Rigpa Announces Plans for Independent Investigation of Abuse Allegations

Note:  We are publishing this letter from Sogyal Rinpoche to the worldwide sangha especially for the benefit of those students who have been impacted by the allegations of abuse in Rigpa but are not currently on the Rigpa mailing list.
11 August 2017
Dear Sangha Friends,
The past few weeks have been a very distressing time for our whole Sangha. The allegations that have been made against Sogyal Rinpoche by members of our own community, and which have spread widely in the media and on the internet, are of extreme concern to us all.
By now, you will have received the letter from Sogyal Rinpoche in which he announces his formal retirement from Rigpa as spiritual director. His decision comes as a shock to many of us, and its magnitude cannot be overstated. Rinpoche has made it clear that this decision has only been made after deep personal reflection, seeking the advice of many of his masters, and with the best intention for the future of our community.
For those of us who hold roles of responsibility within Rigpa, this has been and continues to be a challenging time. Not only have we been digesting the shock and emotion of the current situation for ourselves; we have recognized our immediate responsibility to reach out to as many people as possible and offer our support. Over the past weeks, many of us have been trying our best to listen to everyone in our diverse community, and to take on board the wide-ranging impact of these allegations as well as Rinpoche’s decision to enter retreat and step back from Rigpa’s work.

Please know that we are fully resolved to meet this difficult situation responsibly, sensitively, head-on, and in a way that is completely consistent with the teachings and the spiritual values that we uphold.
In his letter, Sogyal Rinpoche has clearly stated his wish to hand over responsibility for the future of Rigpa to the Sangha. It is we, therefore, who must take charge of this situation and seek to resolve it in the best way possible for all concerned, including those who feel aggrieved. We accept this responsibility and commit to taking whatever steps are necessary. Whilst some of us may be weighed down with sadness, or feel raw or uncertain, we are confident that at a time like now this Sangha of ours can respond in a way that is truly sincere, authentic, open, resolute and brave.
To this end, after careful consideration and advice from many parties, those of us responsible for the governance and management of Rigpa have agreed to take the following steps:
  1. We will establish an independent investigation of the allegations of abuse, including those outlined in the letter of 14 July 2017 to Sogyal Rinpoche. We believe that a neutral third party is needed to fully respond to the concerns raised and to lay a foundation for restoring trust and confidence in the Rigpa community. Professional advice is being sought so that the investigation can be fully international in scope and satisfy necessary requirements.
  2. Immediately, we will launch an international consultation process to establish both a code of conduct and a grievance process for Rigpa. We fully recognize our responsibility to provide a safe and supportive environment for everyone who enters Rigpa, and believe that these policies will be an essential step in that direction. We will study examples of best practice and draw upon all our experience and expertise, as well as the advice of other Buddhist teachers and communities, to develop codes and procedures that are appropriate for Rigpa. Since the codes of conduct will be multiple and apply to students, staff and volunteers, as well as teachers, without exception, it is important that you, too, are consulted and have the opportunity to give feedback.
  3. As swiftly as possible, we will institute a new ‘spiritual body’ to guide and advise Rigpa, as indicated by Sogyal Rinpoche in his letter.

These steps are being taken by the directors and management teams of Rigpa worldwide, in a true spirit of collaboration. Channels will be established so that any sangha member has the opportunity to express their wishes, views and concerns.
There is, of course, much pressure—both from outside and inside our community— for swift action. Whilst we recognize fully the seriousness and urgency of the situation, it is essential that adequate time is given for consultation with our professional and spiritual advisors, as well as for thorough dialogue with our worldwide directors, staff and sangha. We firmly believe that if these processes are handled in a measured and careful fashion, the end result will be far more satisfactory and complete for all concerned.

