I’m interupting the series comparing the Weinstein accusations with those of Sogyal Rinpoche to remind us all that everyone involved in both scandals are just human and therefore like us. We all have failings and we all have our special abilities and these two sides of us can and do go together.
Some of you are not going to want to hear what follows. Some of you will likely leave terrible comments. Others will simply not believe it, but since I have been putting my name to my writing here recently, I want to be clear on my personal ‘position.’ I believe there are some misunderstandings floating around due to the fact that our deluded minds tend to be very dualistic. We assume that if something is so, then its apparent opposite cannot also be so.
Language requires that we decide at what point something is this and what point it is that and label it so others will understand. Black contains no white, and white contains no black, so they should be easy to ascertain. But where there is no light, everything appears black. Grey, however, has a much greater breadth of meaning because grey can be dark or light and every shade in between. One thing we know about grey is that, regardless of how much of each colour it has, it contains both black and white. People are like that. We have within us the seeds of happiness and the seeds of suffering. Sometimes we water the seeds of suffering, and sometimes we water the seeds of joy. That’s how it is. Buddhism teaches us to water the seeds of joy, but that doesn’t mean that all Buddhists manage to do that all of the time. That’s why we need teachers and sangha, to remind us of the dharma.
Hatred or compassion?
So if someone does something unskilful, they have watered the seeds of their own suffering. For that reason they are due our compassion, not our hatred. Hatred does not help them, and it does not help us; in fact hatred when we cling to it harms us, not just the person to which our hatred is focused. I don’t have to tell a Buddhist that.
Buddhaghosa, in discussing anger said: “By doing this you are like a man who wants to hit another and picks up a burning ember or excrement in his hand and so first burns himself or makes himself stink.” Visuddhimagga IX, 23.
Emotions tend to polarise people. If we are angry, then we are not happy, that’s clear. However we label our own feelings is up to us, but when we try to label other people’s feelings we can misread situations very easily. We can be angry one moment and happy the next, so if we note an angry tone in someone’s voice, that does not make them an angry person. What we read as angry, may not even be anger at all; it may be its purified form, mirror-like wisdom. Avoiding projections is not easy when emotions come into play. Judgement can leap to the fore, and we can forget that it is human to feel, and that it is not the arising of emotion, or even the brief expression of it, that causes us problems, but the holding onto it. We think of anger as bad, but anger purified is wisdom. Our task is to see the true nature of the anger and release the wisdom at its core. That frees us of its hold and frees us to act without agenda.
Negative or positive?
What appears negative may not be negative in the long run. Maybe you know the story of the old man, his horse that ran away then brought back more horses, and his son who broke his leg by falling off the horse then avoided being drafted into a war. The old man never framed any of the events as good or bad, because though they appeared bad or good at the time, later circumstances changed them to their opposite. So if you think this blog is all negative, all against Sogyal Rinpoche and Rigpa, remember that story. And the same applies if you think it is too positive. If the results of what you see as negative (or not negative enough) is a clarification of our understanding of what dharma truly is, and particularly if it contributes to removing abusive behaviour from Buddhism, then even the (to some) apparently negative words here will have served a good purpose.
The aim of my writing on this topic, and of this blog, is not to bring anyone down, but to help wake people up, to make them aware of the bigger picture, and rouse them to act for the benefit of the future of the dharma in the West.
As His Holiness said in Dharamsala in 1993:
“What is in the best interest of the Buddhadharma is much more important than anything concerning an individual guru. Therefore, if it is necessary to criticize a guru to save the Buddhadharma or to benefit several hundred of their disciples, do not hesitate. Afterwards you can go to that teacher and explain that you acted as you did with a pure motivation.”
Sometimes I may sound a little harsh, and I apologise if that hurts anyone. I do try to walk the middle way, but I am a deluded being like all of us and prone to the same lacks of judgement we all display sometimes. The point I am making here is that, just as SR was quite certain that he had never acted with the intention to harm anyone, I too have the intention only to benefit. If my methods seem harmful to you, then understand that, in the same way, SR’s methods were also harmful to some. If what I write does not contribute to the benefit of the dharma, then I apologises for my lack of skill.
The behaviour is not the person.
If someone expresses their love for someone who has behaved badly, that does not mean that they support the person’s behaviour, but our dualistic minds tend to make those kind of assumptions. As a parent I could scold my child, but my love for her never waned. I could tell her that her behaviour was inappropriate or unskilful, but my love for her never wavered for a moment. It was necessary for her development into an ethical human being that I made it clear when she stepped over the line between what is beneficial and what is harmful, and so it is for me with Sogyal Rinpoche and Rigpa.
So let’s get this straight.
Though I have zero tolerance of abuse in all its forms, and I do not condone in any way at all the behaviour attested to by the 8 students in their letter, I still love Sogyal Rinpoche. My heart connection with him is unbreakable. I still pray for him and wish him well.
Though I no longer wish to receive teachings from him, I still honour him as my root teacher.
Though I recognise that the interpretation of certain teachings contributed to a lack of ethical discernment in both student and teacher, I still recognise the value of what SR taught me, the heart-warming interactions I had with him, and the good he brought to many.
I still love my Rigpa friends, even those who have abused me.
I still care for the Rigpa community and, even when most unforgiving of the organisation’s failings, pray that it will truly heal.
I find myself in a position to be a necessary voice for those who see the need for reform, but I bear no ill will to anyone, including those with more radical views on either ‘side’, and I see the validity of all points of view, even when most vehemently stating mine.
I respect the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and do not want to see the power of it as a means of personal transformation diminished, and since His Holiness the Dalia Lama and Mingyur Rinpoche have shown the way forward with their enlightened commentaries, it’s clear to me that removing the feudal structure will not diminish its effectiveness in any way.
I am deeply sorry for the harm people have allegedly experienced at the hands of my teacher and from the lack of care from my vajra brothers and sisters.
I am sad that the alleged actions of my teacher have harmed the reputation of Tibetan Buddhism, and I pray that my words may go some way towards the reparation of that harm and that they will contribute to the causes and conditions for a more enlightened future.
The reason I am still here, still writing, is because I care, and because others care enough to support me to keep writing. If I didn’t care, I would have walked away months ago.
Current and previous students of Rigpa wanting personal and private support in regards to the abuse issue can be found in the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite using the email address you use on Facebook
If you would like to stay in contact with and support ex-Rigpa students, we have created the Dharma Companions Facebook Group. The group files include lists of online courses with reputable teachers, and members can join monthly Skype meetings and retreats. If you’re interested, click the link and ask to join. You will need to answer some questions before being admitted to the group.
Be sure to check out the What Now? Reference Material page for links to a wealth of articles in the topics related to abuse in Buddhist communities. For links to places to assist in healing from abuse see the sangha care resources page.
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80 Replies to “Love and disapproval can go together”
Thank you Tahlia. Your words are like a balm to me. I really appreciate your leadership here and pray that the direction of real and lasting reform that you speak of comes to be.
Yes. Thank you.
hi Tahlia, I think you exemplify a wise position of balance, you are capable of stepping back, taking a breath . You are mindful of our ego whenever we make our point, regardless of our opinion about rigpa, SR, Budddhism or any other theme that you address. You should be praised for that. I far for agree with all your posts, but I support your approach because again it’s well alined with what we are learning. You prove to be patient, engaged, persistent in a helpful way for others. That deserves encouragements, really!
thank you so much for caring! I very much appreciate what you are trying to do. We need more people like you!
thank you so much for this very clear, wise and compassionate „mission statement“. There are many aspects in it which I can idintify for myself very much. I am a student of Sogyal Rinpoche (SR) since 2002 and therefore in a deep inner struggle since it became clear to me that at least some fellow Rigpa students got harmed by his behaviour/teaching methods.
In this context I remembered the following quote from former US President Bill Clinton, who stated in his 1st inaugural adress on 20 January 1993:
„There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.“
Many, if not all, of the arguments made by Tahlia here are an essential part of the buddhist teachings, which we as Rigpa students received directly from Sogyal Rinpoche. Without him and the vessel of the Rigpa sangha (organisation) we might not have encountered that level of wisdom. The same is true for many people I know within Rigpa, who are genuinely good hearted and behaving very wise and compassionate according to dharmic principles.
Since I feel that I have a dharmic bond (samaya) to SR as my root teacher, in addition to the point already made by Tahlia I would like to mention the actual definition of Samaya according to Rigpa Wiki:
„Samaya (Skt.; Tib. damtsik, Wyl. dam tshig) — the vajrayana commitments taken when receiving empowerment.
There are several ways of explaining [the] literal meaning [of damtsik]. To make this very simple, dam means sublime, and tsik is a statement. Thus samaya is a statement that is true, genuine, pure, real. To apply oneself in a way that is in harmony with how the truth is, is called keeping the samaya. (…)“
„True, genuine, pure, real“ – that´s exactly what I read through Tahlia´s lines. So, at least no problem with samya :-).
When I appriaciate the important work done by Tahlia and others here in „What Now?“, I think it wouldn´t be complete without mentioning another very helpful blog: „How did it happen?“, which is run by Bernie Schreck and Sandra Pawula. All what I am saying here is as same true for „How did it happen?“ as well. So thank you all.
