Speak Up for the Sake of the Dharma

When the truth came out about Sogyal Rinpoche’s behind-the-scenes behaviour (I’m  so polite!) the general Rigpa student was pretty shocked. What shocked us even more was the way Rigpa handled the revelations. They lost of a lot of students who would have stayed had management come clean and admitted the truth instead of just finding more subtle ways to continue the cover-up tactics they have honed over decades. The lama may have removed himself (publically), but the beliefs that caused abuse to be enshrined at the very core of the Rigpa organisation still remain, supported by comments by OT, NR and Dzongsar Khyentse, who, though he may have stimulated some deeper thinking about the abuse, still affirmed the necessity of obedience and non-criticism for anyone who has accepted a teacher as their vajramaster. At Rigpa it’s business as usual.

Upcoming talk topic

Khandro Rinpoche will be teaching at Rigpa soon and her topic is ‘Is Vajrayana Right for You.” I expect it will be aimed at getting rid of anyone who might complain in the future, and make sure that those who remain are the ones who are okay with anything their guru dishes out for them. It’s likely to be full of words that say how Vajrayana is ‘not for everyone’, is only for those of the ‘highest faculties’ and how the ‘lower yanas’ or ‘basic yanas’ have other paths for those who ‘don’t like’ the vajrayana. Core message: If you don’t like it, piss off and leave us tough Kham warriors to get on with it.
What about those who are committed to the vajrayana path but want to see it cleaned up so abuse can’t happen again? The message there will be that we don’t understand the vajryana. Hmm, I wonder what I was studying and practicing for the last twenty years then?
Allowing my sarcasm free reign I’d expect the sublte message beneath the talks will be something like: If you have a strong moral compass, are committed to the idea of human rights, feel you should speak up about abuse, and want to retain your critical thinking faculties, then the Rigpa version (perhaps it’s the Nyingma version) of Vajrayana is not for you.
Apologies to Khandro Rinpoche if this is not her underlying message. I’m extrapolating from the title in light of Dzongsar Khyentse’s talks.

Sidestepping the issue

If, like me, you think this approach of getting rid of anyone who might complain is sidestepping the issue, that it leaves a major problem with the religion unresolved, then the question is; what can we do about it? We cannot let the issue fade from sight. We must make sure that students and lamas remain aware of just how easily vajrayana sanghas can become a destructive cult and that the issue must at some point be dealt with both in the individual sanghas and in the religion as a whole.
For the sake of the future of the Vajrayana and to avoid other sanghas falling into destructive cult mode where they are at the mercy of lamas who abuse their power, the beliefs that do not permit criticism of even the most dire behaviour and that insist that the student must obey without question and see a teacher as a buddha even when he behaves worse than a normal human being, must be eradicated. If Mingyur Rinpoche, the Dalai Lama and others can teach Vajrayana without such injunctions, then, clearly,  there is no need for them.

The importance of speaking out

Hiding the dirty truth of some Buddhist teacher’s behaviour does not protect the dharma or Tibetan Buddhism. It only worsens the problem. Students looking for enlightenment fall for glossy facades and impressive-sounding lineages, not knowing whether or not the lama is even a decent human being let alone if they are someone who embodies compassion and wisdom. The ony way to help students to choose authentic ethical lamas is by speaking the truth about them. We need to know who we can rely on and who we need to avoid.
So if you experienced abuse at the hands of a Tibetan Lama, or have seen something that indicates there is a misuse of power going on, please speak out. How else will we know who to avoid? How else will we be able to evaluate the teachers available to us? Only with many voices will we be able to get the full picture. Only with many voices will students come to realise that sharing the truth is not some plot, not a bunch of people out to get anyone, but a real problem that needs to be eradicated once and for all.
If it’s time for you to tell your story, contact me and we can talk about the best way to do it.

Why the truth is important

Susana Maria Montero Gaudino posted the following much longer video on Facebook recently. She adds her voice to the request for people to speak up.

