigpa wants to be known for? If not, then Rigpa management needs to step up and deny any relationship with his statement in order to show good faith and establish themselves as genuinely interested in change.
If you want to see the clip, it’s HERE. Watch from 17:10 for the most relevant part.
The instruction to never criticise the teacher in any circumstances in fear of going to hell as stated by Khenchen Namdrol is simply not a healthy angle to take in 2017 in the West when several Tibetan lamas have proved they can’t be trusted. If our teachers were trustworthy this wouldn’t be an issue.
However, if we take the viewpoint of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Mingyur Rinpoche, Matthieu Ricard, Erik Pema Kusang, Venerable Thubten Choden, Dr Alexander Birzin, Rob Preece, Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche, and Jack Kornfield to name a few, students would not feel that they must put up with abusive behaviour from lamas in the future.
Rigpa has a choice, and every student that makes up the community has to make this choice, but Rigpa management can lead the way and choose the view that will further the place of Tibetan Buddhism in the West, not diminish it.
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.
76 Replies to “Khenchen Namdrol's Comments Raise Questions on Rigpa Management's Committment to Change”
Thank you, this is clear and very needed at this time.
And if there are any students out there who are confused about the “heinous crime” of immediate retribution of sowing dissension in the sangha– Not only is KN’s accusation that the eight signatories committed such a misdeed simply false, he is also confused about the meaning of “sangha” when he makes this accusation.
Here is a quote from HHDL on the definition of sangha (as originally intended by the Buddha, whom KN sources):
“In the Sanskrit tradition, the Sangha Jewel we take refuge in is any person, monastic or lay, who has directly realized emptiness. Sangha also refers to a monastic community of at least four fully ordained monastics. The monastic sangha represents the Sangha Jewel although not everyone who is monastic has directly realized emptiness. To be a fully functioning sangha, they must do the three main monastic practices– fortnightly confession, rains retreat and invitation for feedback. The Buddha also spoke of the ‘fourfold assembly’ (catuparisa, caturparsadh)– the broad community of his followers that consists of fully ordained monks and nuns and of lay men and lay women who have taken refuge and the five precepts. Calling a group of lay followers at a Dharma center “sangha” is confusing, especially if people mistakenly think that this group is the Sangha Jewel that is an object of refuge. For this reason, using the word ‘sangha’ in the traditional sense, to refer to the monastic community is clearer and avoids misunderstanding.”
(Buddhism: One Teacher Many Traditions, p. 70, by The Dalai Lama and Thubten Chodron)
I am so very tired of these threats of hell. They must stop. They show such a tragic lack of willingness to engage with students.
Thanks for this definition of “sangha,” Joanne. It is so helpful.
I was also puzzled by this, when the heinous crime is causing a schism in the MONASTIC sangha as far as I know.
Now has there be a schism in the monastic community living in Lerab Ling because of the 8?
I would consider people leaving because of these allegations not a schism, that’s individual people losing faith. There have always been people leaving Rigpa for various reasons.
In fact he supports the schism by dividing the students in “blind faith followers” who reflexively deny that there can be any wrongdoing and consensus finders who think that some bad things have happened, the allegations need to be looked into and where people were harmed change needs to happen (the group I belong to)
Dear Joanne Clark, because it is hard to contact you in another way, I reply to your comment on this blog. I found an interesting and honest open letter from you to Sogyal Rinpoche from the year 2013 on the blog dialogueireland.wordpress.com. You certainly know what I am talking about. I also found this letter spoken by you on youtube. For me it would be a good contribution to share this letter also on the facebook page of whatnow? https://www.facebook.com/groups/118333772112331/. What is your position in this? In 2013 you were already a whistle blower. Perhaps you can also share with us what was so difficult for you in the year (2000?) of you being a student of Rinpoche if this is useful information on the ‘Affair Rigpa ‘. I hope I don’t embarresse you by this reply. Best wishes from Hans Parcival. email@example.com
And here is a more thorough and technical definition of the misdeed of causing a schism in the sangha. https://info-buddhism.com/sangha_schism.html
For what it’s worth, he’s simply wrong.
Thank you for all the explanations. And here my comment on KNs statements and people thinking he should react differently:
I have been reading posts and comments for some time now. I left Rigpa after having read 3 weeks of comments because I can not be part of an organisation that considers it normal to bully, abuse sexually and otherwise and use power instead of compassion. All I read since then was a confirmation that nothing would change. And now there is KN, an “employee” of Rigpa, who says that he condemns criticism…. Of course he does. He is part of the system. What we see here is a system, which defends itself, like the Catholic Church does or did it with their pedophiles. Why should it be different because it is buddhist? (Of course it would be nice, but they are all humans, not enlightened beings, so it has the flaws of a human system).
I will continue my buddhist path and do so with an other organisation. It was hard to leave because of all the people I cherished and who stayed. But it was the only solution for me. Otherwise I would have betrayed my values. And I would highly recommend to anybody having the gut feeling that there is something wrong that they follow this feeling. Trust your intuition and make the choice accordingly. But don’t try to find excuses or try to understand why they behave the way they do. They think it is right. There is no judge to decide and never will be. We are the only judge for such decisions.
So if KN says the courageous 8 were wrong and people cheer, then it makes them feel they did what is “right”. It is a cheerful feeling for them to be right. It is not mine, but I am not their judge neither.
I write this because I think that a lot of people try to twist the facts to be able to continue their beliefs. I don’t know, if this is healthy. For me it normally turns out to be very unhealthy if I don’t listen to my gut feeling. So maybe there will be someone reading this feeling that he/she should trust their gut feeling a bit more.
As far as I know there are several definitions and interpretations of emptyness in buddhism. The version in the Heartsutra is famous, ‘form is emptyness and emptyness is form’ … . According to this description all phenomena also including so called ‘demons’, lack inherent existence, but they still manifest because of causes and conditions. I don’t think Khenpo Namdrol (KN) is so ignorant that he sees what he calls ‘demons’ as inherent existing as is suggested in this article. In the view of buddhism, there are supposed to exist or manifest also ‘hungry ghosts’, that are called ‘demons’ sometimes. Could be the Khenpo is refering to these – for us imaginary – beings. I for myself never met a hungry ghost as some externally manifesting being. But who knows they manifest beyond our ordinary human perception. Sometimes one reads also of döns as a kind of demons. They manifest f.e. as strong mood swings, that are hard to explain.
It is unclear to me what the Khenpo refers to with his demons. But we should certainly ask ourselves why KN is only refering to our eight brave whistle blowing letter writers as possesed by demons and is not refering to lama Sogyal with his misconduct and the Rigpa inner circle as possesed by demons as well. Khenpo seems to be biased to me.