In conclusion: When it comes to Rigpa and Dharma in general, I think the equivalent to Bill Clinton´s phrase we can find within the four Reliances:
1. Rely on the message of the teacher, not on his personality;
2. Rely on the meaning, not just on the words;
3. Rely on the real meaning, not on the provisional one;
4. Rely on your wisdom mind, not on your ordinary, judgemental mind.
Thank you for this heartfelt peace. I hope that together we may heal what has been harmed and is harming in all of this <3
Thank you for your string of interesting articles, I have to say that there’s something puzzling me a bit when I read them.
Having read part one, I was looking forward to your analysis of culture in part 2, but I found it placed much emphasis on the individual and very little on the power structures underlying their behaviour – when I consider the speech aspect of body, speech and mind, I look at the Weinstein case and think that there is a distinct possibility that in bringing the individual to justice, something gets missed – that there is a Harvey Weinstein shaped hole still there just waiting for another similar figure to step straight into…
– and equally, if that is in fact true, then do we consider him an exceptional individual who has broken the rules, or is it rather something about the ‘rules’ themselves – is it odd in a country where a man who brags about sexually assaulting women gets voted in as president, or is it entirely consistent with our perceptions of power, assertiveness, entitlement, and of this dominant alpha male stereotype?
The media loves to paint people as heroes and villans, winners and losers, and we are reinforced in our belief that we have choices, we have freewill, we can make a difference, and so when I read what you wrote about shades of grey instead of a black and white view it struck a chord with me, but I found myself taking this in a somewhat different direction, and instead of simply considering the emotional lives of the individuals involved, I started to consider the speech aspect beyond the view of selves, that is the relationships, the energetic and emotional investments, and the various weight and gravitational pull of these various place markers which contribute to the structural complexities which underlie these emotions.
So for example, when you write,
“I respect the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and do not want to see the power of it as a means of personal transformation diminished, …it’s clear to me that removing the feudal structure will not diminish its effectiveness in any way.”
What you are saying is that you view Vajrayana as a means to self transformation, and by removing the feudal structure, you think it can be equally effective – but what you haven’t said here is that you are transplanting the method onto an entirely new structure – limiting one’s practice to ‘personal transformation’ as if we were independent of the culture seems to risk falling into exactly the same trap that hampers the Tibetan approach – a lack of perspective on the power relationships that exist through cultural values such as status, authority, notions of expertise, etc.
So you treat emotions here as if they are possessed by the individuals who are experiencing them, as if we can simply choose between compassion and anger – but surely one of the main points of the Dharma is that this choice depends upon our view?
In seeing everybody as independent individuals who are 100% at choice, we have a classic subject-object dualism – no wonder we become angry when we attribute full personal responsibility to these abusive individuals, they should have chosen differently.
The problem here is twofold – firstly, we need to be wary of letting them off the hook, of course this doesn’t mean they were simply victims of circumstance, of course they had choices and they made some misguided ones – we don’t wish to go completely the other way from a model of 100% freewill and turn instead to a 100% fatalistic viewpoint.
The second issue however, carries more weight – if we do focus on the individual, possibly erring on the side of blame, fault, guilt, shame, etc., what thereby happens is that we overlook some of the underlying causes – they were unconscious to begin with, and they thereby remain unconscious, and what happens is that the problem keeps occuring – this leads to a far worse anger that nothing is being done to actually change the situation – there maybe personal transformation, but the transformation of the underlying structure of our society remains the same, so we are then put in a position where we feel powerless, and have to turn to personal practices to simply cope with the less than ideal social situation.
So when I read you write, “I am a deluded being like all of us and prone to the same lacks of judgement we all display sometimes.” I am curious what is going on here…
Is this some convention of dharma you have learned, a form of prostration bordering on false humility, or do you honestly believe this mantra of disempowerment?
You say, “That’s why we need teachers and sangha, to remind us of the dharma.” – for me this sets alarm bells ringing…
The underlying power structure that you seem to have reinforced here is that you will manage your own personal emotions, but that certain cultural reference points – the superior view, knowledge, and power of the Lama, remain sacred and untouchable, hidden from view, and unchallenged.
Thanks, your comment, especially the last few paragraphs which really resonated for me, what you raise is a pivotal point, so I thought I should expand on that theme according to my own understanding.
My problem with the mind-set that you call ‘false humility’ and a ‘mantra of disempowerment’ dates from the first revelations over twenty years ago, I’ve heard it so many times since then and I think it doesn’t help anyone.
I think you are reading things into Tahlia’s post that she didn’t put there. This was written from a personal perspective. It’s not making a statement about the religion or even considering wider concerns.
The rest if the series comparing Weinstein and Sogyal will probably be more to your liking.
Thanks Moonfire, I understood that Thalia wrote both series, so I am pointing out what I perceive to be missing here, which is the Vajrayana aspect of speech, and which might be alternately phrased in western terms as the symbolic-energetic structure of inter-relationships.
I’m sure there are plenty of sociological analyses of the social structure underlying the Weinstein issue in particular and of patriarchal society in general, but what particularly struck me here was in terms Thalia’s speech act, viewed in terms of transactional analysis.
If someone went to learn brain surgery, rocket science, or nuclear physics, they would go as one adult who was learning something from another adult – the relationship would be eye to eye rather than the sort of pupil-teacher relationship one has when young, where trust is a big issue because we have the idea that the teacher knows what is best for us – they take up a parenting role in this respect, we are placed in their hands and in their care.
An alternate view might be that, in the West, the constructed symbol of exchange is money, it even has the speech act ‘I promise to pay…’ written on it, and as a result of this energetic reference point, an energetic node is established which shapes our reality, we start to invest and consider that it can fulfil it’s promised guarantee, even though as good Buddhists we know it is impermanent and not really an adequate object of refuge.
In Tibetan Buddhism, the equivalent symbolic promise is that of samaya, so to further that comparison, our relationship with the Lamas could be seen as being a bit like our relationship with the banks – there is equally a need for trust, to place ourselves in their hands with the idea that they know what they’re doing even if we don’t, and the idea of refuge providing some kind of guarantee, fulfilling its promise.
Now I have no idea how aware Thalia is about this, maybe she is fully aware and has made a conscious choice to simply consider the personal aspect independently, but it struck me how that personal aspect had already located itself within the wider power structures and I wanted to raise that as an issue – of course I may well be telling you something you already know, and maybe there are good reasons for treating the personal as if it existed independently.
Tahlia, your article comes at a good point in the discussion, the issue it highlights is something that hasn’t really been dealt with specifically and from my own experience it’s something that can’t be ignored in terms of personal recovery: it’s to do with conflict and the Buddhist ideal of non-duality.
Understandably, most people are experiencing conflict: between what Sogyal taught and his behaviour, the conflict between what we all worked for and hoped for and what we eventually got, the feeling of betrayal, deception and the revelation of the huge gulf between who we thought he was and the disturbing reality as it has unfolded over the years.
I believe that how the origin of these conflicts is understood can make the difference between years of distress and a more rapid recovery. There’s a choice involved.
One conflict that we all understand and acknowledge, even the Dalai Lama, is the one between some aspects of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and our modern understanding of how society should aspire to be and how we should behave within it. It’s accepted that the feudal theocracy of India, Tibet and other Buddhist countries is a backward medieval mind-set completely at odds with modern life.
You suggested in the article: “it’s clear to me that removing the feudal structure will not diminish its effectiveness at all.”
It’s certainly easy to forget that like all religions, Tibetan Buddhism today is an artificial structure, a man-made system that began as an offshoot of Hinduism in Bronze Age India and has origins long before that in prehistory.
However, this idea that the structural problem of theocratic feudalism can be removed from Tibetan Buddhism brings up some serious questions: Firstly, how can a system that is essentially elitist, male,and deeply hierarchic exist without an elite male hierarchy?
Tibetan Buddhism is undeniably a top-down elitist system, the disciples may not be serfs as such but they are serf-like and the lamas enjoy their privileged life solely because of the hard work of many others, so would that elite ever agree to give up the power, status and lifestyle? Who and what would be left if they did?
Frankly I don’t think you’ve has thought this through, and I can’t think of any example in human history where an elite of any kind has ever voluntarily ceded their status and power over others.
Then there are other more serious questions:
Why in two and a half thousand years has Buddhism never diverged from this feudal caste system, and why have these vast teachings about wisdom compassion and equanimity never had much real structural impact on the societies that supported them?
How could it exist comfortably in the midst of such brutal inequality as held sway in Tibet?
What did all these supposedly enlightened individuals do about it…..except talk about compassion while benefiting directly from exploitation?
It might be reassuring to think that Sogyal’s abuse and exploitation of his students was an aberration of one individual who “lost his way” but what was his behaviour if not the acting out of an assumption of feudal privilege, a return to his perceived cultural and religious heritage?
The long silence or reluctance to speak out of all lamas, their effective knowing complicity, the victim-blaming and threats of a few others. What is that other than an elite trying to cling on to its status, privilege and not jeopardize a valuable income-stream?
Most of us have understood the harsh significance of this by now and I appreciate why it might seem tempting and emotionally reassuring to try and soften the impact of that understanding by talking about the distress it causes in the language of Tibetan Buddhism itself, qualifying it with the soothing ambivalence of a language that fudges, avoids blame and even shifts a degree of responsibility, attributing it to ‘misunderstanding’ or ‘delusion’.
You can pretend that everything isn’t so bad after all, we’re all just human, nothing’s black and white, everything’s grey……but in this context it’s grey like a fog of uncertainty where nothing is clear, right or wrong, good or bad….