The responsibility to navigate the way through these challenging times now lies with us—the Rigpa Sangha. Please participate as best you can, so that collectively we can bring peace, healing and resolution to our community and to all those affected. Let us be spacious and non-judgmental so that we can truly listen to each other with our whole being, and with compassion and understanding.
We feel strongly that if we remain open and supportive as a Sangha, and true to our Dharma roots and practice, we will emerge from this stronger and wiser. Ultimately, through this process, we may find that Rigpa grows into an even greater vehicle for the profound teaching and practice of Dharma. This should be our goal.
Please stay close – let’s keep our lines of communication open and keep talking.
With love,
The Rigpa Boards from all countries
You may also want to read:  Sogyal Rinpoche Retires As Spiritual Director of Rigpa

Please be sure to check out our resources page and the sangha care resources page.
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.



48 Replies to “Rigpa Announces Plans for Independent Investigation of Abuse Allegations”

  1. What, who…are the ‘The Rigpa Boards from all countries’…? seems so 1984, United Airlines, IBM like (i.e.: vague and automated). And without some kind of formal apology or confession from Sogyal, or a vow to purify negative karma and refrain in this and every future life from behaving this way again, this kind of restructurings won’t be reassuring to the many who are deeply hurt. SL, in his letter, pumps up how great Rigpa is because of him and that he’ll never give up on his students, and even as he steps down, it all seems more like a weird morphing of autocracy. Still, am praying that this ‘board’ provides a new runway to ‘rigpa’ as opposed to a highway to….

    1. June, The “boards” are the Board of Directors for each Rigpa non-profit in each country plus the Rigpa International Holding Board. There isn’t anything unique or unusual about this. It’s how all non-profits work, they have a board of directors.
      I appreciate your concerns. I think Rigpa is take important, positive steps forward but we will only know with time if it’s truly a significant change.

  2. This abuse has been going on for years and the Rigpa Boards are only now distressed and shocked. Have they been going around with their eyes closed? It’s not just Sogyal Rinpoche’s
    abuse that needs to be addressed but the actions of those complicit in hiding this for so long. Surely they know about the cases in the 90s – the $10 law suit in 1994 which was settled out of court, the investigative documentary called In the Name of Enlightenment, broadcast on Vision TV in Canada in 2011 about another case of abuse identified as Mimi. What did Rigpa organisation do to stop the reoccurrence at that point and through the years since then?

    1. I am trying to “like” your comment and the comments of others, but when I hit the like button, nothing happens. Can someone help be figure out how this blog works? I am an old student of Sogyal Lakar.

  3. I agree June Bug. Sadly, I think the “professionals” they are consulting are legal professionals. Legal professionals will tell SR and the Rigpa establishment not to admit to any wrongdoing, any abuse or harm– e.g. don’t own up and apologize– because then they will have no standing in court. If the Rigpa establishment was consulting with mental health professionals, those professionals would say that an apology could go a long way on the first step of healing for those who have been harmed. It would go a long way towards re-establishing trust in the sangha as well. So they are clearly erring on the side of self-preservation in a way that does not inspire trust. What would the Buddha advise I wonder?

    1. This is a good point, Joanne – how much an apology can makes a difference for those who have been harmed. Thanks for mentioning that.

    2. Thanks, Joanne.
      I’m also saddened by the responses from Rigpa and Rinpoche, too. Seems like the emphasis is on blaming the allegations and therefore those who brought forth the issues, but not much (if any) sense of acknowledging any failure or blame.
      How about something along the lines of “Obviously we screwed up and haven’t figured this out since the first time this happened!” “What do you think we should do?” “How can we make this right?” and then setting up communication channels to link students and administrators to one another in an open network?
      Internally, I’m unable to reconcile the sublime, subtle, deep expansive level of teachings Rinpoche consistently gave with the corporate speak of the communications coming from Rigpa.

  4. But on the other hand, the willingness to have an independent investigation might really open the way for remorse and healing and trust. So that is good. It will take time.

  5. They should probably be employing trauma counsellors, not aligned with Rigpa. But that would cost $$$! Then again, if they’re hiring lawyers to deal with the fallout ……..??

  6. Would it be consequent and fair for the responsible executive heads in Rigpa to retire as well ?
    Or is it appropriate for them to clean up the mess ?
    Are they the right people dealing with such a severe issue ?

