Seeing the Master as a Buddha, an Examination

This week we have a post by Joanne Clark.
One belief on Tahlia’s list of “Beliefs We Need to Examine” has spoken particularly strongly to me:
You must see your master as the Buddha if you want the blessings of the Buddha;
 This belief pervades Tibetan Buddhist culture. I had received that instruction myself, first from Sogyal Lakhar and later in a Kagyu monastery, years before I had even received a teaching on the Four Noble Truths. I had also heard the story of the woman who achieved realization as a result of praying to a dog’s tooth while believing that it was the tooth of the Buddha. Both teachings convey the idea that faith alone is sufficient to attain blessings and even realizations, that Buddha has that power through faith alone, like the power of Jesus Christ.
But this does not seem consistent with the Buddha’a  teachings. In Vajrayana, seeing the master as a Buddha has a specific meaning and purpose, one that is profound and never divorced from discerning wisdom. However, when it is practiced without the necessary understanding and wisdom of discernment, then all of that meaning and purpose are lost—and dangerous abuses can easily occur.
About ten years ago, there was a big earthquake in Tibet. Some monasteries were destroyed and lives were lost. It was a terrible tragedy. During a broadcast interview of a Tibetan woman at the scene, she repeated several times the idea that they were waiting for the “living Buddha” to arrive and help. In her grief, that anticipation seemed to be the one thing that mattered to her. “The living Buddha is coming,” she said.
Shortly after, I heard that a teacher I knew had travelled to the scene. He was a renowned lama connected to one of the monasteries. Here in the West, some thought he was a crazy wisdom lama. There were stories about his unusual antics. The first time I met him, he smelled of smoke and alcohol and he could be pretty brutal to some of us as well. I wondered if he was the living Buddha?
Certainly, in the midst of tragedy, faith is a tremendous help, so I would never want to suggest that this woman’s faith was misguided. Nor can I judge who is and who isn’t a living Buddha. Faith gives us hope. I also have prayed simple prayers of faith to the Buddhas during my journey through trauma. But how far do we let simple faith go?
Some years ago, I visited a website of a well-known lama. There was a banner running across his homepage which read “If you see the lama as a Buddha, you will receive the blessings of a Buddha. If you see the lama as an ordinary being, you will receive the blessings of an ordinary being.” In light of the fact that this was the first page someone would find who might be just exploring the dharma for the first time, this was strange. It seemed no different than visiting the homepage of a Christian leader, with a banner that instructed followers to take Jesus Christ as their savior—except that Jesus Christ isn’t a man who could enter one’s bedroom some night.
When Milarepa was giving parting advice to his chief disciple Gampopa, he had this to say about seeing the lama as a Buddha:
“You can start to teach and spread the Dharma when you behold and stabilize the realization of Mind-Essence. In time you will see it more clearly, which will be quite a different experience from those you are having now. Then you will see me as the perfect Buddha Himself. This deep and unshakable conviction will grow in you. Then you may start to teach.” (The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa; translated by Garma Chang; p. 490-491)
In Milarepa’s perspective here, the experience of seeing the guru as a Buddha is the result of advanced realization and wisdom—not as something taken on as an early, naïve belief, not something separate from practice and wisdom—Milarepa doesn’t even present it as an instruction, but as a realization. This is an important distinction.
In Precious Garland, Nagarjuna wrote:
“4. High status is considered to be happiness,
Definite goodness is liberation.
The quintessence of their means
Is briefly faith and wisdom.
“5. Due to having faith one relies on the practices,
Due to having wisdom one truly knows.
Of these two wisdom is the chief,
Faith is its prerequisite.” (Precious Garland, First Chapter)
Nagarjuna is clear. We cannot have faith in the absence of wisdom and it helps to know the purpose for having faith. We can have beliefs and they are necessary, as long as they do not compromise our discernment, wisdom and practice, as long as we aren’t blinded by them and led astray by them. Simple, yes, but I think in practice it is not so simple, especially in the Vajrayana and for those of us who come from Judeo-Christian cultures. There is very little space between the instruction of seeing the master as a Buddha and the born-again experience of a Christian.
In a recent publication, HH Dalai Lama referred to the story of the woman who prayed to the dog’s tooth in a discussion on excessive faith. He wrote:
“It is easy to conclude from this story that blind faith is necessary on this path. This is clearly contrary to the Buddha’s emphasis on developing discriminating wisdom. I do not see much point in this story and propose, replacing it with the following, a more suitable account to illustrate the benefit of having confidence in the Three Jewels.
“Two or three centuries ago, a great teacher and sincere practitioner named Togyen Lama Rinpoche lived in Tibet. He had a small clay image of Tsongkhapa on his carefully tended altar. One day, due to Togyen Lama’s genuine practice and heartfelt aspirational prayers, that image of Tsongkhapa actually spoke and gave teachings to him. This came about not from the side of the statue but mainly due to Togyen Lama’s excellent practice. Due to his spiritual experiences and confidence in Tsongkhapa, this clay image became the real Tsongkhapa and spoke to him. However, for ordinary people who lack that kind of spiritual experience and faith, the statue just looked like clay.” (The Dalai Lama and Thubten Chodron, Approaching the Buddhist Path; p. 140).
Once again, in this story of strong faith, it is not separated from practice or discernment. Faith strengthens the practitioner’s wisdom—the statue is perceived to give teachings, not just blessings.
Thirty years ago, HH the Dalai Lama made a strong statement about the dangers of instructing students to see the guru as a perfect Buddha and sacrificing discernment to do so. These words are still relevant:
“It is frequently said that the essence of the training in guru-yoga is to cultivate the art of seeing everything the guru does as perfect; but personally, I myself do not like this to be taken too far. Often we see written in the scriptures, ‘Every action seen as perfect,’ but this phrase must be seen in the light of Buddha Shakyamuni’s own words: ‘Accept my teachings only after examining them as an analyst buys gold. Accept nothing out of mere faith for me.’ The problem with the practice of seeing everything the guru does as perfect is that it very easily turns to poison for both the guru and the disciple…” (Essence of Refined Gold, Commentary by Tenzin Gyatso; p.54).
And later, he made an ominous warning:
“As for the guru, if he misrepresents this precept of guru-yoga in order to take advantage of his naïve disciples, his actions are like pouring the liquid fires of hell directly into his stomach.” (p.55)
And he spoke about pure perception:
“The disciple must always keep reason and his knowledge of the Dharma as principal guidelines. Without this approach it is difficult to digest one’s Dharma experiences. Make a thorough examination before accepting someone as a guru and even then follow him within the conventions of reason as presented by Buddha. The teachings on seeing the guru’s actions as perfect should largely be left for the practice of highest tantra, wherein they take on a new meaning. One of the principal yogas in the tantric vehicle is to see the world as a mandala of great bliss and to see oneself and all others as Buddhas. Under these circumstances it becomes absurd to think that you and everyone else are Buddhas, but your guru is not!” (Essence of Refined Gold; Commentary by pp. 55-56)
So these beliefs do serve a purpose, as with the woman after the earthquake described above, but more particularly in the Vajrayana and even more so in Dzogchen. When we sit on the cushion, there is a purpose to viewing the lama as the Buddha, a purpose that increases the power of devotion and does not skew our critical awareness. There is a purpose to pure perception off the cushion for the practice of highest yoga tantra. There are many statements from Dzogchen masters about the importance of strong devotion in order to practice Dzogchen. It is essential for the introduction to the mind’s nature.
The vital point being made in all of these statements is that the practice of seeing the lama as a Buddha is an advanced Vajrayana practice and it does not mean that we give away our capability of seeing truth clearly as a result of that practice. It is not a blinker. If the lama is abusing students, then these are not the practices of a Buddha. To say that they are the practices of a Buddha—because we are training to see the lama as Buddha—is to sacrifice our discernment and decency. That is blind faith and never a Buddhist practice.
Blind faith is a linear perspective, which sees reality in black and white, simplistic terms. Blind faith cannot allow for troublesome conflicts of interest or complicated realities. For example, how can Rigpa students account for the fact that the lama they perceive as Buddha himself, the lama who has brought them teachings and profound experiences, is behaving like a cruel criminal? Blind faith would say to simply deny reality, blinker the truth.
But Rigpa students can only truly account for the situation through a discerning wisdom capable of seeing a many dimensioned, complex and murky reality—difficult as that is. The challenge of balancing the perception of Sogyal Lakhar, a deeply flawed man who has abused students and must account for his misdeeds in courts of law, with the perception of Sogyal Rinpoche, the lama who brought the Dharma into their lives and whom they have perceived as a Buddha, is huge.  Certainly, to acknowledge these two realities in one mind is difficult or impossible for most. But for Rigpa students who have been practicing Vajrayana for many years with Sogyal Lakhar, discounting those years of practice is not tenable either—but nor is it tenable to ignore the harm being caused to themselves and others. I think everyone is seeking their own way of moving forward through this murkiness. For myself, like many other ex-Rigpa, cautions about devotion and viewing the lama as a Buddha are burned into me after years of struggle. In my opinion, teachers and students of Vajrayana in the West must acknowledge the murky terrain we are on if Vajrayana is to survive in the West.
Thanks for your thoughts Joanne.
Another post on the topic of seeing one’s teacher as a Buddha  can be read here  
In that post I draw on Alexander Berzin’s writing on the matter, writing that I highly recommend.

