Rigpa’s glaringly obvious failure
Many people are appalled at Rigpa management and many Rigpa student’s apparent complete lack of concern for those who have been harmed by Sogyal Rinpoche’s behaviour as outlined in the letter by the 8 students. Rigpa management has not even given those harmed a simple acknowledgement of their pain.
They speak of ‘challenging times’ and ‘allegations against Rinpoche’, words that say how hard this is for the organisation, but nothing that acknowledges the suffering of those many people who have been abused, as represented by the 8 students brave enough to speak out. This is exactly the same behaviour that added to their trauma in the first place.
And yet, those at the top of the organisation must know that these ‘allegations’ are true. It was so much a part of the culture in the ‘upper circles’ that they must have all seen and, most likely, experienced some of it them themselves. We can only surmise that, like their teacher and some other lamas, and unlike the majority of people in the Western world, they do not think the behaviour outlined by the 8 students is wrong. Clearly, they do not wish to take any responsibility for alleviating suffering even when they have the power to do so. Where, one wonders, is the application here of the Buddhism they profess to teach? Where is the compassion they are supposed to have been practicing for years?
Gaslighting and compounding the harm.
Not only do they ignore the Buddha’s teachings on non-violence and ethical behaviour, and the Vajrayana teachings on healing, but also their maintaining the same behaviour that had a role in the original trauma continues in the present to add to the trauma of those harmed. Such things as not admitting that harm has been done to those harmed, blaming them for their supposed ‘lack’ of pure perception and devotion, targeting them with anger and verbal abuse because their speaking up has reflected badly on their lama and their organisation, and, more insidiously, the gaslighting (a form of manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt about the target’s own perception) in every sangha communication. An example is the last communication from Rigpa international stating that retiring was Sogyal’s plan all along and that he did it now for health reasons. No; he did it because 8 students revealed his behaviour to the sangha.
Over time this gaslighting brainwashes students into believing that there never was a problem because Sogyal’s retirement was all part of the plan, but those who have been harmed, unlike ordinary students, are aware of this technique and it hurts them that it continues. And who taught it to those at the top of the power tree in Rigpa? A master of the technique.
All those who think Sogyal Rinpoche did nothing wrong use beliefs like weapons in the same way they used them to cover up the abuse for decades and to not take any complaints seriously enough to actually resolve the issue with those who have been harmed. Their initiatives since the letter have all been a subtle cover up, making it look like they’re solving the problem, while their actions actually only add further to the suffering of those already harmed by their teacher.
This is called re-traumatising. Perhaps the very worst thing one can do to an abused person is to pretend it didn’t happen and to look the other way. For all their fine words, Rigpa is very good at that.
“Trauma is defined by the American Psychological Association (APA) as the emotional response someone has to an extremely negative event. While trauma is a normal reaction to a horrible event, the effects can be so severe that they interfere with an individual’s ability to live a normal life. In a case such as this, help may be needed to treat the stress and dysfunction caused by the traumatic event and to restore the individual to a state of emotional well-being.”
… “It is also possible to sustain trauma after witnessing something from a distance.” https://www.psychguides.com/guides/trauma-symptoms-causes-and-effects/
So even those not actually abused themselves, can be traumatised by watching someone else be abused.
Domestic abuse is commonly listed as a cause for trauma and is the closest form of abuse in terms of the psychological dynamics and kinds of behaviours involved to the situation in Rigpa and other similar organisations. Where an abused person is not cared for, or listened to, by others in the family or spiritual organisation, their trauma is worsened, their suffering increased needlessly.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse in Australia were scathing in their report on the inadequacy of the Catholic Church’s response to allegations of abuse. They found a culture of secrecy and failures in the church’s structure and the reason for their inadequacy is the same as it is for Rigpa—”It is apparent that the avoidance of scandal, the maintenance of the reputation of the church and loyalty to priests alone determined the response.” http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-12-06/royal-commission-report-on-ballarat-archdiocese/9231832
The report stated: “That failure led to the suffering and often irreparable harm to children, their families and the wider community. …
“That harm could have been avoided if the Church had acted in the interests of children.”
Replace the word ‘children’, with ‘students’ and ‘the Church’ with ‘Rigpa’ and the sentiments fit embarrassingly well. The difference is that the Catholic Church has seen the error of its ways, unlike Rigpa who has not taken any responsibility for their role in harming these students.
“Retraumatization is a conscious or unconscious reminder of past trauma that results in a re-experiencing of the initial trauma event. It can be triggered by a situation, an attitude or expression, or by certain environments that replicate the dynamics (loss of power/control/safety) of the original trauma.” http://www.socialworker.com/feature-articles/practice/preventing-retraumatization-a-macro-social-work-approach-to-trauma-informed-practices-policies/
So Rigpa’s continuing use of the same modes of behaviour that contributed to the trauma in the first place have the potential to retraumatise those harmed: for example, management’s continual refusal to take any responsibility, their disregard for the well-being of those harmed, and their apparent pretence that nothing is wrong. The employment of lawyers to undertake the investigation can feel like an intimidation tactic, and all of this makes someone who has been harmed by these kinds of tactics, to feel retraumatised.
The impact of trauma on a community
“Trauma is something that has an impact on communities, not just individuals. A community – be it a geographic one, an organizational one, or an identity-based one – can respond in various ways, from ignoring the trauma to offering support, respect, and collaborative action. A community can be retraumatized too. http://www.socialworker.com/feature-articles/practice/preventing-retraumatization-a-macro-social-work-approach-to-trauma-informed-practices-policies/
All Rigpa students who find the behaviour outlined in the letter abhorrent may be traumatised to some degree, and re-traumatisation can be “triggered by a situation, an attitude or expression, or by certain environments that replicate the dynamics.” Yes, Rigpa is doing an excellent job of re-traumatising everyone, including those who are responding to the trauma by denying the abuse ever happened.
Article by Tahlia Newland.
The second part of this examination, what those harmed actually experienced and how we can help them now, will be posted soon.
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