I agree with the writer of this article that we should focus on our inner demons, our negative emotions and ignorance, for the sake of explanation and to blame. Refering to outer demons gives easily way to demonising, superstition and even violent exorcism.
I acknowledge that my view on this recent event may sound ‘radical’ rather than ‘reformist’, but it’s based on my own past experience and so I’d say it was more pragmatic than the hopes of ‘reformers’, which, however well-intentioned, seem more aspirational at this stage.
I can understand why some students hope R ( and perhaps even SR himself ) are amenable to reform, but expecting an organisation and an individual with long established, deeply ingrained patterns of extreme behaviour such as these to change dramatically is unrealistic, and from this latest development that would certainly seem to be the case here.
Let’s look on the positive side: it’s good that this very obvious and clumsy attempt to intimidate his critics is happening already, simply because for many conflicted R students it may reduce the amount of time they would otherwise spend trying to decide whether to abandon R and try and find an alternative, healthier source of Dharma or even abandon Dharma itself, if that seems wiser to them at that point. An individual’s mental balance is more important than anything else and regaining it is essential to whatever path they choose to follow afterwards.
As noted in the article above: this ‘leak’ is a obviously a deliberate strategy, the choice of this lama and his appallingly primitive, medieval threats could not have happened without the direct approval of SR who has chosen him and briefed him on what to say, doubtless in return for a substantial ‘offering.’
We can expect more of the same to follow.
I think the idea that SR, his inner circle or the R management would ever even honestly admit to, much less try and solve these problems was always only ever naïve optimism. As already noted: their and SR’s statements were insincere obfuscation, crafted by the legal department of a PR outfit.
The fact alone that all this abuse has been ongoing for decades means that their twisted collective mind-set has long since justified and accommodated it to such an extent that they can now do nothing other than defend it unconditionally. There’s absolutely no reason to expect this ever to change.
It must be remembered that previous scandals were dealt with in much the same way: criticism was ignored, victims were blamed, dissenters threatened, vilified and ostracized….and from their point of view it worked, because SR was never held to account, his fame and fortune just kept on increasing and R went from strength to strength.
It may be difficult for rational people to understand, but this current episode will be seen by them as ‘obstacles’, ‘negativity’ or ‘demons’ provoked by the power of his teachings.
And as we’ve just witnessed: anyone who questions anything too vocally will be judged as a ‘samaya-breaker’ and included in this category and threatened with ‘Hell’.
The last time, other lamas and monasteries in India were actually commissioned to perform supposed ‘wrathful’ practices against such ‘enemies of the Teaching’ and this will definitely be happening now.
Culturally, Tibetan Buddhism has a very well-documented history of abuse, exploitation, intrigue, power-struggles, and various internecine strife involving threats, intimidation, poisonings, murders and supposed ‘black magic’, and to think all this was somehow left behind when the Tibetan elite were driven into exile is a mistake, but at least this latest scandal and others before it, are bringing it more out into the open.
Evidently, as before, SR is not ‘in retreat’, he’s just lying low, tormenting his faithful assistants by frantically and obsessively directing the fight-back from a luxurious hideaway somewhere, waiting for it all to die down and for people to lose interest so he can return triumphant and carry on as before.
We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that abuse is criminality, something not usually amenable to gentle persuasion, and no amount of criticism, however reasonable and intelligent, from within the Buddhist community itself, is likely to make the slightest difference. Only a full inquiry by the French Judicial system and Tax Authorities might prevent this happening again.
Painful though it may be to accept, SR is certainly and irrevocably corrupt and Rigpa itself is institutionally corrupt enough to be still denying it, but Tibetan Buddhism itself also has sufficient structural flaws to have created an environment for and allowed this abuse to continue for so long.
So, is meaningful wide-reaching reform really a possibility in the near future and if so, who has the authority or the means to carry it out?
Just as HHDL indicated, the teacher and organization are ‘rotten’. Perhaps it’s too late to save, and I hope new people to dharma turn away and find authentic teachers. Run away while you still have open hearts and common sense. And before the lawsuits start raining down!
Frankly speaking, what Khenpo N said was a load of malarkey. I got much better advice from my parents as a child about basic ethics and moral behavior and basic right and wrong. Remember what you were taught in your youth by people who were upstanding examples. Listen to your gut as Magdalena said. When you are really ready for the dharma straight up, the truth, then consider going to hear HHDL speak. He will not deceive you.
Michel DM, your posting is excellent.
“The last time, other lamas and monasteries in India were actually commissioned to perform supposed ‘wrathful’ practices against such ‘enemies of the Teaching’ and this will definitely be happening now”
Q: can you share what lamas and monasteries and general idea how much Rigpa is paying these lamas? Also do you know what lamas Sogyal offered his harem women to? this would be good info for everyone to be aware of.
I concur that spirit activity is definitely a reality on the relative plane. Also, it seems that the Lamas who have spoken out to support Sogyal have or have had a stake in Rigpa’s survival. And yes, it would be good to know a bit more about the donations offered by Rigpa. Surely some of the eight are across this.
You wrote: “I concur that spirit activity is definitely a reality on the relative plane”.
This reads as though you agree with KN that “demonic forces” are at play in the accusations against SL/R. Is that really what you meant?
No, no Joseph. I was referring to the post of Hans Percival. Though now i read it again, i’m not sure i totally agree so rather than tying myself up in knots responding to his views, i’ll give my own. Obviously spirits have no inherent existence, like the rest of phenomena. But they do exist on a relative, samsaric plane. The same as us, we just don’t see them. I certainly don’t but spiritually-developed Lamas certainly do. And some of them can create obstacles for our practice. However in this case i’m certainly not suggesting that the Khenpo has some verifiable first-hand knowledge of spirit activity destabilising the Rigpa corporation. This is the excuse often given when external events appear to disrupt the Tib Buddhist hierachies, such as when Jamgon Kongtrul left his monastery last year. I read one suggestion that this could have been the result of demons.
As Lamas generally haven’t studied Western Psychology or medicine, they also blame conditions like epilepsy or OCD on negative spirits. IMO, another example of a convenient excuse for stuff they don’t have the tools or the inclination to understand.
But i’m a bit surprised that the existence of spirits is being dismissed out of hand. Protector practices involve placating a whole bunch of worldly spirits who are in the retinue of the main deity. In Tsogs, offerings are made to them. Guru Rinpoche’s main initial purpose in Tibet was to subjugate all those troublesome entities the Bonpos had been propitiating in order that Buddhist practice could flourish – he brought them over to the Buddhist team!
