Progressive stages of Meditation … on Cults

Today Sangye Ngawang shares the thought processs he went through to come to the conclusion that he had to get out of Rigpa. It’s a process that will be familiar to many. We are proabably all reticent to use the cult word initially, but using that term can also be helpful, something I talk about in the vlog that follows Sangye’s post.
1.There are cults, glad I’m not in one.
2. We are not a cult.
3. Who said we are a cult? Why would they say that?
4. What is a cult?
5. Okay, maybe we are a little cultish but that is to be expected with anything esoteric or counter-intuitive, Eastern. Cults ruined it for groups like us … only brave, open-minded people like me can benefit by taking a chance.
6. Hmm, I’m seeing more cultish evidence … it’s a bit challenging. When I try to talk to anyone I get mixed results, some quite scary.
7. There is a lot of double standards and suspicious stuff, and the group is training me to explain this to new people. Problem is … I’m not satisfied with the explanations. There doesn’t seem to be anyone above the people training me how to “represent Rigpa”. This “who is Rinpoche” stuff is a bit rich too.
8. I’m seeing disturbed people and they aren’t being really taken care of. They seem to be seeing psychologists and counsellors so there is that.
9. Okay – I thought people were supposed to be getting better, but some have run away and left with no explanation. It’s a little upsetting
10. Given what’s happening I’ll ask about some of these stories and allegations from people on the outside who are criticizing my teacher.
11. Nobody has really given me any proof, and now I can see that in the past this has come before the Dalai Lama for advice.
12. Okay, now I’m seeing things directly from my teacher that are just plain wrong. Why would he do that in front of me? Is this some kind of test? He keeps saying, “You only like it when your teacher is nice to you,” Well yeah, I kind of do. Nobody likes a shit sandwich.
13. Is there some kind of secret Lama school that is about putting disciples through all this crap? I’m getting unwell and so are others.
14. There are a lot of red flags. I’m back to reading a document on cult tactics … OMG, this is very much like my life.
15. I think I might stop listening to all these audio and video files for a while, just to decompress and observe my mind. I’m getting a little suspicious that this is a kind of cult programming – the language is off too. Words don’t mean what they should.
16. I don’t see how I can cope with all this work and people are telling me to take care of my health. I think I’d better start finding ways to get some holidays.
17. Okay, now I’ve seen another person come out and tell a story about being sexually harassed. There are photos – this looks terrible. It’s time to walk away.
18. I keep trying to walk away and getting commanded back – people tell me I might be mentally ill. I’ve always considered myself quite mentally healthy, but I have to agree – something isn’t right with me. Physical, emotional …
19. Hmm, apparently cults do all this overwork and people get sick and the symptoms I have are common. Nobody worries too much about nutrition either – it’s a bit of a grab what food you can. You have to beg to be well fed at times.
20. My interactions with the teacher are making me physically ill. He seems to be treating me like some kind of sub-human.
21. I’ve decided to leave – for real this time, but I’m going to take my time getting really prepared for a solid break away.
22. They aren’t happy about me leaving … it really is looking bad, like this is a cult. At least at the core.
23. Now I’m going to start talking to friends about this.
24. Jeez, some people who are leaving are telling me unbelievable things. How could I miss this for so long?
25. People on the inside are being used to try and love bomb, threaten, bribe and demand that I come see the teacher in person. I’m not going to comply.
26. Its clear people are talking about me now; they are saying bad things. So this is what cults really do, all this is written down.
27. Okay, so it’s definitely a cult, but how will I get others to see it?
28. Some people are super grateful to me for sharing what I know and they’re leaving. There’s talk about making some kind of group to help others who wonder “what now?”
Nice ending, Sangye! And we’re still asking What Now? Why are we still asking? Because unfortunately, this isn’t over. It won’t be over until there’s no possibility of abuse occuring in Tibetan Buddhism again. It won’t be over until the lamas realise that we won’t stand for it, that saying that silence and obedience is vajrayana isn’t justification for abuse and cover-ups.
Lerab Ling is trying to prove that Rigpa is not a cult, but whatever is decided legally doesn’t change the experience of people. It doesn’t change what some of us know, what those of us who have educated ourselves on the matter now realise. 

Do you think the cult word is a helpful term in the dicussion around abuse in Rigpa?