And what inevitably accompanies this, because in Buddhism it has to, is a series of rigid imperatives and implicit criticism for a supposedly inadequate understanding of ‘Reality’ as it really is for those who are ‘Enlightened’, as the teachings and the teachers tell us it is…..We have ‘deluded minds’…..that are ‘dualistic’…..we assume if something is one way it can’t simultaneously be the opposite, we cling on to emotions…..we’re misinterpreting ‘mirror-like wisdom as anger’…..and so on.
Isn’t this actually subtle self-blaming, taking responsibility for the bad behaviour of others over which you have no control and diminishing its severity by obfuscation?
Is any of this language actually your own? Is this your real honest reaction or your own understanding?
Or is it just what you think you ought to be doing and saying? These vague ideas, (because that’s all they are), have been firmly and repeatedly implanted by a system that seeks to control and numb reaction, to dis-empower your critical thought, devalue your rational intellect, obscure your discrimination with a blizzard of unattainable states, while inculcating the inevitable doubt and guilt because nobody can ever attain them anyway.
Because this is the most effective way of keeping students docile and compliant, and in case we forget, this is the exact kind of ambivalent, murky moral landscape that Sogyal operated in for decades. This is perpetuating the very same conditioned mind-set, learned spiritual cognitive dissonance, that made it all possible.
In realty everything we do, everything we live by is dual, binary and obliges us to make yes/no decisions almost every second on levels that permeate every area of our lives. We have no choice, and there are good evolutionary reasons for this as we all know. Most of us aren’t at risk of from large carnivores, but we still need our dualistic awareness and judgement because there are still plenty of predators about.
If my house is on fire, does my impulse to run out into the street come from a dualistic delusion?
Is it just because I’m not spiritually advanced enough to be able to see that the house is both on fire and also not on fire at the same time? Nor both nor neither (as I recall it goes)…..that’s pure gibberish.
If the man’s son in the story had broken his neck and died would he have still not judged it good or bad?
We are only a generation past the first mechanised mass murder in history, and we live in a world where humans slaughter one another in huge numbers every day, our continued existence is at risk, and the only thing we have against this is our (dualistic) intelligence, our morality and rational clarity, our discrimination between right and wrong.
Is yearning and striving for a state where you can’t tell the difference really the solution to any of this?
Someone once said that humans know they are finite and so they yearn for the infinite, but this becomes a pathology. Two and a half thousand years of uninterrupted spiritual feudalism is proof of just that, and the way even people who suffer because of it can internalize its indoctrination is proof of how effective it is and how difficult to shake off.
Pete and Adrian, I agree with both of you that it is important to look at the culture that has enabled these abuses to occur. I don’t think that Tahlia’s point about black and white means we can’t look at the entire picture, quite the opposite– I think that’s what she’s acknowledging, the great complexity of every problem. And I think no one is denying that there is a damaging culture of denial and feudalism etc. behind the Rigpa troubles. I also agree that there have been problems of feudalistic attitudes within Tibetan Buddhist culture.
However, Pete, I believe that you go too far. First, we need to acknowledge that Western cultures have an equal problem with misogynistic, power imbalances– attitudes that date back millennia. Acknowledging that helps prevent this becoming a narrow racist attitude where Tibetan culture is somehow worse than the cultures we have inherited in the West. I personally believe that every culture in the world is a mix of good and bad. I think another main point of Tahlia’s article is the importance of acknowledging both the good and the bad, holding them both.
Also, are you saying that Tibetan Buddhism itself has no value because misogynistic and feudalistic tendencies have sometimes been present? I wasn’t clear, but I think that throwing out the baby with the bathwater is sometimes what can happen if we go too far with our responses to these problems. And I think if we follow your opinion too far, then there is no sense in eliciting help from the Tibetan Buddhist community– no sense in working on reforming Western Tibetan Buddhist communities. This is far too extreme for me I’m afraid– and that is how I understood Tahlia’s point about black and white– I think she was talking about avoiding extreme views.
Yes, we certainly do have a very pervasive problem with misogyny in the west……and that’s a good reason to understand that with Tibetan Buddhism we’ve unwittingly imported yet another one, and to ask how it should be dealt with.
When I joined, it was in almost total ignorance of the history and culture of Tibet, and naively, I had no idea that in terms of intellectual understanding and social structure, I’d blundered into the Asian equivalent of Europe in the Middle Ages. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure that out.
Compared to our present day secular culture, I think Tibetan Buddhist culture is much worse, in the sense that it hasn’t evolved. Modern Tibetan secular society may be on the same lines as ours now that they’re no longer dominated by religion, but Tibetan Buddhism certainly isn’t. True, the Black Death brought the end of Feudalism in Europe and religious wars, the Age of Enlightenment and the Industrial revolution broke the grip of the church….’advantages’ that Tibet never had.
Ok, there’s a belated attempt to modernize, but as we’ve just seen, it takes very little for that mask of
modernity to slip, which is why in the twenty-first century, we’re still being threatened with hell and told we’re possessed by demons……it’s all still in there, as mired in superstition and wacky as it ever was. I don’t believe this is just a few extremists, because I also interpret the silence of the majority of lamas as indifference to abuse or worse. It’s a very pervasive attitude.
The more philosophically based intellectual attempts at control attempted by lamas like Dzongsar Khyentse may appear less archaic but their purpose is identical, they’re just targeted at a different audience but they’re equally dishonest and manipulative.
The point I was trying to make was that the very structure and mind-set of Tibetan Buddhism in itself is still remarkably feudal in religious, psychological and economic terms, it has always been institutionally comfortable with inequality and it shows no inclination to change.
It’s not just as you say: that in Buddhism ‘misogynistic and feudalistic tendencies have sometimes been present’…… it’s because for two and a half thousand years they’ve always been present….and they still are. And until very recently, this mind-set of domination and subservience was shared almost unquestioningly by most students, and this is a direct result of the kind of indoctrination and dis-empowerment I’m taking issue with.
I understand that I may come across as some sort of iconoclast, but in fact all I’m doing is pointing out some glaring inconsistencies and incompatibilities and I’m saying that these are structural problems that aren’t going to go away, because they appear to be non-negotiable to traditional Tibetan Buddhists.
By way of example: The central idea of unquestioning devotion to the teacher in Guru-Yoga is unhealthy because it creates an environment that is extremely conducive to abuse; the principle of Karma, where everyone is responsible for whatever happens to them, is actually a repulsive system of victim-blaming set in scripture and the emphasis on non-duality is an effective way of undermining critical intellect and so on…..
I’m not saying that Tibetan Buddhism has no value to anyone, but I am saying that because it’s so intrinsically feudal, backward and designed as an instrument of control, its relevance in its present form is very limited indeed and like all systems of psychological control, its potential for harm shouldn’t be underestimated. I don’t think that’s an ‘extreme’ view at all.
It’s true that many people agree and say that this feudalistic mind-set should be dispensed with, but to date I have yet to hear even one single practical suggestion as to how this could be done. Personally, I’ve no idea if it’s even possible.
actually Joanne, the phrase throw the baby out with the bathwater was the one I almost wrote last night, haha, I decded to sleep on it and see you got there before me!
Pete is right about dualism being fine for everyday survival, but I think what we see here is a result of what jet pilots call ‘target fixation’ – as a result we hear things like, look at those patriarchal Tibetans who produced Sogyal, while the Tibetans can just as easily point to America and say, look at those people who produced Charles Manson and voted Trump as their president.
There is no tenable position of neutral value free observation – all of these perceived issue are ‘our’ issues.
Not that I don’t sleep Adrian or was quicker– but I live in Australia 🙂
Comparing religions and old cultural traditions to babies isn’t helpful, imho. They are not the same thing. Sometimes old traditions and beliefs really *can* be discarded and sometimes that’s a *good* thing for humanity. I’m not saying Tibetan Buddhism should be thrown away, but it’s time to examine it through a 21st Century lens, without the guilt-inducing phrase of “throw the baby out,” etc.
Pete, I think what you say is true– but not the totality of it and it makes me sad to read the grim picture you paint. I have studied and practiced Tibetan Buddhism outside of any cultural setting now for twelve years– after being totally disillusioned by these cultural problems you speak of– and there is a baby there. I am convinced that there is a precious tradition that stands on its own with integrity apart from these cultural problems, a tradition that has thrived under Tibetan care. I am convinced that there are many, not just a few, humble and good and decent practitioners, some of whom are lamas. I also believe that we might have a skewed view here in the West because it is possible that those lamas who choose to come and teach in the West might have more of an inclination for the eight worldly pleasures etc. And I also believe that part of the problem is unique to the West and has arisen solely because of the East-meets-West phenomena. I have seen some Western students who have embraced this system you speak of, students who are very happy to hold positions of great power. I have seen Western students propagate this system gladly, as we are seeing in Rigpa.
But we will probably just have to disagree about the extent of the problem.
Also, as an American, I don’t have a lot of illusions about how far Western civilization has come. We have just elected a man president who has bragged about assaulting women and we see a rise in supremacist movements throughout the world. Isn’t this just a human trouble that we have to revisit and redefine, again and again? And in the meantime, many good and decent people get on with their lives and practice their religion? That’s how I see the world.
What an excellent comment. If only the majority of teachers and students had your understanding and humanity I think there might be a possibility of reform.