If you need me to, i can give some examples of having experienced the results of spirit activity trying to create obstacles. Have you read Yeshe Tsogyal’s biography? Due to her level of realization the troublesome voices and apparitions were dissolved into the clarity of her own mind and that’s the idea with all obstacles to our practice, don’t pay them too much heed. Like everything else that arises, they can be used to enhance our practice.
Perhaps I phrased my original question poorly. I wasn’t asking so much whether you felt demonic forces were specifically at play in the abuse allegations scandal, but whether you believed in such things in general. Your answer shows very clearly that you do. As does KN. As, it would appear, do many Rigpa students given the enthusiastic response to his speech.
Oh my, I really was attached to the wrong Buddhist perspective. None of this is discussed openly in the Rigpa centre I was attached to. If I had known such views were part of this path, I would never have become involved. The more I learn, the more I am appalled. I feel duped.
It is often said that the deities and spirits in Tibetan Buddhism aren’t to be taken literally, that they are symbols of internal states etc. And yet it is clear that many *do* take them literally. Wow. More useful information that’s not widely advertised.
I’d like to add that I mean no disrespect. People are entitled to believe whatever they want to believe. Good luck to them. But it’s not for me, and I wish Buddhism would be clearer to people who get newly involved that this is part of their belief system, so that people can make informed choices.
Joseph, to regard such things as projections of mind is obviously totally in sync with the Buddhist view, i’m merely giving a historical and personal viewpoint. Surely you’ve studied the references to Guru Rinpoche & Yeshe Tsogyal i referred to?
There are after all, six planes of existence in Samsara!
Did I misread you? You didn’t say “to regard such things as projections of mind”. You said, very clearly: “But they do exist on a relative, samsaric plane. The same as us, we just don’t see them. … i’m a bit surprised that the existence of spirits is being dismissed out of hand. Protector practices involve placating a whole bunch of worldly spirits who are in the retinue of the main deity.”
Joseph, as Matilda 7 says, if you read the stories of the past masters such as Padmasambhava and Milarepa, the conventional existence of non-human entities such as “spirits”, who sometimes interfere with practitioners is spoken of. This is not some secret in Tibetan Buddhism that they hide from new practitioners. However, it is also not stressed in responsible Dharma centers. For example, HH is fond of chiding Tibetans over the fact that they blame spirits before they look into their own karmic actions– over the fact that they ignore the effects of actions in favor of blaming spirits.
So it is not necessary to believe in the existence of spirits in order to be a fully functioning, devoted Buddhist. You can say the idea of spirits is nonsense and still be Buddhist— whereas if you claimed that dependent arising or karmic laws were not true, then you would have to say you are not Buddhist.
@Michael DM I am a glass half full kind of person, I also believe, not just because it is the Buddhist teachings but also because I feel it in my own experience, that human beings, even those who appear the worst, are fundamentally good in their true nature, and so they can redeem themselves. Dirt can be washed off a diamond and the diamond is not stained by the dirt that might cover it completely.
What prevents purification from happening is not seeing the need for change or not having the will or discipline for it. Rigpa mamagement have already shown that they accept they need to change, and I, and the rest of the moderators, are prepared to give them a chance to make good on their promises. Though sometimes I also feel that it’s a hopeless case, I do know that there are many/some (many have left already) Rigpa students who are very committed to bringing about the depth of change required, but whether or not they are in the majority is still to be seen. Certainly there are some who may never be able look at the situation without defensiveness, but it’s a natural human response to situations that are too painful for people to manage emotionally, and they are no doubt doing the best for where they are at the moment. One thing is certain, the process for change is happening from the ground up, from centre level to international level, not the other way around as it has been up until now. That, I think, is a very good sign.
I feel I need to mention that it’s a good idea on a public blog to only say things you can be certain of personally and can verify as truth, otherwise you may be opening yourself to legal action. This isn’t a threat btw – such a thing would never come from us and hopefully not from any Buddhist teacher, but you never know. It’s just something we moderators have been cautioned about, so I thought for your sake I should pass it on, particularly if you want to answer fed up’s query.
Many thanks for your very thoughtful and considered response, which I really appreciate. I’ll respond to your last suggestion first and the rest in another post later because it raises some very important points.
I left R many years ago and although I know a great deal about it’s inner workings as they were then, I restrict my comments accordingly, based on what I know to have happened then, what is known now and extrapolations that any reasonable person would make from these two.
I’m unable to respond to the questions because I’ve no idea whether SR ‘shared’ his victims with other lamas and I’m not interested in rumours. However, he regularly announced during teachings, some of which were open to the public, that he had commissioned monasteries and lamas in India to perform specific practices to remove ‘obstacles’, so this was common knowledge but I can’t recall if he was specific about where or whom.
I also have personal experience related to this that I won’t include here, but this is certainly not because I’m concerned by legal action. I just prefer to keep my comments unsensational and my arguments centred around common experience that most people can relate to.
It’s significant, that to the best of my knowledge, despite their considerable wealth, neither SR nor R has ever threatened anyone with legal proceedings, because, like most people who have so much to hide, he’s terrified of exposure and like a lot of bullies, he’s frightened by any kind of higher authority that he can’t impress, intimidate or manipulate, plus he’s probably figured out by now that a great many of his ex-students would positively relish a day in court where they could denounce him publicly to greater effect….I know I certainly would.
The law is secular, so a controversial religious figure and known serial abuser who has also just been responsible for the public dissemination of a video threatening his critics ( some by name ) with rebirth in Hell and accusing them of being possessed by demons no less, would probably struggle to prove worse damage to his reputation by a third party than he had already done more thoroughly himself.
A brush with the Law in any form is precisely what he wants to avoid, which is why he hid last time and settled out of court, and that was just one plaintiff. For SR it’s much safer ( and definitely much cheaper) to get other lamas to threaten his critics on his behalf with hellish rebirth and dire karmic consequences in future lives. Although this does have a slight drawback when the people threatened ceased to believe in these things long ago.
Also, as in this case, even people who do believe are now firmly backed up by the DL, other lamas and texts, plus Society and the Law itself, who all say that abuse is wrong. Either way, these crude threats won’t work, except on the sort of credulous people who applauded on the video…..and they obviously don’t need convincing anyway. Basically they’re talking to themselves to keep their spirits up, a kind of a T Buddhist whistling in the dark.
I watched the video, which by any normal standards was quite a nasty piece of work: not just ignoring the abuse, exonerating the abuser and blaming the victims but threatening them too, a typical pattern in the process of abuse. Aimed as it is, at people who are vulnerable and in crisis and in the context of a supposedly enlightened religion based on wisdom and compassion it’s totally repulsive.
