Poison is Medicine: Has Dzongsar Khyentse Clarified or Muddied the Waters?

Today we have a post by Joanne Clark as a follow up to her last post on Dzongsar Khyentse and nihilism.

“In our practice, we may view the guru’s behavior as that of a mahasiddha, but in the   conventional world we follow the general Buddhist approach, and if a certain behavior is harmful, we should say so.”

HH Dalai Lama, The Foundation of Buddhist Practice

Leaving the Boat Too Early

In Dzongsar’s recent publication, Poison is Medicine, which is based on teachings that he gave in Rigpa Centres following the revelations of abuses by Sogyal Lakhar, his intention is to clarify “the misunderstandings and misapprehensions about the Vajrayana that were exposed by the Vajrayana guru-related scandals of the 2010s.” (Poison is Medicine; vii) By “scandals”, I presume he means “abuses.” However, with statements such as the following, I question what clarity can result:

Continue reading “Poison is Medicine: Has Dzongsar Khyentse Clarified or Muddied the Waters?”

Dzongsar Khyentse & his Dance with Nihilism

broken buddha

Today we have a post by Joanne Clark inspired by the release of Dzongsar Khyentse’s latest book. Thank you, Joanne. It’s high time we challenged Dzongsar Khyentse for his support of abusive behaviour by vajrayana masters. Dzongsar Khyentse’s followers show all the signs of people caught in a destructive cult, which might tell us why Dzongsar Khyentse is so intent on supporting abuse as a legitimate part of his religion – at least for the varjayana student-teacher relationship. Read on for Joanne’s article.

“The late Professor Joshi in his book, he cites one of the factors that led to the degeneration of Buddhism inside India was the popularization of tantric practices, particularly leading to unethical behavior.” HH Dalai Lama

It is possible that Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse has reached a point of realization whereby he can sit down to a meal of faeces and a drink of urine and consume it as if enjoying a delicious feast. It is possible then that he could rape a princess in the same manner that Tilopa killed fish, such that no harm would result.[1]

In the same way, it is possible that his Vajrayana students, those who have taken vows of pure perception, are advanced enough in their own realizations that they are no longer at risk of confusing the madyamaka views on emptiness with nihilism—no longer at risk of failing to maintain a coherent view of conventional truth and karmic laws of cause and effect and failing to recognize harm as harm.

Continue reading “Dzongsar Khyentse & his Dance with Nihilism”


I received this guest post from someone who was at Dzongsar Khyentse’s second London talk. It’s well written and engaging, so I hope you enjoy it. At the end I’ve also posted a vlog that sums up my feelings at the end of DJKR’s 2018 European tour – Tahlia.