Let us know of any Lama of whom you have personal experience who is beyond reproach, and, of course, let us know your experience of the lamas we should avoid. Share only what you know yourself from your own experience or what you’ve been told directly by the person who experienced what you’re sharing. Please do not share hearsay, conjecture, gossip or rumours.

Current and previous students of Rigpa wanting private support are welcome to join the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
Ex-Rigpa students and their dharma friends who want to move on from the discussion of abuse in Rigpa can stay in touch through the Dharma Companions Facebook Group.  
The What Now? Reference Material page has links to a wealth of articles in the topics related to abuse in Buddhist communities. For links to places to assist in healing from abuse see the sangha care resources page.
Those of you who are interested in ‘keeping Buddhism clean’ could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page. 
Want to keep this blog running? Support the editor;  Become a Patron!

25 Replies to “Speak Up for the Sake of the Dharma”

  1. Thank you Tahlia for yet another tranche of your excellent analysis. And great to see Susana’s heartfelt plea for transparent communication and caution when making a commitment to a teacher. Rob Hogendoorn and I are writing a book about Sogyal and Rigpa. The narrative starts in the 1970s and rolls through to the here and now. We are still researching some aspects of the story, but we have a publisher and aim to finish it as soon as possible. One more thought: has anyone else noticed that Dzogchen has been sidelined by Rigpa since the eight signatory bombshell? Its all about Vajrayana now — the Path of Transformation.I wonder why?

  2. In 2014 and 2015, the Dzogchen preliminaries were taught by senior students and by Mingyur Rinpoche.
    In 2016,Sogyal was to teach the”main part “of Dzogchen which is a sort of transmission that can only be given by an “enlightened” master, which he was supposed to be.He never did because he knew he was not qualified to give it.
    The students thought they were not yet eligible to such high teachings!
    So instead of teaching Dzogchen, he spent time humiliating his close attendants for hours, commenting on his family life and his visits to lamas and explaining who would be the holders of Rigpa.
    I often felt he was fed up with teaching and he wanted to move on.
    So, another explanation why Dzogchen has been sidelined since the letter from the 8 students is that Sogyal being away from Lerab Ling, nobody is entitled to teach the “main ” part of Dzogchen. The preliminaries have already been taught.
    That’s why his senior students, who are the holders and the teachers, now focus on Vajrayana.
    There will be a short Dzogchen retreat with one of his senior students in august 2018 instead of a three week retreat.

  3. JKR has been asked to tell the truth in her talks. To warn prospective students that teachers can use the Vajrayana to help or harm so that people can properly evaluate ‘if the Vajrayana is the right path for me’. I wonder if we will get the content of her talks so we can see if she did that?

  4. Why is Dzogchen considered to be separate from Vajrayana in the West? Traditionally, it is simply the highest level of Nyingma Tantra, not some mysterious, separate path.

    1. Hi Catlover..
      In the Nyingma tradition Dzogchen is the top rung of a graduated approach. But this is not the case in Bon (Lopon Tenzin Namdak, Tenzin Wangyal etc:) and nor is it Chogyal Namkhai Norbu’s position. They present Dzogchen as it is from day one. The path of Self Realisation. Nothing to change. That’s how it differs from Vajrayana — the path of Transformation.

      1. @Mary Finnigan,
        “In the Nyingma tradition Dzogchen is the top rung of a graduated approach.”
        That is correct. So, when you get to the top rung, instead of it being about “Transformation” you’re already at Self Realization. It’s still Tantra though. It’s just the highest level, (and it’s specific to Nyingma, not any other Tantra lineage, although they have equally high level, or similar teachings for those lineages as well.)
        I’m not talking about Bon Dzogchen. We’re talking about Nyingma Buddhism.

        1. Catlover — I am talking about Dzogchen per se. Not splitting hairs. Dzogchen is Dzogchen however you approach it and in whatever tradition.