  7. For me – in truth it’s not just about S.R., it’s about all of us. We were all in the game in some form or another.
    What has happened in Rigpa somehow called to my mind a documentary, “The Wave”, that I had seen many years ago, and now I wached the video again, and it really hits home for me and put’s, what happens here in a broader context. If you want to see it:

    1. Thank you, Lola. It’s true, I feel, that everything is interdependent and comes about due to causes and conditions. By saying that, I’m not meaning to blame victims. There are so many factors and people that have contributed to this situation, knowingly or unknowingly. At the same time, people may have seen part of the picture, but not the whole picture.

  8. I think that Lola hits a very important point. On one or the other way have we all who had been or still are in R. contributed to the cultlike club.
    I really started to do my homework and recapitulate all my activities within R. and the crosspoints I joined in to behaviour that I regret today.
    I am sure that there a many patterns that we followed once to discover and to handle.
    This is forme in my responsibility, and I hope that one of those blogs concerned turn out in future not only to tear down the walls of failing Lamas but to unveil our own delusions.

  9. I currently attended the online streaming of the message of PG and DS because I was hoping it might bring more information or explanations than the letter. Unfortunately it didn´t. My feeling is that they try to bring the focus and attention to the “future-question” but say nothing about what was happening in the past.
    The instructors and students in leading positions always knew about the behaviour of SR and always claimed (especially for the new students) that they appreciate the bad treatment of the master as a special blessing. As long as they stay as Rigpa board I can´t imagine that there might be space for an open discussion within the sangha.
    But I agree that the independend investigation team might be the first step to bring it forward.
    I really miss any kind of saying sorry – from SR and from the team.
    This was also part of my feedback I provided to the streaming.
    PS: I will leave Rigpa, but due to my vacation I wasn´t able to hand in my exit and so I am still in the email list.

    1. I think, they are still in denial, what is understandable as long as they hold their position, where they have to be “on top of things”.
      Coming out of denial is a painful process and can probably not be done “in the midst of everything”. Especially as this all is not a small thing…
      In so far I agree with Adamo, that it would be helpful, if those people in leading positions in Rigpa also take time to go into retreat.
      At the same time – I also agree with Adamo – we ourselves can start to do our homework, to direct our awareness on our own actions and thoughts, see in what way we have fallen into the delusion of not trusting our own perception and so contributed with our thoughts, speech and actions to the whole thing. So that we learn from this and that in future we will be more aware. For this the practices we learned in Rigpa, p.e. Shamata and Vipassyana as well as Lojong can be very helpful.

    2. Thank you for sharing your experience with the streaming, Rosazehen. Many people, like you, feel like an apology is important for any true healing to occur.

  10. Rather than try to keep this whole Rigpa thing going, better to just forget the whole thing in the rearview mirror. Truth is a pathless land.

    1. Well there is a difference between transcendence and denial.
      But you are right. There comes a point, when it is important to not dwell on Rigpa, but to move forward, AFTER we have learned the lesson…

  11. The very word “Rigpa” is a little scary to me, so big and impenetrable for ordinary people. And I don’t know how people can maintain faith in SR because how can you have faith in a path that has led its teacher to harm others in such horrible ways? How do students know where it was in his own practice that he decided it was ok to do these things? I have struggled with that one for years.
    And the people surrounding SR when I was there were not so kind. I remember so clearly how desperately alone I felt at a Lerab Ling retreat. I asked one of the big Rigpa people if she could provide me with the Vajrasattva purification mantra because I had read that it was powerful in dispelling obstacles– and I was struggling with obstacles (and this was before easy internet access to such things). She said she would have to consult someone. Then she came back and simply said no. There was no conversation, no explanation, no asking if she could help me in some other way.
    SR was always so unreachable and famous, the organization around him was so impenetrable with the in-crowd and the out-crowd that it was not a healthy place to be. I remember during a Lerab Ling retreat, one of the big masters had died somewhere and in response, SR had his students cluster up close to him during a teaching. He kept picking special students to come up until it became very clear that there was an in-crowd thing happening and the rest of us were just observing it. Then at a New York teaching once, I was sitting up towards the front waiting nervously for the teaching to begin and suddenly someone came out and told all the people sitting around me that SR wanted to see them, wanted to see all his close students. I was the only one left sitting in the first five rows.
    These are small and insignificant things but they add up to an unhealthy dynamic in my opinion. So when I read the statements from Rigpa, I still see that power dynamic and wonder if it will change anytime soon. As people have commented here, these are the same people who have remained silent all these years. Are they the ones who should be in charge now?