That being said, even as a veteran of this kind of thing, I found the sound of unrestrained, enthusiastic applause from the audience at hearing the critics of SR described as having been taken over by demons and bound for Hell, to be shocking and yet poignant, because it gives a clear indication of how deeply mired in this dark world of superstition these poor people are and how difficult, if not impossible, it will be for them to ever free themselves.
If any further proof was needed that R is a full-on sect, this is it.
( The video has now been removed, most probably on legal advice.)
@ Matilda7 I appreciated your thoughtful response and explanation about demonic forces existing on the relative level and at the same time you are not suggesting “that the Khenpo has some verifiable first-hand knowledge of spirit activity destabilising the Rigpa corporation.”
@ Joseph I understand your concerns, but you are very naive if you think demonic forces don’t exist on the relative level. The ultimate view treats them as not inherently existent.The relative level maintains that they exist relatively just as you and I do. As a Tibetan Buddhist you don’t personally have to believe in demonic forces; you can deal with them on the ultimate level as projections of your own mind. However, the beauty of Tibetan Buddhism is that its practices deal with both the relative and ultimate truth. Remember, that the indigenous religions of Tibet were shamanic. When Indian Buddhism was transmitted to Tibet it did not attempt to suppress indigenous beliefs and practices but rather merged with existing customs until a organic synthesis occurred. Of course any kind of Buddhism will talk about the two truths, but Zen Buddhism, from what I hear, deals mainly with the ultimate truth. In Japanese culture there were other local religions or ancestor religions that dealt with spirits and such on the relative level.
A little demon has been whispering in my ear, and wishes to lodge a point of personal privilege. He insists that none of this (the Rigpa scandal) was his fault. “Sure, we demons go around doing evil,” he says, “but all this sexual abuse…well, it crosses some kind of line. It’s just sad. You know, you guys have worse problems than demons.”
Thanks mim, for supporting my comments and adding your own eloquent clarification.
So now we have contradictory statements by various renowned lamas, each cheered by a different faction of the Rigpa students….
And so far nobody has even tried to ask people who feel victimized by SR or Rigpa to come forward and give testimony of what they experienced.
Even if the allegations were not true, just misunderstandings, the product of their “crazy” projections etc hearing these people out would be the compassionate and right thing to do.
What additional information from them would be helpful? The situation seems clear enough to me.
If there is supposed to be a healing process, the experience of the victims has to be acknowledged, in my opinion in person. They have to have the right, to state their grievances in front of the rest of the Rigpa sangha.
Oh and by the way, even if the people who have gone to the public with the accusations were liars and mentally disturbed, lured by demons…
The qualified teacher in vajrayana is advised to test students at length before introducing them to vajrayana, just as the student is advised to test the teacher. In the end it’s the teacher who decides to teach vajrayana to somebody or not. There are plenty of Tibetan teachers who teach vajrayana ONLY to people with their personal permission, doing the retreats, after knowing them personally for a while.
So even if these people were “bad apples” that now go to hell, in Rigpa none of this testing of the students for suitability has ever happened. So even if the allegations were not true, the mess still remains SR’s responsibility.
They can not teach unsuitable people vajrayana (which is a breach of samaya on the side of the teacher) and then have them threatened with these fire and brimstone sermons that help nobody in this mess.
BTW, has anybody watching the video also been reminded of a Trump rally when the crowd cheered at this?
I found the cheering far more disturbing than the statement of the Khenpo. I’ve been on the fringes of Rigpa, SR has never been my only teacher, but if that’s the party line now, I’m out.
Yes, Solenodon, I felt similar to how I feel every time I watch Trump with his crowds. All very disturbing.
This issue of the applause being similar to a Trump rally, etc. shows the problem with taking a video out of context, and demonstrates, as John Kenneth Galbraith has stated, “that which is convenient to believe is greatly preferred.” I am not a student of SR or R, but attended teachings where this video was taken.
Being in the room, my sense was that the lengthy applause was heartfelt thanks for the 15 straight days of profound teachings that Khenpo Namdrol had just bestowed.
At least that is why I was clapping.
Ah, thank you for the clarification. From the video alone it looked like the people applauded this ten minute comment specifically.
Notwithstanding the prior teachings, if the audience had been appalled by what they heard in the final ten minutes – and make no mistake, they should have been – then they could have registered their disapproval. They didn’t.
Maybe this is a new style, but I remember teachings usually ending with the compassionate dedication of merit to all sentient beings, rather than a personalized vitriolic attack followed immediately by enthusiastic applause, but it’s reassuring to learn that at least one person present wasn’t applauding that specifically.
Be that as it may, a group of decent people objected in a reasonable and considered way to decades of systematic abuse and depravity by a teacher whom they trusted: this lama, by ignoring the abuse, the abuser and instead accusing them of being ‘heretics’ who are possessed by demons and bound for Hell, is using the language and technique of the Catholic Inquisition centuries ago.
These days the normal sane response to something as stupid and unpleasant as that, is stunned silence followed by a rapid exit.
From a modern perspective, Galbraith’s comment would be applied to your interpretation.
Though from a strictly Tibetan pov this khenpo is right in what he said. Tibetan vajrayana teachers were traditionally often rough with students and this was no big deal apparently because Tibetans as a people seems to have been rather mentally robust and sturdy.
Something that is not true for most westerners.
I remember a monk who spent his childhood in a monastery in Tibet laughing and joking while telling the audience how they got beaten as kids when they didn’t do the tormas right. From the way he told this it was very clear that it didn’t leave any negative feelings.
So a way of treating committed vajrayana disciples that might be culturally appropriate in the Tibetan setting doesn’t have to be appropriate in the western setting. If it genuinely helps the recipient, it’s appropriate, if it harms the recipient, it’s inappropriate. In this case it has caused harm, so it was inappropriate.
I guess this was just one more of these cultural disunderstandings when Tibetans try to teach westerners.
That’s one way of looking at it.
And to clear up the misunderstanding, being told repeatedly that the behavior was not appropriate, should have been sufficient.
Many students and instructors leaving, and giving that kind of feedback, that abuse behavior was occurring, and it was wrong, should have been sufficient.
But it gets to the stage where the cover-up is (almost) worse than the crime. Because covering up shows that clearly, it was known that he behavior was inappropriate and harmful, but there was a desire for it to continue.
There comes a point then where it’s moved beyond a simple misunderstanding.
There comes a point where the whole thing becomes a criminal enterprise, and the people involved do not have the qualities they profess to have, or claim they can transmit.
Obscene exploitation on one side; blind, cultish devotion on the other. This isn’t Dharma, it is something much older and more traditional, and does not lead to liberation.