Current and previous students of Rigpa wanting private support are welcome to join the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
Ex-Rigpa students and their dharma friends who want to move on from the discussion of abuse in Rigpa can stay in touch through the Dharma Companions Facebook Group.  
The What Now? Reference Material page has links to a wealth of articles in the topics related to abuse in Buddhist communities. For links to places to assist in healing from abuse see the sangha care resources page.
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15 Replies to “Progressive stages of Meditation … on Cults”

  1. This is a very helpful post, thank you Sangye and Tahlia. Years ago, I wrote a post on Tenzin’s blog in which I concluded that Rigpa’s problems didn’t really fit the full description of “cult”– mainly because of its openness to other teachers. Most typical cults are closed to outside teachers and influences. I definitely stand corrected and would agree now with both Sangye and Tahlia on this.
    Which makes me wonder a little about all those visiting teachers. And about a culture where there are no checks and balances whatsoever– and where colleagues turn a blind eye to atrocities. Katy Butler wrote a wonderful article on Chogyam Trungpa about this, about how the Tibetan culture had its own checks and balances to prevent excessive abuses– but these are not in place in Western culture.
    So we are floating a little really.

    1. Yes Joanne, it does beg the question “was Sogyal already born into a cult environment” even if he was privileged in his version of history. Many Tulkus say “the last thing you want is to be born as a tulku – its a terrible life”. Kalu Rinpoche was abused by his own testimony, sexually and physically and even had to fight for his life. He walked away and wants to see institutional change. HHDL first comments after he received the letter of 8 Rigpa members was to mention that there was a problem with the feudal structure. This may be his indication of a whole mindset of entitlement which is fuel for the evil appropriation of followers who are promised the earth at first and later told it comes in the next life and not to hope for any pleasure or reward … ie devotee should be the same as slave but for some teachers it is a process of gradually leading them there. Such is how it was for me and other Rigpa devotees. My mind was an apologist to make sense of Sogyal’s greed, violence, harshness, insults and indifference (with the occasional random professing to love backed by basically nothing other than he is my teacher, feel lucky). I would invent reasons why this was wisdom and how keeping us all busy was a way he was developing us. Keeping us tired, exhausting practices, constantly woken from sleep, told to get sleep but then given work that required one to stay up late or pull all-nighters for something pathetically selfish like his TV show or a recording of something readily available later if he had any patience. This is what people are fighting to get themselves into as vacancies come up with people discarded and burned out.

    2. Aparently cult leaders like to do things to make themselves seem legitimate, so they cultivate important people, to get them onside and give them legitimacy. When I read that I couldn’t help thinking of the kinds of things that some people have been saying for years.

  2. I think the word cult is correctly used in the case of Rigpa. First thought of mine, while leaving was: The word cult is to heavy, to strong, its too much goodwill involved. for a cult.
    Later on, when I found out how many cult patterns had been used by Rigpa did I decide to stick to the world cult.
    Those people I still had relations to from Rigpa at that time got shocked when I used the term cult. It was before Whatsnow appeared.
    Cult, thats Waco, Aum in Japan and so on, maybe a little bit Backwahn/Rajnish, but not Rigpa. No, not we. Not me.
    It was a challenge for me to admit to myself that I was trapped by a cult, that I was part of it, that I convinced others of seing Rigpa not as a cult. I felt ashamed. How stupid I was.
    Always suppressing my common sense only for becoming a Buddhist.
    That hurts. Oouch.
    I have met recently Rigpa people that would leave, but not for the price of admitting Rigpa is cult. Thats like having to admit one was part of cult. They look for a exit where they can leave uprightly. No loss of status, reputatation and livestyle.
    Why is it a cult: Its using Dharma and smart psychological means to create dependencies, in the consequences people can manipulated easilier and follow more and more a line that looks like a serious buddhist tradition, but is just a cult around a person called Sogyal, that perfectly knows to appear as buddhist organisation leader.
    And so hard to realize that Tibetan Buddhism is not just gold and Shangrila but has many stains on it. No more “Kindergardenidyll”. No more “Garden Gnome Buddhism”.
    Thats hard to swallow for many I know. Rather keep eyes covered and wait for other times to come.
    To use the word cult means to me to face a truth I didnt want to see. Even when Rigpa is a cult one can leave without cutting off physical handcuffs and shackles, one has to experience what mental handcuffs and shackles are made of.

    1. I think you speak for many of us. After we have so much invested in believing it’s all good, it’s very hard to turn our backs on it, so we don’t hear and we don’t see. So many of us gained such a lot of good from Rigpa that it’s painful to admit that abuse was being practiced in the name of religion and has not been denounced by present management, making it fundamentally unchanged.
      I saw a bully at work. In the rest of my life, I would never have stood for it. Why did I sit so meekly by and watch? How had my thoughts been manipulated so that I thought it was okay, when deep in my gut I knew it wasn’t right? And was I meditating, being a great practictioner by not reacting, or was I simply blanking out my feelings? These are important questions to ask if we want a genuine spiritual path. Getting teachings from other lamas is most enlightening, as is being part of a healthy sangha where students are curious and alive, not dull, and where you can ask senior instructors and the lama questions and be answered directly and deeply – no being shut down or sidelined. I wonder why we weren’t supposed to have other teachers? Was it that we might see the places where our insttruction was more about keeping us mute and compliant than our own spiritual progress?