But I don’t think they do and perhaps you’re in a smaller minority than you hope, or if I’m wrong or too cynical, then those in positions of power are definitely still numerous enough to maintain the status quo and so it seems to me that possibility is as far off as ever.
And yes, this is the same dynamic in the western world, no longer religious but secular and it’s running on a frightening, supercharged version of the same mind-set: predatory capitalism, where finance and militarism join up with terrible consequences ( I think that’s actually one definiton of fascism ) It’s not called feudalism these days but considering the staggering levels of inequality, debt-slavery and poverty, I’m not sure it’s any different.
I suppose we have to remember that whatever its problems, Buddhism is now a long way down the list of threats to our well-being, especially if, like you, we keep your distance.
It seems to me that what is being described is in fact a clash of world views.
In regard to karma, one could say that the idea of everybody becoming responsible for themselves is a very good idea – I saw a definition of healthy relationship boundaries on a non-Buddhist webpage which said that we are all ultimately responsible for our own emotional states, and that the degree to which we maintain control over our own internal state is a direct index of our own well-being and feelings of being empowered within ourselves.
Clearly the way Pete states it is quite different, and I think it is possible that the main difference is the context in which it is applied which changes the meaning of the idea “to be responsible for”.
I would say that the current culture we have of fault, blame, litigation, etc. is somewhat less than ideal – to claim that karma means the someone is responsible for being the victim of some random accident is a misunderstanding based upon this shift of context.
The past 500 years of western philosophy has been quite critical of dualism, however the ‘standard’ view is still quite dualistic, this also is something we have not adequately resolved, however there has been much made of certain breakthroughs in nuclear physics which suggest that dualism is quite a limited position from which to make sense of things.
If you know the history of western philosophy, you will see that threads of Buddhist thinking can be traced back to ideas in the 18th and 19th centuries, before that even to Spinoza, and even back to the ancient Greeks – although one might also trace back an accompanying lineage of misogyny! – the point being that our own system is still growing and far from ideal, we haven’t yet resolved these issues, and the arrival (of refugees, not really an ‘import’) is definitely highlighting those fault lines which indicate areas of painful growth, but can hardly be said to have caused them, and there is no original utopian purity of views which are either western or eastern which we could return to anyway.
Equally, if one looks at the history of Tibet, the issue of misogyny seems no worse that in the surrounding, more modern areas of China or India. There certainly seems to have been a golden age, for example back in the 11th century Machig Labdron started a mainly female lineage which survives to this day which teaches that the only demon is the ego.
The last few hundred years however have seen a decline with sectarianism and infighting. The more orthodox monastic tradition has tried to impose its orthodoxy from a centralised position, while the more liberal and inclusive traditions have survived more on the fringes due to the size and geography of Tibet. The ironies here are that the more liberal traditions have allowed some rather backward thinking to survive, while the orthodoxy, shut away in all male monasteries, have developed some rather less than orthodox practices in regard to a repressive sexuality.
So imagine if Americans were the displaced refugees and another country took them in. One family takes in some staunchly conservative Republican survivalists while another takes in a gay ‘liberal arts’ couple – not only would they have completely different ideas about what it means to be American, but any generalisations made about them as a whole would necessarily distort the truth. Equally, it would be unsurprising if the various issues they brought with them were not a challenge which highlighted very similar issues already existing within the host nation.
Very nice analogy Adrian– and very good points. Bringing in the philosophical dimension is very helpful, because I think, despite the misogyny and racism, there is also an evolution of thinking happening in the modern world, with quantum physics and neuroscientific advances for example, that fits with Buddhist traditions, particularly those traditions studied so widely in TB monasteries. Perhaps it can bridge cultural divides and bring new dimensions to world views? The reality is that Tibetans are refugees now– or citizens of China. That time of Tibet which Pete refers to is past. And there are women now receiving geshe degrees. Change change. Steps forward, steps back, but there is progress.
I also think that these trouble are mainly Vajrayana troubles. While, as you point out, there are monastic problems facing the Tibetan tradition as well, I think that the crux of the crisis involves the rampant spread of Vajryana, introduced to unqualified and unprepared Western students by unqualified teachers. This is where power is lethal– and there’s no potential of dangerous power in the lama without the Vajrayana. And if you look at the history of Vajrayana troubles, Buddhism is said to have died out in India because of corrupt practices of Vajrayana and it almost died out in Tibet (before Atisha) partly because of corrupt practices of Vajrayana. So these troubles are serious in my opinion, but I think it’s important to identify exactly where the source of the troubles lies.
Well, as I understand it Joanne, the Dalai Lama did once start with some rather dry philosophical explanations and it wasn’t very well received. It seems that the exotic and esoteric aspects are pretty big selling points to us westerners. I suspect that part of the Shugden issue was about this, with the Gelug purists expecting the Dalai Lama to side with them and possibly even reject the Rime tradition wholesale. I think that partly, the Dalai Lama saw this wasn’t perhaps the best move, and that the more esoteric aspects found in some of the surviving traditions under the Rime movement did in fact preserve a Tibetan history which went back to pre-Buddhist folk beliefs…
Then we come to this issue of the conflict itself, which I think has shaped both traditions, and resulted in people like Sogyal being seen a bit like a soccer star – he certainly acts like one! – and the size and status of Rigpa as a bit of a victory for the Rime movement, no wonder Shugden got angry.
Of course this all put the Dalai Lama in an impossible position, while he wanted to leave those old conflicts behind and present a harmonious unity to the west, perhaps with the longer term goal of preserving a small corner of ancient Tibet, he had these two sides behaving like sports fans, still stuck in their old rivalries, each seeing the diaspora as their great opportunity to finally win.
If we look at our side, who is it that this all appeals to? We have the academics and the philosophical purists, those into ‘self-help’ and more religiously inclined, but we also have hippies, pagans, witches – an awful lot of people who could be described as part of a counter-culture, and for who Vajrayana subversiveness is appealing, but who also may be quite vulnerable insofar as they might tend to reject the idea of going through the ‘official’ channels.
Clearly, these subversive anti-conventional practices are not suited to establish a state religion upon, their appeal is precisely in undermining a centralised governmental control trying to impose hegemonic rule, and they do tend to be seen as the rebel alliance fighting against state imperialism.
You seem to have a more generous and optimistic view than I do, maybe our different personal experiences account for that. I’ll certainly concede that your interpretation of problematic cultural differences is less severe and critcal too.
In your first paragraph you cite the phrase. ‘We are all ultimately responsible for our own emotional states,’……I’m afraid there’s no polite way to say this: this is just karma dressed up as a woolly New Age platitude, a very dangerous half-truth. We might be responsible under certain conditions at certain times……but ‘ultimately responsible?….no, absolutely not, that’s nonsense.
Please explain for instance, how an abused child is ‘ultimately responsible’ for its emotional state? or a starving child, or a mentally or physically sick one? The nature and causes of human suffering make this idea offensively false and we’re back to blaming the victim…….yet again.
Your description of karma just doesn’t match any of the the traditional teachings I’ve ever heard, I don’t think Buddhism acknowedges the random at all, to the point of ignoring it completely, just what you’d expect from a Hindu derived religion designed to maintain a caste system….it’s another version of the ‘ordained by God’ argument for medieval feudalism in Europe. Whatever your interpretation, in Tibetan Buddhism it’s unarguably an instrument of control that engenders indifference, complacency and misplaced guilt in some cases.
Some people may say; “Ah, yes but we both have causes and conditions….the conditions refer to the random elment”, but that’s just sophistry. When it suits the objective of control and inculcating misplaced guilt, then it’s conveniently either one or the other.
That’s easily understood with Rigpa where it’s used expediently: Abuse is just the student’s ‘perception’ due to their karma, but Sogyal’s health on the other hand, is not his fault (and not random,) it’s also the karmic responsibility of the students too. So it’s a tool, and they can’t even be bothered to use it consistently
I recall reading an account of some practitioners getting beheaded as a karmic result of stepping on blades of grass that decapitated some ants in their previous lives…..I’m afraid they really do believe this stuff.
When nuclear physics is used to back up non-dualism, unless the person doing so is actually a nuclear physicist, I’m afraid I don’t take it seriously. Everybody does it but almost nobody has a clue what they’re talking about. Even the late Richard Feniman didn’t claim to fully understand quantum physics.
Whatever the truth of it on an abstruse level of sophisticated scientific understanding, my rather more mundane point is that non-duality is used to disable rational judgement and that is our only protection against abuse. Referring to quantum physics is of no use when trying to understand sexual abuse, violence and psychological manipulation is it?
A ‘Golden Age’ in 11th century Tibet…..? You’re seriously saying that one woman managed to do that in the middle of two and a half thousand years of patriarchal misogyny?
Your comment: ‘The ironies here are that the more liberal traditions have allowed some rather backward thinking to survive, while the orthodoxy, shut away in all male monasteries, have developed some rather less than orthodox practices in regard to a repressive sexuality.’…….
Well,I read it several times and I simply don’t understand what it means…….but that may be just my lack of esoteric knowledge about Tibetan Buddhist sexual practices…..and that’s ok, because I don’t think I need to know more on that subject now.
Your last point is a very shrewd observation when it comes to individuals in a diaspora, interacting with a new culture, but here we’re actually dealing with a very large powerful religious institution in a diaspora, which is completely different. Also there’s now been a very long time for integration and adaptation by that institution, but very little sign of that taking place, so I don’t think generalisation and distortion are the problem here.
wow, there’s a lot there, let me see if I can address all your points…
firstly, the idea was about healthy adult boundaries, clearly your counter examples of children do not fit as they are by definition emotional dependants.