“The sole purpose of viewing the teacher as a buddha is so we can see these same awakened qualities in ourselves, in others, and in the world around us. It is a tool that helps us to gain confidence in the purity of our true nature.” Minguyr Rinpoche. Lions Roar, Sept 24th 2017

The instruction that we should see our teacher as a buddha if we want the blessings of a buddha is clearly problematic in a world where teachers cannot be trusted to behave as decent human beings, so how are we to practice this under these cricumstances?

Private discussion on this and other related topics can be had on our Secret  What Now Facebook Group. It is only for current and previous students of Rigpa, however, and we do moderate it closely. If you’re interested in joining, please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
People from other sanghas can join the Dharma Friends Beyond the Temple Facebook Group . It’s a support group for anyone who has left their Buddhist sangha after hearing revelations of abuse by their teacher or after experiencing such abuse. It’s for people who see ethical behaviour, love, compassion and introspection as the core of their spiritual path. The aim of the group is to support each other in our spiritual journey wherever it takes us. Click here and request to join.
The What Now? Reference Material page has links to a wealth of articles in the topics related to abuse in Buddhist communities. For links to places to assist in healing from abuse see the sangha care resources page.
Those of you who are interested in ‘keeping Buddhism clean’ could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page.

123 Replies to “Seeing the Master as a Buddha, an Examination”

  1. While I greatly appreciate your well reasoned examples I can imagine how they will be explained away by saying you’re talking about ‘lower’ yanas. In the frutional path you ‘fake it till you make it’, so seeing the teacher as the Buddha could fit that way of thinking. The counter argument (sounding very neurotic arguing with myself here) is that they cherry pick what you should fake, something along the lines of Christians who bounce back and forth between the old and new testaments to ‘prove’ the will of god:) If you see your teacher as the Buddha then theoretically we should be ‘seeing’ ourselves as Buddha’s too which means our wisdom is equal to that of the teacher.
    In the end you can’t really prove anything because you can go in endless circular arguments. I’ve decided to follow one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies, “I would rather make the gravest of mistakes than surrender my own judgment.”
    Or we could revert to lojong, “Of the Two Witnesses, Hold the Principal One”.

  2. This was a serious and calm appraisal and I appreciate the writer’s approach.
    For myself- I was SR’s student ‘noticed’ by him – it was 30 years ago now. I swerved those initial early advances and managed to stay in the background at that time.
    Then I moved – with my husband who worked in the Aid world -away from the U.K. and the London sangha. In the following years I travelled to several long retreats, in France and at Dzongsar Monastery in India. I also met him in Bhutan and in Kathmandu. So I was not a member of a regular sangha. BUT I held him- in my mind – as a direct conduit to the Buddhas teachings and have to say I had many profound experiences, dreams etc around him and his direct presence.
    And this is one of the problems that takes this situation right outside the realms of daily reality – with trials, lawyers etc.
    For Vajrayana is magic – and those who want the magic must have a Vajrayana teacher. Sogyal – for all his faults- which became out of control – was in my experience – such a teacher.
    The same applies to Trungpa (and I had not heard about the cat until now) whose students experienced those things which lay outside normal everyday, or mundane, experience. Although at least one I spoke to recognised this, she felt the direct transmissions she experienced were so strong she wished to stay around him. (This was an older person who was not approached sexually but of course could witness all Trungpa’s behaviour).
    I distanced myself from Sogyal years ago, disillusioned by some his actions I witnessed. And I have known many lamas both during and after but none has brought what he brought to me.
    So – how you see the Lama IS crucial – but to me it’s more like a conduit – or a portal – and there’s plenty of room for discernment out in the ‘real’ world. I left him but he is still and always will be my Root Master. As someone said when I tried to explain my feelings with the ‘breaking of the samaya’ ‘You had that – you can’t change that’. That’s it, I had the introduction and it can’t be changed.
    As to his behaviour in the light of present circumstances – I use the concept Sogyal taught us – that of the Absolute and the Relative.
    What he showed me happened with his Absolute aspect, his physical behaviour – all of it- not just the sexual part – happens in the Relative.
    This must be dealt with and cease – but the teacher of Vajrayana – if he is a true one – speaks from a different place and our struggle is how to deal with that.

    1. I think that part of the puzzle might be that sl was extremely skilled at creating an almost hypnotic state, which has nothing to do with profound wisdom, BUT receiving teachings in that state is very powerful. I actively worked on recreating this state on my own by recalling the sensations and have been able to have similar experiences with other teachers. Try it, you might be very surprised at the results.

      1. I personally don’t regard the situation as a puzzle. I have been fortunate to have direct experience of many masters, including Dilgo Khyentse, Sakya Trizin, Namkai Norbu, Tulku Urgyen, Nyoshul Khen – and more. This is a result of having – through my husband’s work – lived in various Asian countries, and also my own travels. I have been and still am a great admirer of the writings of NN, Nyoshul Khen with his wisdom and humility left a lasting impression and to be one-on-one with Dilgo Khyentse was unforgettable.
        But with all these masters none has created for me the powerful experiences I had around Sogyal. The monks in Bhutan would say ‘Past lives’ as an explanation – and maybe it’s as straightforward as that.

        1. Or maybe there’s a much simpler explanation, sl is skilled at creating a receptive state of mind, one that we can learn to create on our own.
          I have also met many other teachers, and I was very close to sl. The way he behaved in the shrine room was akin to a performance, one that he had to psyche himself up for. In most recent years he had to have at least a few cigars before ‘performing’. No, he was not practicing or resting in the nature of mind, he was getting a massive nicotine hit. One full sized cigar has as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes and he definitely inhaled.
          I’m not saying this to cast doubt on your experiences (ones shared by many people), I’m just asking people to look at bit deeper and reject magical thinking because then we’re just one step away from validating bs like ot saying sl’s a mahasiddha and it would be OK for him to kill a student for their own good.
          It’s definitely a skill, I just don’t think it implies any kind of wisdom.

            1. Yep! He was obsessive about hiding it, my understanding is that smoking is a serious no no in Tibetan culture, something to do with smoke eaters. It started as a bit of a thrill, a way to be naughty in the early 2000’s but grew to a full blown addiction. People in ‘hospitality’ spent countless hours finding places for him to smoke out in nature, while retreats were going on, where no one would see him.
              There was a whole disgusting mouth rinsing ritual, gum chewing and changing clothes…definitely the actions of a fearless vajra master:(

          1. I think the issue here – the Vajrayana and it’s teachers – is in danger of being tainted with a giant brushstroke. Demonstrably there have been teachers who did not use abuse: Dudjom Rinpoche, Dilgo Khyentse, Nyoshul Khen ..and there are others whose names have not been associated with this kind of behaviour too.
            I had teachings from Sogyal in the mid-80’s. Regularly twice a week for 3 years and some long retreats during that time. His behaviour then was not what it became, but the signs were there. So I kept in the background. What I saw on two occasions much later led me to ‘leave’ him which was a situation I had to work through.
            His behaviour as it developed over the years is quite obviously appalling and absolutely needs to be addressed openly, not in the ‘secret society’ Rigpa has become.
            There’s no reason to ‘explain’ or ‘excuse’ abuse.
            But my point is that not all teachers of Vajrayana sink into depravity – HH the Dalai Lama is well-versed himself and as everyone knows is a beacon of light and tolerance in today’s world.

            1. I agree Barbara. And particularly, it is easy to drag the Dharma itself into the mud of these waters and that is sad. For example, the practice itself of seeing the teacher as a Buddha is not abusive and can be transformative. It can also be manipulated. I personally don’t want those two perspectives to become confused.

            2. Sogyal’s story of the old woman and the dog’s tooth comes to mind. I realise now that my ‘introductions’ to the nature of mind likely came because I was fully certain that I would have such an experience. Yes, Sogyal facilitated it, but we can’t remove our own expectations and mental state from the equation. What one person finds transformative another finds abusive, not because the actions are different, but because the beliefs the victim holds are different. There is nothing mystical about that, it’s just how beliefs affect perception.
              If I fully believed that staring into the sky would introduce me to the nature of mind, then I don’t doubt that it will. At the very least my mind would produce a fascimilie of the state.

    2. I believe that Sogyal has hypnotic powers and siddhis, and so do many gurus, (such as Trungpa). They can put people into a trance state, but that doesn’t make them enlightened beings. In fact, it makes them all the more dangerous because people mistake the trance state for a glimpse into enlightened mind.

  3. Barbara, this is the most thoughtful contribution I’ve seen yet to the discussions on this group. It’s beautifully expressed. Thank you for writing it.

      1. @Joanne Clark … Let things fall into oblivion. Indeed they do, at present I am still wondered that a lot of people in my former Sangha Groningen with ,just as me, a christian background do these things.
        I still cannot understand it and that they get not their senses back.

  4. Most serial sex abusers are hypnotists. Hypnotism is easy, meditation is accessible by everyone, actors believe they are the role they create in their minds. Close your eyes imagine you are Superman, feel the energy as glowing warm light flying around through your body, feel your crown open and all your channels flowing, imagine a warm glowing healing light bathing you in a comfortable loving warmth

    1. @ Ed, Exactly! That’s why I call my time in rigpa my magical thinking period. It doesn’t mean that we didn’t have important and valuable experiences, BUT even if sl created the atmosphere for them that doesn’t mean he’s got the wisdom or ethics that we would hope people with this kind of power would hold. In fact his ability to open people up, and then fill them with a perverted version of the dharma, is what is most disturbing.
      He’s COMPLETELY deluded, he needs our compassion and care, not reverence. That kind of worship pushed him further and further into his delusion, which is very sad.