“Read my lips” as Ronald Reagan would have said, if he was a Vajrayana guru. Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche says what he means and may even mean what he says, so don’t let his style of presentation distract you from his message.
Let me begin by saying that I find Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche a very engaging speaker. He explains ideas well, thinks carefully about his words, uses humour very effectively, enjoys being provocative and has a disarming combination of being both arrogantly opinionated and surprisingly frank about his own shortcomings. It’s easy to see why he is such a popular teacher.
I have now watched every minute of every one of the public teachings he gave on his recent tour of Rigpa in Europe – except for the carefully excised part where a man burst into the first London session screaming that Sogyal Rinpoche was a rapist and DJKR was covering up for him. The man was jumped and the story was disseminated that he was mentally ill (I can’t verify that).
I was able to attend the final session in person and it was good to look DJKR in the face when he spoke, not just at a screen. I’m not here to get into deep discussions of the Vajrayana – that’s for others, far better informed. I’m here to talk about what I saw of the man and some significant things I heard and did not hear.
First of all, there needs to be some kind of special oratory prize for a person who can go on a speaking tour of Rigpa, prompted by the scandal around the abuse that was committed by its leader, several of these talks taking place in the actual locations where physical, sexual and psychological abuse occurred, and talk for over TWELVE HOURS without ever using the “A” word. It really is not an easy thing. It’s got to be in your mind, tickling your tongue. You really have to check yourself to make sure it doesn’t slip out in an unguarded moment. So I’m going to stand up right now and give DJKR a round of applause for this remarkable achievement. Please join me.
In fairness to him, he did, just once, in his first talk, utter the word “victim”, as part of the phrase “alleged victims”. Somebody must have got on his case afterwards because in London he mentioned that he had been told that “alleged” was the wrong word to use. He blamed his poor English, although I was impressed by what a good mastery of the language he has. It was a very odd moment indeed. He apologised for his use of the word “alleged” but clearly could not bring himself to utter the word that had previously been linked to it, so many in the audience were left a bit bemused as to where this had come from or what the purpose of the comment was. It was as if putting the word “victim” out there without the protective cocoon of “alleged” was simply too intimidating for him to deal with.
Every place he talked you could see the same thing; when he was in full flow about Vajrayana he appeared confident and spoke eloquently. Every time he approached the nitty-gritty reality of what the consequences of Vajrayana being misused were, he would stumble, trail off into long pauses or simply change the subject. The maker of the pointed but amusing spoof video, which re-edits his Berlin talk, did put his finger on something, triggering a tirade of insults.
During his travels, DJKR did, apparently, reach out to some of the victims of abuse. Certainly, several of the eight letter writers were known to him personally and were people he trusted. One might have hoped he would have done this research in advance, but it is welcome that he did it at all. By the time he got to Paris, then London, there was a distinct change of tone. He repeated again and again and again “Do no harm”, which is rather astonishing. Although he is talking to an audience of people who have spent many, many years in Vajrayana Buddhist study and practice, he is having to remind them of the most basic principle of all. I mean, even someone with the most superficial knowledge of Buddhism, who never once meditated, would know about the principle of not doing harm. This was like an eminent English Literature Professor doing the keynote address at an international conference, finding it necessary to repeatedly remind his academic audience that to fully appreciate the work of Dickens, you first need to learn your ABC.
The fact DJKR felt the need to do this speaks volumes. He had been reading many people’s comments about their confusions and opinions, and hearing accounts of wrongdoing and abuse, and it had become clear to him that the most basic tenet of Buddhism was being completely ignored. What a terrible indictment of where group thinking in Rigpa has led them.
In his final talks he spoke far more plainly than at the start, perhaps more plainly than he has ever spoken on such matters. It is NEVER acceptable for a guru to harm somebody. YES, you MUST respect the laws of the land. You CAN’T deny that people have suffered. There HAS been pain – it is NOT a story or an illusion. [Sogyal] Rinpoche HAS TO address this.
All these things were good to hear. But it feels like they had to be shocked and shaken out of him. As he made plain in his first talk, he has his “agendas” and over the course of the tour he had realised that trying to wave some of these issues away with mystical ambiguity was simply reinforcing the narrative of Vajrayana as a cult. His mission was to save Vajrayana and if that meant being more explicit than he liked to be, then he would do it. As long as it didn’t involve mentioning rape, beatings, theft or using the word “abuse”, that is.