The phrase was from Mark Manson’s blog, who used to be a ‘pick-up artist’ but has now grown up a bit and writes about self-esteem and relationship issues primarily from a male perspective. I wouldn’t really call it ‘new-age’.
The reason I wrote ‘ultimately’ is because, obviously, if I walk out of my house and someone is threatening me with violence, it will naturally impact my emotional state at that point in time, but that later, having reached a safe space, I can regain some perspective rather than being at the mercy of my emotions.
Of course I may still traumatised by the encounter, maybe even suffering PTSD, but continuing to externalise my emotions, possibly seeking justice (or even vengeance) on the perpetrator, is generally considered to be a less healthy option than seeking treatment aimed at restoring some sense of inner calm.
Now of course, when viewed externally from the point of view of a neutral observer, one could say that the law administers justice, the perpetrator is punished, and the social equilibrium restored, end of story, but this doesn’t really address the issue of how to manage the emotional trauma as it is experienced by the individual concerned.
Equally, as mentioned, when we are children we are vulnerable and dependent, and even as adults we can find ourselves impotent in the face of overwhelming external forces – I don’t think I am being obtuse here when I refer to a concept of maturity whereby the individual learns to manage their own internal state, although one may argue it has become a bit of a lost art these days.
@ Adrian C
Thanks for clarifying that, but what I said also applies to adults.
Because even in adults there are so many instances where control over emotional states is severely limited or even permanently impaired because the causes, which may be ongoing, are completely beyond the individual’s control.
I don’t think anyone could fail to understand that, so I won’t make a list. Your reference to PTSD itself is an understanding of that.
My questions with regard to the example you give of being threatened with violence are simple: What if you don’t have a safe space? Millions of humans never do. How are you going to ‘regain some perspective’ and not be ‘at the mercy of your emotions’ when you’re constantly threatened with violence?
I’d never heard of Mark Manson, but his phrase struck me as the sort of half-thought-out, slightly macho self-help philosophy you’d hear from a young guy whose main life experience was limited to
a fairly comfortable existence, I imagined he’d be American…..that’s why I called it new Age.
It’s easy for someone like him to pontificate about how people should behave to recover from trauma when his only experience of it is probably having a nasty fright crossing the road or getting dumped by his girlfriend.
In the course of my life I’ve known many who have experienced real trauma, many of them never really ‘recover’ and it’s not because they’re not doing the ‘right’ things it’s because the damage is too great and in some cases permanent.
Much better to try to understand the causes and nature of the trauma to educate and prevent than judge the victims from a position of ignorance and immaturity.
Also, if you’re interested in trauma, justice, and revenge I’d suggest reading Primo Levi’s ‘If not now when?….a bit more grown up than Mark Manson.
Pete – I have no experience of being continuously exposed to the threat of violence so I can’t really answer your question – I do know that treatment of PTSD aims at restoring some degree of personal boundaries within which the patient can feel safe,
I have tried to post a longer response to your previous post but for some reason it won’t accept my post – I will try again later.
Joanne, I will have to disagree with you on this:
“And I also believe that part of the problem is unique to the West and has arisen solely because of the East-meets-West phenomena.”
The West certainly has its share of problems, and it is certainly not perfect. However, lamas have always abused power and misbehaved. It is obvious that there is abuse happening in India and Nepal, which is just as bad, if not much worse, than what happens in the West. (I’m sure it happens in Tibet too, but we don’t hear as much about what happens there.) I think what we are seeing in the West is simply the veil of secrecy being lifted from a culture we didn’t know much about before.
I will agree that there is also a culture clash that creates its own problems. But you can’t narrow it down to just that.
Catlover, I said “part of the problem.” Also, I would never judge as definitively as you have about abuses in other countries and cultures. I have a daughter who is an academic in African music/culture and she has trained me well on how difficult it is to make judgements on what does and doesn’t happen in other cultures. That’s a part of this trouble that we have to be very careful about in my opinion. I think we have enough trouble assessing the troubles within our own cultures without jumping to the idea that we know about other cultures. Very dangerous thinking.
And I think that making sweeping generalities about Tibet’s “feudal past” or “feudal culture” is also very dangerous. We cannot possibly know the true reality of Tibetans past or present. In fact, many of the Tibetans I have met are gentle, kind and happy with their religion and their culture. Friends I have who spend time with Tibetans often speak of their kindness and generosity. There are stories of Tibetans never locking their doors and of sharing food with strangers passing by. People who visit Tibetan regions of Nepal are often impressed with the warmth and humor and generosity of the people. How can we possibly judge and claim that Tibetans were miserable and down-trodden and mean? Sometimes these statements sound like Chinese propaganda! So we do have to be careful to honor a legitimate culture of good human beings, while still not accepting wrong doing– Tahlia’s main point.
Did I say that ordinary Tibetans are mean? Joanne, you don’t know me, but for your info, I have been around Tibetans, I have met them, talked to them, and worked with them quite a lot. I agree with you that most ordinary Tibetan folks seem to be kind, openhearted, generous people, although like any other group of people, they also have their flaws. Where did you get the idea that I am disparaging a whole group of people?!?!? In fact, I really believe that while Buddhism influences their culture, most Tibetans are not so involved with lamas or Dharma centers. Most of them don’t know much (or care) about esoteric Buddhism, and they don’t seem to be devoting their lives to lamas, (except for an occasional audience or empowerment they might attend). Regular Tibetans don’t have anything to do with corruption of lamas, any more than most Westerners and Americans have anything to do with the priests and corrupt elitists in the Catholic Church.
When I am critical about Tibetan Buddhism in this dialogue, I am mostly referring to certain aspects of the Vajrayana and the elitists who engage in those things, and the way they abuse and manipulate people. I am not not ordinary Tibetan folks. I am referring to many of the lamas in power, and the inner circle that surrounds them. I know enough about that too, so I am able to form an educated opinion. You don’t even know me or what I know, so it would be good to stop judging and assuming things about me or what I think.
I guess when I talked about the “culture” you thought I meant the whole Tibetan culture, so I’m sorry for not making it more clear before. I am talking about “lama culture” not “lay people culture” which is different. (Yet I will say that some of the Tibetan ideas about women and sex do permeate through the entire culture, so there is a relationship between how Tibetan men view women in general and how it is practiced in Vajrayana.) But when I speak about the problems in Vajrayana, as well as the abuse in monasteries, I am referring to the culture of religious institutions and the corruption of the power elite and their cronies, etc. It is said that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and I think that’s the main problem. Power and secrecy together form a lethal cocktail. Now that some of that secrecy is being eroded in the West, we are starting to see the veil lift from that culture of secrecy, (not the *whole* lay Tibetan culture). I am talking about the culture of secrecy that surrounds the lamas and their institutions. We in the West do not know much about the secret societies and inner workings of their religious institutions, (and even the common Tibetans don’t know much about what goes on among the elites and inside the monasteries). The Tibetans (and Westerners who marry Tibetans), probably wouldn’t send their young children into monasteries if they knew how often children are molested and abused. They send them in the good faith that they will be cared for and educated.
Actually, Catlover, my first comment was directed to you and my second comment was directed towards the conversation around Pete’s comment some comments back. So I apologize for that misunderstanding– I need to learn to be more clear about who I am addressing!
Okay, I see, Joanne. Yes, it is confusing if one doesn’t know who is being addressed. 🙂
Actually, I’ll let Pete speak for himself, but my impression was that Pete was also talking about the same thing I was. I didn’t get the feeling he was disparaging Tibetan people in general. He was talking about the feudal system, (and even the Dalai Lama called it feudal recently), so one can’t say it’s just a Chinese phrase. Pete was talking about powerful lamas and the religious institution. I don’t think this conversation has ever centered around regular Tibetan folks. In fact, I think it is often mentioned that Tibetans too were abused by those in power. This is about power and corruption of an institution, not the common folks, who are outside of that institution, other than being its victims.
Thanks for pointing out that I haven’t ever referred to ordinary Tibetans as a people but Tibetan Buddhism as a religious institution and more specifically how it relates to the west, there’s no point in conflating the two.
Pete and Catlover, when you speak of a feudal system, theocratic or secular, you are talking about the power of the elite– but you are also talking about the downtrodden, ignorant and slavish culture of the peasant. This is why I spoke of ordinary Tibetans whom I do not see as downtrodden, ignorant or slavish– but full of laughter and happiness and independence. Their devotion to their lamas is real, but they are also nomads at heart– so I also see the fiercely independent spirit of a nomad. Things are simply not black and white, particularly when we are speaking of culture. So we have to be careful I think– otherwise, we will start agreeing with the Chinese who claim they have liberated the Tibetan masses!
This article (linked below) was written back when the Trungpa scandals were big– but I think it is still relevant and insightful. In this article, she speaks about how the power of lamas within Tibetan cultures was not absolute, but had checks and balances written into the culture itself. We do not have these checks and balances in Western culture, so this is also some of the problem in this current situation, this very very complex situation.
And also, Pete, just to be clear, I am not saying that feudal structures don’t exist within Tibetan Buddhist culture (or Tibetan culture for that matter), or that they are not a problem– once again, I’m trying to see the whole picture and avoid extreme views about it. And I also have seen very sincere and significant progress, the position of women being one area.