      1. @notsohopeful, that whole discussion is what I have been having with myself for twenty-five years now, ever since leaving Rigpa. I had powerful experiences at Rigpa and more powerful experiences with four other lamas– but I ended up a psychiatric mess. So what do those powerful experiences mean? They certainly don’t mean that the lamas are Buddhas or that my experiences were Buddhist experiences. However, some of those experiences have something to do with why I am still Buddhist and why I am not a psychiatric mess anymore. So figure that all out, I certainly can’t.
        However, I do know that the entire notion and religious orientation that a lama can “show” you something inside your own mind is problematic. There are two great risks to that– one is that students such as myself, with poor psychic boundaries, can be damaged and take things too far. The other is that a lama with poor ethical boundaries can use this power for his/her own gratification and to do harm.

        1. You might want to check out Willoughby Brittain’s project, Dark Night of the Soul. She had to change the name, but you can still find it by searching for that ( I always forget the PC name). It’s about people who have experiences of groundlessness that destabilize them. She is a professor at Brown, so her advice is based on psychology, neurobiology, and the Dharma. You can just Google her and watch any of for YouTube’s they’re all interesting to me anyway 😊. She basically says that when you work with people and they deeply open you’re really playing with fire and you have to be really careful and really ethical. So what I see is with these Tibetan Buddhist Masters many who were abused as children themselves or at the very least the diaspora has affected them, are playing with fire and they don’t know what the f*** they’re doing for the most part.

  5. Apparently, the tulku system (and the Rinpoche one) is one of the main factor that allows power-abuse in a relation between the guru and the disciple.
    I made some research to understand the trap into which I fell. I don’t think that the naivety of westerners, or their shortcomings explain all (as it is often said). Tibetans and the first Buddhist westerners established the environment -certainly with some good intentions-; and maintained it or reinforced it -with less good intentions-.
    In is Preface to The Mahamudra, Eliminating the Ignorance of Darkness (LTWA, 1978) – which also includes a commentary on the Gurupancashika – Alexander Berzin wrote :
    « Guru-devotion… is common to all traditions of Buddhism in Tibet and derives from India, most especially from Gurupancashika or Fifty Verses of Guru Devotion by Aśvaghosa of the first century B.C. » [ Tib: Lama Nga-chu-pa] .
    The Gelupa Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey (1921-1995) wrote a short commentary on the Gurupancashika from which an extract was translated into English around 1977. This text became the main source used by Lamas and senior Buddhists to teach westerners about the Guru-disciple relation.
    « This volume of Guru-devotion… forms a part of the LTWA’s programme to present representative translated works or the various Tibetan Buddhist lineages in order to preserve and further the wide diversity of teachings transmitted in Tibet. », Alexander Berzin.
    In the root text Aśvaghosa describes the qualities of a good Guru, then adds :
    « Having become the disciple of such a protecting (Guru), should you the despise him from your heart, you will reap continual suffering as if you had disparaged all the Buddas. ».
    Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey comments : “As your Guru is a Buddha, despising him is the same as hating all who are Enlightened… Despising or belittling such a state by disparaging your Guru, you cast yourself in the opposite direction from happiness and freedom… you gain instead… tormented states… as the various hells.», etc.
    If we apply logic, reasoning, “Valid cognition” to the commentary we can easily prove that it doesn’t stand to reason : “ As your Guru is a Buddha.” (a general statement) is not valid. It’s also very different than “seeing the Guru as a Buddha, under conditions”, etc.
    It’s clear that this commentary can be misused to obtain abusive power. Many Tibetan Lamas and communities also make a fallacious reasoning : for them and their followers complaining about Guru’s abuses, is despising and disparaging the Guru ! Which is untrue, reinforce abuses and isolate the victims… we know it, and this blog and others similar demonstrates it.
    Lamas who were/are helped and recognized by westerners and by the Tibetan Institutions were/are mainly tulkus (note1), who in turn come mainly from aristocratic families or were integrated in this cast.
    These are the Lamas sent to the west to teach, to build communities and also to collect money for the Tibetans in India. These are also the Lamas westerners can easily meet in Nepal or in India. Nowadays we call almost all of them “Rinpoches”, name which were not so widespread at the beginning.
    However, there are also high and humble yogis who are not recognized as tulkus, but very few came in the west, and they are not easy to meet, even for Tibetans. Guendun Rinpoche (France), for example, was one of them. Yet, many of his disciples were also under the spell of tulkus who were/are not behaving so wisely and so compassionately. Moreover some of Guendun Rinpoche main seniors had/have abusing behavior.
    Lets come back to the teachings above. Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey wrote : “A Tantric Master must have even more good qualities, as listed in the text. Most important is that he be an extremely stable person, with his body, is speech and mind totally under control. He should be someone in whose presence everyone feels calm, peaceful and relaxed. Even the mere sight of him brings great pleasure to the mind. And his compassion must be unsurpassable.”.
    But he also wrote : “ He (the Guru) always hide is good qualities… If you do not recognize such traits as indications of his perfection, humility and skillful means, you may make the serious mistake of belittling or seeing faults in him.”
    Alexander Berzin wrote also : “Gurus act as mirror of your mind. When you see them as having faults, these flaws are projections of cloudy delusions obscuring the pure nature of your own mind and mirror back to you what you must work on and learn in order to gain liberation.” (page xi).
    The trap is set. You can’t express doubts about tulkus, neither about Rinpoches. They are recognized by the Institution, they have a label ! “They are Buddhas”. You can’t disagree with them, you can’t speak out when they behave wrongly or harm somebody, there is almost no dialogue. Their seniors or westerners Lamas around them are also highly protected, because they are chosen by the tulkus, so they must be right.
    If the tulku is an ordinary person hiding behind titles and robes, the community can’t avoid power-abuse; no need to speak of abusive tulkus. If the tulku is an authentic practitioner, things are not so bad; but even so when there is a conflict, the lower in the hierarchy system is in most of the cases the one who is considered to be wrong.
    Note 1: For example the « Young Lamas Home School which » was a school established by the 14th Dalai Lama and Freda Bedi in 1960.
    According to « » the tulkus who studied there were :
    12 – Nyingmapa – among them : Tchogling Rinpoche, Tarthang Tulku, Chime Rinpoche, Tulkou Pema Tenzin, Orgyen Tobgyal, Kotchen Tulkou, Ringou Tulkou Rimpotche (a nyingma-kagyu), Bagan Tulkou Pema Tenzin, Bairo Tulkou, Bhakka Tulkou and Amdo Rinpoche.
    10 Sakyapa, among them : Sherab Gyaltsen Amipa, Tchiwang Tulkou and his brother Droubthob Tulkou and Khortchak Rinpoche.
    15 Kagyupa, among them : Chogyam Trungpa, Akong Rinpoche and his brother Yeshe Losal, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, Djampa Gyaltsen Moutouktsang (a nephew of the 16 th karmapa). Dorzong Rinpoche and Tcheugyel Rinpoche were des drukpa-kagyu.
    Many Gelupa, among them : Sharpa Tulkou, Gala Rinpoche, Gelek Rinpoche, Rala Rinpoche, Langoeun Tulkou, Thubten Zopa Rinpoche,
    Tenzin Palmo and Robert Thurman were also teachers there.

    1. It should be noted that Guendun Rinpoche, was mainly called Lama Guendun before his death. People were not giving him the title of Rinpoche even those who highly loved and respected him.

  6. Thank you for sharing those teachings!
    The reason why I maintain that we are just as to blame as the teachers is because some of us swallowed this irrational thought process ‘hook line and sinker’, despite the benefit of a modern education. There are many people who trusted themselves enough to resist and leave after these ‘special’ teachings were shared, so those of us who stayed need to own our part in it.
    I don’t blame the Tibetans, they were thrust into the 21st century against their will, it’s going to take a minute for them to catch up to modern sensibilities. But my participation is tantamount to suddenly thinking Sharia law is a good idea.
    I do believe in the basic Buddhist teachings of interdependence, nothing happens in a vacuum. We as a society often times want to find one singular cause for misdeeds, unfortunately it’s never that simple.

  7. @notsohopeful,
    “The reason why I maintain that we are just as to blame as the teachers is because some of us swallowed this irrational thought process ‘hook line and sinker’, despite the benefit of a modern education.”
    “I don’t blame the Tibetans, they were thrust into the 21st century against their will, it’s going to take a minute for them to catch up to modern sensibilities.”
    I wouldn’t underestimate the modern Tibetans though. (I’m not talking about Tibetans who do not live and work in the West.) Those who have settled in Western countries and who have benefited from a modern education seem to be quite savvy compared to a lot of Western Dharma students I’ve met, who are often quite naive about Tibetan culture in general. I
    I don’t really agree with you that we (Westerners) are as much to blame as the abusive teachers. Anyone can be brainwashed, and saying that Westerners are to blame is not helpful for victims to hear, imo. I think that the philosophy behind the guru worship is to blame, and ANYONE can fall for it under the right circumstances. Also, I have said here before that I believe a lot of psychic manipulation takes place. The lamas know things about how to manipulate the psychic energies, and they take full advantage of the ignorance in the West about that kind of thing.

