Guest post by Sel Verhoeven . Thanks Sel for your honesty.
I felt sadness when I heard the news that Sogyal Rinpoche has passed away. Sadness, because I knew and loved him for almost thirty years. At times he helped me tremendously, with just a few personal words, in difficult periods of my life. Even after the abuse came out, I still cared for him, in the way that you would still care for a brother or child who has really done wrong. You can’t just stop caring if you have a deep connection with someone. I also felt sadness because the hope evaporated that he would ever confess his wrongdoings. As long as he was alive there was a chance that he would come to understand what he had done and make amends. The chances of that happening might have been microscopically small, but nevertheless, they were there and now they are gone.
I also felt anger that he had gone without making amends. What a mess he has left behind. A split sangha, a large group of students who have turned away from Buddhism altogether. He could, and should have prevented this by taking responsibility for his actions and thus saving the face of Buddhism. Instead, he allowed his students to carry on with the fairy-tale of crazy wisdom and a teacher whose every action is beneficial to his students, even if it’s abusive and they are left in shambles. At the same time I felt gratitude for the fact that he brought the dharma into my life. I will never cease to be grateful for that. He has brought many people in contact with the dharma and has helped many, that is his merit. All in all, a sense of soft sadness prevailed, and I was ready to do practise for him and everyone else who suffered in this samsara we’re all stuck in.
Then I saw the ‘homage’ page that is now up on https://sogyalrinpoche.org/paying-homage-to-sogyal-rinpoche, and got infuriated. Out the window went the soft sad inspired-to-practise mood. What bad taste of Rigpa to display these homages of a man who has seriously harmed students who trusted him and relied upon him. And what delusion or willingness to lie these teachers have when I’m sure they know there has been an independent investigation, instigated by Rigpa themselves, that has confirmed the abuse!
At the same time I received the messages that Rigpa sent out to their students, saying, amongst other practice advice: ‘Rinpoche is resting in tukdam meditation and all signs of a great practitioner are present. Now is the time to deeply and profoundly unite your mind, to merge your mind with Rinpoche’s wisdom mind. This is the most powerful time to do so. This is the crowning moment.’ And I got really worried, thinking it definitely would not be a good idea to be infuriated at such an important moment! It took me a while to see through it. Even with death they manage to manipulate us. To install fear in us of somehow missing out on something, or not doing the right thing. The same tactics they had used all along.
And making use of the proverb ‘do not speak ill of the dead’, they saw their chance to blatantly praise Sogyal Rinpoche, as in the old days. The last 2 years Rigpa kept it down a bit. But now, by ways of these other teachers paying homage, they could have a go at it again. And so they show their true face at last. Withstanding all the talk of a new Rigpa, with protocols, a code of conduct, and a place for students with their own opinions, in the end they worship their teacher and willingly close their eyes to the truth.
It almost feels like they don’t allow space to really mourn. For that, you need to see and remember a person warts and all, not some deified version of them. You need to embrace the uncomfortable truth that a person can be both good and bad at the same time.
In the end, I did the only thing I could do. I found the one picture of him I didn’t throw out, lit two candles, and just sat with it all wishing him, his victims, his disappointed students, his devotees and everyone else who is suffering, well.
73 Replies to “Sadness, yes, but …”
So very sad, it feels as if they are capitalizing on his death, making it a commercial spectacle. I don’t think that they could have ever really loved him to behave in this way, they are in love with their specialness, deifying him is tantamount to deifying themselves.
Such a sad end to what could have been a great man.
Beautifully written Sel, you encapsulate all of it. Thank you.
Yes, this is an excellent description of my feelings aswel! Thank you!
Thanks for honest post
You expressed exactly how I feel and think. Thank you!
Thank you so much for your words. I feel also identify with what you say. May he rest in peace…
A beautiful written post Sel, it expresses a great deal of how I’m feeling and thinking about this whole situation, thank you so much for your openess!
This is exactly what I feel like, Sel.A mixture of sadness and anger.Thank you for such a balanced, unbiassed, post.
Ah the myth building begins – soon he’ll become a legend, like Trungpa before him.
Keeps the machine greased, keeps people come – and with it the money.
Don’t for get to donate to his Paarinirvana ! – https://donations.rigpa.org/en/make_a_donation/highlight/8
What a great opportunity for Rigpa to collect more funds and rebuild the brand Sogyal Rinpoche!!
dead men tell no tales…
I just read all the words of praise to S L from various lamas on the Facebook page. Each of them must have been aware of the details of SL’s crimes and abuses, and yet they only had nice things to say. Their apparent indifference to his depravity, and to the very real suffering that he caused, reveals each and every one of them now to be untrustworthy.
Yes, I agree. It is really awful and unworthy. Reminds me of how the Catholics Church has always dealt with their problems. Dishonestly. These Lamas do a great disservice to the Buddha.
Thanks for this guess post, you did more than I could, one hundred syllable mantra was all I could do. it is sad that he never acknowlegded he was wrong thereby saving all the work what has bene done in Rigpa by so much volunteers. The dharmakosha site will from now on always been poisened by his awfull activities. We have to remember that it was Dudjom Rinpoche who said that SR had to ripen his mind afther his first sexual escapedes. The positive point about the praising site is that you know now onewhat side the teachers are who speak there.
Untill now I always had hope SR came to his senses.
Sel’s honest and touching reaction to the news of Sogyal’s demise seems to me to be the mature adult feelings of a truly decent person and one many of us share. I do not see such insight and compassion in any of the homages so far collected from Lamas. Until a Lama can come forward and acknowledge both the good and the harm that Sogyal brought to the expansion of Tibetan Buddhism instead of the ghastly goody-goody whitewashing they persist in forcing down the throats of gullible students, any last trace of respect I once had is wending its way out of the window. I feel tremendously sad that Sogyal came to a miserable end after making such a mess of things and sickened by the thought that Lamas and others continue to defend him and his brand of feudalistic Tibetan Buddhism in order to prop themselves up. I suppose that these initial letters of condolence are to be expected but these Lamas need to wake up to the fact that outside of their little organizations, the Buddhist world is not so uncritical. It too understands the nature of emptiness and the considerable harm that can be done when it is not taught and understood correctly.
Thank you Toria, and thank you for what you said in the BBC interview…
This is the most authentic response I have read to the passing of Sogyal Lakar, whose book I read to my father as he was leaving this world. I was never a student, and never wanted to be, despite my partner and I doing the Dujom Tersar Ngondro daily for years. Sogyal Lakar’s actions compounded my decision to depart from the Tibetan Buddhist church, after 22 years. I was shocked like many were- but reading the tributes to him left me, like you, feeling angry and sickened at the utter hypocrisy, so very resonant of how the Roman Catholic church deals with abuse cases. Protect the priest at all costs. Make out like the accuser-victims are crazy, deluded and making a fuss over nothing. I had no particular attachment to Sogyal Lakar and when the accusations against him were declared in 2017, I was not at all surprised. But when I heard he went to Thailand, my heart really sank: there was, as you say, no hope of either a thorough investigation, nor of a serious moral inventory. He ran. He hid. And now he leaves chaos behind him.