I think the Tibetans in exile are probably much happier and freer now than they were in old Tibet, whether modern Tibetans realize it or not. I’m not saying they are happy in Tibet under Chinese rule either, nor am I defending what the Chinese leaders do to oppress them, so don’t accuse me of being a Chinese spy. However, it looks to me like they lived under a Tibetan dictatorship before, and now they live under a Chinese dictatorship. Neither of them were/are pleasant for those on the “wrong side” of the government, the ruling elite, or whoever was in charge. There are always “happy” people in dictatorships, who manage to escape the oppression of a tyrannical government, (or they are left alone because they cooperate with the government, or they don’t happen to cause ‘trouble’ for the government), but that doesn’t make the government any less oppressive to those who suffer because they get in trouble with the ‘powers that be.’ Also, nomadic people, who wandered around in old Tibet, were probably better off and much happier because they were not as tied down to the politics and the rules of society as a whole, and they were less likely to get into trouble, either with the ruling government in Lhasa, or the local, regional government, which was also oppressive. You’re right that things are not black and white, but that also means the ‘other’ side isn’t black and white either.
But that’s not the point of this discussion. We are talking about abuses within the institution of Tibetan Buddhism, and the lamas who enable and promote it. This isn’t about ordinary Tibetans, or even the rulers who oppressed them in old Tibet. It is about what they are doing NOW, both in India/Nepal, and in the West, and how they cover up what they do, or try to defend it. It is also about Tibetan Vajrayana being transplanted to the West, and the lamas who abuse it and use it for their own gain, and the abuses they create, and the way our culture reacts to it. But it isn’t just a matter of the West “misunderstanding” another culture. It’s a matter of the West refusing to tolerate what another culture tolerates, or at least what the elitists from that culture tell us to tolerate. It’s all coming out into the open now, and I think more changes will take place.
“It is about what they are doing NOW, both in India/Nepal, and in the West, and how they cover up what they do, or try to defend it.” (I don’t mean the Tibetan people when I say “they” here. I am referring to the lamas, their inner circle, and their friends, etc.
There is no such thing as a “golden age.” That term is just a sentimental term for “selective memory.”
The point was more in response to Pete’s idea of demons, superstition, and folklore, where a thousand years ago a Tibetan woman asserted that the only demon was one’s own ego.
I did say that it seemed to be represented as a golden age, I have no knowledge or memory going that far back, and neither do I really care – if you think discussing this will further the conversation and make a valid contribution then be my guest, I probably won’t be joining you on that one 🙂
I didn’t say anyone in modern times has a memory that goes back so far, lol! 😀 When I said “selective memory,” I meant the collective memory of society…..they way people think of an era. I agree that we don’t need to turn that into a big discussion. my comment was only meant to be a brief observation.
What is considered “golden” is very subjective.
Pete wrote, “Your description of karma just doesn’t match any of the the traditional teachings I’ve ever heard, I don’t think Buddhism acknowedges the random at all, to the point of ignoring it completely…”
A quick search taking me to a wikipedia page on karma in Buddhism says, “The Buddha’s teaching of karma is not strictly deterministic, but incorporated circumstantial factors, unlike that of the Jains. It is not a rigid and mechanical process, but a flexible, fluid and dynamic process, and not all present conditions can be ascribed to karma.”
It seems the distorted version of karma brings it back to the individual self, who is then deemed responsible for their own fate, but this seems to ignore the teachings about non-self and the five aggregates; form, sensation, perception, mental formations (karmic activities), and consciousness.
@ Adrian C
In 15 years I never had teachings from wikipedia, and so I never heard it described as flexible or fluid.
What matters is how it’s actually taught in Tibetan Buddhism. What for and how do people actually interpret it?….because let’s face it, who really considers themselves to be a ‘non-self’……nobody I ever met at least.
Whatever the strict and abstruse philosophical meaning, it’s what it actually does to people’s outlook that matters.
again my longer reply wont load up – (possibly in a few hours it will suddenly post it 30 times and I will look like I’m spamming the thread!)
Pete, I’ll be honest with you – very few students I’ve spoken to seem to have applied this fundamental teaching, and equally they all seem to have no real knowledge of the dharma because of this. Obviously following the crowd and having your view caught up in the general consensus is practising the opposite of developing a fully individuated perspective. If you want to know what it looks like, you really have to go there for yourself.
Adrian, If I’ve understood what you mean correctly, then I didn’t develop what you call a ‘fully individuated perspective’ until I rejected the principle tenets of Buddhism and left.
Straightforward cause and effect itself is obvious, but karma as it’s taught is entirely dependent on accepting the idea of reincarnation….otherwise, for example, you can’t explain why so many mass murderers die peacefully in their beds: Buddhists would say: “Oh, they’ll receive the results of their negative actions in future lives.” Or conversely, why someone would be born severely disabled and so on….
We were repeatedly told: “If you want to know your past actions look at your present condition and if you want to know your future condition look at your present actions” that’s unambiguous enough.
Without belief in a chain of causality from one life to the next, independent of chance, events look frighteningly random and unfair, and doing millions of recitations completely pointless. It’s mostly the expectation of much better things in future, a huge spiritual payoff, that keeps Buddhists going.
Practice might give some people a buzz, but it’s short lived; I suppose it might work as an anxiety displacement activity for some, but the longer you do it the more tediously repetitive it gets, especially as you get loaded with one sadhana after another. Even if you want something simple, avoiding all the extra baggage is very difficult.
But there isn’t a single shred of proof for re-incarnation, like the concept of enlightenment, you either take it on blind trust or most of Buddhism starts to seem like any other religion: one giant fabrication woven from truth, half-truth and untruth to fool people, cheer them up and hook them for life.
So obviously, I’m an apostate, I don’t believe a word of it and this means I don’t waste my life, time, energy or money venerating anyone and doing what I see as completely pointless things that I no longer enjoy, over and over again.
It does mean accepting a single lifespan in a fundamentally meaningless universe …….so I understand it’s not for everyone.
“accepting a single lifespan in a fundamentally meaningless universe” sounds suspiciously like a sutra description of viewing dukkha with neither attachment nor aversion, and, “…one giant fabrication woven from truth, half-truth and untruth…” sounds an awful lot like a description of dependent origination in terms of mind, speech and body – are you sure you’re an apostate?
Well, I’m fairly sure I am, but now you mention it, I did wonder about those thousand-spoked wheels on my feet……
No, I view a lot of things with attachment and aversion, and even the idea of not doing that sounds so unnatural now and like a description of a kind of depersonalization disorder that it doesn’t appeal to me at all……one of the many reasons I stopped practising was the feeling that aspiring to be anything other than a decent ordinary human being was ridiculously pretentious and quite weird.
I’m still waiting to be excommunicated though.
yeah Pete, just wait till you lose your wheels – you have to walk everywhere after that! :p
Pete, it’s true that there is no “proof” of reincarnation– but there are 2,500 documented cases of young children with past life memories in a research library at the University of Virginia. These stories are being collected by scientists, academics of high standing, so they aren’t just legends or rumors. Nor are they proof– because scientist rarely speak of “proof”. But they are evidence for something happening which allows young two year olds to know things about the lives of people who died. And the evidence continues to pile up. I am only saying this because I think one can no longer scorn those who accept reincarnation as a likely explanation for what happens after death.
Interesting, I’ve never heard about that, I’ll check it out.
I’d be glad if it was true, but since consciousness is a function of the brain I just can’t think of a mechanism that would enable consciousness to even persist after physical death let alone transfer itself to another brain…..it doesn’t make sense.
Everything which forms consciousness: thoughts, emotions, memories, etc – is stored and accessed in the brain by a combination of biochemical and electrical signals across synapses, the points at which the brain’s neurons touch, so when the brain stops functioning and eventually decomposes into its constituent atoms then cosciousness ceases to exist.
We’re carbon-based life-forms, organic life, but if consciousness is somehow not dependent organic life, then where did it come from before organic life existed on earth? It has to have an independent origin surely?
There’s no proof reincarnation doesn’t exist because you can’t prove a negative, but any proof it does exist would effectively negate the current laws of physics….. but to be fair I suppose understanding of those is expanding all the time so who knows?
Is there really conclusive proof that the there is a cellular/biochemical basis for consciousness, and that it resides in the brain? I feel a scientific approach would be characterised by scepticism, in which all explanations are provisional. That said, a biochemical basis for consciousness would not necessarily refute reincarnation. All phenomena have a material basis ?
apparently an EEG scan can’t actually prove that jello isn’t sentient!
@ Andrew Rose
(As a non-scientist) I’d say yes…..;from all that I’ve ever read, heard and seen and in and my own experience.
Current scientific understanding has made some extraordinary advances possible for our species and looking for obscure, complicated explanations based on flimsy, anecdotal evidence that goes against that understanding in order to justify belief in religious doctrine from a time when the world was thought to rest on a giant tortoise, well that’s slightly perverse.
This is the stuff of Occam’s Razor: the principle that the most immediate evident explanation is probably a better one that an obscure complicated one. (my paraphrase)
I think we are getting way off topic, lol!
Yes, Pete, I agree, and also with neuroscience. Recently, a Russian neuroscientist looked HHDL in the eye and said, “if reincarnation can be proven, then that is a game changer for neuroscience.” I find the question of whether or not all our subjective experiences can be attributed to the brain to be a really fascinating one. Thinking about it from a Western viewpoint really helps understand the Buddhist viewpoint and logic imo. HHDL for example asks how can we determine what is a valid thought from what is not valid if everything is just neurons– for example, the same neurons are activated when we are feeling compassion for others and when we are feeling sad about ourselves, how is it that we know the difference? If we put neurons in a Petri dish will that initiates thought? Etc. etc. I think one of the most interesting studies being done are those on meditators in the the state of thug den– meditators whose bodies remain fresh and who stay in meditative posture weeks after their brain is clinically dead. There are machines waiting in India to run tests on these meditators, but so far, there have been only a few cases tested and results therefore can’t have significance.
And Adrian, neuroscientist Richard Davidson was once asked if his meetings with the Dalai Lama were resulting in him accepting the existence of a soul (e.g. Consciousness outside of brain). Richie answered that scientists don’t even understand what neuronal mechanisms allow us to pick up a cup of coffee, much less whether or not there is a consciousness beyond the brain. So you are right, early days yet to be talking about any proof.
And Catlover, you are right, a little fun digression!
I remember hearing about thugden…….but an accurate diagnosis of clinical death would be beyond the average person, and even eludes medical professionals occasionally, so I always assumed they were people who were either unresponsive, not really dead or in a coma and whose bodies were supported in a stable position. At high altitude and low temperature decomposition could be slowed up. (Now if they stayed standing on one foot that would be different.)
If your monastery can prop someone up with a stick for a while, you’ve got a nice little earner there.
My wife’s great grandmother was pronounced dead twice, but the doctor only got it right the third time many years later, it’s not uncommon.
I also remember Sogyal talking about this and people who dissolved into a rainbow…..he claimed he’d seen a body of one of these….it was supposedly just shrunk slightly because the meditator had been ‘disturbed’ and the process interrupted…..frankly we’re into a fantasy world there.
As with stories of re-incarnation, there’s a very strong bias towards confirmation when you have a vested interest and then what is anecdotal becomes fact.
Curiously, like miracles, these things don’t seem to happen that much despite the millions of people who practice. I think believing that any human being has or ever could defy biology is wishful thinking.
I’m open minded, but only in the sense that I’ll believe when I meet the first talking, reading, intellectually fully functional baby who asks where the toilet is and I see someone levitating…..I’m not being difficult here, just a few millimetres would do.
Pete, your skepticism would be fine if it were directed towards reading the works of the academics who have investigated children remembering past lives, looked at their experimental controls etc. And also, they do not claim they have proven reincarnation etc. And as for the thugden examples, skepticism is fine because we are years off before scientists are ready to publish anything.
Joanne, I appreciate that you’re being polite, because I’m not just a skeptic but also extremely cynical and although you might think that’s my loss, it’s the result of costly experiences that in retrospect make me wish I’d been as cynical before encountering Buddhism. I’m happy with it.
( Ok, I’ll concede that such cynicism is just negative confirmation bias on my part. )
I did read up on Stevenson’s work and several things struck me: He was financed to research reincarnation by a guy whose wife was very enthusiastic about it; only a very small number of his peers have ever supported him, most ignored his work as being not sufficiently rigorous and he was criticized for being credulous, using local translators who accepted stories because they were culturally inclined to, taking parent’s accounts at face value without considering their ulterior motivation and not factoring in that many of the cases involved individuals from families known to one another.
No ‘karma’ was apparent, nor any consistent time frame and he himself was unable to suggest any mechanism for reincarnation.
There were certainly some cases that were difficult to explain, but that’s where coincidence comes in: ( there are fourteen million to one chances against winning the lottery, but someone does, almost every week ) For you there are enough facts to believe, but for me nowhere near enough to prevent me seeing it all as wishful thinking.
Also, the problem is that if you maintain consciousness isn’t produced by and can sometimes exist independently of a physical organism and transit between organisms after death, you immediately come up against many unanswerable questions, here are just a few that occur to me:
Where did it come from before organic life existed ?
What then is it and how does it exist ?
Is it eternal ? Finite or infinite ?
How does it have cognition and perceive without sense organs ?
How does it move and direct itself specifically to it’s new existence ?
( If you say it’s passively directed by ‘karmic impulses’, then the same questions then apply to them )
Why then is consciousness so obviously affected by quantifiable external and internal physical factors such as physical trauma, surgery, disease, chemical input such as drugs, nutrition, temperature and so on ?
If each individual born has to receive consciousness from elsewhere why is there such a discrepancy in the ratio of human births and deaths and which is 2.39 births for each death ?
( If you say that reincarnation crosses species, then as a Buddhist, you have to explain how non-human organisms without the possibility of moral choice can accumulate merit for a human rebirth and how did single celled organisms even begin to evolve spiritually and morally ? )
Where exactly are all these consciousnesses coming from ? Three billion in the 60’s to about seven and a half billion and rising today)
How does this fit with evolution in the Darwinian sense ?
I could go on…..
Perhaps a competent Buddhist scholar could come up with some complex sophistry for these questions, but that’s just my point: why posit an abstruse complex mechanism that no one has ever demonstrated on such flimsy evidence when current scientific understanding and evidence is sufficient to explain ?
Of course someone will say: “Ah yes, but does science really understand ? ” Which is basically saying why trust the people who built the Hadron Collider when you can trust some stoned Bronze Age priests who believed the universe sat on the back of a cosmic tortoise ?
I seem to recall the Buddha is said to have maintained a ‘Noble Silence’ when asked questions like these…….presumably a polite translation of the Pali for ‘Didn’t have a clue’.
I think it’s important not only to ask questions about whether traditional teachings are true, but also why we so desperately want them to be in the absence of proof.
Just to point out Pete that your version of reincarnation is not strictly Buddhist here. The first use of this more Vedic version was first used in Tibet in, I believe, the early 13th Century by the Kagyu school to ‘discover’ the second Karmapa.
Again, I’m going from memory of an oral teaching from a very well known Tibetan Lama who made it quite clear this was simply an invention to maintain power within the lineage.
Two points Pete and then I’ll stop this big digression ha ha. First, many of your questions remind me of questions I’ve encountered in Buddhist texts and HHDL’s teaching– and believe me the answers aren’t simplistic belief systems. For example, they would answer that consciousness is beginning less and that is based on an understanding of causal relations. They would also point to the fact that there are sentient beings in other solar systems, which really is highly likely, and why there is not a finite number of human beings etc. Often there are complex logical reasonings they use that do make sense.
And second, I don’t think neuroscientists would agree with you that the reductionist theory is perfectly capable of explaining every subjective phenomena. In fact, I heard a leading neuroscientist once say that we are at a point with our understanding of the brain and subjective experience that might be similar to where physics was in pre-Quantum days, implying that traditional ways of viewing subjective experience might simply not be adequate. So this is an exciting field, and I try not to hold too rigidly to my belief systems, but your holding onto your “belief” system seems a little rigid perhaps?
another technical point, at the risk of sounding like a pedant!
Consciousness (vijñāna) is a skandha, as is manas which refers to the general faculty of the intellect which grasps mental objects. Citta however is neither an entity nor a process, and so is not counted a skandha, so to echo Pete’s question “Where did it come from before organic life existed?”
As Joanne correctly points out, there is simply no answer to that, to posit a cause for ‘life’ is to impose our own projection onto it, all we can say with any certainty, from a perspective utterly within ‘life’, is answered by Nagajuna – it can’t have been caused by not-life, and if it was caused by life, then what caused that life?
All attempted answers (i.e. grasping at metal objects) result in the endless cycling of infinite regress (karma), like asking what was before the big bang to cause it, we come back to the phrase, “it’s turtles all the way down”!
@Joanne & Adrian,
I suppose we have to accept that it’s been fun, but we’re unlikely to find any common ground here, which is understandable: you both follow Buddhist teachings because you believe they lead to greater happiness or maybe even enlightenment.
I don’t because I think they’re an antiquated understanding of life, a kind of mental cul-de-sac, and enlightenment is a ridiculous and possibly dangerous fantasy of omniscience and power.
We all do what we think will make us happy and whether we’re right or wrong in the long run probably isn’t so important, providing we don’t harm others in the process.
( Buddhism didn’t make me happy in the long run but abandoning it did.) I think it’s a mental trap, because for all the talk of freedom, you’re actually being told what to do, what to think, believe and how to live your life……and in considerable detail too..
In all it’s long history Buddhism hasn’t produced much that’s useful to humanity in terms of social, political, material or intellectual progress, because like all religions it’s there to preserve the status quo, it’s reactionary. Human progress surged when individuals abandoned religion, and that alone shows what it’s true purpose is.
Because of this, Buddhism, despite its public image, is like all religions: not benign at all, if it were then Buddhist societies themselves would have been very different.
And this is why I treat it’s baroque, obscurantist dogma with such skepticism.
As to our debate: well, please don’t think I’m being rude but I’d say that your counter-arguments illustrate that point quite nicely:
“Your version of reincarnation isn’t strictly Buddhist but Vedic”…..”consciousness is beginingless”……”sentient beings in other solar systems”……..”complex logical reasonings” ….. “neuroscientists wouldn’t agree with you” ….”quantum”…..”vjnana….skhanda….citta….Nagarjuna ….grasping at mental objects….endless cycling of infinite regress……. “
Wow, you’ve literally gone into outer space searching for arguments there……
I’m going to be honest and say that I can’t actually understand what most of all that means, and the parts that I do understand are wrong…… and somewhere lost in all this Buddhist jargon is the simple fact that all of us are born and have to learn everything and none of us actually remembers all this supposed infinite succession of lives, so what possible difference does it make?……it’s just speculation and sophistry.