In many ways he was extremely honest, even if it didn’t necessarily show him in the best light. He admitted that when the letter came out, his first instinct as a tulku was to protect the teachings (rather than people). I think he very much sees himself in the role of Defender of the True Faith. In all the hours he spoke I never discerned a hint of compassion for the victims of Sogyal Rinpoche. With well-practiced phraseology, DJKR made plain that he cared for them only in the sense of their spiritual futures. But it didn’t occur to him that if someone like Sogyal Rinpoche has, as he put it, “burned the seed of the Bodhichitta” in these victims of abuse, they are not likely to be won back to Buddhism by a person who appears terrified of the words “victim” and “abuse”.
In fact it seemed profoundly ironic that whilst DJKR spent hours selling the audiences on how radical and fearless Vajrayana is and stressing that relative and absolute truth are of equal value, this fearlessness did not stretch to acknowledging the truth of the elephant in the room, let alone confronting it. The best that can be said is that, by the end of his speaking tour, he was occasionally gesturing in the general direction of the elephant, without actually looking at it directly – or calling it an elephant.
When asked “What do you think about the Rigpa inner circle covering up Sogyal Rinpoche’s misdeeds?” he dismissed it with “I already answered this question”. He hadn’t. When asked “What is meant by crazy wisdom?” he abruptly called for a break. On his return, when the question was eventually put again, he reluctantly gave a brief reply, saying that all Vajrayana was Crazy Wisdom, which he knew perfectly well was not what was being asked.
His discomfort in dealing with any of the nitty-gritty of the consequences of Sogyal Rinpoche’s misdeeds, and those of the people who covered up for him, was sometimes displaced with humour to take the sting out. When acknowledging that “there has been pain” he made the point that if it’s lunchtime and you’re hungry, you can try repeating “fulness is emptiness and emptiness is fulness” but you’ll still have a pain in your stomach. People laughed.
But there were also warnings hidden inside his jokes. More than once he said “I’m a Gemini: we can sell ice cubes to Eskimos.” Everybody laughed heartily, but he’s serious. He knows a lot of his followers will swallow whatever he says, if he presents it the right way. He’s probably Vajrayana’s top-ranking salesman right now (assuming there’s a leader board somewhere in Bhutan). He even refers freely to some of his followers – quite correctly – as sycophants, but they still follow him, like good Eskimos.
Likewise, he doesn’t hide where he’s coming from, ethically. When asked about bad behaviour by gurus he twice made his approach clear: he personally wouldn’t mistreat anyone – not because he’s a great guy but because he would be worried about what people would think of him and what they would say on social media, plus he wouldn’t want to lose students. Again, everyone laughed, but he didn’t repeat this without reason. We should listen. This is absolutely not about ethics for him – he never even used the word – it is about trying to protect reputation; his personal one and that of the Vajrayana.
He used stories and metaphors about magic and magicians many times, where the teacher is the magician who knows it’s a trick, but presents it convincingly. “I think you want magic, don’t you?” he asked his attentive London audience, who noisily expressed their enthusiasm. David Blaine may have a new rival.
After the final teaching, I was talking to a member of the new “Vision Board”. He raved about how great the teachings were, so I asked him – as he had been present at all of DJKR’s recent teachings, both public and to the sangha, and had doubtless had the benefit of private discussions too – what did he feel about everything he had heard? With the careful tones of a politician who has weighed up whether being wishy or being washy would be the best approach, he replied “I’d have to re-listen to it. I had a lot on my mind.” He had come to realise that the problems stemmed from the transition from Asia, he said. The one thing that felt meaningful was when he added, “I wish someone had told me this 30 years ago.”
But of course, there was not a flicker of acknowledgement of the meat of what had been said. DJKR himself talked about how, as a younger student, he had been forbidden from taking notes and had to simply remember what had been taught. Here was a senior leader who was claiming that, having heard the same messages repeated and repeated for a fortnight, they had not sunk in. If I was Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche I would be deeply disheartened by this. If nobody in leadership is really listening and nobody is ever going to start talking about the elephant in the room, the outcome for Rigpa, and possibly Vajrayana in general, is pretty obvious.
DJKR several times used the classic image of Ganesh as an illustration of Vajrayana concepts: the elephant is depicted standing upon a mouse, as his vehicle, and the mouse is magically unharmed. In the less magical world in which most of us live, we know that any mouse that chooses to disregard the fact that an elephant is about to stand on him, doesn’t have much of a future.