    1. Of course if there is a big difference between the out-crowd and the in-crowd as I experienced too in the local sangha. Do not expect the in-crowd to change much. They have the power, the status, they feel superior. They do not let critical people with healthy ideas into the in-crowd. They told me that i did not know how it works in R. If one is in the in-crowd one has certain privileges to be near SL. A big loyalty comes from that. One is in the conspiracy of silence. They knew about the abuse of SL but thought it was “pure perception”. They felt wonderful because they thought they had pure perception and others who criticized the abuse were clouded. People who really believed that, still deny as does the inner circle. People who doubted, are relieved maybe. People who are strong and ethical leave R.
      When i read the letter, i am not hopeful at all for a change. The inner circle is still in power and they are part of the problem.

      1. This was an early problem and has gotten more and more extreme.
        If power was shared equally in the Sangha (pure perception/doubt) and the members were in charge of the organization, as HHDL suggests, there would be a lot more balance.
        Wishful thinking, but the way things are setup, creates the conditions for problems to occur. It also undermines our historic strength, democracy.

      2. Exactly. So the problem isn’t a merely Tibetan feudal one. It’s also a Western neurotic one. I can say this because this dynamic seems so common in Western sanghas. The Asian monasteries I know are totally different.

  12. I believe that at the very least Rigpa should open the process for those people, who are currently not in Rigpa, but have been there before and offer them to participate, i.e. offer them to be included in the email-list for this process, if the want. There are many people, who were engaged in Rigpa for many years and finally left Rigpa. They have already been through their own process and have a lot to say…
    To finally implement a “code of conduct and a grievance process” is very important, but it should be guaranteed, that those people are really independent, which was not the case in the past… P.e. I often witnessed injustices and things I didn’t agree with, but then when I tried to complain about it and spoke to people or wrote letters it usually ended in the void…
    BTW: How about people in responsible positions for the organisation being ELECTED by the Sangha instead of being selected by S.R., other Lamas or the poeple around him. In Dharamsala the Dalai Lama has implemented democratic structures, and it seems to work, why not here? And of cause there should be then also a process to balance the needs of the Sangha, the spiritual guiding Lamas, and the other members of the organisation-teams.

  13. Yes, this might be the time where Tibetan bouddhism finally meets the West. This R mess has created a huge opportunity, has giving rise to many, many questions. It’s a good thing.
    If, as said before, the shanga 2 has a responsability ( our homework ) we can also question the vajrayana vehicle who might be also a cause, as mentionned in the 1993 conference.
    There are psychological aspects who should be taken in consideration and wich should not be mixed up with the spirituel psychology and with spirituality in general ( see Han.F. de Wit ).
    Real democratic structures are not only about votes, but are real genuine interactions who should be possible all time without paralising it’s function.
    last but not least: an ethical and transparent finance system.
    I would like to thank you all, so many words here and there have reconciled me somehow with the Dharma. Thanks and auf wiedersehen …

    1. Yes, an ethical and transparent financial system is very important as well. The Dalai Lama is a good exemple. After every event he gives, he immediatly makes publicly clear, how much money has come in and how it will be spent (mostly on charitable work). That’s great.
      Vajrayana in the way it has been brought across in Rigpa didn’t appeal so much to me as well. It seemed to be too ritualistic. And I didn’t really understand the essence of it.
      When I met the work of Dr. Joe Dispenza, I got a new or little bit expanded understanding of Vajrayana. I don’t know, if this is correct in the Buddhist sense, but it makes sense to me. According to this understanding it means, that we create our own reality with our mind. And normally we are ruled by our subconscious programs (95 % of the time), which we downloaded in chieldhood when we were in Theta-brainwaves) and had not yet an analytical mind (alpha-brainwaves). So meditation and Vajrayana are methods to access the operating system of the mind (Theta and Delta), erase the old programs and belief-systems and then re-program your body and mind and by that your perception of yourself and your outlook to the world. He explains it much better – yet without mentioning the word vajrayana – and he also teaches scientific based methods to apply that. He also somehow has a connection to the Dalai Lama, and one of his close friends, Gregg Braden, has been in many tibetean monasteries for a long time in Tibet.
      So, I think, it’s worth, having a look at these guys. But as always trusting you own judgement is the most important.
      I practice nothing of which I don’t know, what I am doing and why.
      There is no shortcut to enlightenment and no alternative to self-honesty.
      I feel like you, that the post and comments on this site – as already previously the posts and comments on the site of Tenzin Peljor – re-establish my faith and appreciation for the buddhist path.
      So also thanks from me to all.