I don’t think that this khenpo is deeply enough informed about what has actually been going on, giving this advice as if it was a Tibetan monastery with a Tibetan audience.
These elder generation learned monks live very much in their own ivory tower and he is confronted with something he has absolutely no reference for.
I don’t believe it has something to do with a deliberate “cover up”.
On the part of the Khenpo, I tend to agree.
I think he made an error with his talk, but I also believe he was influenced in extreme ways that he couldn’t handle. If you listen to his words, he’s really in denial, he doesn’t understand.
But at the same time, that does put a responsibility on him to investigate further, before making declarations that will influence many people.
But aren’t they all just humans….
Maybe those pesky demonic forces at work…. 😉
@solenodon, there is truth in what you have writtten, and it cuts to the heart of the matter. From a western viewpoint abusive behaviors have occurred. From the standpoint of an “old school” wrathful lama, it might be normal. I went to LL with an open mind and observed. In speaking with many long time students, I did not meet a single person who felt they had been abused. On the contrary, they all seemed relaxed and happy, and to a person felt that they had derived great benefit from being students of SL. It didn’t feel like these folks were all zombies in a cult.
@MichaelDM, the statement by KNR was indeed unexpected, and I have been trying to contextualize it within my understanding of his work, teaching, and presence. He is an extraordinary khenpo and as far as I know a faultless lama.
As you state, it is traditional to offer dedication and at KNR’s teachings we recite an extensive dedication “The Aspiration for Excellent Conduct.” Perhaps you know it?
Of course we offered this immediately following the end of teachings and it was not recorded, which is why you don’t hear it.
The Galbraith quote could indeed apply to my impressions as well, but I assure you I have no agenda here and am striving for a balanced understanding.
link needs updating:
I’m sure you’re sincere, but I’m sorry, there’s no other polite way to say this: you’re wrong, we should never accept or even be complacent about ‘cultural differences’ as an excuse for abuse of any kind under any circumstances whatsoever.
Whether using physical violence to teach children or so called ‘wrathful’ techniques to teach adults, because in the end it comes down to anger, aggression and fear….this is extremely primitive and something we as a society should have left behind long ago.
What happens when children grow up experiencing adults using violence and fear to control them? They perceive that as normal and repeat the pattern themselves. This is precisely how abuse of all kinds is transferred from one generation to an other and it gives free rein to psychopaths and mentally ill people of all kinds to indulge their violent impulses…SR is just one example of this.
Of course victims may make light of it, but surely you understand the psychology of that? If not may I suggest you research the subject, including ’Stockholm Syndrome’?
Are you really saying that SR raping women, beating, exploiting and humiliating students would have been accepted by Tibetans because they were ‘rather mentally robust and sturdy’? and this is only a problem here because westerners are somehow weaker? Maybe you should actually talk to some ordinary Tibetans and check to see if they agree with you.
SR’s Abuse and this khenpo describing people who object to it as being demonically possessed and saying they’re going to hell is just ‘inappropriate’ and a ‘cultural misunderstanding’ ?……Seriously?
Where does this line of thinking about abuse, violence and bigotry as ‘cultural differences’ end? Child marriage, whipping women who appear in public unchaperoned, stoning adulterers to death, female circumcision and the rest….all acceptable in some cultures where religion dominates, but they’re still repugnant and morally wrong whatever the context.
If this khenpo was not fully informed, then why did he name specific people and why would he feel qualified to speak so forcefully about something he would know so little about?
Whatever anyone might think of this kind of speech, it wasn’t the random behaviour of an unintelligent person: far from it, his intervention was neither casual, normal or neutral, it was deliberate, very specific and targeted.
So with all due respect, I think it’s naïve to believe SR didn’t send and brief him deliberately to do this.
I’m sure everyone you talked to during your brief stay was quite happy….after all they were still there…..and they clapped too. I don’t think cult members look any different from the rest of us, they just behave a bit differently.
Have you considered the possibility that all the people who did feel they or others had been abused, all those who aren’t happy, might not be there anymore?
I want to thank you for your posts. I find myself in complete agreement with them, down to matters of precise detail.
I remain mystified that anyone can interpret these events in any other way. It seems entirely and painfully obvious.
I meant to add that I refer here to the discussion on the interpretation of abuse in different cultural contexts.
I disagree with the comments that seem to justify and brush off abuse (physical, sexual, psychological, emotional blackmailing) simply as ‘cultural differences’. Or inferring that westerners are not as ‘mentally robust and sturdy’ as Tibetans.
The Tibetans would NEVER allow Sogyal to behave in Tibet as he does in the west – please reread the specific heinous acts described in the letter of the 8 courageous ones. Tibetans would NEVER tolerate the kinds of horrific and criminal acts that are described in the letter, and word would quickly get out; he would not last long there. Ask any Tibetan to read that letter of some examples of what he did and then ask them ‘is this normal in Tibet?’ See what they say. Ask any Tibetan if they are proud of Sogyal and believe he is a high lama? See what they say.
But more importantly, listen to what HH the Dalai Lama has to say on the matter.
Sogyal has no mastery of his own mind and thus is not fit to teach a fly. A realized vajrayana master would not hurt even a fly. A fit disciple of such a realized master certainly would not be found within Rigpa or any such organization. There is no justifying abuse in my world. Judge this for yourself.
The recently published biography of Jamyang Kyentse Chokyi Lodro would shed some light on this.
JKCL used very hard methods of punisishment towards monks.
He also could become outrageous, but this could be related to his illness, epilepsy.
This biography shows another picture of the way of living in Tibet, very different from the romantic serene picture SR would us to believe.
It gives also an idea what SR must have seen as a child, the fits of his master and so on.
Another meaning of kindness is also presented.
JKCL has run a monastry for 15 years in a very tough way, and still it is called he was very kind to this monastry, not his way of running was very kind but the fact that he did run the monatry.
I just started to read this book , and I am very often astonished, I can recommend this book fot a deeper understanding of the matter.
I think sexual exploitation of young women has to be seen seperate from harsh treatment of disciples.
There is no cultural context where sexual exploitation of women (or men) is anything else but harmful. Whereas stern treatment of disciples or corporeal punishment of disciples can have a place in a vajrayana teacher disciple relationship under certain conditions. See Tilopa/Naropa or Marpa/Milarepa. It can also have a place in a society that doesn’t have prison as punishment/corrective treatment.
Yes Jan thanks for the reminder about this incredible bio. As far as SR’s experience of his Uncle Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro I tend to think that SR would have been protected from the austerities suffered by the general lowly monks. And as a child, i wonder whether or not he would have been exposed to his uncle’s fits.