 DJKR’s talks may have repercussions for my vlogs for a while, I expect, but my main feeling at present is one of relief and gratitude. I also remembered an analogy for the spiritual path that Chogyan Trungpa gave that seems pertinent to remember in these circumstances.


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9 thoughts on “Rigpa Progress?”

  1. Brilliant article Moonfire! Thank you so much for articulating so clearly what many people, including myself must be feeling.
    Didn’t the Buddha say that “Words have the power to create or destroy.”
    I can only say that Sogyal needs to name, accept and apologise for his own behaviour before any apology will be truly genuine. This is certainly a start but it’s a “conditional” apology. And wasn’t he trying to teach us about “unconditional” love, compassion, joy and equanimity?
    I still find it sickening that none of the senior managers who were complicit by shrugging off their responsibilities towards vulnerable students are still in charge. A line from the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying comes to mind! In the chapter on Compassion there is a description of Western busy-style laziness and Eastern-style languid laziness…..
    “…. perhaps it was their karma to find a way to help!”
    While in Ireland at the weekend, I went to mass in a Catholic church with my father. Alongside all the other prayers, I heard prayers offered “for those who were injured within the church, let us pray for God’s mercy for all concerned”….
    Then in my hands in the mass booklet and among the general notices was a notice about the meeting times of the group that met to support survivors of clerical abuse….. and there was a poster about this meeting in the entrance hall outside.
    Alongside this poster was a big fat report and a review of safeguarding children and adults within that very parish!
    My God if the Catholic church can do that, then why can’t Rigpa? If only they had listened to their advisers back then in the early 1990s after that American court case.
    Such arrogance and folly to think that they were above the law back then and now.
    The Rigpa brand is forever tainted in my mind!

    Liked by you

  2. Agreed that until there is REAL acceptance of the problems, ranging from emotional abuse – public humiliation, threats and open favouritism, along with what amounts to fraud by any other name, misrepresentation of what the lama is doing (ie not meditating as claimed but other activities including watching inappropriate tv programmes) – all the sexual stuff – nothing will change, no excuses and apologies accepted and for the chief perpetrator – no change either. What of the advice from other lamas – those named, one at least, is highly suspect. 3-year retreat to reflect? Should happen but pretty sure it won’t.


  3. The March 2018 draft of the Code of Conduct was quite disappointing in a number of respects, but especially regarding the simple mechanics of filing a complaint.
    Note that an aggrieved individual cannot go directly to the (as yet unspecified) ethics board. One must first go through “steps” of seeking resolution through dialog and informal grievance via instructor, support person, or local/national team members. Even then, a formal complaint must go to a National/Retreat Director without any guarantee that the complaint will ever reach an ethics board member. It seems to me, the whole point of an ethics board is that complaints be moved to a venue outside the regular Rigpa structure.
    My comment to Rigpa was that “an aggrieved party should have the right to go directly to an ethics board as their first option, should they so choose. It is naive, impractical, and unfair to require an aggrieved, possibly traumatized party to go through multiple hoops of Rigpa position holders, likely of limited experience in addressing abuse issues and placed in the difficult position of judging friends. … Indeed, in some circumstances the oversight and advice of an ethics board member may be required to make the “steps” work at all.”
    Ethical codes for Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhist groups are not new, so it is not clear why the Rigpa panel is having such difficulty in drafting a realistic Code. Is there more concern with protecting the organization than in supporting an aggrieved and/or troubled individual?


  4. Indeed. Other vajrayana groups manage the kind of clarity people expect in a code of conduct. No sex is allowed between student and teacher in this code.http://www.kagyu.com/introduction/ethics-policy
    Apparently that group learned from their own abuse debacle. Rigpa has yet to learn that they cannot continue as they have done in the past. Their draft code seems to be an attempt to write down the very structures they used to prevent complaints ever being taken seriously in the past. It’s very sad that on the one hand they say how much they’ve changed and then they cannot see just how much this draft code shows that they have no intention of truly changing at all.


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The Question Dzongsar Khyentse is Not Asking