    1. @notsohopeful @catlover
      Perhaps, it isn’t about blame on either side, but about increasing our capacity to listen to one another and activate responsibility.
      Responsibility isn’t about blame either, maybe more of a response-ability.
      We have the capacity to come together, discover our own part, and produce change. No one in any level of authority can prevent this. Perhaps we are the problem & the solution.
      “The difficulty here is that until individuals take responsibility for their own life experience, or at least their experience of their experience, little deep change is possible.”
      “The challenge, when you are dealing with larger-scale human systems, is that collectively people have to take some responsibility. I think it’s a perfect parallel to that therapeutic axiom that a person can see awful things that have happened to them in their life, but until they see their own part, they can never escape a victimology mindset, and a victim mind certainly cannot generate any real creative energies for change.”
      “De Maree used this term sociotherapy. From the standpoint of the purpose or intent or the theory of change, it is probably exactly right. It’s how we collectively learn to take responsibility for the conditions we have created.”
      — Peter Senge

  8. If you’re gonna blame anybody, the whole human race is to blame for not growing out of these antiquated, Medieval systems that keep everyone locked in the Dark Ages forever. We will never be truly out of the Dark Ages until people grow out of these systems, (which include both Western and Eastern), especially those systems which place human beings on thrones and worship them as gods. Humans on thrones are always bound to have clay feet, no matter who they are, or however good they believe their intentions are, and it doesn’t make sense to worship them. (If one MUST worship a human, it’s best to do so from FAR away so that one can maintain the fantasy of a totally PERFECT human being with no flaws.)

  9. @Catlover The Buddhist teachings agree with you.
    “The wrong way to take refuge involves seeking shelter — worshipping mountains, sun gods, moon gods, deities of any kind simply because they would seem to be greater than we.
    This kind of refuge-taking is similar to the response of the little child who says, “If you beat me, I’ll tell my mommy,” thinking that his mother is a great, archetypically powerful person. If he is attacked, his automatic recourse is to his mother, an invincible and all-knowing, all-powerful personality. The child believes his mother can protect him, in fact that she is the only person who can save him. Taking refuge in a mother or father-principle is truly self-defeating; the refuge-seeker has no real basic strength at all, no true inspiration.
    He is constantly busy assessing greater and smaller powers. If we are small, then someone greater can crush us. We seek refuge because we cannot afford to be small and without protection. We tend to be apologetic: “I am such a small thing, but I acknowledge your great quality. I would like to worship and join your greatness, so will you please protect me?”
    Surrendering is not a question of being low and stupid, nor of wanting to be elevated and profound. It has nothing to do with levels and evaluation. Instead, we surrender because we would like to communicate with the world “as it is.””
    C. Trungpa

    1. And how DARE Trungpa say anything about not taking “refuge” in parents, or teachers?!?!? He himself encouraged people to worship him and had more of a cult-like atmosphere than ANY of the recent teachers!!! He even had goons around him to enforce the worship! This quote makes me just FURIOUS because he is such a HUGE hypocrite!!! It’s just disgusting!!!!

  10. @Rick New,
    You dare to quote Trungpa, who is the WORST hypocrite and the most sadistic, abusive “teacher” of any of them?!?!? It’s ironic that people who are so concerned about Sogyal and Sakyong are still willing to worship and quote this creep to make a point about Dharma! Find someone better to quote.

      1. @untye,
        It wouldn’t be found in Trungpa’s quotes, because he only said empty words that people wanted to hear. The words are empty because he did not walk his talk. The proof lies in the way he ran is Shambhala CULT organization, with his goons and henchmen. It’s clear he was a cult leader who expected to be worshiped, whether he actually SAID so or not.

      2. @untye,
        However, there are many convenient quotes from Vajrayana to justify guru worship, so all he really had to do was give teachings on those texts, (which they all do).

      1. @Rick New,
        So, what point are you trying to make with these quotes from Trungpa about being cautious about teachers? I don’t CARE if Trungpa cautioned people to be wary of gurus!!! They are all empty words and have NO meaning whatsoever! If he said that, then he is a HUGE hypocrite!
        Also, if people don’t see the connection between Trungpa, Sogyal and Sakyong, then they are missing the most important link. Trungpa is the person who influenced and impressed young Sogyal, who wanted to be just like him, and have a harem of women, just like Trungpa! It was when Sogyal saw all the pretty girls lined up to have sex with Trungpa (cough-cough) that Sogyal said to himself, “I want that too!” Then it became his life’s goal to create the same thing for himself! Also, Trungpa was a big influence on his own son! Where do you think the Sakyong got his “inspiration” from? As long as people make excuses for Trungpa and hold him somehow above his successors, then the abuse will continue to be justified, and more mini, little Trungpas will emerge all over the place, who use Trungpa as their big “inspiration” and as an excuse to justify doing whatever they like!

        1. Hi @catlover
          You wrote : ” it doesn’t make sense to worship them [teachers on thrones]”
          I was trying to agree with you and show that the Buddhist teachings agree with you, too!
          The link to the Huffington post was sharing the possible ways we contribute to the attitude of worship.

          1. @Rick New,
            But can’t you see how ironic it is to quote one of the BIGGEST abusers of ALL time to show that you (and the Dharma) agree with me, lol? I’m sorry for jumping down your throat about the quote, but my buttons were pushed. Quoting Trungpa (in that particular context) makes about as much sense as quoting something similar from Sogyal or Sakyong to get the same point across.

            1. @ catlover
              Perhaps if we focus on one another and not so much the teacher or teachings we could discover our part and think together towards creative change.

      2. Also, don’t forget that DKR is always warning people that they shouldn’t take a Tantric empowerment from him! He also warns them that he isn’t a fit Vajrayana guru and they should be really wary of him. Again, it’s all empty words, and even serves as reverse psychology! He knows darn well that people will flock to take empowerments from him if they are told not to! Forbidden fruit is more delicious. The fake modesty and pretense on the part of lamas to make themselves look so cautious, modest, and aware is just a ploy to fool people and gain trust. (He is also one of the many “gurus” who are so “inspired” by Trungpa.)

  11. @catlover There is still the possibility that the teachings are wright, but the one who teaches it is or became wrong. Suppose you are getting drowned and you are saved by a person, who later you find out was a dangerous crimminal. Are you then less gratefull? Or do you jump again in the water because you don’t want to be saved by a criminal?
    And what would you do when you are drowned and you know the person who rescues you is a criminal, do you let you drown yourself by not accepting the help of this crimminal?
    Therefore I think that Sogyal Lakar has to say fully he was wrong, changes his life style and by doing so save the theaching and show that they are valid and helpfull even when you became dilluted.

  12. @Jan de Vries,
    Your line of reasoning is what’s wrong with Tibetan Buddhism, imo. Your analogy (about being saved by a criminal) is not appropriate. I can be grateful for being saved, but that doesn’t mean I should suddenly think the criminal is a wise Buddha to be worshiped. My objection is all this quoting of Trungpa and holding him up as this paragon of wisdom and enlightenment. I think he was a disgusting individual, and the WORST possible hypocrite! It strikes me as really ironic and inappropriate to quote someone who was a sadistic abuser in a discussion about abuse.There are (hopefully) much better people to quote to get the same point across.

    1. Let’s summarize the last commentaries :
      A westerner disciple, who is to blame because his Tibetan teacher pushed him in a river, is drowning, and do her/his best to swim to shore. (Blame: westerner+teacher-Tibetan=westerner disciple).
      However this disciple must acknowledge her/his responsibilities in order to escape a victimology mindset (Not the drowning hazard, it’s less important ?).
      “Stop acting like a a child, learn how to swim! Move your arms, move your arms !”, shouts from the shore somebody quoting a Tibetan teacher, who was a dangerous criminal used to push some disciples into rivers, (and by the way torturing cats).
      A great lover of cats doesn’t like all this. #MeToo.

      1. @Julia Lovert,
        So, you mean Trungpa pushed people (who couldn’t swim) into rivers? I never heard THAT one before, but it wouldn’t surprise me! That makes it all the more ironic that someone would use the ‘drowning man’ example to make a point about ‘being grateful’ for being ‘rescued’ from Samsara, or whatever.

        1. No 😄 I don’t mean that. He was pushing some disciples in rivers… of despair! About real rivers I don’t know 😄.

          1. @Julia Lovert,
            Well, that’s a relief, lol! Still, it’s the sort of thing that Trungpa *could* do, and I can totally imagine him doing it, and I can also imagine his disciples mirroring the same behavior! 😀

      2. OMG! I can’t keep up with the dangerous criminals versus people who can’t swim being pushed into rivers – we are all drowning in a sea of mixed metaphors & confused parables. But what Lama will jump in to save us?

    2. @catlover
      My line of reasoning is completely valid and right!
      Just reflect on buddha nature, bodhicitta and impermanence and grasping and the life story of Milarepa.

  13. Suppose it can also mean to see every sentient being as a Buddha (or has the intrinsic nature of), whether they are ‘evil’, ‘normal’ or ‘holy’; as these are designations of our normal judgemental minds for which Riga is beyond.

    1. Our normal judgemental minds can often be surprisingly accurate in their assessments of what is wrong in a situation. Sometimes, things really are as bad as they seem.

    2. @KDD,
      And this is the whole problem with the whole “Rigpa” philosophy. “No good-no evil” philosophy completely impairs ones judgement about right and wrong.