          1. @Mary Finnigan,
            Sure, I agree that Dzogchen is Dzogchen, and Mahamudra is also Mahamudra. Dzogchen in Tibetan Buddhism is part of Vajrayana. Why do people in the West say it is a separate path? That’s the part I don’t get.

          2. As for Dzogchen in Bon, I know less about that, so I probably shouldn’t offer an ignorant opinion. I was just reading what Alex Berzin says on his website, under “Histroy of Dzogchen,” and according to him, (and I trust his opinion), it is not clear whether Bon Absorbed Dzogchen from Buddhism, or whether they developed it separately. I’ll leave that to the scholars to figure out.

    2. I ‘d say it’s simply because it appears so different in that there are no visualisations, mantras and sadhanas. It may be the top of the vajrayana ladder in terms of the 9 yanas, but actually it transcends any ladder, all religion and any vehicle with contrived practices, so it does appear quite different. Vajrayana is just a preliminary for it, but despite what some lamas teach, others teach as if one does not actually need the vajrayana before practicing dzogchen (Namkai Norbu for example, and MR’s meditation has the mahamudra flavour from the start). I’d say that whether we need vajrayana first has more to do with the student than anything else. Since dzogchen is our natural state, it logically should be quite possible for someone to enter that state without being introduced by a lama. Whether someone could gain confidence and stability in such a state without assistance though is doubtful.

  5. Maybe it’s a good thing that Rigpa is focusing on lower levels of Vajrayana now, rather than springing Dzogchen on newbies. Maybe they changed it to take the focus off Sogyal’s qualifications (or lack of qualifications) to teach Dzogchen.

  6. Or maybe the students who are teaching in Sogyal’s place are not qualified to teach Dzogchen, even if they think Sogyal is qualified.

  7. Very few masters are qualified to teach dzogchen. It is being marketed much too much and what is transmitted is not going to help people. I don’t think any Rigpa ‘senior’ student is qualified to even breathe a few words of it. it’s just a money grab.
    I am heartened to hear MF and RH are writing a book. I think a movie should be made! I hope in your book MF and RH that you outline how there is absolutely no proof of any recognition. It would be good if you could interview Sogyal’s mother to ask her where is this letter from JKCL. Certainly if they didn’t bring it out of Tibet she would know who holds it safely in Tibet. Alas certain Tibetans can exceed our best salesmen… a pity people fell for it.

    1. Letter or not, makes no difference. HH Dalai Lama talks about four permutations:
      1. Someone is a tulku but not a (qualified) lama;
      2. Someone is both a tulku and a (qualified) lama;
      3. Someone is not a tulku but is a (qualified) lama;
      4. Someone is neither a tulku nor a (qualified) lama.

      1. After we all now know what Sogyal and Dzongsar have said and done, I wonder what category they would fall into. What kind of genuine tulku or qualified lama would have done or said what they did.
        I know that Sogyal and Dzongsar have been involved in bringing Dharma to the affluent and sexually attractive West, but what was their motivation for doing so?

        1. @Marge,
          Before who’s teaching, Dzongsar’s teaching or Sogyal’s teaching in London? I thought Sogyal had fled to some country where he can’t be prosecuted. So, if he’s back in Europe now, where is the law?

          1. Correction, as above. The caption below the image is misleading in the present context, and I’m not sure what the point was of posting a two-year old snap.

  8. I think it’s category one that is the most problematic. They carry an assumed spiritual heritage but lack training in this life – does that sound familiar?

    1. That’s true, Matilda– but I also think the last one is relevant– because the main thing that needs to change is this idea that verifying a tulku is the criteria for judging if a teacher is qualified. The tulku system can only function in a world where there is a culture of careful training and wholesome nurturing of these young children.
      Also, I think that some tulkus have certain psychic qualities that are unique, that are inherited from past lives, even if these people aren’t trained properly and their ethics lapse. It is then easy for students, especially in the West, to feel awed around these people– to think wow, the living Buddha etc… I think this is a real problem.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *