Mingyur Rinpoche Clarifies Ethics in the Student-Teacher Relationship

Mingyur RinpocheMingyur Rinpoche has provided important clarifications about the role of ethics in Buddhism and in particular, about ethics in the student-teacher relationship in a recent Lion’s Roar article published on August 9th. In the introduction to the article, he says,   “The one time people ask me about ethics is when scandals or controversies happen in Buddhist communities.”
He answers critical questions in this piece, ones plaguing the minds of many Rigpa students, including whether it’s okay to leave a teacher and how to do so, how to respond when a teacher appears to be committing serious ethical violations, and how to differentiate between “crazy wisdom” and abuse.
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche is a master of the Karma Kagyu and Nyingma lineages of Tibetan Buddhism.  Sogyal Rinpoche holds him in the highest regard, and once asked him to guide his students in the future. In his letter to the Rigpa sangha, penned after allegations of abuse surfaced, Sogyal Rinpoche said he would especially seek advice from Mingyur Rinpoche.

Is It Okay to Leave a Teacher?

So many students feel catapulted into extreme conflict when they consider leaving a Vajrayana teacher. Mingyur Rinpoche says:

“Many students of Tibetan Buddhism mistakenly think that they cannot, or should not, leave a teacher once they’ve made a commitment to them. This is not the case. The whole point of the teacher–student relationship is that it should benefit the student. It is not for the teacher’s gain or profit. If you have tried your best and have found that it is not a good fit, you can look for another teacher. This is not a problem or personal failing. It is good judgment.”

He goes on to say when the student-teacher relationship is not a good fit, it’s best to leave quietly without criticizing the teacher or disturbing other students’ positive view of the teacher.  But there is an important exception to this.

How To Handle Serious Ethical Violations on the Part of a Teacher

When serious ethical violations occur, you are not bound to a quiet departure. Mingyur Rinpoche tells us:

“In that case, the violation of ethical norms needs to be addressed. If physical or sexual abuse has occurred, or there is financial impropriety or other breaches of ethics, it is in the best interest of the students, the community, and ultimately the teacher, to address the issues. Above all, if someone is being harmed, the safety of the victim comes first. This is not a Buddhist principle. This is a basic human value and should never be violated.”

Is it a breach of samaya to raise your concerns about serious ethical violations?  Not according to Mingyur Rinpoche:

“In these circumstances, it is not a breach of samaya to bring painful information to light. Naming destructive behaviors is a necessary step to protect those who are being harmed or who are in danger of being harmed in the future, and to safeguard the health of the community.”

When Is Crazy Wisdom Appropriate and How Do You Differentiate It From Abuse?

A segment of Rigpa students excuse what appears to be abusive behaviors on the part of Sogyal Rinpoche as “crazy wisdom.”  But Mingyur Rinpoche clarifies that the use of “crazy wisdom” is the rare exception not the norm.  He says it also depends entirely on a very mature spiritual relationship between the student and the teacher.  He explains:

“In other words, the results of genuine ‘crazy wisdom’ are always positive and visible. When a teacher uses an extreme approach that is rooted in compassion, the result is spiritual growth, not trauma. Trauma is a sure sign that the ‘crazy wisdom’ behavior was missing the wisdom to see what would truly benefit the student, the compassion that puts the student’s interest first, or both.”

Some Rigpa students cite stories of physical abuse on the part of spiritual masters like Marpa, Tilopa, and Patrol Rinpoche to explain Sogyal Rinpoche’s behavior.  However, Mingyur Rinopche makes it abundantly clear that these extreme teachings styles were uncommon and a last resort.

“Not only are these extreme teaching methods used only with very mature students and in the context of a relationship of stable trust and devotion, they are also a last resort. There are said to be four kinds of enlightened activity: peaceful, magnetizing, enriching, and wrathful. Wrathful activity is only used for those who are not receptive to more subtle approaches. So again, this style is not a norm, but something that is only employed in certain circumstances.”

He further clarifies by saying:

“Thus we must distinguish teachers who are eccentric or provocative—but ultimately compassionate and skillful—from those who are actually harming students and causing trauma. These are two very different things, and it is important that we do not lump them together. There are plenty of teachers who push and provoke students to help them learn about their minds, but that is not abuse. Physical, sexual, and psychological abuse are not teaching tools.”