      1. From a Hinayana PoV yes agree with ordinary ‘sems’ dualistic mind, but for the ‘higher’ yanas as defined by the nyingmapa doxographic 9 mana approach up to that of ati-yoga & rigpa/dzogchen then all is beyond good-bad dualism (cake & sh*t) which can disturb ego and ‘it’ reverts ‘down’ the scale.
        [SR was/is not unique amongst ‘crazy’ masters of the Vajrayana & Dzogchen traditions after Trungpa, the 1st Kalu R is another example of karma-mudras usage that was revealed to the world; his incarnation the 2nd Kalu R has on youtube how he has been abused himself recently … ]

  14. I didn’t thank Tahlia and Joanne for this excellent post, but it’s never too late. Thanks, it’s very thoughtful.

  15. A few months ago I decided to share my story (without giving names) on « Buddhist controversy », a little bit on « What now » and mostly on a Facebook Buddhist group, which was more appropriate (because not about Sogyal exclusively).
    Then, after having read all the nasty comments against victims and survivors on the web, I decided to stay in meditation retreat a few weeks.
    After my retreat, I came back on this blog and shared some thoughts. The first comment to my comment (above) was the one of @notsohelpeful, which in short says nothing else than: « Thank you for sharing… but you are to blame (as one who stayed), not the Tibetans… ».
    My first impulse was to try to explain why I stood a few years in Tibetan Buddhist communities, but I understood that I was pushed to explain my choices . I am a survivor, and I have to take blames on me for having been badly abused. My head was spinning and I felt nauseous. Always the same pattern ! The perpetrator is right, the victim is to blame. Or the victim should see its own part according to @Rick new, as if victims don’t think again and again about their own part and about what they did wrong!
    In the same way, I had to justify myself, in my twenties, explaining why I was running in the countryside (during day time ) when a man tried to rape me. A man, the husband of the woman who stopped her car to take me inside, said that I was to blame, not the rapist ! I was so ashamed that I didn’t go to the police. A few weeks later, a friend told me that two girls had been raped and killed at the same place, a few hours after I managed to escape.
    I decided to not come back on the web to read or write on Buddhist abuses. Of course, people are free to have their opinion, I respect this. But I feel also that there is very little understanding and compassion for the survivors in many comments. When a survivor speak up, and try to clarify his/her situation, there are always people rushing to comment with psychological theory, or with teachers comments, or with Buddhist views : all is empty etc. The Buddhist communities are not showing any willingness to really change, and most of the victims and survivors are left alone with their struggles.
    @Catlover, matilda…thanks.

    1. @Julia Lovert
      Hi Julia,
      I’m very sorry if I’ve added to any of the voices that have increased your pain.
      What you are writing about mirrors my own experience with groups when trying to raise difficult issues.
      My intention was to encourage us to come together and support one another rather than keeping the focus on the teachers.
      When I think of “our own part” I mean looking at the way we criticise and fail to listen to one another, not that we should blame ourselves.
      “The Buddhist communities are not showing any willingness to really change, and most of the victims and survivors are left alone with their struggles.”
      Yes, you are totally right and I wish we could come together in ways that didn’t leave survivors alone. Change is hard, and the quote from Peter Senge was meant to open a way for members of groups to come together in creative change, not in a “blame the victim” approach. I’m sorry that it came across that way.
      Many regards,

    2. @Julia Lovert,
      I hope I said nothing to contribute to your feeling of not being understood here. I’m on your side and I appreciate your comments. I hope you’ll continue to contribute to this forum.

      1. Yes, I will try to contribute to this forum with my little capacities, for me, and also for all the people who loved the Buddha dharma, but have been caught in difficult situations (all kinds) and who have been harmed, unfairly rejected, and feel alone.

    3. Julia Lovert, I am sorry that what I wrote was a trigger for you. I am also a victim, believe it or not of two cults (you would have thought I would have figured it out the first time around). I am not victim blaming in any way shape or form, but I can definitely see that the language I used was too strong, and I should be more careful about the way I express myself, I’m sorry.
      I know that blame is a heavy word but I see owning my part in it as very empowering, it means it’s completely within my power to do something about it.
      Being attacked by a stranger is very different then a relationship with a teacher. Speaking for myself, I was not a young vulnerable woman alone on the street minding my own business. I sought out my teachers and wanted to believe what they told me even when it stretched credulity. I definitely had a part in it, I could have walked away at any time. Until I figure out what it is in ME that makes me susceptible to the influence of a guru then I’m at risk of getting into the same mess again.
      On some level I knew better, and there were hundreds of enablers around both of my teachers all the time. In fact people used to curry favor with sl by trying to outdo each other with extravagant compliments, gifts and favors.

  16. @Rick New,
    I think the quote from Trungpa was probably much less helpful for victims than quoting from Peter Senge.

  17. @Rick New,
    Although I have to follow up by saying that Peter Senge does come across in a “blame the victim” sort of way, (even if you meant it differently). It might be better to express things in your own words, rather than quoting from other people out of context. Maybe you could express it better and people might actually understand your meaning if you just express it from the heart.

  18. @ Catlover
    Thanks, Catlover. I think your advice is good.
    One of my first dharma books was Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism where the possibility of not relying on beliefs or any authority was presented.
    During my current and past time with the Rigpa Organization, I brought up many of the issues being raised on this blog. At that time the group was thinking in terms of praising the Lama, anything outside of that was different, one’s own projection and problem.Over the years it seemed we’d just created hierarchies and beliefs which acted as a wall between one another.
    Only the authority was deemed worthy of listening too. We discounted one another by keeping our attention on the teacher, it seemed we couldn’t think for ourselves.
    It’s as if the teachings were raw gold, passed out freely, which slowly can be constructed into something that has the potential to be helpful. The gold of the teachings and the raw compost (the hearts darkness) come together. The dharma seems to be about samsara & nirvana, somehow facing just how bad it really is, but at the same time, finding that situation to be workable. That workability is a kind of optimism, a confidence in our capacity to work together.
    As the teacher, hierarchy, and structures fall apart, as we lick our wounds as we face our deepest fears and disappointments it seems to me there is a tremendous opportunity.
    What do we do at this moment? Do we keep our attention on the teacher just like before? Do we stay behind the walls of a forum, or is there the possibility to reach out to one another in a deeper way? To open up to one another, our brothers and sisters and ask “What Now?” of ourselves?
    When I quote other voices, I’m quoting our brothers and sisters that seem to be encouraging us to come together, to be a force of our own, to try and learn how to think together. This isn’t just happening in the Rigpa Organization and it isn’t suddenly happening now, it’s just reached a threshold. Isn’t the trouble everywhere?
    My question is are we going to start the whole cycle again? Will we ignore one another, move away from deeper conversation?, Might we expand our capacity to hear, to listen to, to welcome, to encourage and be curious about difference in one another?
    “True freedom emerges not from domination or even from escaping domination, but from recognizing and accepting those forces which shape our lives, cultivating detachment, and interrupting the cycle of reaction and desire. Thought slows being, suspends our participation in social life, opens a gap between cause and effect that is in the end our only true sovereignty. The thinker, that is to say, is an interrupter: not merely a node or an amplifier within social circuits, but a place of stillness. An active pause….. Pondering your situation keeps you from reacting to it, which is, in the end, the highest good thought can offer: doing less, doing nothing, being nothing more or less than we are..” — Roy Scranton
    Thanks for asking me to speak here Catlover, hope we can continue the dialogue.

  19. @Rick New,
    I think I understand where you’re coming from, and thanks for wanting to keep on with a reasonable dialogue. So, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think what you’re trying to say, in your own words, is that we should try to focus more on each other, and less on teachers. You’re asking for deeper listening to each other, and I can totally agree with that. We should try to listen to each other more, so thanks for bringing that up.
    Having agreed with you on the above, I don’t think we should stop talking about teachers either. It was teachers who caused so much pain and confusion, so it’s important to bring these their behaviors into the light….FINALLY! I think there is already a genuine interest on this forum to listen to each other more. There should also be more interest in actually BELIEVING each other too, even if someone says something truthful, (but unpleasant to hear), about a “beloved” teacher who has gone off the rails.
    It’s also important to be careful how things are said sometimes. Anything that sounds in any way like “blaming the victim” is probably going to be triggering for people who have been abused, even if that isn’t the intention. That’s why it might be better to stay away from the lofty religious/psychology quotes, which often seem colder and less personal than just saying something directly, as I mentioned before. A lot of these quotes actually sound sanctimonious to me and are probably giving the opposite message you’re trying to convey. Also, people are going to assume you agree with whoever you’re quoting. If people don’t like the way the quote comes across, they misunderstand it, or they dislike the person you’re quoting, it will also cause people to interpret what you’re saying in that context.

  20. @Rick New,
    So I think what you’re also saying is that not only should we listen more, but we need to be our OWN voices, and trust in our OWN wisdom, not just in the wisdom of teachers. I can totally agree with that too! (Not that teachers don’t have some good things to say, but people put TOO MUCH faith in EVERYTHING that teachers say.)
    Many of the abusive teachers (and they do it on purpose) mix inspiring messages about love and compassion, and even self reliance, with messages about how we should doubt ourselves and our own “egos” and to trust what the teachers say because they are Buddhas. Very often in the beginning, these same teachers tell us that we should trust in our wisdom, test all the teachings for ourselves, and if any of them don’t work, throw them out. “You don’t have to believe anything I say, try it for yourself,” is what they tell us, but I have concluded that it is often just a line to fool us and hook us in. Once you get to the Vajrayana level, they are no longer saying that, (or at least the abusive ones aren’t). Then they say just the opposite. “I am now your master and you must obey me, no matter what. If you doubt me, it’s just your false ego trying to fool you. The mind is very tricky, so you must never trust what your ego is trying to tell you.”