The lamas’ eulogies reveal the entrenched nepotism in Tibetan Buddhism which is increasing its impotence. They fantasise about thousands of devoted students the world over, legitimising their religion while ignoring the suffering of the abused from among those students. Clearly it is entirely wrong to expect empathy from these people.
The essence of buddhism for me is to alleviate suffering. What a chronic waste of training that these people are now failing to do that, and instead promote yet deeper immersion into the cultic illusions on which so many of their sanghas rest. These people stand out, alone amongst everyone else who is now commenting on Sogyal’s death as the ONLY bunch who pretend he was not abusive. They should all be collectively called out on their utterly disingenuous hypocrisy, and relentlessly. In one stupid move that have deligitimised whatever authority they may have had as arbiters of ethical behaviour.
Look at one example from among these sycophants – Dzigar Kongtrul. He once told a clearly confused (western) victim of Sogyal’s sexual crimes that she was lucky to be his consort. Now here he is saying, “…You have all shown yourselves to be great examples for others to follow in generations to come”, as if a senior 8 of those people didn’t inspire a mass exodus of students with revelations of intense abuse just the other day. He goes on, “I now pray for Rinpoche to be reunited with his own masters”, ignoring the fact he never had any formal teachers or training.
These people are in fact blind to the suffering they profess to dispel with their flowery, exotic ways and it is ironic in the extreme that Sogyal’s death should now be the catalyst which exposes the rot of this dysfunctional lamaism in on of the clearest such displays in perhaps decades.
Since they cannot self-police in line with their mystical, holier than thou ways from an inaccessible Shangri-La, the Courts will happily oblige in sending all of these people a clear message about the gross injustices which they are perpetuating in the name of the dharma in publishing this despicable messages, once the ongoing investigations wrap up here.
As westerners, however, we must collectively stop worshiping this magical thinking that says anything exotically eastern is better than me and can be my saviour. We must stop expecting the Dalai Lama to fix everything with a statement of reprimand. If we know its due, we should speak it ourselves without waiting for him or any of his friends to say it on our behalf, subservient, cowering and emotionally lesser than. That is wrong view.
Perhaps then the other sycophants such as Dzongsar Khyentse and Osel Mukpo will chime in, once they have gotten over their reluctance to say anything which may be seen as either putting themselves on a pedestal above the law or, in the case of the latter, downright hypocritical.
Thank you all for your honesty 🙏
I came to the conclusion that the hierarchy of Tibetan Buddhism was institutionally rotten a long time ago, but I’ve never seen it proved with such sickening clarity.
Page after page of glowing sycophantic praise for a mentally disturbed man who sexually abused countless vulnerable women for his own gratification whenever he could, leaving them with enduring trauma; a narcissistic bully who mentally and physically brutalized hundreds of devoted students to assuage his sense of insecurity whenever he felt like it, causing them humiliation and long-lasting emotional distress; a greedy posturing fraud who misused the sincere good will of thousands of decent people to enrich and elevate himself, leaving them bereft and disillusioned.
And where are all his victims amidst this gushing torrent of lofty spiritual praise?……..not even one word among thousands……for these people who call themselves “teachers” it’s not just that the victims are unimportant…..they simply don’t exist.
The unwritten line at the end of each letter is: ” I’ll expect my cash in due course.”
There you have the real face of Tibetan Buddhism.
And his devoted followers, still clinging to the memory of this odious man? Where are all the supposedly life-enhancing experiences he conferred on them now? Where is all that profound insight, where is all the kindness, compassion and moral clarity they say they learnt sitting at his feet for years that makes them who they think they are now?
Despite waiting patiently and looking carefully, most of us outside Rigpa can detect no sign of any of it……and there never will be, because compassion will never rise from indifference, kindness cannot be produced by cruelty, and understanding will never come out of willful denial.
Of course our emotional reactions can be complicated, but personally I can’t understand why anyone would feel even a moment’s sadness at the death of a man who has wreaked such irreversible destruction on so many lives as Sogyal has.
If my attitude seems uncompromising it’s because I believe that many people, both in or outside of Tibetan Buddhism, especially those on the sidelines, who weren’t so directly affected, still haven’t taken the real measure of what happened, what it says about Tibetan Buddhism and what a dangerous criminal Sogyal was. This is not neutral at all.
They insist he’s “In meditation” when of course he’s just dead…..but this is the start of the sordid process of revising history and re-writing the truth to justify violence and abuse, to make a religious rapist into a saint, and it’ll run and run.
When they enact the primitive goulish ritual of bricking up his embalmed corpse in a stupa with great ceremony and reverence, amidst clouds of incense, tears of regret and mawkish emotion, their collective denial……and anyone else’s faint moral ambiguity, will be creating the ideal conditions for it to happen all over again.
Well said. You nailed it.
Wonderfully expressed. My sentiments exactly!!
Thanks Sel. Your words resonate with me. I cried when I heard he had passed away. This teacher taught me the Dharma & his organisation had a great structure of courses for studying it especially living remotely. For this I will always be grateful. It’s still difficult for me to reconcile the teacher & the abuser but I do because I have the ability to evaluate what I see, hear & read. The truth is the truth & it was more than the 8 that verified the abuse. This teacher did not walk the talk. He wasn’t the living example of what he taught. I also understand cause & effect & he could not have become what he was without the support & validation from all of us, close to him & not so close, causing him to believe he could do whatever he desired & that he was not accountable to anyone. But he had a choice as to how he would treat people & he had many many warnings & complaints over many years which he chose to ignore. The irony for me is the spell is broken & I trust in my own true nature & no-one can rattle that now. I pray he is not suffering & feel deep compassion for all involve. I’m sure he has already seen, experienced & understood the harm he caused. I hope that his devotees can learn to be comfortable with the duplicity of who they see as a great master also being a hedonist & an abuser. To whitewash it & refuse to face the facts will only keep them stuck & unable to evolve.
Sad, confusing—a difficult time—but it was coming and there was enough time to prepare for it mentally. I still have some shreds of practice and have developed a deep respect for the teachings of the Buddha and for all the practitioners in different lands who try to follow them, all in their own way.
I’ll always appreciate my first teacher, this man, and sure there will always be love. But you can love someone and also be mad at what they did. Still, he conveyed the message of the Buddhas for me, and that led me and sustained me and remains with me.
Life is never clear and easy, things always have layers.
Thanks Sel – beautiful, heartfelt, honest. I find it intriguing that two of his biggest torch-bearers, Dzongsar Khyentse & Orgyen Tobgyal don’t appear to have joined in the chorus of commemoration. Here is a petition requesting those teachers who have issued glowing tributes to withdraw them: https://www.change.org/p/mindrolling-jetsün-khandro-dharma-teachers-please-retract-your-homages-to-sogyal
Thank you Mathilda for the petition link, i signed already 😉
Thanks for posting the link to the petition…..this is going to be interesting, although I expect it’ll produce the same telling lack of response as the previous invitation to lamas to comment on the subject.