Remember that JKCL is not his biological uncle. And I cannot even remotely compare SL to JKCL. JKCL was extraordinary. I do not think JKCL could ever be accused of doing the things that were in the letter… unthinkable.
Monks were punished ten at a time .When a flogging was called for, Rinpoche ( JKCL) insisted on four or five hundred lashes, never mere hundred, and he always watched from the window of his residence as the punishement was meted out. In all honesty, this was probably the only way to deal with the people of Katok, who were extremely tough and uncompromising. They simply didn’t respond to more peaceful methods. Pg 41 of the biograppy of JKCL narrated by Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche.
This looks very medieval.
I am not comparing, but trying to understand what caused the present situation.
A jump from medieval to modern times could play a role.
It would be interesting if the Roman catholic church had similar practices of punishement during the Middle ages.
Not only medieval. For example severe flogging as punishment was common practice in the navy in the age of sail. I think it was only banned 150 years ago.
In a time before the invention of long time incarceration as púnishment and to protect potential victims, society had to do something with antisocial breakers of the law.
It’s very obvious that society should develop beyond this, but in many cases long time incarceration also doesn’t solve the problem. Long time incarceration erodes the perpetrator’s state of mind, so it may look “clean and harmless” but it also deeply affects those subjected to it. Our society has not found a really good solution for the problem either.
He was a married man, so I don’t think he had a ton of dalliances with young girls who came for teachings and initiations.
As the physical violence goes, I think this was common in Tibetan monasteries. Just look at the disciplinarian monks in those monasteries, carrying big sticks to give evildoers a good whack. I think corporeal punishment was rather the norm in Tibetan monasteries than the exception.
Very often, married lamas do take consorts in addition to their wives. It is naive to think that just because a lama is married, he would not have a consort, (or two or three). They often do, although I am not saying they always do. However, it it happens often enough that it isn’t at all surprising. They tend to keep it hush-hush though, but usually if one is around a lama long enough, one starts to hear gossip.
You’re right that physical punishment was common and quite the norm in monasteries. In fact, I would say it still is used a lot in places like India and Nepal. The culture we are talking about is really not the sweet, fluffy Shangrila that many people want to believe in. They did, (and still do), many harsh things. They may believe it’s for the best, but that doesn’t mean the West should tolerate or “inherit” it from them, anymore than we need to inherit Middle Eastern ways in the name of political correctness.
I remember reading that the Dalai Lama was threatened with a special, yellow whip, although it wasn’t used on him. I think he said that his brother was often punished with a whip as a way to punish HHDL. That wasn’t fair to his brother, but that’s what they did. You can read more in his autobiography, “Freedom In Exile” where he goes into some detail.
Actually, I would only talk about consorts where there is completion stage sexual union practice going on. Which, judging by the qualifications needed on both sides and dangers if it goes wrong in any way should be fairly rare.
Everything else falls under “girlfriend/boyfriend” and just plain, ordinary old sexual relationship.
I personally don’t mind an “open relationship” lifestyle if everyone involved in it agreed to it before getting involved. But then of course everyone in that open relationship has the same rights.
I think most people getting involved with Tibetan buddhism don’t realize to what extent Tibetans (or other Asians) are culturally different to us.
I had the dubious pleasure to experience that by getting involved (not sexually of course) with a high Tibetan lama (same lineage, not SR, not one of the celebrities) and it ended in a string of culturally caused misunderstandings because in hindsight he clearly didn’t understand what I meant with what I was saying and I could only misinterpret the meaning of what he told me in reply. He tried to use pressure, too, though in micro-doses and I had just no clue what that was for and panicked. And since I got the impression that this was my fault and I was just too stupid to be a disciple and Asians have this code of under no circumstance talking about interpersonal problems, it didn’t end well.
I left frustrated, though with a bleeding heart. I don’t think he had/has a clue why, but when talking about interpersonal problems is not in their repertoir, what to do.
But this cultural gap is to be expected. One would be totally naive if one didn’t. I’m German. I have struggled to understand the mentality of the French and interpret their social signals correctly and that’s just 1000 km further down the same continent.
I agree Solenodon, we underestimate the culture gap. I’ve just re-read this great article about the Vajradhatu struggles by Katy Butler and it seems really that nothing has changed in thirty years….
Here’s an excerpt that really resounded with me:
“Buddhist students at other centers have experienced similar cross-cultural problems. In the late 1970s, Zen student Andrew Cooper became disturbed when he realized that his Japanese Roshi “discouraged the expression of personal disagreement, doubt or problems within the community, even when those problems were undeniably real and potentially disruptive.”
Cooper, now a graduate student in psychology, thought his teacher was hypocritical until a friend who had lived in Japan told him that the Japanese have no notion of hypocrisy, at least not in the sense we in the West do. “For the Japanese, withholding one’s personal feelings in order to maintain the appearance of harmony within the group is seen as virtuous and noble,” Cooper wrote in an unpublished paper. “This attitude is part of the structuring of Japanese social relations–it has a place there. But when it is imported under the banner of enlightenment and overlaid on an American community, the results are cultish and bizarre.”
Asian Deference and Western License
The results are particularly troublesome when communities import Asian devotional traditions without importing corresponding Asian social controls. Chogyam Trungpa, for instance, came from a society where the sense of “self” and the social controls on that self were very different from those in the West. Raised from infancy in Eastern Tibet as an incarnate lama, he headed a huge institutional monastery at 19. He was granted tremendous devotion and power, but his freedom was rigidly circumscribed by monastic vows of chastity and abstinence, and by obligations to his monastery and the surrounding Community.
Community standards were based on an intricate system of reciprocal obligation. They were clear and often unspoken. Almost everyone’s behavior–serf, lama or landowner– was closely but subtly controlled by a strong and often unspoken need to save face.
But these social controls did not exist in the society to which Trungpa Rinpoche came in the freewheeling 1970s. His American students’ behavior was loosely governed by contractual relationships, by frank, open discussions, and by individual choices rather than by shared social ethics and mutual obligation. His ancestors had lived in the same valley for generations; when he first arrived in America, he flew from city to city like a rock star. While America removed all social limits from Trungpa Rinpoche’s behavior, his students became his household servants, chauffeured his car and showed him a deference appropriate to a Tibetan lama or feudal lord.
The same deference was shown to his dharma heir. Osel Tendzin. “His meals were occasions for frenzies of linen-pressing, silver-polishing, hairbreadth calibrations in table settings, and exact choreographies of servers,” said television producer Deborah Mendelsohn, who helped host Tendzin when he gave two meditation retreats in Los Angeles, but has since left the community. “When he traveled, a handbook went with him to guide his hosts through the particulars of caring for him, including instructions on how and in what order to offer his towel, underpants and robe after he stepped from the shower.”