  21. Today, I gathered all my courage to read possible replies. Thank you @notsohelpful, @Rick New and @Catlover for your open and kind answers.
    I don’t want that any of you feel guilty for what you wrote, it’s ok I better understand now your opinions and intentions.
    However, in my experience, “Being our own voices, and trust in our own wisdom” doesn’t mean that some teachers and some communities won’t harm you. It can even be the opposite.
    I stayed in Buddhist communities because I wanted to learn Tibetan, to learn the Dharma (in institutes and retreat centers) and also to help Teachers and communities with my skills. I did it well. I was also respectful of the rules, I trusted the teachers, helped Tibetans a lot. In an other hand, I also spoke up (internally) when things were obviously incorrect, I was not submissive and refused to believe teachings without reflection, or obey blindly, especially to unfair or non ethical orders.
    This is the reason why some high Rinpoches and their followers harmed me and made false accusations (really bad : a Chinese spy, a shugden worshiper, a neurotic, a bad mother, that I broke my monastic vows and the samayas and the lineage etc..). They knew that I was alone, vulnerable, but they didn’t mind the consequences of their actions on my life, and finally nobody helped me when I begged for help. Nobody! no friends, no bodhisattvas ! This happened certainly to other people in these communities but we were isolated in a word of secrecy and politics. Not enough connected to trust and help each other.
    However, I admit ;
    – that I was trapped in the institutional tulku-rinpoche-lama system (really strongly at the beginning), and supported it !;
    – that I was naively believing that I could trust all of them, because of their good reputation and their nice talks;
    – that I stupidly gave them all my money, possessions and free work while they were accumulating wealth for themselves (in fact my offerings were for the Buddha Dharma, not to be misused);
    – that I blindly took monastic vows in an institution which doesn’t respect women, especially westerner women, and in which I had no safe place.
    – Most of all, that I wanted friends and love, because I didn’t have it in my life before. This was the main reason of all the mistakes I made later, and that blinded me.

  22. @ catlover @ Julia Lovert @notsohopeful
    These lines from Julia stood out for me:
    “Being our own voices, and trust in our own wisdom” doesn’t mean that some teachers and some communities won’t harm you. It can even be the opposite.”
    Thanks for all your replies, there is so much in them to think about. I’m going to read over each reply and try to respond in a while.

  23. @Julia Lovert,
    “However, in my experience, “Being our own voices, and trust in our own wisdom” doesn’t mean that some teachers and some communities won’t harm you. It can even be the opposite.”
    I totally agree with that. I wasn’t saying that teachers can’t hurt us anyway.

  24. @ catlover @ Julia Lovert @notsohopeful
    It seems like we’ve shifted a bit in terms of listening to one another.
    If this listening continues to deepen (together and independently) perhaps it could be used as a kind of vehicle for integrating our individual and collective past as well as developing further confidence in one another.
    Julia, it seems to me you put your best effort forward most of the time. Anyone that took advantage of that points out their own weaknesses, not yours. I really appreciate you sharing not just your past, but also how you are moving, probing forward, shifting and changing. Amazing.
    I worry when we have to follow the party line, when we can’t quote this or that person or are afraid to share what we’ve learned and integrated into our own unfolding because it doesn’t fit the ongoing narrative (regardless of the content of that narrative.)
    I’m helped by all the voices here, but there is something in me that really opens and responds when there is an effort to hear difference and a genuine curiosity about that difference.
    P.S. I’m open to Skype/GHangout meetings with anyone that would like to talk/listen further.For me, seeing the other’s face and talking in ‘real time’ can be quite helpful.

  25. @Rick New,
    “I worry when we have to follow the party line, when we can’t quote this or that person or are afraid to share what we’ve learned and integrated into our own unfolding because it doesn’t fit the ongoing narrative (regardless of the content of that narrative.)”
    I didn’t say you can’t quote anybody, but I think it’s also important to speak in your own words. I find a lot of quotes from “Buddhist” teachers and pseudo-Buddhist psychologists to be sanctimonious and/or hypocritical. (I realize that this is just my opinion and others may feel differently. I am not the moderator, so I can’t actually control what people decide to post here. It struck me as especially ironic when you quoted Trungpa in a conversation about self reliance vs. guru abuse, etc. I am sure you can appreciate the irony of it, so I don’t need to say any more about that, lol! Of course, you’re free to quote Trungpa if you wish, but be prepared to get negative feedback from me if you do because I can’t stand the man.

    1. @Rick New, I agree with @Catlover on this point. I find that your words (which in fact integrate what you have learned) are much more skillful than the quotes, especially Trungpa’s.

      1. @ catlover @ Julia
        This is a very complex topic, how one listens to other voices, how one works with them and makes them their own. There is also the topic of censorship, of suggesting how one speak or not speak. There are questions of curiosity and exclusion. There is how these problems arising here might relate to how the same problems that arose in the Rigpa Organization PRIOR to the eight coming out. What happens when authority (of any view) is questioned within a community?
        There was a dialogue between Alan Wallace and Stephen Batchelor that touched on similar issues and a thoughtful third party take on the dialogue.
        Alan’s opening
        Stephen B’s reply
        Stephen S’s perspective

      2. @Julia Lovert, @Rick New,
        Yes, I agree with what Julia said, Rick. I hope you’ll continue to post here in your own words, and not feel the need to quote anybody. You can quote if you wish, (even if you might get negative feedback on some of them, lol), but I think your own words are good enough to stand on their own merit.

        1. Thanks, Catlover,
          I’ve made a post with some links to a similar dialogue that I think is a prelude to the Rigpa Organization troubles, but the post is pending moderation
          How about we experiment with two rules for a while (current pending post outstanding?)
          1: No quotes. Use our own words
          2: No pointing at others. Stay within our own experience.
          What do you think?

          1. @Rick New,
            I don’t think we need to start making a bunch of rules, especially since we’re not the mods.

            1. It’s a bit scary, that experiment, right? Just to reveal ourselves and stop pointing at others? Scary for #me, too.

              1. @Rick New,
                I wasn’t insulting you, and I was trying to give you a compliment that your own words are good enough. So what is your problem?

              2. @Rick New,
                Or am I mistaken in thinking there is a problem? I am getting the sense that you’re trying to tell me I am “pointing at others” but I am not sure what you mean. I don’t think I was “pointing” at you, and it wasn’t my intention. I’m sorry if it came across that way. Communication online is sometimes difficult. I don’t pretend to be the best communicator.

                1. Hi Catlover,
                  Yes, communication is difficult and communication online is especially so.
                  It’s one reason experiments can be so useful. Kind of a framing, like “let’s take a walk” or “try not quoting” or other ways of playing and softly creating a kind of space together.
                  I think you are a good communicator, but as you said, it is difficult.

                  1. @Rick New,
                    I’d rather not create a bunch of new rules, whether they are permanent rules or not. As soon as people start making rules, things get weird and over-regulated.

  26. I’ll try and start, not to assume folks will want to try the experiment…
    Breath comes slowly, holding a space for what arises, opening to the previous posts here, the previous hurts, previous openings, the weight of the past.
    Noticing the trees outside, gently hanging low and fluttering in the wind. The sounds of birds calling across the open space.
    Feeling a division, something between each of us, a sense of time, space, different experiences, leanings tendencies. Feeling a holding on to a way, an approach, a kind of a stance. Sensing a connection here, in the way (perhaps) each of us also assumes a stance. Noticing the potential for conflict, right there.
    Recognizing a spacious quality in the gaps between posts, noticing the vertical nature of posting, each instance creating an apparent continuity between one post and the next that obviously isn’t there.
    Feeling trepidation here, posting something so intimate, touching the fabric of our connection together, of our simple breathing and being here together in time and space.
    Taking care.

  27. For those interested there is a publication called:
    ‘The Shadow of the Dalai Lama – Sexuality, Magic and Politics in Tibetan Buddhism’
    (Victor & Victoria Trimondi, translated by Mark Penny).
    It’s apparently free to download and could be a quite biased evaluation of the dangerous to ego Vajrayana (snake in bamboo) & Dzogchen paths, but it’s probably the opposite end of the spectrum to publications such as Sogyal and Trungpa’s well known books; and also I seem to recall some books by Keith Dowman possibly ventured into this area.