  3. You are one of the brave ones and you will feel so much better for it. The philosophy and wisdom of dharma will actually be exposed more if you pursue it by the fact that its not being selectively taught as group think! I and others in what now are real friends. Rigpa people have shown that they have no real “companions on the path” attitude unless everyone reinforces your beliefs. Sogyal was constantly saying how much he admired muslim fundamentalism for their “faith” and “dedication” – but everyone had to laugh in a disturbing way because you can’t call him out on anything.

  4. One of the Rigpa therapists, Rosamund Oliver, is advertising courses in Holland. You can see one coming up here.
    The course information (retrieved 19 April 2018) states, “Rosamund Oliver qualified as UKCP psychotherapist in 1996 in Core Process Psychotherapy.” I have checked the UKCP register. Rosamund Oliver is not registered. You can google UKCP and check the register yourself.

    1. There are quite a lot of psychologist within Rigpa.
      Experts on “deep listening”.
      I found one who is even on the list of “Hilfeportal Sexueller Missbrauch” in Gemany,
      a “expert” on Trauma.
      Wow, once you are abused and looking for help and find this person who is supposed to be more sentitive to this issue as a long time Rigpa followers could be expected to be.

    2. What does UKCP stand for, please? Also, i’m thinking that it’s possible that Rigpa has a number of so-called therapists or counsellors, but they may not actually be qualified or registered psychologists – that would explain their flimsy ethical foundation which frees them up to keep on supporting cult-like practices.
      I would imagine that most of Europe, like Australia, probably has strict guidelines in terms of qualifications and subsequent registration requirements for psychologists.

      1. Ok, i see that UKCP stands for UK Council for Psychotherapy. While i’ve known some very good Psychotherapists, they may not necessarily have undertaken the same rigorous course of study as Psychologists, so hence, there is more wriggle-room in terms of their academic background and professional framework. So in other words, as i’ve suggested above, such practitioners may be comfortable adapting to the unethical cult-like environment at Rigpa, whilst having the professional tools to convince the doubters that everything is fine.

  5. Rosamund Oliver, one of the Rigpa therapists, is making quite a career for herself outside Rigpa.
    If you look here, you will find her described as (retrieved 19 April 2018) “Rosamund Oliver is een UKCP-gecertificeerd psychotherapeut en supervisor en werkt met privé-cliënten en in de psychiatrische zorg met ouderen. Internationaal geeft ze trainingen gebaseerd op meditatie en compassie aan professionals van zeer verschillende achtergrond.”
    Google translate from Dutch.
    “Rosamund Oliver is a UKCP-certified psychotherapist and supervisor and works with private clients and in psychiatric care with the elderly. Internationally she gives trainings based on meditation and compassion to professionals from very different backgrounds.”
    Rosamund Oliver is NOT UKCP registered.
    UKCP registration is an important validation and safeguard, but Rosamund Oliver is not registered. Anyone can check the UKCP register themselves. Just google UKCP and follow the links.
    UKCP states on its web-site, “We hold the national register of psychotherapists and psychotherapeutic counsellors which only includes practitioners who meet our exacting standards and training requirements and who agree to abide by our ethical standards.”
    The register does not include Rosamund Oliver.

  6. “What Is A Cult, and How Does It Work?” should be essential viewing for anyone who has anything to do with Rigpa.

  7. 29. My group of ex-cult members is divided between those who believe that the founder and his tradition still deserve deference, and those who see the whole belief structure as authoritarian and exploitative. I would write more, but I am afraid of violating my oath of fealty to our beloved guru, which might cause me to burn in hell forever. (Even though this is obviously just a folk belief, but still.)

    1. I think it’s healthy to make a distinction between a leader who has ‘gone off’ and the tradition that he or she has gone off from. One can have respect for the religion itself while seeing that some of those who profess to teach it have turned their sanghas into destructive cults where they abuse their close students and use them like slaves. If all TB sanghas had abusive leaders, then we could reject the whole religion, but for so long as it is only some behaving unethically, we can deduct that the fault is not with the religion itself.
      However, there are several facets of the religion (like devotion to the lama) that can be very easily over emphasised, distorted, misunderstood, or just badly taught so that it is easy to slip across the line from a genuine Vajrayana sangha to a destructive cult. All the more reason why TB teachers have to be beyond reproach.

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