This parody of Asian deference, combined with American license, ultimately proved disastrous, and not only at Vajradhatu. At Zen centers as well, students took on Asian gestures of subservience while their teachers sometimes acted “freely,” drinking, spending money, making sexual advances to women or men, all with precious little negative feedback. The deference often went far beyond what would have been granted a teacher in Japan or Tibet.
“Pressure from the community is very important in controlling behavior in Tibetan communities,” said Dr. Barbara Aziz, an internationally known social anthropologist at the City university of New York who has spent 20 years doing fieldwork among Tibetans in Nepal and Tibet. “In Tibetan society, they expect more of the guy they put on the pedestal. If such a scandal had happened in Tibet, the whole community might have felt polluted. Osel Tendzin might have been driven from the valley. Depending on the degree of community outrage, his family might have made substantial offerings to the monastery for purification rites and prayers to infuse society with compassion.”
Furthermore, Aziz pointed out, Tibetans may “demonstrate all kinds of reverence to a reverend, but they won’t necessarily do what he says.” “I see far more discernment among my Tibetan and Nepali friends,” she concluded. “than among Westerners.”
I also agree that Asian cultures most probably have tons of social control, strict norms and social pressure in place that make sure revered dignitaries like high lamas don’t get unhinged on their privileges.
From the little I have seen, Tibetans are terrible gossips and are not shy of discussing lamas and their behaviour at all.
And i think that the differences in sexual behaviour might also be partly attributed to that.
After all, the very strictly monogamous marriage/relationship system is culturally conditioned in our society by the abrahamitic religions Judaism, Christianity, Islam. As a species, Homo sapiens is not strictly monogamous, modern behavioural biology has found clear indications for this fact. The fact that Homo sapiens shows sexual dimorphism is an indicator that we are not strictly monogamous (they found out that the strictly monogamous species have no sexual dimorphism, like for example geese or certain types of monkeys. The more sexual dimorphism, the more promiscuous a species is because the competition for “breeding rights” fuels the sexual dimorphism)
I mean, Tibetan culture knows polyandry, where a wife shares two brothers, no moral or emotional qualms involved and of course they do not have the abrahamitic religion based culturally conditioned obsession about monogamy and marriage as a religious duty ordered by god. So maybe they have totally different values and norms around sexuality than us?
I have never lived among Tibetans but it would be interesting to see if and how they are socialized differently when it comes to sexuality and relationships. Maybe in that culture men and women in general are not expected to be as strictly monogamous as in ours ? It would really be interesting to hear about that from someone with insight into Tibetan culture and social life.
What I have read is for example that Yeshe Tsogyal, the Tibetan consort of Padmasambhava had other relationships with men besides him.
I imagine most people who read this site are aware that it is being reported that SL/R is unwell.
Many or most of you may also be aware that Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche has made a statement on SL/R’s health as it relates to Rigpa students. If you are not aware of it, here it is. It is worth reading.
My love to all, especially to anyone who feels hurt by his comments.
Lion’s Roar link: https://www.lionsroar.com/sogyal-rinpoche-shares-colon-cancer-diagnosis/
I think that getting into a discussion on whether monogamy is natural to the human race or not is getting way off-topic, imo. My point was simply to say that a lot of married lamas have other partners, so it is naive to say that if a lama is married, he wouldn’t be having relationships with other women.
You have a point about the Tibetan attitude toward sex. They are quite different and monogamy doesn’t appear to be part of their cultural expectations.
I wonder if Sogyal R. is really ill, or if saying he’s sick is just an excuse for him to hide away.
Or maybe it’s an excuse to put pressure on his students to “keep their samaya” with him so that he will recover, etc. I’m not saying he might not really be ill, but the timing is so convenient, isn’t it? Makes me wonder if this is just an elaborate set up and I wouldn’t put it past them to lie about something like that just to get attention off the scandals.
Frankly, the timing is convenient because he is elderly and his lifestyle hasn’t been good for decades.
If he was a physically fit vegetarian I would have raised an eyebrow. But honestly once you hit 70, the abuse on your body starts to show, that’s not un-normal. My grandfather got stomach cancer after decades of eating badly and being overweight, he didn’t have any samaya to create trouble.
Under normal circumstances this kind of news would be taken at face value, it could be true, or an exaggeration but in this case the timing seems too convenient to ignore.
Even giving the benefit of the doubt, the way it’s cynically being used cannot be ignored. OT is obviously acting on SR’s behalf and with his consent.
To deliberately try and make students, many of whom are already confused, disillusioned and vulnerable, feel responsible and guilty for something that has absolutely nothing to do with them at all, is just despicable, it’s victim-blaming, emotional blackmail and narcissism of the very worst kind.
For anyone who feels they might actually be in danger of falling for this ridiculous nonsense, I’d advise considering that this is the third most common cancer in the developed world, where 1.4 million cases are diagnosed each year, risk factors include obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, heavy consumption of red meat, refined carbohydrates and processed food, frequency increasing with age.
To put it another way, to actually believe this, would mean accepting that SR is the first and only person in the entire history of humanity on the planet to develop cancer solely because some people had a problem with him raping, brutalizing and deceiving those who trusted him.
On a more personal note: this is a man who, over twenty years ago, I personally witnessed cruelly humiliating a frail young woman who was in the terminal stages of breast cancer, when during a teaching she plaintively asked him why she was dying when she had done all the practices he had given her, and to the best of her ability.
He became visibly angry and sneered contemptuously: “Maybe you haven’t been doing the practices properly.” There was an audible gasp from the audience, but he just carried on indifferently and asked for the next question.
It was simply the most viciously destructive and cruel thing I’d ever witnessed one human do to another. Soon afterwards she wrote him a letter explaining how disillusioned and heartbroken his reply had made her. She died just a few weeks later.
From that moment on, he was no longer my teacher, just a dangerously manipulative and disturbed individual to be avoided at all costs, and even after all these years, more than anything else, the vivid memory of this incident has stayed with me.
So if you’re his student, or ever have been, this same man is you telling to believe that if you get cancer, it’s your fault, and if he gets cancer it’s your fault too. This is very sick indeed, so for the sake of all those he has ever abused and your own mental health, please reject it.
Michael, your story leaves me speechless. Thank you for sharing.
Also, Michael, it made me think of a somewhat similar story with a totally different ending at a teaching with HHDL. A woman wrote in a question about the lump in her breast she had just discovered (and her mother had died of breast cancer). HH talked at length in compassionate ways about his sadness and you could see that he was struggling to find something he could do for her. Then fifteen minutes later, in the middle of another question, he offered his own doctor to this woman, saying that sometimes Tibetan medicine could heal things that Western medicine couldn’t.