As to the concluding part: “If you affirm Sogyal Lakhar’s conduct, you justify the injuries he caused, and show little respect for those he injured. Because we cannot believe this was your intention…….”
Well, it’s true but I believe that was exactly their intention and it’s good that as many people as possible become aware of it. Even if it might come as a disappointment, it could save them wasting their time in future.
It’s good to read all of this post and all of the comments, because they express a ripening understanding of how Tibetan Dharma teachers can entirely lose touch with the virtues that drew us to them when they become focused on protecting what they obviously think of as their family business. I hope all of you who have commented will make your feelings known directly to these lamas who posted their “homages” to Sogyal, and to make that a bit easier, please consider signing the petition posted at Change.org entitled “Dharma Teachers: Please Retract Your Homages to Sogyal.” While it is quite unlikely that any of them will actually issue retractions, we have been seeing lots of enablers retreating from their position that “the Lama is always right, and the students need to practice pure vision.” Indeed, one positive sign is that all of these homages come from Tibetans whose loyalty to tradition appears unleavened by belief in equal rights for all persons, and the emerging consensus that abuse must not be redefined as “crazy wisdom.” I quote here the full text of the petition, and hope that you will add your name to it. I am certain that, whatever their public response, the lamas will learn an important lesson from receiving it. You may go directly to the petition to read and sign using this link: http://chng.it/KgWVMwfh
Dear Dharma Teachers:
It was with shock and dismay that we, the undersigned Dharma students, read your homages to Sogyal Lakhar published at https://sogyalrinpoche.org/paying-homage-to-sogyal-rinpoche Several of you describe his death as a “Parinirvana.” You advise us that “his enlightened mind never wavers from constantly seeing all sentient beings,” that his death provides “the most pithy instructions,” that “his transcendent sacred intention will become clearer,” and “the time has come for all his students to renew their faith in him.”
We have considered you to be especially perceptive human beings, compassionate teachers of kindness, thoughtful men and women who work for the benefit of others. Thus, we are shocked when we read your eulogies of Sogyal, because your words ignore the sufferings of the many people who suffered physical and sexual assaults, financial exploitation, and emotional anguish at the hands of Sogyal Lakhar.
We are surprised that you seem unaware that Sogyal suffered from personality faults that made him unsuitable to be venerated as a spiritual teacher, a vajra guru. Eight close former students and assistants of Sogyal’s revealed his “lavish, gluttonous and sybaritic lifestyle,” in a detailed 12-page letter. The letter documented how his physical abuse had left “students with bloody injuries and permanent scars,” and how he had used his Dharma authority to “gain access to young women, and to coerce, intimidate and manipulate them into giving [him] sexual favors.” Rigpa hired a law firm to investigate the charges against Sogyal, and their report concluded that “students of Sogyal Lakar (who were part of the ‘inner circle’, as described later in this report) have been subjected to serious physical, sexual and emotional abuse by him.” There have been several articles in international news outlets with titles like “Sexual assaults and violent rages … Inside the dark world of Buddhist teacher Sogyal Rinpoche.” A book has been published entitled “Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism: The Rise and Fall of Sogyal Rinpoche.”
With all this information available, it is disturbing that you are advising us to imagine Sogyal as our guru, sending comforting blessings to us from the bardo. Some of you project that we are suffering in his absence, but this is not what we are thinking about. Our minds are on his victims, who deserve compassion and respect. You wrote eulogies that implicitly assume that Sogyal had no victims. Your words made them disappear.
The UK Charity Commission took action to protect Rigpa students from Sogyal on April 12, 2019, by disqualifying Patrick Gaffney “with immediate effect,” from serving as a Rigpa trustee, “for failing in his duty to protect those who came in contact with the charity.” The Charity Commission explained, “the public expects charities to be safe places, where people are free from harm.” The Charity Commission disqualified Gaffney because, “where we find charities that are failing in this essential duty, we will take action to remove those responsible.” For the same reason — because students expect Dharma centers to be safe places, where “teachers” will not prey upon them, you should not be rendering homage to Sogyal Lakhar, who injured his Dharma students under the guise of providing them with spiritual guidance.
Dharma Teachers: Please Retract Your Homages to Sogyal
If you affirm Sogyal Lakhar’s conduct, you justify the injuries he caused, and show little respect for those he injured. Because we cannot believe this was your intention, we respectfully request that you retract your homages to Sogyal Lakhar. Your retraction will benefit his victims and the Dharma.
Please sign the petition at Change.org: http://chng.it/KgWVMwfh
Also, please put your email list to work, and encourage your fellow Dharma sisters and brothers to sign the petition, in order to send a clear, unambiguous message to the lamas that students are standing with victims, and that we will be vigilant to protect ourselves and others from abuse, and prevent it from happening in the first place.
Yours in Dharma,
Thanks Charles. I’ll let everyone on the Beyond the Temple email list know about it. As you say, they won’t retract, but if they or their students read it, it will help move things along. Another drop in the pond of Buddhadharma that will ripple into the future.
I must confess, SL departure is someway a relief for me, because he won’t harm anybody anymore. I feel good for his victims and those who lost their life at the service of such awfull charlatans.
“Golden face”… and what else?….. 😉
I wonder to see who will conduct the cremation ceremony .
But all these “homage” make me sick when you know the sad and disgusting reality hiden for decades. It’s quite appalling!
As Pete says, there is something quite rotten in TB hierachy today as in the past.
I hope westeners won’t fall anymore in this kind of abusive and criminal cult system in the future.
What a sick lama, disgusting sl as lord of refuge.
This lama is like a vulture, not smelling a corpse but money of vulnerable people.
Tahlia, my heart soared when I read your reply. I have waited nearly 20 years, when I published my first critique of Sogyal at American-Buddha.com, to receive confirmation from those who studied under Sogyal.
Edmund and Pete — I strongly second your observations, and am greatly encouraged to hear the genuine moral clarity expressed in them.
May we all, together, do honor to the Dharma by clearly drawing a line between what is good and what is bad. My teacher always taught that Dharma practice is knowing “what to keep, and what to abandon.” It takes no great wisdom to know that the behavior of a Sogyal is precisely what we must abandon, as well as the absurd notion that somehow, by the magic of Vajrayana, his darkness brought us light, his abuse gave us wisdom, and his entirely ordinary demise was a Parinirvana, a door to our own liberation.
The petition is simply an effort to do what we never did — to stand up and tell those who sit on thrones and tell us complicated lies, “No, you are wrong about that. You are hurting us. Take it back.”
There is a story about Kruschev, when he was giving a speech. A voice shouted out, “Why did you not speak out against Stalin when he was purging the Party and killing millions?”
Kruschev stopped and shouted, “Who said that?”
No one answered, and then Kruschev smiled and said, “That is why!”
Let it not be so with us.
There was a time when I didn’t want to know. That’s why I understand those who even now want only to hear the good things. We cling so dearly to our illusions. I’m aiming now not to create a new one!
Well said Charles and a good move to set up the petition. I expect it will fall on eternally deaf ears, but it gives western students a chance to voice their complaints and lamas to gauge the current discontent with a degenerate form of Tibetan Buddhism. Every little drop counts!
@ Charles Carreon
I really appreciate your posts and I understand your reaction to seeing how things have finally changed.
Your comment :
“……the absurd notion that somehow, by the magic of Vajrayana, his darkness brought us light, his abuse gave us wisdom, and his entirely ordinary demise was a Parinirvana, a door to our own liberation.”
……. is simply the best short summary of the whole miserable saga that I’ve read so far, and at what is obviously a difficult time for them, perhaps all Rigpa students should repeat it as a profound mantra a hundred thousand times, it might help liberate them from their delusion.
Many years ago some of us began to understand what Sogyal really was, we became disillusioned and left: some drifted away discreetly, some spoke out, but without any significant effect at all because at the time there was such an intense craving for and complete ignorance of Eastern spirituality.
Sogyal’s rise to fame and fortune was guaranteed because the forces behind him were so much stronger than the few isolated voices raised against him, so I don’t think anyone should reproach themselves for not having done enough.
As an example: my wife was his close student for fifteen years, she took care of the hospitality side of Rigpa and he trusted her completely.
Finally, during a visit to Sikkim, provoked by one of Sogyal’s periodic temper tantrums in which he lashed out hysterically at everyone around him for no reason at all, she lost patience and ( in typical parisienne fashion ) positioned herself very close to his face and said very loudly: ” Look at you, you’re mad, you’re driving me mad, you’re driving everyone else mad, it’s pathetic, what’s the matter with you?”
She later described this as introducing him to the nature of his own mind and said that from that moment on, for her he was no longer a guru, just a very ordinary dysfunctional little man, caught out being an arsehole and completely lost for words.
Soon after this, the first scandal broke, we left Rigpa and subsequently she put a lot of energy into denouncing his behaviour, speaking to a large audience including journalists at the London School of Economics, and giving testimony to the French state anti-cult organisations Miviludes and UNADFI, the Gendarmarie Nationale, Les Renseignements Generaux, and various outlets in the french media……. much of this was over twenty years ago and she was certainly not the only person to react like this, because quite a few people have kept on trying doggedly over the past two decades, but until recently to no significant effect whatsoever.
His behaviour continued to deteriorate continually even as his global reputation and wealth grew relentlessly, peaking with the ultimate accolade and confirmation of his status: the Dalai Lama inaugurating the grandiose temple at Lerab Ling witnessed by the media, celebrities and representatives of the French Government including ministers and even the president’s wife .
The world’s most famous and respected Buddhist giving the world’s second most popular Buddhist his very public approval.
If Sogyal had been a lone Western New Age guru, operating alone, outside any tradition, he would probably gone to jail long ago, but unfortunately for all his victims, he was protected: completely embedded in, and backed unequivocally by the entire hierarchy ( and the Vajrayana mythology ) of Tibetan Buddhism, particularly the Dalai Lama, the heads of the four lineages and almost every other lama with any status: the old ones and then their next incarnations, were all queueing up to get in on the act and cash in.
Even now after his exposure, cowardly flight to avoid the law, public humiliation and death, many of them still are. They knew then, they know even more now…..and they still don’t care.
So the overwhelming responsibility is entirely theirs rather than the hundreds of thousands of sincere and well intentioned Western students who, if they had a failing at all, it was only a slightly credulous good faith.
I’m no longer a Buddhist, yet I can understand why some people still find some aspects of it useful, but the Tibetan tradition is too problematic.
Inherently feudal, reactionary, steeped in patriarchal elitism and misogyny, it’s encounter with the West has been marked by an arrogant obscurantism that refuses to honestly respect our values of equality, rationality and justice and this systemic contempt has now all but obliterated much of that good faith in many of the very people who have worked so hard to establish Tibetan Buddhism here and support it in Asia.
It’s track record for condoning sexual abuse is rapidly approaching the Catholic Church and it’s appetite for money and power resembles the Evangelical organisations of the US.
Like other religions, it has revealed itself to be parasitic, medieval, backward and corrupt, a thing of the past, an antique exotic cultural phenomenon to be either treated with caution and scepticism or avoided altogether.
Thank you Pete 😉
I met SL once “tanslating” for Dudjom R. in Paris, longtime ago…he used the word “orgasm” every five minutes…and i don’t think it was the real subject of Dudjom’s teatching… 😉
At that time i found he was a little excited tibetan playboy, and could not imagine his incredible future worldwide success .
His fall did not surprise me, it took far much too long to happen because of his famous “very good friends” in the TB highest hierarchy…
So many victims, so many…in many “Buddhalands”.
I was lucky to meet an honest and well educated teatcher who was never linked to SL or C.Trungpa sphere, and there are still some happily, but i think too that authentic TB will soon diseapear or continue secretly far from the actual scandals and show lights for westeners and taiwaneses customers, but not longtime as it was predicted in the 40’s by some high level practitioners in Tibet.
Thank you, pete, for your clear words, also big thanks to your wife.
@pete (or others) :You said you’re not longer a buddhist, one personal serious question, i’m really interested, what is your practice/ what do you do in/with your mind in the moment of dying? Thats a big question for me after my trust in refuge, or guru rinpoche,or bardo teachings, or the whole tib. stuff is quite gone. No amithaba, no phowa, no pure Land and so on:) Btw, i think fear of death without garantee belonging to the tib. Vajrayana refuge system is a very big reason for hardcoredevotees to hold the line and suck every fuckin lie. Thank you for an answer.
It is one very particular approach to death that the Tibetans have. I don’t buy the 49-day rebirth textbook dogma. That’s one reason I walked away, after my father died. No lama could convince me this was true. The Hindus also have beautiful rites. I plan to check into a hospice on the Ganges in Benares when I’m on way out, if there’s time and it isn’t an untimely death. The Tibetans think they have a monopoly over the death process. They don’t. It’s nonsense. It’s just one way, one approach.
Sorry for the 10 day delay, I don’t check the blog that regularly and I assumed this thread was finished; you must have thought it rude of me not to reply.
Anyway it’s a good question and it deserves a proper answer……as proper as I can manage that is:
I used to practice quite a bit while I was a Buddhist, ( especially a lot of powa because it spaced me out) but I don’t practice at all now and haven’t done since shortly after I left Rigpa well over two decades ago. I kept up some practices for a couple of weeks, but it all seemed too contaminated by the enormous amount of cruelty, indifference to suffering, lies, deception and hypocrisy that underpinned everything…..both Sogyal and all the rest of the lamas who had endorsed him plus the system itself.
The more I applied my critical thinking the faster it all fell apart, until there was nothing left worth keeping, it all seemed totally artificial, morally dishonest and designed to benefit a caste of exploitative narcissists.
Nothing I’ve seen since has ever made me doubt that…..quite the reverse in fact.
In the end the only realization I had wasn’t the empty nature of reality but the fraudulent nature of Tibetan Buddhism……and that was probably one of the most important understandings I’ve ever had because it saved me from wasting my life.
The ironic thing was how much happier and freer I became almost overnight without that crushing weight of practices, the complex obligation to mumble endless mantras and all the other weird psychological imperatives that I’d been conned into doing and continually deluged with for fifteen years.
You’re right about our knowledge of our mortality….it’s a very tough thing to have, but it maybe means you value life more and profit from being alive in a way you wouldn’t if you believed you had an endless series of lives…..but yes, I can certainly understand why people turn to religion to take the edge of it all…..or drugs, drink, sex, food, TV, pets, literature, art, pottery, politics etc; etc., maybe most things we do.
Except with religion there’s the very real risk of becoming vulnerable to manipulation and wasting what time you do have by working to make someone else richer at your expense instead of enjoying your own life fully. I did just that for fifteen years. A very bad idea indeed.
So now I’m living a quiet unremarkable life, in a spectacular but indifferent universe. A life that has no continuation of consciousness, no cosmic meaning, no ridiculously pretentious ambition to be enlightened, no suffocating obligation to be an extraordinary person, an existence with no significance outside itself which will end without leaving any enduring trace.
But I would guess I appreciate it and enjoy it more than your average Buddhist or other religious person. It’s far more relaxing when your only real goal is having a laugh.
I can understand doing relaxation excercises, breathing meditation, or even yoga or tai chi and so on to cope with stress and anxiety….but benefitting from the physiological results of that sort of thing doesn’t need you to suspend your critcal or moral intelligence, it doesn’t need faith at all. So it seems to me that’s much healthier and sane, while anything beyond that into the ‘spiritual ‘ realm looks of dubious value and risky.
As to death; well, life is a remarkable piece of luck in the first place, so it seems stupid to waste it by being obsessed with the very end of it just because someone told you you’ll keep on having a series of lives after it and they’ll be better if you die in some state of mystical awareness.
What an awful burden to put on someone who really just needs a nice big hit of morphine to give them a pleasant send off.
A longer reply than I intended, but at least it ends on a high note. I’ll check again in case you have any thoughts about this.
I feel the same way these days, Pete, except that I still have an enormous respect for the actual teachings and practices of Vajrayana because they were so powerful for me. In my mind, I can separate varjayana from Tibetan Buddhism. Separate the teachings and practice from the religious structures and corruption, and from the feudal structures. I’ll even go so far as to say that you can do it without a guru. That’s an idea that would be heresy in TB, of course, but I see much of the teachings about guru devotion as really only having the purpose of propping up the feudal structure – keeping the little kings on their thrones. Those teachings can be dispensed with.
If you replace the word lama or the name of any deity in the practices with the absolute meaning of that word – the nature of mind and reality – and practice carefully according to the teachings on how to view the deities – as emptiness appearing in a form, a metaphor for the nature of mind and reality, which could be visualised as anything that represents that for the practitioners – you can bypass the lama, cut out the middle man, so to speak, and the result of that practice is that you come to see everything that way – as it really is. It’s like seeing or knowing the quantum level of reality. The lama and deities are merely symbols. That’s actually how I viewed the practice I did anyway, because I never could practice thinking of a real person as ‘lama’ (that kind of devotion was always too religious for me) so I always went for the absolute level of the practice, and doing that automatically cuts out the crap. Even an introduction to the nature of mind can happen without a lama. My first experience of that was following an instruction of Namkhai Norbu’s to merge my eyes with the sky. No guru devotion in it.
And the mudras and ritual can be replaced with making a cup of tea or brushing your teeth, because the purpose of the movement aspect of vajrayana is to do everything with awareness of form and emptiness combined. Had Sogyal’s main students done their practice with correct understanding (or even had time for any practice at all), they would never have thought that emptiness/seeing with pure perception meant that what S did was okay. It would be impossible to miss the harm he caused, just as it is impossible not to see the result of picking up its of broken glass. The fragments might be empty of any inherently existent nature, but they still cut your fingers. Anyway, I plan to make a post about these ideas at some point, but the question is perhaps, why would anyone want to practice vajrayana at all? And I’d reply that it does actually help with integrating the awareness one learns in meditation with everyday life, and it can be used as a tool to work with lessening one’s ‘issues’. You just have to know what your issues are first and consciously work with them in your practice, not use the practice to bypass them. Unfortunately, however, that’s not how it’s taught, and so we get a lot of bypassing and using meditation as a drug, rather than as a real tool for living your life with increased awareness.
This bit of what you said certainly applies to me, “how much happier and freer I became almost overnight without that crushing weight of practices, the complex obligation to mumble endless mantras.” Though counting mantras did make me do a huge amount of practice that I would never have disciplined myself to do otherwise, practice that changed my way of seeing the world, it’s wonderful not to be under any obligation because a lama said ‘do this’. There was a pressure, for sure, a pressure that I really didn’t need in my life. Not trying to become enlightened anymore is also wonderful, it allows me to simply be myself, rather than identifying as a ‘Buddhist’ who ‘should’ think like this or that. I don’t know about enlightenment, the concept seems like nothing more than a hook to get people in to me these days, but people do have various levels of awareness, and vajrayana practice (only one among many other practices) can help people become more aware, which is a good thing because the more aware you are the less likely you are to harm others or the environment. Our politicians could certainly do with having more awareness!
Thanks, your solution is very interesting……it’s something that I’m sure most of us spent a lot of time puzzling over. Obviously it’s quite a complicated subject so I’ll reply in detail soon when I’ve got enough time to do it justice….and worked out how to express my take on it, which is slightly different .
@Pete, Tahlia, Siofra: thank you very much for your kind responding to my question what to do or practise in moment of death when you are no longer buddhist. I really much appreciate your honest authentic answers and i can understand your opinions very well. thank you. btw., i think, there a a lot of disillusioned ex-longtime-buddhists outthere, who fight with this kind of question.
I’d like to hear it. I’m enjoying our conversation. I have no desire to ‘practice’ anymore myself, but I do think of others who feel the need for some kind of spiritual practice. Just being with awareness is enough for me.
Well, I’ve thought about your post and I’ll do my best to respond, but please don’t think I’m being critical, it’s such a large and complex subject that I’m going for honesty and especially brevity over diplomacy and subtlety, so my apologies if I sound blunt.
( Anyway, my reply is inadequate and patchy, because this subject probably needs a large well-researched book, and that’s not a job for me. )
Over-all you seem to have come to similar conclusions, but have a very different assessment of the value…..( I know that’s not too clear, but it’s the best way I can describe it )
I can’t separate things in the way you do and my analysis over the years is that this isn’t possible because I believe the intention of the practices, iconography and the underlying psychology is to disarm rational intelligence and induce a state of subservience and create emotional obligation. If you vizualize a glowing god-like figure in lavish ancient Indian royal dress, adorned with gold and jewels and endowed with supernatural qualities floating above your head, radiating rainbows, and showering you with blessings then that’s permeated with a feudal script from a deeply unequal world view, a kind of magical-caste system-brainwashing, it’s not neutral and I don’t see how it ever could be.
That’s just one example among many, of why I don’t have any respect for Vajrayana, because basically it appears to me as a deliberately hyper-complex, manipulative trap. I don’t ascribe any positive value there, it’s just another religion.
The subtle method you describe in the second paragraph is something I can’t understand…..I just literally don’t have the same references or the same experiences, so I can’t say much about that, and because I can’t relate to that side of it either there’s also no value apparent there for me personally.
Honestly, I think the difference is that I wasn’t much good at any of it, I liked getting spaced out but I was selective, doing what I enjoyed and garbling the rest out of a sense of obligation….much of it I found extremely boring, so I wasn’t dilligent perhaps in the way you were.
I haven’t got a clue about emptiness, the nature of mind or integrated awareness, and worse than that, I’ve a suspicion they’re just words used to describe a huge variety of perceptual, entirely subjective experiences, neuro-chemical changes in the brain induced by various deliberate activities….not inherently more valuable than drug-induced states and often resulting in no guaranteed beneficial personality changes or lasting effects than couldn’t be achieved by other neutral, non-religious means at much lower cost and minimal risk too.
I managed thirty five years as a carpenter without losing any fingers or falling off a roof and that represents the sum total of my understanding of mindfulness and awareness….. everybody has it to some degree, I don’t think it’s that special.
Awareness itself is just a capacity, not necessarily confined to good uses at all….history is full of individuals whose awareness was unusually developed, but they were also amoral or psychopathic….no examples needed.
My view of everything I ever learnt of Tibetan Buddhism is indelibly marked by three salient facts: firstly that even some of those teachers who really did years of retreats and practices turned out to be utter arseholes, ( see above ) so my reaction was: “This stuff doesn’t work as it’s supposed to does it?”
Secondly, the sheer degree of suffering Sogyal inflicted, enabled by almost the entire establishment is something that I can never forgive, so I’d no more associate myself with anything to do with Vajrayana than I would with the Catholic Church or a drug cartel.
Thirdly I came to doubt the accuracy and integrity of what I’d been taught and came to believe that most of Sogyal’s teaching was ersatz rubbish, cobbled together for an eager but uninformed audience. I’ll give a personal example for this.
When he lived with us, we used to spend hours chatting with Alak Zenkar, he was mostly interested in Western aspects of secular stuff; social issues, politics, science and so on, but not exclusively and one day, somehow we got round to that practice you mention of looking into the sky. In quite a casual way between sips of tea, he explained more about it, the how and the why and in much greater depth in fifteen minutes than I’d ever heard from Sogyal over fifteen long years. The difference was so remarkable that I was kind of shocked and I remember thinking: “Fuck! I’ve been wasting my time, Sogyal is a fraud.”
I don’t think it’s was ever possible for me to find value in Vajrayana after all that, but there are so many varieties of ways that ex-Rigpa students I’ve known reacted and adjusted that I understand it’s a very personal thing.
I suppose there must be some equation that defines how people react to all this: personality, experience, the length of time and degree of close involvement, the extent of personal trauma, loss, moral revulsion, deception and so on…..but I’ve no idea what that equation might be.
I get that. And I agree. It’s not neutral when practised on the outer level, when you take it at face value. And yes, if you pay attention to the prayers and all that worshipping crap, then yes, it does make you subservient. I skipped those prayers. Never did them when practising at home alone, and in later years I never joined in group practices – for several reasons, but one was that I couldn’t stand all those prayers. Even so, I did become subservient to a degree – it seemed necessary in order to ‘get’ the teachings I wanted – until I woke up to Sogyal’s abuse, the corruption in Rigpa and in the religion itself.
I guess that when I practised, I always saw those images we visualised as something that transcended culture. I was always aware that the image/deity I was using was a just one version of endless possibilities that would have sufficed to do the same job, one that came from a culture not my own, and that I’d decided to use that version because that’s the framework that vajrayana came to me in.
Now I’m wondering if we can strip that cultural brainwashing out of it and keep what I found so powerful in it. I think we can. It’s a matter of keeping in mind the purpose of vajrayana, which is the same as all Buddhism – to recognise the empty essence and spontaneous presence/luminosity of our mind and reality – and look at what exactly in the practices help us to do that and what is cultural feudalistic baggage. The baggage is actually easy to see. I could, right now, go through a practice and strip all that shit out of it, but the tricky bit is replacing the language of the important bits with language that is just as inspiring.
Maybe one day I’ll try doing that. Take one practice and strip it back. Maybe I’ll just forget about it.
Of course this assumes that the state of mind to which I’m referring is one worth cultivating. I like being able to see the world in a more fluid way, and having less chatter in my head and more awareness but hubby isn’t sure that it’s made me a better person, because (I just asked him) ‘it happened so slowly’ and we still have domestic disputes. (But would me just letting him have his own way be an indication of some kind of improvement in me as a person? Wouldn’t that just be me being subservient to him?) Anyway, I think I’ve changed for the better, but that could also have happened without vajrayana. Who knows. For sure there are a lot of very unkind people around who are the apparent result of the religion. HHDL and other exceptions aside. None of the lamas are free of their culture though.
And perhaps a drug could do it. I don’t know, but there isn’t one at the moment that I know of.
Certainly it isn’t the answer to creating well-rounded individuals. All it does is open your mind. How you use that increased awareness is up to you, and clearly one can still ignore or simply not see one’s bad habits.
For some, meditation is nothing more than a drug, but that’s a matter of how the person approaches it, not the meditation itself.
Anyway, it sure is easier to reject the whole thing; I just feel there is some benefit for having a system of meditation that isn’t based on just watching your breath. I found that so boring, all it did was put me to sleep. Visualisation, however, gave me something interesting to do, and chanting made me feel alive. If I ever work out how to keep the benefit and chuck out the harm in a way that ‘works’, I’ll let you know. At the moment, if I do sit with the idea of actually ‘meditating’, I use no focus at all.
I think it’s possible that meditation might be a religious conceptualization and co-opting of something natural, basically “spacing out”….a kind of light trance. I’ve always done this a lot, it seems to run in the family, so I suspect it’s a physiological tendency. I’ve seen cats and dogs do it.
Maybe it’s got a regenerative function, like non-REM sleep and perhaps some common human activities are an attempt to prolong this.
Of course it takes religion and the male psyche to turn something natural and healthy into a sort of one-upmanship competitive sport that can be marketed and used to control people, simply by claiming it can do all sorts of incredible things for you, when in fact it’s just a temporary break.
As you said: best to cut out the middle man, who shouldn’t have ever been involved anyway.