    1. @KDD,
      I don’t know what to think of the Trimodi’s book. I guess if only half of it is true, that would be bad enough, lol! However, there are some inaccuracies in the book, which make me wonder how reliable it is. For example, they claim that the Dalai Lama only gives the first 7 Kalachakra initiations in public. Maybe that was true at the time they wrote the book, but he has gone all the way up to the top since then and there were no sex rituals. If there had been, the public would have been witnesses. That doesn’t mean the initiation couldn’t be given both ways though. But it’s not true that he only gives the first seven in public. Also, there were some minor things in the book that were incorrect, like they mixed up one deity with another, (I forget the details), but it made me wonder how much they really knew about Tibetan Buddhism. Also, another claim in their book is that the Kalachakra includes a sex ritual with 8 to 10 women, but when I read a commentary book by someone who gave a lecture to initiates, (which included secret information), he said there was only ONE consort, not ten consorts. It sounds like the Trimondis are way exaggerating the number of consorts who take part in such rituals. Either that or they are researching other tantric rituals from India, which may or may not have anything to do with the Kalachakra historically. Also, there an assumption that consorts are young girls no older than ten or twelve years old, but in the commentary book, it says nothing about the age of the consort. He said that she must be someone who has kept her Tantric vows and has knowledge of Tantra, (and those are the minimum requirements). So would she be able to meet those requirements if she wasn’t old enough to have had more experience? It’s possible that in ancient India and Tibet, younger consorts were sometimes used in rituals, but one also has to remember that the initiates were often very young themselves. The tulkus are often no older than 12 or 14 when they receive their first Tantric initiations, (sometimes they are even younger). They had no laws about how old people could be when having sex in ancient times. So it’s important to put everything into historical/cultural context and perspective as well. I am not defending the abusive lamas who have sex with women in Tantra, but to be fair, it’s important to also realize that there is a lot of exaggerated misinformation out there as well. As for how much of the trimondi’s book is true or not, the jury is still out on that, as far as I’m concerned. they were also right about some things as well. Like for example, after I read their chapter on “twilight language” I was able to understand some of the texts I was reading in a whole new light! Needless to say I was shocked be some of the real meanings behind some of the words!

      1. Catlover, the Trimondis have actually been researched by a German academic who has debunked most of their conclusions. Unfortunately, it is in German, so one simply has to take Tenzin’s word for it or learn German…

        1. @Joanne Clark,
          The scary thing is that there is enough truth in the Trimodi’s book to give one a LOT to think about regarding Tibetan Buddhism. I still say that even if only half of it is true, that’s bad enough!

      2. @Catlover – According to my experience, the Trimondis as well as the conspiracists don’t help those who have been victims of abuses in Tibetan Buddhist communities. Because when victims of Guru’s abusive behaviour speak up, Lamas and their followers equate them, thus discrediting the victims.
        For example, some victims of Sogyal and some witnesses wrote their stories in a blog in 2009, in France. However it was among other posts about conspiracy theory and unreliable criticism of Buddhism. Therefore most people didn’t trust them.

        1. @Julia Lovert,
          It’s true that it doesn’t help.
          Also, just because there are inaccuracies in the Trimondi’s book, it causes people to dismiss the whole book as a load of b.s., which is unfortunate because there is also correct information in the book. It’s just hard to go through it all and sort out the truth from the fiction.

          1. The main problem with the trimodi’s book is that I don’t think that the Trimondis are actually insiders to Vajrayana. (In other words, they are not high level initiates into the secret practices, even if they may have been present at some Kalachakra empowerments in the West.) I think they just found out some stuff about Tantra, and then after being shocked, they did a lot of research by looking things up in books and doing research. They compiled it together, along with their own theories, (and some of it was not correct).
            What we need are more books by true insiders.

            1. (Or should I say ex-insiders? True insiders would never write a tell-all book about secret practices. It would have to be ex insiders, lol!)

          2. @Catlover, it’s what I thought when I read this book. I found inaccuracies and also correct information (according to my knowledge), and there were other statements for which I had no idea. I didn’t take the time to check all, because it was not a priority in my situation, and it’s still not.

            1. @Julia Lovert,
              That’s exactly the impression I had. There were some inaccuracies but also some true things as well.

              1. @Catlover.
                There are some true things in Trimondi’s book, but so much out context that it can be confusing for somebody who still want to practice Buddhism. It’s also depressive and sordid (for me).
                To be pragmatic and practical, I think (This is just my opinion and personal experience, not an absolute truth!) that victims or survivors who want to go on a meaningful Buddhist path will find great advantage in aiming to Nature of Mind or Mahamudra, in a gradual approach.
                This is a practice that fits westerners. We can find reliable teachers on this path and avoid feudal communities.

    1. (Copy of my former comment-6069, at the right place). @Rick New
      Extracts of the interview of Marieke van Vugt
      “What did it do to you to read that letter?
      It was certainly a turning point in the way I looked at him. It is complex: it is about a teacher who tries to get past the concepts. And what do you have concepts about? About money, fame, being known and so on. As I could look at it, he is playing as a teacher with all those things. For me his lessons are helpful and I did not experience what I saw as abuse. But what is in that letter made me realize that people really hurt, and it is irrelevant whether this was the intention or not. Things went very wrong.”
      “In general, it was not customary to ask questions directly after a lesson from Sogyal Rinpoche. At the end of a lecture, the questions people had first gathered through a peel of people around Sogyal Rinpoche. They edited the feedback and asked questions before they ended up at Sogyal Rinpoche. They did this with the intention of creating a sort of order in the jumble of questions, in order to inspire Sogyal Rinpoche with better education. In retrospect, that is a very strange system, doubts that people had and were written down were cut out. The teacher therefore does not get a realistic picture of what really plays in the sangha and how people react to his teaching. I can well imagine that this fact has played a major role in the situation where people have been harmed.
      So Sogyal was not corrected?
      Yes, he did not really get back: Sogyal Rinpoche, what you do now just does not work.”

      “But there is also a problematic side to the story, the way in which he deals with power, possibly a lack of insight into the effects of his actions on the students. The feudal system just does not work well in the west, especially because we have no idea how that should work. You come in and think: this will all be normal.”

      “What has been the impact of all this on your study and practice?
      Laughing: it was a lot less fun, last year. Especially because I am someone who likes to see that everyone is having fun and in this situation you are sure that there are always people for whom you can not do well. It is useful to let go of that and to stay more in space of not-knowing, and fall back on your own wisdom nature. ”
      After reading this interview, I’m almost speechless.
      The only thing that I can say is :
      The title of this interview should be :
      “How to rationalize the unacceptable behavior of a Guru”
      sub-title : “Secondary victimisation”
      It’s very common in Buddhist sanghas, but also in all religious communities.
      As a survivor, when I hear/read this kind of reasoning, I just feel that it’s worthless for a victim or a survivor to keep a connection with people who think like this. They are dangerous for our spiritual path, our life, our sanity. It’s wiser to go our own way and let them in their “space of not-knowing.”

  28. Extracts of the interview of Marieke van Vugt
    “What did it do to you to read that letter?
    It was certainly a turning point in the way I looked at him. It is complex: it is about a teacher who tries to get past the concepts. And what do you have concepts about? About money, fame, being known and so on. As I could look at it, he is playing as a teacher with all those things. For me his lessons are helpful and I did not experience what I saw as abuse. But what is in that letter made me realize that people really hurt, and it is irrelevant whether this was the intention or not. Things went very wrong.”
    “In general, it was not customary to ask questions directly after a lesson from Sogyal Rinpoche. At the end of a lecture, the questions people had first gathered through a peel of people around Sogyal Rinpoche. They edited the feedback and asked questions before they ended up at Sogyal Rinpoche. They did this with the intention of creating a sort of order in the jumble of questions, in order to inspire Sogyal Rinpoche with better education. In retrospect, that is a very strange system, doubts that people had and were written down were cut out. The teacher therefore does not get a realistic picture of what really plays in the sangha and how people react to his teaching. I can well imagine that this fact has played a major role in the situation where people have been harmed.
    So Sogyal was not corrected?
    Yes, he did not really get back: Sogyal Rinpoche, what you do now just does not work.”

    “But there is also a problematic side to the story, the way in which he deals with power, possibly a lack of insight into the effects of his actions on the students. The feudal system just does not work well in the west, especially because we have no idea how that should work. You come in and think: this will all be normal.”

    “What has been the impact of all this on your study and practice?
    Laughing: it was a lot less fun, last year. Especially because I am someone who likes to see that everyone is having fun and in this situation you are sure that there are always people for whom you can not do well. It is useful to let go of that and to stay more in space of not-knowing, and fall back on your own wisdom nature. ”
    After reading this interview, I’m almost speechless.
    The only thing that I can say is :
    The title of this interview should be :
    “How to rationalize the unacceptable behavior of a Guru”
    sub-title : “Secondary victimisation”
    It’s very common in Buddhist sanghas, but also in all religious communities.
    As a survivor, when I hear/read this kind of reasoning, I just feel that it’s worthless for a victim or a survivor to keep a connection with people who think like this. They are dangerous for our spiritual path, our life, our sanity. It’s wiser to go our own way and let them in their “space of not-knowing.”

    1. My message is an answer to @Rick New post :
      “…to open up to multiple stories and voices…”

  29. @Julia Lovert,
    “I just feel that it’s worthless for a victim or a survivor to keep a connection with people who think like this.”
    Amen! I couldn’t have said this better myself!

  30. From the article…
    “So Sogyal was not corrected?
    Yes, he did not really get back: Sogyal Rinpoche, what you do now just does not work.”

    “But there is also a problematic side to the story, the way in which he deals with power, possibly a lack of insight into the effects of his actions on the students. The feudal system just does not work well in the west, especially because we have no idea how that should work.”
    It’s terrifying to think that there are people who would even WANT to try out a system like this in the West. People fought and died to get rid of feudal systems like this. Isn’t it a GOOD thing that it “doesn’t work well” in the West?!?!?

  31. The whole scenario could jeopardise the importing of the unique Tibetan Buddhist Path to enlightenment in a very big way to our western way of life and puts into question SR’s own masters’ judgements that put a lot of trust in him in the past to promulgate it; the likes of his 4 main teachers: JKCL, Dudjom, Dilgo, Nyoshul Rinpoches that did not foresee this and the current ones Dzongsar, OT … that justify in a way what occurred; maybe or else the whole system comes crashing down and Christmas Humphries was correct about this form of Buddhism or he called Lamaism. Views anyone?