Many people are noticing that DZK avoids answering some very pertinent and important questions directly in his Rigpa talks, but one student noticed the question he is not asking, and sent me the following to post:
Listening to the way that Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche [DJKR] has been publicly answering the questions he’s been sent, I get the feeling that he has no idea of what lies BEHIND the questions, and that is the bit that interests me.
One would do well to ask WHY are so many people [in this case, longstanding dharma students many of whom have done years of intensive practice, study and/or Rigpa work] asking such questions all of a sudden?
If you traced them back I suspect that you will invariably find that the common root is the confusion that arises when doubt is thrown on the very heart of one’s view and relationship with one’s teacher.
From that confusion come all the questions about vajrayana, questions which in fact have nothing to do with the real issue. Because whichever way we look at it, at the heart of all this sorry situation is a dysfunctional dynamic that centres around Narcissistic Personality Disorder-like behaviours [NPD].
And anything and everything that radiates out from such a heart cannot help but create confusion. The fact that it is disseminated through the medium of dharma teachings might easily mask that underlying confusion but it does not negate it.
Reliable information about genuine NPD is relatively recent and judging from what I see about it on social media it is also quite poorly understood. It is nothing to do with people worrying about how they look, and everything to do with manipulating and controlling the behaviour of others to invest their attention in you, at any cost. Anyone who is aware of having been around that NPD-like dynamic will know just how devastating that can be.
So, I genuinely think DJKR [and not only DJKR] doesn’t yet have the knowledge or  capacity to understand people when it comes to group dysfunctionality.
From the way he is responding, it seems he is only looking at the questions themselves, and not asking himself why they are suddenly being raised by people who had no such doubts previously. And he certainly doesn’t look as if he understands that this is not at all just about teacher/student relationships but it is the result of a very real, very deliberate, longstanding, manipulative, controlling, dysfunctional dynamic at inner-organisational level.
I can understand that completely, and really sympathise with him, and with anyone beginning to learn about the effects of being around NPD,  because until you begin to question and to see through the lie/s yourself you just don’t, and can’t, consider that as a possibility. Yet it is crucial to address such painful questions in order to move through and forward and then begin to thrive again.
DJKR himself states that he has never received teachings from SR, and therefore can’t have the students’ perspective as he was never exposed to what  was going on in teaching situations.
Nor has he really been around SR himself long enough  to have seen what was going on at close quarters, or behind closed doors.
It’s even possible that he himself is being manipulated by that same NPD-like dynamic, but is blissfully unaware. That dynamic thrives on appearing as many things to many different people in order to maintain itself as being the centre of attention at all times.
Having been very adeptly manipulated by narcissists myself, I know just how expert and convincing they can be at painting a world they know you want to believe in in order to keep you hooked in to their attention-giving supply. It took decades to unravel what was going on.
I think that one way to educate lamas and teachers, as well as ourselves, about what has happened in Rigpa (and other organisations) would be to invite all of us to study in some depth about the kind of dangerous and  damaging situations that can and do occur around people with potential NPD (or any other abusive  personality), and to really learn about and understand the kind of manipulative distortions that arise and, in particular, how EASY it is for others to be sucked into it, how dangerous it can become, and how DIFFICULT it is to get out of it.
I do sincerely hope that someone will therefore get to discuss this with DJKR directly, because until he is really aware of the heart of the problem himself I don’t see how he can ever address the problem meaningfully.
Until that happens then a lot of  the talk about Vajrayana etc just becomes another distraction away from the main issue, which is:
How to avoid Buddhist teachers, students and organisations developing NPD-like traits and behaviours?
What to look out for?
And what to do about it when it happens?
I would also like to appreciate all the efforts that DJKR and many many other people are making in being willing to be open to, and to discuss, these painful but necessary subjects.
May it be of great benefit to all beings.
Concerned dharma practitioner
In case you haven’t seen the Paris talks yet, here it is:

We’ll post something on the repercussions of his talks after people have had time to digest them.

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?  Become a Patron!

Another View on DZK's talks

The following, written by Topden, appeared first as a comment on a Facebook post as a reply to someone who essentially said they were finding it hard to see anything positive about DZK’s talks because they had experienced abuse at the hands of two Tibetan Lamas who were operating under the same belief system as DZK was expounding.
I asked permission to post it here as an example of one way to view the teachings. Anyone with a different view is welcome to submit a guest post.
Sorry it’s so long.

Any kind of abuse, physical, emotional or psychological can be deeply damaging, and I truly wish healing to those who experience it as well as those who are the perpetrators, as the pain they inflict on others arises out of their own suffering and confusion. I also deeply wish that it doesn’t turn into an obstacle that cannot be worked with and transformed on the path for spiritual practitioners.
My experience of the talks is not any less influenced by my own pre-conceived notions or previous experiences, because naturally they are, and that is true for everyone. The interesting point simply is my experience is quite different. To out myself from the start, I do like DJK’s teaching style, approach and explanation of the Dharma and feel I have benefited (and been challenged) by him in that regard. Also I have no personal experience of abuse of this kind in a Dharma setting so that might make me a bit naive.