    2. No, we can’t ‘question’ the Vajrayana vehicle. If we don’t like its tenets, we don’t have to follow it. It’s that simple. Please refer to DKR’s excellent article on the matter.

      1. Thanks, Martin.
        The separation the Dalai Lama suggested between teachings and organization and putting the students in charge of the organization might clear up some confusion. DKR also spelled this out as an issue.

  14. One technical question:
    I also would like to place “likes”, but I don’t know how to do it.
    Whenever I press the button, they want my name and my passwort or a registration. But when I try to register, they want a homepage or domain, which I have not. Can someone help me with that?

  15. The comments here are so inspiring. As was that courageous letter. I think we shouldn’t underestimate the stunning power and momentum of what is happening here. When I left Rigpa, I ended up studying, practicing and working in a big TB monastery in upstate New York– and these troubles of power and deceit and cover-up were there as well. And just over the river Lama Norhla was abusing nuns at his monastery. So these problems are extensive. I think that by empowering students now to act as the courageous 8 have acted, this will give momentum to real change in TB centers throughout the world, change from the bottom up. This change will allow the beautiful, stunning traditions of Tibetan Buddhism to flourish properly. That’s my prayer.
    And after reading this article in a major German newspaper, I wonder if Rigpa will be financially solvent after the dust settles?http://international.sueddeutsche.de/post/164130948510/the-tibetan-book-of-living-and-lying

  16. And I wonder if SR resigning has anything to do with potential lawsuits? I’m sorry to be cynical but is he divesting?

    1. I hadn’t thought of that, Joanne. I don’t see how the “retirement” would make a difference in terms of lawsuits. He says it’s so the allegations against him doesn’t harm the positive work of Rigpa. I have the sense this is what other teachers have suggested as the right thing to do given the pending allegations and investigations.

  17. I don’t know how his private finances work, how they were connected to Rigpa for example, whether he could divest all his property to Rigpa and thus make it safe from legal troubles, save Rigpa from bankruptcy, and he also would be safe with less to lose. That’s what I was wondering, probably amounts to the same thing.

    1. How naive and out-of-date I seem to be. I had no idea SL owned his own property. In the olden days (80’s, 90’s) he used to tell us at retreats that any money collected (ie dana at retreats, fees, etc.) beyond coverage of retreat expenses went to Dzogchen Monastery. Or perhaps the properties mentioned here are properties given personally to him by wealthy students? Can anyone clarify?

  18. Good evening serentiy and Rigpa,
    we have so many questions that we already summarized them on the following website:
    But we would like to point out especially these questions which are of importance for us and all people that are watching the present events from outside of Rigpa:
    – has any abusive behaviour been recognised or acknowledged by your organisation ?
    – have victims of abuse (sexually, emotionally or physically) been granted spiritual or psychological care and support by rigpa or outside of rigpa and have they in any way been endemnified ?
    – have rigpa members expressed solidarity and empathy for the victims of abuse ? did the victims receive an official or inofficial apology ?

    1. Thanks, Susanne.
      Are you asking for folks in the Sangha to answer the questions?
      Is there a means of communication other than email? Phone, Skype, etc?

  19. Thanks for your reply, Rick.
    Actually for me there is no personal direct answer required from the sangha, because the ones that have to be addressed and replied to are the victims or targets of abuse. It’s not about me. I only wanted to help by pointing out the possible emotional and psychological background of narcissistic and spiritual abuse.

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