    1. It needn’t be the end. If a proper, open investigation were held into those who have abused the system – a ‘retiring’ of them – and those who do not -(or cannot, due to the publicity such ‘outing’ would bring) carry forward the teachings in a deliberately non cult-like way – the path would be clear for a new and cleaner approach to TB.

      1. I agree @Barbara, it’s also why in this context, it’s very important to have individually an healthy, clear and stable understanding of what “Seeing the master as a Buddha” means.

    2. Perhaps the Buddhist system (or any system) will reflect society. There will be thieves, rapists, murderers and also kind, open gentle wise people just as anywhere else. Since Buddhists come from society, it seems we will get society.
      As we look at ourselves, we see we are part of society too. Within the students there are also the good and bad, and if we our honest with our own actions, perhaps we share the same mix of qualities. I know I do.
      As we come to see this is so, perhaps the work of practice begins? We find ourselves embedded in the compost, the swamp, the mess, the muck, the violence of our world.
      How do we respond to such a world from which we cannot be separated, of which we are a part? Can this be our kinship, our sharing, the place where we, finding ourselves in the mess, come together?

    3. @KDD,
      My view is probably not going to be popular. I think it’s naive to think that anything can truly change in Tibetan Buddhist groups. The power dynamics will always be the same, (between gurus, disciples, and the guru’s closest students). As long as humans are human, there is really no, way to “reform” the system without destroying the whole Vajrayana, as we know it. Vajrayana is built on old fashioned ways of life, as well as an imported culture, quite different from the West. As soon as the Vajrayana practices are mixed with group dynamics, the power struggles are almost instant.
      Tantra was never meant for large, organized groups. It used to be a practice for people like Milarepa, who went to caves to meditate in solitude, (and they didn’t use their solitary retreats to make documentary films, write books, and promote themselves afterward). They were the mystics that society shied away from because they were so different and eccentric. As soon as Tantra was institutionalized, it became a hotbed for abuse, just like any other institutionalized religion. As an individual, solitary spiritual path, Tantra might work for someone like Milarepa, but it doesn’t work in groups, or for beginners in Buddhism. Not now, not ever.

      1. @ Catlover
        “Tantra was never meant for large, organized groups.” This is the conclusion I’ve come to as well. And the other huge problem — which you also mention at the end — is that it’s being introduced to far too many beginners. Frankly, in my experience, even too many “experienced” practitioners clearly aren’t grounded enough for it. In my own case, I’ve been harmed by as many beginners thinking they were halfway to becoming mahasiddhas as by teachers.

        1. I suppose (just suppose) that you want to open up to compassion, compassion both for the victims and the perpetrators.
          This is a theme which is invariably given to victims when they speak up, and strangely not to the perpetrators and their supporters.
          You certainly noticed how in the interview Marieke van Vugt never speak about the victims’ fate, and how she didn’t express compassion or concern for them, the victims are just harmed because of some misunderstanding. Her thoughts were almost all for her, her Teacher and Rigpa. This is very common in Buddhist communities and egocentric. So people like her are what we call bad friends, especially for victims, in the practice of a Bodhisattva : to avoid unsuitable friends. This is even done before tonglen practice and developing compassion.
          Thich Nhat Hanh’s poem is entitled « Call me by my true names », this means that there is no compassion in denial, it’s just sentimentalism. We call by true names the little girl, who has been raped and killed herself, and the pirate, not yet capable of seeing and loving.
          In an other hand, why victims and survivors avoid usually to express publicly compassion for the perpetrator, when the harm has not yet been truly acknowledge? Mainly because compassion in this case is easily confused with permissiveness.
          We know the damage caused by permissiveness, which, while it may satisfy the mania of some, remains a source of unhappiness and harm for many others.

          1. Thanks so much for your reply, Julia. Yes to everything you’ve said.
            I want to add another possibility, but need a bit of time to consider.
            Thanks, again.

          2. Hi Julia,
            I want to thank you for staying and working with this dialogue.
            Without arguing or counterpointing anything you’ve written, instead trying to affirm what you’ve written, trying to add another voice that might extend and take off on some of the things you’ve said.
            Compassion for me, means a proper response to the situation and what you’ve posted seems to me to have the quality of responsiveness.
            What stood out for me on rereading your post a few times was:
            “Her thoughts were almost all for her, her Teacher and Rigpa. This is very common in Buddhist communities and egocentric. ”
            There seems to me a possible pivot here and one that I think could be a step toward healing as a community.
            The possibility I’ve been raising the How Did it Happen blog since the early days is also a possibility I’ve raised in the Rigpa Organization since 1987.
            Bringing this possibility forth is usually met with dismissal, denial, anger, etc. Therefore, I’ve been trying to step back, consider the way I’m presenting it and also consider the context of this blog space:
            Who is here? Who isn’t here? How seriously do we take, “What Now?” as on opened ended question?
            It seems to me that “our thoughts (about What Now?) are almost all for ourselves, the Teacher and the Rigpa Organization.” As you said, this is common in Buddhist communities, so it is no surprise that it continues here.
            However, those here are coming off the letter from the 8 and “in the wake of revelations of abuse in rigpa”. There is, it seems to me, a strong case to be made for dropping our focus on the Teacher and the Rigpa Organization.
            Why do we continue this focus? Is the answer a part of what KDD was saying when KDD wrote, “we’ve all invested so much emotionally in this path, that to let it drop it and go elsewhere seems harder than…”.
            “However, I choose to stay far from communities.”
            Have we given up on community?
            Might it be possible restore community through communication that isn’t focused on the Teacher or the Rigpa Organization?
            Thanks for listening.
            P.S. This doesn’t mean that the Rigpa Organization and Sogyal Rinpoche should not be asked to take responsibility for their behavior. Our postings to one another do little to affect that aspect and there are lawyers and organizations asking for feedback and testimony in regards to this aspect.

  32. There’s some good responses here and give alternate views we may not have considered, although there is a nagging ‘ego’ line that says we’ve all invested so much emotionally in this path, that to let it drop it and go elsewhere seems harder than staying with it; and if we had known what we know now would we have actually entered this version of dharma or looked for solace from this misery of existence (caused by an illusion of a projected self of the 1st noble truth) elsewhere; why did the 11th Trungpa Rinpoche effectively drink himself to death if he was such a high incarnate, why did the 6th Dalai Lama trawl to brothels of Lhasa; if the state oracles are to be relied upon why didn’t they warn many young Dalai Lamas of their impending murders etc. etc. There are many question on the authenticity of these paths that this scenario raises for people (or are they really just cultural spirit belief remnants that were meant to be dropped after there used and are not true dharma).

    1. @KDD,
      To me, it’s sad that the 6th Dalai Lama, who I believe was probably a victim of political slander, is mentioned alongside Trungpa and other abusive teachers. It’s true that no one really knows what the 6th DL was truly like, but I strongly suspect that he may not have been the sleazy, womanizing drunkard that he is often painted up to be. He was a monk who gave back the robes BEFORE being with any women. Also, he didn’t pretend to be super human or above human emotions. Most of his poems (songs), which were honest about his human feelings, (which is why the people loved him), were most likely about ONE woman (not thousands) he wanted to marry. He tried (and failed) to reform the tulku system. He hated pomp and protocol, and liked the common people. As far as I can see, he was a product of his own culture, who enjoyed frequenting the places where the ordinary folks hung out. He probably hung out in taverns because he was one of the few rulers who wasn’t a snob. The songs he wrote were for common folks, not for aristocrats. The conservative Gelug priesthood had reason to want to be rid of him because he embraced Nyingma, as well as Gelug, and he wasn’t conservative enough to suit them. They wanted to disqualify him as a Dalai Lama, so they spread exaggerated stories about his lack of morality and made him look depraved. The Chinese (even back then) jumped in to help spread lies and depose him so that they could replace him with their own puppet ruler, and they were backed by one side in the Mongol civil war. It was plain politics as usual. The poor man’s reputation was ruined forever, even though he was probably one of the few rulers who didn’t deserve it.

      1. I meant to say that the Sixth DL was probably one of the few rulers who didn’t deserve to have his reputation ruined.

  33. @KDD, you are quite right when you say : “we’ve all invested so much emotionally in this path, that to let it drop it and go elsewhere seems harder than staying with it”.
    It was my case, very hard. Nevertheless I managed to drop my Buddhist path and relations, I just kept universal spiritual values in which I believe. Than, around 6 years later I came back to follow specific teachings because I knew that I needed to resume my spiritual practice. However, I choose to stay far from communities.
    Now I stick to the Dharma that has a direct meaning for me, that is sharply meaningful, and I freely integrate some Tibetan cultural aspects, like art items. All the other cultural things, I let them to traditional Tibetans, without giving thoughts about them. I believe that it is not my business, this is their burden. It’s not easy for them too, they struggle also.

    1. Yes it’s a realisation when we think it couldn’t possibly happen to ourselves and it does/did, in addition many groups in any walk of life can keep going through overlaps of friendships, emotional needs & investments, habit – something to do to fill the deluxe loneliness of life we have esp. in the West, as full or part-time group workers, path-career types that want to bolster their ego; could be why the realised masters such as Milarespa, Patrul keep away from such monastic indulgences.
      So am sure Rigpa will carry on eventually after diminishing then rising again, as time ‘forgets’, as many other groups have done & will do even after major shocks like this one.
      [But who will be introducing members to the nature of mind then?]

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