Read the complete article on Lion’s Roar.
If you are wondering how other teachers have responded to the allegations of abuse in Rigpa, you might want to read these articles.

There is no question that Sogyal Rinpoche has benefited thousands of people through The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying and his teachings around the world.  Most students who have concerns about abusive behavior, remain deeply gratitude for all they have received from Sogyal Rinpoche. They do not deny his brilliance as a teacher or question his authenticity.  They are only raising concerns about what appears to be ethical violations in the student-teacher relationships, following the guidance of the Dalai Lama.
Has Mingyur Rinpoche’s advice helped you?  What has it clarified for you?  We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Note:  The photo is from Mingyur Rinpoche’s Facebook page.

If you have felt harmed, confused, or conflicted, the links on our resources page and the sangha care resources page may be of help.
More personal and private support for current and previous students of Rigpa can be found in the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite. Include a link to your Facebook profile or the email address you use on Facebook.

22 Replies to “Mingyur Rinpoche Clarifies Ethics in the Student-Teacher Relationship”

  1. Mingyur Rinpoche’s article is clarity itself. He leaves no wriggle room for regarding abuse as anything but abuse.
    I think it’s wonderful and timely that a person with such undisputed credentials and standing both at home and internationally has spoken clearly on the issue of ethics. It is the best statement on this topic I have yet come across by a lama. And it is brave, as it appears to go further than anyone else from the tradition has ever done before.
    Importantly, no-one now or in the future will ever be able to say they did not receive unequivocal guidance from an authentic teacher on what to do in cases of abuse, or how to interpret unskilful and harmful actions. He addresses every point on which counter-arguments are made, and demolishes them.

  2. Is this an invitation to ask Mingyur Rinpoche to become the teacher of Rigpa sangha ?
    The sangha is there, the infrastructure is there so why not?
    Best wishes

  3. So, you just wanna replace SR/SL with someone else?
    I think if you did that two things would happen.
    1) You end up with the same problems as you’re got with SR/SL.
    As Lord Acton puts it;
    “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
    Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority;
    still more when you superadd the tendency of the certainty of corruption by authority.”
    None of these Lama are above and beyond. And many of them have plenty of skeletons in their cupboards (Scandals etc).
    2) SR/SL will still continue but will just become more ‘exclusive’, teaching only to his most
    fanatical students and in a more private setting. Which will allow things to get even more extreme.
    You need to keep him were he is, don’t let him run away and hide (i.e ‘go into retreat’), keep him at the front and
    make him responsible for his actions.
    The RI team and those working around him all need a change, and should not be managed by him but be appointed by an
    independent board.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, EYJAFJALLAJÖKULL. Sogyal Rinpoche has announced that he is retiring as the Spiritual Director of Rigpa and the Rigpa International Holding Group has announced there will be a 3rd party investigation, as well as the establishment of a code of ethics and a grievance procedure.