Almost everything else you do in life, is based on logic, proof and experience, so why is it that you’re prepared to blindly accept something that has so little logic, no proof and is beyond your own experience completely ?
If it’s just to reassure yourself that you’re not really mortal and there’s another life after death and an endless series of lives until you become enlightened, then I understand that, but is it really honest to hide that very human hope behind such insubstantial, convoluted reasoning ? Basically it’s no different from believing in God and eternal life.
You’re mortgaging your present for an imaginary future.
But I admit it, your relentless refusal to yield to ordinary common sense and logic has now defeated my desire to argue further, so perhaps as you say, we’ve digressed enough.
Are you sure you’re a Buddhist? Because some of what you say sounds like you are putting your own “spin” on it.
well, that’s an interesting question Catlover, I often wonder if it’s possible to really understand Buddhism and still self-identify as a Buddhist.
I’ve been to many different talks and seen as many different ‘spins’ as I’ve heard Lamas, each has their own explanation and presentation. I’ve taken refuge vows, which I include in a daily practice, I’m a member of the same sangha as another person who I’ve noticed has posted on this site, and believe in the truth of the four seals and the four noble truths, what other requirements would you say there are?
However, having said all that, and although my practice is thoroughly Tibetan, my view would almost certainly be considered heretical in the eyes of some of the more conservative Tibetan Lamas.
I would agree with the conservative Tibetan lamas that your views don’t appear to be orthodox. 😀
I don’t know if there are any special “requirements” other than believing in the 4 Noble Truths and the 4 seals, etc. It’s just that some of your comments on karma and emptiness don’t really sound like any Dharma teachings I’ve ever heard before, even from crazy wisdom Vajrayana types. 🙂
Also, just a note…while Wikipedia can be a great source for info, I wouldn’t recommend it as your go-to source for Dharma explanations. Not only can Wikipedia be wrong, but it isn’t really meant to be a resource for understanding Buddhist teachings, (unless you’re not a Buddhist, but you just want a brief overview). There are better sources to go to, such as access to insight, (which is a Theravadan site, but it’s a great resource for basic Dharma teachings), as well as Berzin archives, which is an excellent Tibetan Buddhist resource, where you can find anything from the tantric vows explained, to all kinds of various teachings and explanations for all things Dharmic.
I was responding to Adrian C.
yeah, thanks Catlover, I did read through the Access to Insight website (well maybe not all of it) about 10 years ago. The Wings to Awakening I found particularly interesting.
From my point of view, I find that orthodox Tibetan presentation makes it very hard to gain any perspective. I generally don’t practice any outer tantra myself, and when I do venture there, I find it very easy to get lost in overly procedural officious rules and details which makes it hard for me to see the forest because the trees get in the way of the wider view. I don’t only refer to inner tantra here, but also as before to the contents of Access to Insight, knowledge of which seems to be sadly lacking in many Vajrayana practitioners.
What strikes me in writing this are the amount of new-Age practitioners in Tibetan Buddhism who have a belief in the healing, wholeness, and completeness of the self, and who seem to feel the need to reject outright the concept of anatta.
The important thing to remember is that “no self” doesn’t not mean the “self” doesn’t exist. The “self” exists in *dependence* upon parts, and aspects, which are then labeled as “self.” Emptiness (as taught in Tibetan Buddhism), is not nihilism, and this is where many misunderstandings in the Dharma arise. This is actually a good way to bring this thread back onto the topic of Sogyal, and other abusive lamas. I think a lot of abuses happen when even the lamas forget about *interdependence* and think everything is “nothing” and there is no “right” or “wrong” so it doesn’t matter if they misbehave, etc. This is totally wrong and they show that they have slid into nihilism when they act the way they do.
I meant to say “The important thing to remember is that “no self” does not mean the “self” doesn’t exist.” (typo)
you say that, The “self” exists in *dependence* upon parts, and aspects, which are then labeled as “self.”
surely the labelling is prior to the parts as explained by the three levels of dependent arising – there is unconditioned space without reference points (mind) – then labelling which shapes ‘reality’ by semi-established reference points (speech) – and finally there are perceived parts appearing to interact with each other viewed as causes (body)
this view is consistent with western philosophies concerning the formation of the self, which is never completed due to the underlying pre-linguistic energies having to become differentiated and divided in order to establish a boundary between the I and the other – put simply, every speech act presupposes its listener before the fact.
I am not qualified to explain emptiness, so if you are interested in studying more about it, then I would suggest you explore the Berzin archives for something accurate. They probably have some explanations there. Also, many Dharma books have explanations which are much more clear than anything you or I could say.
Catlover, I have to admit I have absolutely no idea what Berzin is saying. I think his site is an attempt to disprove Wittgenstein’s assertion that there is no such thing as a private language!
Personally I’d recommend Mipham’s dialectics on emptiness, and Gorampa’s Freedom from Extremes. If you’d like to get a more western take on the incomplete formation of the self, then Calum Neill’s Lacanian Ethics and the Assumption of Subjectivity is quite an in-depth but approachable critique of the Descartes’ “I think therefore I am”
I’m unsure why you keep coming back to ideas about emptiness and nihilism though, from the start I’ve been talking about the speech aspect and what that reveals about the inter-relationships surrounding Sogyal and the Rigpa sangha.
It’s interesting how you’ve just done the same thing which I first pointed out in the article – to place yourself in a position of not knowing, which I’ve noticed you are also trying to shoehorn me into – the dynamic of the self-disempowering sangha, with it’s mantra, “someone else knows, not us, not us – emptiness, nihilism, eeek! we’re out of our depth, seeking authority elsewhere,” etc. etc. (I’ve now come full circle, so I’d better bow out before I take rebirth here!)
I didn’t say emptiness is nihilism. Quite the contrary. I am saying people in general, (not necessarily you), misunderstand it, especially when they listen to the really high-level tantric explanations of it. I’m not saying the tantrics necessarily explain it wrong, but they explain it so that it is above a lot of people’s heads, especially if they have not studied the basics first. So, in my opinion, it’s better to start with basics to get a clear understanding and then go on from there to the more esoteric levels of understanding. You seemed interested in the topic, so I recommended some good sources. I don’t feel qualified to explain emptiness and I feel that whatever I say, people will start arguing with me on each point and/or misunderstanding what I am trying to say. I am not willing or able to get into a deep philosophical discussion about it, nor do I feel like that’s what this thread is for.
I am sorry, but will not engage further with you anymore regarding this topic. (If you want to talk to me about something else, that’s fine with me.) If you have misunderstood my points, I am sorry. I didn’t mean to offend, but I don’t have the ability to explain or defend everything I say. I was trying to bring this thread back to the topic it was meant for, which is Sogyal, certain lamas and their abuses, or tolerance of abuse, etc. I do believe that some of the “crazy wisdom” types lose there way and start misunderstanding their own teachings. So, I thought mentioning that would be a good way to get us all back on topic.
That’s why I keep mentioning “nihilism” because I feel that this is what those abusive lamas are sliding into. it’s like they don’t have any understanding of their won teachings, so they really shouldn’t be trying to explain it to anyone else. Reminds me of the Buddha’s sutra about “tame yourself before trying to tame others.”
“If we hold ourselves dear, then we maintain careful self regard, both day and night. It is wise to set oneself right before instructing others. Ones own self is the hardest to discipline, you should act as you teach. Tame yourself before trying to tame others.” That’s from the Dhammapada.
I meant to say, “it’s like they don’t have any understanding of their *own* teachings.”
yes, I see what you’re saying, but in Buddhism the term nihilism is usually referring to ‘annihilationism’ – the mistaken belief that there are objects which can go out of existence – which I’m struggling to reconcile with an explanation of abusive Lamas.
I suspect you mean existential nihilism, which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value, which I would happen to agree with – for me, the idea that we are witnessing abuse is purely subjective, those experiencing it are also feeling it subjectively – I feel no need to establish universal certainty concerning relationships, for me, the truth of their experience is sufficient.
The one certainty I would put forward though, having spent many years of study and practice, maybe 25 years before the teachings of the Buddha became transparent enough for me to make an assessment, is that I’ve seen no evidence that Sogyal has any other practice than the acting out his infantile approval seeking fantasies towards his symbolic (m)other.
“I’ve seen no evidence that Sogyal has any other practice than the acting out his infantile approval seeking fantasies towards his symbolic (m)other.”
Symbolic (m)other, lol! That cracked me up! You may be onto something there. 😀
Well Pete, in some ways I agree with you, although my conclusions are somewhat different.
Since we abandoned the idea of the divine right of Kings, we now have ‘democracy’ which in practice means majority rule, or to put it another way, the elevation of the most popular – that means everyone has an iPhone, Donald Trump is president of the US, and Sogyal has one of the most popular sanghas, despite all of them providing only bland platitudes and generalities which are unchallenging and therefore have the wider mass appeal.
This is the source of our ‘moral relativism’ – we no longer have the ability to discern what is better, and of course the Buddhist hierarchy of views is suspiciously ‘elitist’ – Sogyal is where he is today due to this populism, and it seems the only way to get rid of him is to engage in a shouting match in an attempt to get people to vote with their feet.