He didn’t sugar-coat it or turn it into something it wasn’t. After all, the truth of suffering is the first truth, the first message the Buddha gave. I really do wish lamas would remember that more. People suffer, our practice is compassion first and foremost.
I totally agree with your last post, up to and including the cruel victim blaming and shaming, etc. He should have responded to the woman with more compassion and sensitivity. However, I am afraid this is what he believes because it’s in the teachings themselves, not just Sogyal’s opinion. Many other teachers have said the same thing, (even if they put it differently). If you get sick, or if ANYTHING bad happens, (including being tortured by the Chinese), it’s due to bad karma of some sort. Once the Dalai Lama was asked by someone whether or not a child’s disability was due to their bad karma. (Or something similar.) He actually said it was due to negative karma, but he added that this is just for Buddhists to believe and not for everyone. This was close to the end of an interview, and he was in a big hurry, so he didn’t stop to think of a more subtle, diplomatic way to put it.
Also, I have heard it said a number of times by reputable teachers that if a lama “manifests illness” then it is usually because his students aren’t keeping their samaya properly, and it’s also due to samaya breakage if the teacher dies. There is nothing new in that teaching either. So it’s totally not surprising that Sogyal would say that she must have been doing something wrong. I am not saying he should have said it to her, but this is what they believe and teach in Tibetan Buddhism and Sogyal did not invent it. They tend to not mention it during some of their “intro to Buddhism” talks, but if you go to enough teachings for people who are more into Buddhism, you will hear this teaching repeated quite often in various ways. I know I sure have heard it often (and I went to plenty of teachings, not at Rigpa).
I can’t help but recall that Jesus was asked this question as well. (John 9:1-3)
Where is your boddhicitta?
Michel DM I also agree with your post. Frankly I don’t believe all I hear- the timing is indeed curious. I feel like people are being played here with the ‘retreat’ and this sudden diagnosis in light of the recent very serious allegations. Hmmmm.
IF he has very early stage colon cancer (this is an IF to my mind at present since we don’t have actual facts- could be polyps for all we know) then it is very treatable. Tibetans often get stomach and GI cancer due to their diet alone (heavy in red meat especially) plus he’s overweight and aged. This is cause and effect at play. Tibetans tend to be more superstitious rather than educating themselves on medicine and science, though thankfully HHDL is changing that. That said, there is a link between the mind and the body, and Tibetan medicine believes our negative emotions cause our own (not others) bodily ailments and disease.
Students have absolutely no need to worry about being a cause of such a thing through samaya. This is Tibetan superstition and manipulation. If a person is like a successful, sleazy, and wealthy used car salesman, but has no practice and experience (HHDL reiterated this bit recently) then I can’t see how there’s any samaya at play here- though perhaps I am totally ignorant on this matter.
As for bodhicitta, I’m not at that level, though certainly beings like HHDL are. I want to be clear: students continue to be manipulated and played and are not the cause of this man’s problems. Please take care of yourselves.
I think that a teacher of tibetan Dharma can develop illnesses due to broken samaya, especially in case he broke samayas himself a lot.
Not to be able to take over responsibility for one owns actions due to “cultural bondages” can cause lot of trouble to oneself and others.
Severe illness are chances to clean up one owns mess and to confess, not necessariliy to the public audience but to victims and to check if one could leave a heritage of prosperity or just a spoiled heap of whatever.
Yes, I’m afraid you’re right, the idea is unambiguously clear: that everyone is responsible for whatever happens to them. ( except a few special people who are very vulnerable to criticism and totally exempt from this principle )
So that would mean that every single sentient being who has ever lived, suffered illness, pain, starvation, genocide, violence, predation, natural disasters and so on, actually somehow created the causes for their suffering.
Believing this should logically involve being able to explain precisely how the dinosaurs, for instance, who along with everything else at the time, had no ability to make moral choices about good and bad
(those are human concepts), somehow managed to accumulate enough bad karma to bring down that asteroid.
This is far beyond cause and effect, it denies the existence of the random entirely…so that cancels out evolution then doesn’t it?
Of course, there exists no proof whatsoever for this primitive belief, it’s a concept of appalling and brutal stupidity that originated in ancient India as a convenient religious justification for the status quo and to explain why ‘bad’ things happen to ‘good’ people…..especially ones who do what the priests tell them.
It keeps them docile and prevents them asking for their money back.
loved reading your sharp analyses very much Michel 🙂
but here you are going a little off in my view regarding cause & effect
so many levels of understanding and perception
even levels of meditation going beyond karma-bound cause and effect, called Dzog-chen or Ati-Yoga, the pathless Path because without effort
strong advise for you buy and read this gem: Longchenpa’s “The Precious Treasury of the Basic Space of Phenomena”
The Chö Ying Dzöd (The Precious Treasury of the Basic Space of Phenomena) contains the essence of the 6,400,000 Dzogchen Tantras, elucidating the view, meditation, and conduct of the spiritual path, and the final freedom that is the fruition of that path. The three divisions of Great Perfection teachings (the Mind Division, the Space Division, and the Pith Instruction Division) are all synthesized within the Chö Ying Dzöd. Since the time of Longchenpa, all masters of the Great Perfection have meditated upon the Chö Ying Dzöd as a means of attaining liberation. It is the most famous of Dzogchen texts among all scholars and mahasiddhas.
The Chö Ying Dzöd (The Precious Treasury of the Basic Space of Phenomena) itself is considered a sacred object, capable of bringing immense blessings to those who make a connection with it. If you can keep the text with you, you can attain liberation through touching (tak-drol). If you can hear the text recited, it brings liberation through hearing (t’hö-drol). If you can read and meditate upon the meaning of the text, you can achieve the fully enlightened state of a dharmakaya Buddha.
For Great Perfection practitioners, during our lifetimes, we can read the Chö Ying Dzöd as a daily practice, integrating the profound meaning of this precious text with our minds. With repetition, we can seal its meaning in our minds, so the meaning and our mind become inseparable. When the meaning is sealed inseparably with our minds, then we can chant the words with the beautiful melodies of songs of realization (doha). This causes blazing faith and devotion to arise, leading to the natural arising of ultimate wisdom realization.
last place to view this appalling video piece with Namdrol
myself have (on advice of Dzongsar Khyentse during 10-day Chanteloube retreat which included reading of 10.000 stanzas Prajnaparamita sutra) this one book of the series (“A Treasue Trove of Scriptual Transmission”):
joy for Dharma, Stefan