    2. Complete nonsense, lots of people worked with pure motivation for Rigpa, centra’s are build with volunteers, lerab ling painted with volunteers who thought they contributed for the benefit for other beings, instructors giving courses volunteerly with good motivation etc etc. Lots of people didn’t know about these issues. The principle of the dogs tooth still applies here. We know now something about the nature of our dog tooth, we can smile (?).
      But that does not mean to take revenge, we know it worked and if something due to the thooth stays inside us we can continue. Therefore all the work which has been done with pure motivation may become the blessing or driving force of purification and continuation of this work to bennefit people. Do you want that Lerab Ling becomes a monument of mogging. It has to become a monument of purification.
      Rigpa is now like a caterpillar, ugly and hairy and has to undergo the proces of a pupae. That is every part is used and transformed for becoming a monarch butterfly.
      The components of the caterpillar are the lama and the sangha and the Buddha.
      The process in the pupea is is hidden and unknown to me, but it can be ongoing if we want.
      Harming harms you, therefore the Daila Lama said my good friend, but now disgraced.
      If I understood Sogyal Lakar’s curriculum vitea well it is impaired, because his root master died at an young age of Rinpoche. So his training was perhaps not sufficient.
      Lessons could be learned from this aspect.
      A simple replacement of one guru by another is not the case, it is about the lineages we share. MR explained on his website the lineage of the natural great peace which is important for our time. If Imunderstood it well no one could attain enlightenment without a guide or master. So even Rigpa needs a master.
      Rinpoche has hiden a lot for us, if he has done things openly most of have had a fair choice in following him, but now we are facing facts.
      But he also benefitted people, it’s it not totally black or white.
      On the otherhand we are involved, I think nearly everybody is involved with the building of Lerab Ling etc. There is a karmic link.
      Perhaps the whole process is one of becoming adult.
      I am not qualified enough how to deal with a disgraced teacher, and for me it is easy to say harming harms you because I did not undergo the actions mentioned in the letter of the 8.
      Rinpoche himself said he would step back, but we still need a master or masters and at least the whole sangha has to take notice of the facts of the letter of the 8. to continue the process of purification and continuation.
      We should seek guidance of a master close to the lineage of Rinpoche, we cannot become Muslims for a change.
      Perhaps more issues will come up in future related to the very recent implementation of buddhisme in the west. What kind of issues were there in the early day of Buddhism in Tibet?
      I don’ t know which role Rinpoche could play, perhaps as an translator of texts, we cannot let him down, but as a teacher at present he is disgraced . These are suggestions.
      Best wishes

      1. Just because JKCL passed away when SR was young doesn’t matter. He was then guided by Dudjom Rinpoche for many years, and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, Trulshik Rinpoche, and Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche who poured his wisdom mind into SR, and who prophesied SR would attain a certain level of vidhyadhara.
        Hope this fills those gaps in SR’s CV for you and wishing you all the best

          1. Mere assumptions!
            A lot of people on this blog would be able to tell you how much time NKR spent with SR, for example. He used to come to lerab ling for months at a time and teach SR every single day. He also used to go to rigpa retreats with SR in many countries so he could teach SR and the rigpa sangha.
            There are lots of eye witnesses here that can account for that.

            1. …yes, that might be the case, you’re just talking about NKR, you’re also aware that SL opposed to the advice and instruction of his “master” Dudjom Rinpoche?…

              1. Don’t know about that except one person here, maybe yourself, saying SR didn’t go into retreat under DR’s advice……that’s called advice, not a command!
                What I do know is that SR met DR after JKCL passed away, and DR watered the seeds that JKCL planted. Then SR became DR’s translator in the west and was with him throughout the 70’s and early 80’s. DR even taught at rigpa’s 1984 summer retreat, a few days before he completely stopped teaching. Okay, ‘information we all know, rant’ over!
                But one thing I do know is DR’s wife and daughters always stay in contact with SR. Especially his wife, who passed away just a few years back, would always be in contact saying she is praying for him and rigpa. She was clairvoyant and would often ‘see things’ and avert them with her practice for SR. Now, if there was a problem between SR and DR, I don’t think DR’s family would have remained so loyal to SR.
                A friend of mine is friends with DR’s daughters. I’ve heard from her and other sources that DR used to say he was very impressed with SR, especially when people came at SR for his behaviour (yes, I know!), that SR would never attack back. This really impressed DR.
                DR also made SR his representative in the UK.
                So, I’d say their bond is pretty strong!
                Same with DKR, TUR, TR. They all came time and time again to rigpa when they were in the west, and SR received so much guidance from them in the east.

                1. See, you don’t know, maybe there is even more you don’t know, or are you enlightened? Do you know, what you don’t know? Nice question, isn’t it?!

                  1. Yeah, you just don’t know what people don’t know and I’m probably as enlightened as yourself! And of course there is lots I don’t know and there is lots I know, that you don’t know!
                    The point that I know is that their overall bond was pure and strong. I heard Trulshik Rinpoche himself say this to SR in LL, and he was DR’s heart son. I don’t think TR would say that for nothing.
                    Good day to you and I wish you all the best for your future.

  4. What about the abuse and the victims SL made? Do we only worry about our new teacher or do we feel compassion to his victims? In my opinion we first have to help the victims.

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