Yeah, the one-upmanship and marketing is a real problem. Meditation is not spacing out, though. It’s actually tuning in. But I suspect a lot of people space out when they practice and think that’s what they’re aiming for. Spacing out is a release, a trance state, as you say, but it’s a dull state that lacks awareness and awareness is the key point of meditation. The mindfulness part is merely to settle your mind enough for the awareness to start to blossom. Without the awareness, it’s not meditation.
Awareness is, of course, a perfectly natural state. There’s nothing religious about it, or about being aware of it. We’re aware all the time, we just don’t know it, don’t recognise it and don’t rest in it or extend it to include a greater awareness of the nature of reality beyond the surface that we all see. Learning to rest in our pure awareness is more than just a release, it’s a tool that we can use to shine light on ourselves, our issues and problem solving in general. Unfortunately, it’s often used to bypass feelings and issues instead of help solve them.
@Pete: That is really beautifully said,
‘So now I’m living a quiet unremarkable life, in a spectacular but indifferent universe. A life that has no continuation of consciousness, no cosmic meaning, no ridiculously pretentious ambition to be enlightened, no suffocating obligation to be an extraordinary person, an existence with no significance outside itself which will end without leaving any enduring trace.’
@Tahlia: Good idea to write a blog about Vajrayana. Listening to another lama the past year I really got a different understanding of it. One where the teacher just hands you tools to try out yourself. If they help you working on painful/stressfull bits in yourself: fine. If not: fine too. No strings attached.
@Sel and @Pete It is beautiful. I agree. And it speaks for where I am as well. It’s a very freeing way of seeing things.
It’s weird isn’t it. I always thought I was living in a ‘deeper’ way, because I was a Buddhist. And now that I drop the Buddhist idea’s, I feel freed and more alive!
@ Sel, Tahlia
It’s very nice of you to say so and it does express how I see things, but the way it’s written is probably subconscious plagiarism on my part: there might be a bit of paraphrased Shakespeare from the Tempest in there:
“…..be cheerful, sir.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.”
I came to Buddhism in part because of that mind-set, but over the years I became increasingly resigned to it’s absence, and the futile empire-building ambitions of Sogyal and other Tibetan lamas came to echo Shelley’s Ozymandias.
“I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
I know that at some point in the future Sogyal and Rigpa will be forgotten, the temple at Lerab Ling will be deserted, overgrown and owls will nest in the ruins…..the poetry of impermanence can be a great consolation.
I have signed and commented.
“Rinpoche is resting in tukdam meditation”
We want to see the photo of Sogyal resting in tukdam meditation. AND OF COURSE THE BODY MUST BE WITHOUT BANDAGE, ROPES OR A REVERSED ROBE TO HOLD THE BODY AND LIMBS IN MEDITATION POSTURE. The tibetans have used often this trick for centuries of maintaining the body in position to make people believe that the lama was a great practioner.
Also, it has to be checked whether they are not using a system of conservation of the body. They can put the body directly on a mass of salt or flour to absorb the liquids. So there is no smell, no liquid but the body is reducing because of the natural liquids exiting the body by the natural openings down.
At the end, will they save us from the old trick of embalming? They can for instance immerse the much smaller body in milk butter…
WE ARE IN THE XXIst CENTURY. IF RIGPA WANTS TO PRETEND ANY SIGN OF REALIZATION, WE REQUIRE THE VALIDATION OF THE FACTS BY AN INDEPENDENT DOCTOR (not chosen or paid by Rigpa of course…).
Yes French Observer. Concerning Trungpa’s Parinirvana, one of his wives reported earlier this year on fb that actually the stench on the plane was horrific. And they had to break his bones in order for him to be placed in the meditation posture.
Thank you all for your comments.
Just to let you know that yesterday, there was a small but good interview with some ex-Rigpa students on the BBC. It starts at 30.25 and ends at 43.35:
Rob Hogendoorn has received a reply from the Tibetan Department of Religion and Culture in Dharamsala when he expressed his concerns to them about their message of condolence published on the Sogyal Rinpoche Homage page. You can read it here.
I am grateful to Rob and for the reply he received.
Rob Hogendoorn sent an email to the Department of Religion & Culture in Dharamsala expressing his concerns about their condolences published on the Sogyal Rinpoche Homage page. I am grateful to him for doing so and for their reply. They said that they have requested Rigpa to remove all translated versions of their message of condolence from the Rigpa websites. Their original message had been sent in Tibetan. They said “It has been clear by now that our message has shocked and angered many in view of some controversies about late Sogyal Rinpoche’s personal behaviours. It was totally unintended and we hereby sincerely apologize to all those who were affected.” They then give a clarification of the Tibetan tradition of only remembering the good things about a deceased person and that they had not intended their message to be a eulogy.
Re: your comment on meditation above.
As I said, I don’t know what ‘pure awareness’ or ‘pure perception’ might be, having only ever experienced things through my own mind and my own perception….which is of course merely the subjective limited perception of a single individual with an individual brain, itself shaped by physical or genetic determinants, specific personal history, biology, culture and so on…..I’ve no idea how that could be described as ‘pure’ in any sense of the word, for the simple reason that our perception and mental experience is always conditioned by our biology which itself is conditioned by evolution.
If anything is described as pure surely it must be beyond evolutionary conditioning…..and nothing is.
It’s a totally anthropocentric idea that neglects the fact that many different species have awareness that we don’t, involving the use of light and the colour spectrum, sound, smell, electricity, temperature and so on.
Also: size dictates metabolism which is yet another variant: insects such as dragonflies see what to us would be the world in slow motion, pigeons have the ability do distinguish millions of hues, most invisible to us, and let’s not go into the remarkable perceptual abilities of the platypus or the narwhal….it’s a very long list, based on what any given organism needs to survive.
Even between men and women, colour vision is not the same…..women see more gradations due to having more cones in the eye. This is also an evolutionary development.
And this is only the initial physical aspect of perception, once it gets into how the brain processes, interprets and filters sensory information the complexity and variability is multiplied almost infinitely.
Given all this….to me at least, the words ‘pure perception’ are as meaningless as ‘absolute knowledge’, absolute reality’ or ‘omniscience’.
I suppose it comes down to whether a concept is useful to you, which in turn means it must seem realistic in your world-view, and mine doesn’t include anything that ignores what we are materially and infers some sort of mystical transcendence of it that produces ‘total’ awareness beyond conditioning.
Dullness and trance-like states are fine by me. In fact I think what humans really seek is a reduction in too much awareness, the damping down of all that input, the mental and physical pain, the anxiety about what cannot be known, the future and our own mortality.
Total awareness would effectively mean omniscience, it sounds terrifying, and also I never met anyone who had anything even vaguely approaching it, so even from that empirical basis alone, I’ll assume it doesn’t exist.
Long time so see,
The last time I remember seeing you was downstairs at Rigpa Caledonian Rd when you were working on the centre all on your lonesome – a looong time ago.
If your ever in London be nice to meet up for a coffee or some thing for a chat if you fancy it.