What DZK is and is not doing.

As far as I see it, and by what he has said in his talks, DJK isn’t coming to Rigpa to play judge and jury or directly try and heal the emotional and psychological damage of those who were subject to the abusive behaviours outlined in the letter. I am not even sure if that is his role to play, but in any case it is a role he isn’t trying to play, rightly or wrongly. What he does seem concerned about is trying to explain and correct misunderstandings about the Vajrayana in particular, which from my point of view is a way he can help contribute towards the reduction of further abuse and harm occurring in the future, as well as preserving a tradition that for many is beneficial and free from the kind of abuse we have heard about at Rigpa.
DJK is also trying to make sense of the immensity of the situation and is but one voice in a dialogue to that end. In the meantime he is teaching the Vajrayana from what he has learnt from his teachers and the texts and encouraging others to study and not just take the Lamas’ words for it.
Here are some of the points that I can remember him making in his writing and talks so far, that I think help towards these ends:

Points for the future.

  • He emphasised more study, practice and preparation, which, as we know, is a protection against being duped or sucked into harmful relationships or situations. Knowledge and insight is empowering.
  • He said that it is the Tibetans who are at fault for joining spiritual power with temporal power and making the Vajrayana into a public affair with mass empowerments etc. which is not how it originally was in India, where instead there were very private Vajrayana student-teacher relationships between competent individuals.
  • He said that SR was at fault in recreating the spiritual/temporal Tibetan cultural set up within Rigpa, which has nothing to do with Dharma, Vajrayana or otherwise.
  • He said that SR is totally wrong if he did not correctly prepare his students and then acted as if they were in a Vajrayana student-teacher relationship with him.
  • With regards to samaya he mentioned that in the above case the so-called teacher is at fault far more than the student, because the teacher should know better.
  • He said that Student Devotion is equally, if not more important, than Guru Devotion. Personally, I don’t think I have heard much or anything about the concept of Student Devotion from other teachers and am interested to hear more from him about that.
  • He said in terms of conduct that teachers should act outwardly like a Sravakayana practitioner, inwardly as a Mahayana practitioner and only secretly as a Vajrayana practitioner.
  • He has said that the Vajrayana isn’t necessary or a path for everyone, and if it is to be undertaken, then it is to be done so after much study, practice and analysis of the teacher and student and through complete choice and volition as a way to train the mind, but once the decision is made it wouldn’t be an effective method if it could be opted out of any moment the ego feels challenged or uncomfortable.I would say this implies that the uncomfortableness is held within the perspective and profound understanding gained from the previous training, practice and analysis of the teacher and is therefore known to be part of the path by the student in a deep way but nevertheless still has to be experientially worked through as a point of mind training. In all the examples DJK uses here to elucidate this point, there is no mention of abuse, be that physical, emotional, sexual or otherwise, rather they are ones like being told to “keep Wednesday a secret” as a way for the student to train the mind and go beyond dualistic thinking.

On Abuse.

When questioned about a Vajrayana master using what looks like abusive methods, he says that if they are a Mahasiddha and they are performed out of wisdom/compassion (with the understanding that the student has been properly prepared, both sides have analysed and entered into a Vajrayana student-teacher relationship; because anything less than that is totally wrong) to benefit the student, then there is room for this in the tradition and as we know there are many examples of this, so that should not surprise anyone. If we don’t like that fact about the tradition, then we don’t need to follow the Vajrayana path or engage in a Vajrayana style student-teacher relationship and that is okay. What DJK is continually pointing out however is that the context those examples occurred in are completely different historically, culturally and inter-personally, to the historical and cultural context at Rigpa and the relationship SR had with his students as the relationships were not based on the correct foundations, as far as he is aware and can get a sense of.

Not a mahasiddha, thinking for oneself and opposite interpretations.