Hope your well in any case
all the best
Nice to hear from you. Yes, that does seem like a very long time ago. Dominique and I bailed out of the UK a few years back, we’re well, and living in France.
It would be good to chat but as things stand, we’re not really planning to come back, even for a brief visit. I’ll send you an email link on your FB page.
Hope you’re well too…..and coping with all that Brexit shit and political insanity.
I do agrre with Pete.
We are the present result of the evolution of bacterias ,archaebacterial and eubacterial lineage…for billions years, and also the melting of many types of humanoids that diseapeared like Neanderthal and Denissovians…anr others before.
It seems to me impossible to reproduce anywhere the same result (human body) because causes and conditions through large extinctions, climat changes, types of atmosphere, tectonics, migrations, can not be reproduced anywhere else.
So beings discribed as Buddhas in other realms with a human physical apparence is pure anthropomorphism.
Meditation and respiration can produce some altered perception states for sure, that people can identify with awareness.
It can be intersting to experiment some of these meditative states not losing goodsense… 😉
Not many Milarepas available today to show us the real thing ;-(
Tibetan used to think we are the result of an ape and a godess…
Is there a problem with the blog?
Impossible to get the new posts since this morning…
There was an URL change and name change after the email went out for the last post, so the link in the email won’t work. The blog is fine, I just pressed ‘Publish’ before checking.
If you’re interested in the neurology of meditation and mystical experience, an interesting book is “Why God won’t go away” printed in 2001. It’s written by two researchers and not extremely technical ( I understood it despite having no formal scientific education ) They focus on Tibetan Buddhists and Franciscan nuns.
Their approach is very open-minded and rational; they use the term: “the biology of belief”……they don’t question the subjective reality of individual experience but ask how it comes about in neurological terms; it’s fascinating.
I read it a long time ago, but as I recall, my only criticism was that the book doesn’t address the problems religious experience can create or how it gets hijacked, so it’s deficient in any moral, political or social analysis and there’s some content which I think may give religion too much automatic deference.
To be fair, they considered those aspects outside their remit and their aim isn’t to produce a moral critique, also my standpoint is informed by negative experiences that they don’t have.
Perhaps it’s the value and meaning that’s attributed to religious experiences that creates a problem: for example someone tells you that something called ‘rigpa’ or ‘the nature of mind’ exists, you don’t doubt them, you go looking for it, have some mental experience and it confirms what they say, their authority and the control they have.
The obvious question; “How can anyone possibly know we’re talking about the same experience because all mental events are individual and subjective and so impossible to compare?”…….never gets asked until it’s too late.
Thank you Pete for the book title “Why God won’t go away”, i’ll try to get it 🙂
I met many TB people who said they had meditating signs and experiences , but as it must be kept “secret”…impossible to know what it was…
The only “experience” i had was that at some point, meditating on Vajrasattva and impermanence of all phenomenas, abandonning greed and free of personnal concerns for a short while,, the only thing left was the feeling of what the real essence of mind naturally is : an immense compassion for all suffering beings stuck in dualistic karmic production. Nothing else.
It hapenned once, years ago….
Very pleasant feeling, which did not last, and never came again.
Real yogi used to meditate all day and night, using the subtle veins , pneumas and drops to gather the pranas in the central chanel as taught in the highest tantric practices for the liberation of all beings.
I don’t know the dzogchen techniques.
In Sarma schools, the Guruyoga is the utmost practice, no realisation is possible without the root Lama who gave the 4 empowerments and the corresponding samayas in a Mandala…Confidence is the key shown to receive the 3 jewels enligthing influence throug the Guru and his lineage.
Where starts the real experience, or the auto-hypnosis, the fairytell, the gasligthing, the individual and collective mind control and sometimes sadly wallet and sex control ???
As a Nyingma practitioner for 27 years (not in the Rigpa or Shambhala cults) and aged close to 80, I can totally empathize with the deep pain which many of the writers, such as Pete, are undergoing. But abusive actions do not automatically make Vajrayana invalid. I imagine that similar situations have happened during the 2300 history of Buddhism within many cultures, but the words of the Buddha remain valid. What is needed is a thorough reformation of feudal lamaism. HH Dalai Lama has done more than his share for that reformation: meeting with scientists, traveling worldwide to give pure teachings. He decried the overabundance of tulkus some time ago, but since there is de-centralization within the lineages, it is very hard to bring about change. The tulkus are apparently not being taught modern ethics against sexual abuse. One suggestion would be to limit re-incarnation to those teachers who have reached spiritual status as HH. But how can it be enforced? HH Dalai Lama is not a pope. Some promising results have been made within Drukpa Kagyu where the head of the lineage has made serious reforms. I think if several lamas were charged legally with serious abuse and got some prison time, that might cause other lamas to sit up and take serious notice. These petitions which are currently being circulated against Rigpa’s trying to exalt Sogyal Lakar as attaining parinirvana etc. will go nowhere, even though I signed them to give support (or the petition by a large group of Buddhist nuns). Rigpa will just ignore them and conduct their business as usual once the bad publicity has died down. I had read (whether true or not) that Sogyal kept as much as a million dollars cash in each of his centers. But he was certainly a millionaire and not a single iota of that wealth could accompany him when he left for the bardos. Some of that wealth came from the sale of Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, the unacknowledged co-author of which is claimed to be Andrew Harvey. Legal action should be taken to give victims of Sogyal’s sexual/financial abuse some share of his wealth. They should also receive real (and not “passive voice”) apologies from Rigpa for their part in enabling the abuse. And practitioners should follow the words of the Buddha in choosing a teacher. So very many people have lacked discernment in choosing an abuser such as Sogyal Lakar as their root guru. It has been amazing (and sad) for me to read how really good practitioners overlooked what was blatant abuse/exploitation over 30-40 years, and all for this theory of “crazy wisdom” which Sogyal assumed to legitimatize his abusive and sybaritic lifestyle.
Wow, great comment. It’s so clear to some people, but not to others. I just wonder about one thing, though I mostly agree with everything you said. I just wonder if you think the Buddha would have accepted teachers who were violent and abusive as true teachers. My feeling is that it is opposite of what Siddhartha taught.
What do you think?
Dear Dharma friend, You have answered your own question within the text of your comment. Of course, such abuse is diametrically opposed to what the Buddha taught. As for those Rigpa practitioners who claim they never saw abuse: what about Sogyal’s screaming abusively right before his talks at some unfortunate practitioner who was helping to set up the event. I saw that one time and it was enough for me! It was claimed to be “crazy wisdom.”
Crazy it was indeed but without a scintilla of wisdom.
We were brainwashed into believing it was an expression of ‘wisdom love’. My biggest regret in all this for myself personally is that I allowed my personal integrity to be compromised. I would never, in any other circumstance, have accepted the kind of behaviour I saw from him, but I was so sucked in by the same cult dynamics operating in any cult that I … well, it’s all in my book. The point is that we didn’t recognise it as abuse because we’d been brainwashed into thinking it wasn’t.