When he used the example of the mahasiddha, by saying that he isn’t one, you might interpret it as if he were hiding behind non-discrimination and that no one could therefore judge SR and his behaviour. I interpreted it differently, partly because he immediately went on to make value judgements and discriminate, like the points I mentioned above about Rigpa and SR. Also, he was telling people not to take what he says as the proclamation of a Buddha, as he [DZK] has his own projections. In other words, you need to think for yourself, which for Rigpa students if what people are saying is true, could be quite radical for them to hear. Moreover, within the context of what he said about Tibetan culture and temporal power, he could have basically been saying, “I am not a Lord and you are not my Serf, wake up, discriminate!” Ironically, what I interpret he was saying and doing there has been interpreted by some as the complete opposite. I am not saying here that either of our interpretations are totally right or wrong, but it is interesting that they can be so different based on our individual projections etc, which is what DJK said would happen and is a teaching in itself. So it gladdens me when people highlight this when their opinions have an online following.


Later, using himself as an example, he said there are some things he would not be able to do if his teachers asked him and that was okay, but at the very least he would make an aspiration to be able to do them in the next life. If that personal example isn’t a way to help people relax around what they currently understand as Guru Devotion being a very rigid, completely obedient, blind following of an authority figure kind of trip, then I don’t know what is.

Tibetan Lamas.

He also mentioned that Tibetan teachers like OTR should know better and make an effort in understanding westerners and western culture more, but many, including OTR don’t and that is a big problem.

Not black and white.

I cannot see anything in what DJK has written or said so far that justifies or legitimises SR at all in terms of SR’s training or lack of training, how he set up the culture in Rigpa, how he hasn’t prepared his students properly and how in not doing so then acting abusively is totally wrong behaviour. However, that does not mean, I am sorry to say, that SR is totally evil or that he hasn’t benefited anyone at all. People are complex, situations are complex, nothing is black and white, inconveniently, but it is far easier psychologically to so order reality in that way.
That’s what the media does, that’s what the human mind which oscillates between extremes does every moment, and that is what the Dharma, the Middle Way, is in part trying to liberate sentient beings from, as far as I understand. That’s not to say no actions are wrong or right on the conventional level because they are, and they should be opposed and rectified or cultivated and promoted, respectively, in ourselves, others, organisations and society at large. But people are not totally bad or totally wrong or totally good or totally right, generally (Guru Yoga and Pure Perception is a practice) and that way of seeing things is what in part entraps people in unwholesome situations and relationships in the first place, as they abandon any critical analysis by blindly thinking and therefore feeling a person is 100% good (attachment/grasping), then after that fantasy is disappointed they become 100% bad (aversion/hatred). That right there is Samsaric thinking; suffering and is to be challenged. Sitting in the middle of that, with all the confusion and unknowing, is as far as I can tell part of the practice. Life is like one big, long (if we are lucky) Zen Koan!

Challenging negativity bias.

What I personally feel needs to be challenged here in particular and generally in life, is negativity bias, which is when the mind is drawn to, focuses on and dwells on the negative at a higher level of frequency and at detriment to the higher instances of positive things or occurrences. Negativity bias, when left unchecked can contribute to general anxiety, low moods and distorts our perception of reality. This has an evolutionary component in so much that noticing what was lacking, wrong or dangerous helped in survival by protecting against all kinds of threat to physical life. Most of these physical threats have been removed for many of us, however the underlying negativity bias mechanism continues to operate on a psychological/identity ego level. To me there is a lot of negativity bias going on in some places with regards to DJK’s talks. No one seems to be acknowledging that he is taking the time to talk, answer difficult questions and provide an ongoing platform for discussion and dialogue. Instead there is cherry picking, extracting a few lines of text from hours of talks or a whole book, looking for what fits an already negative narrative and caricaturing him as a villain. What’s more, some people seem to be responding to him as if he has committed the abuse himself because of his association with Rigpa. A positive aspect of Rigpa, that DJK points out and I agree with, is that it invites and hosts many different teachers, and I wonder where the Rigpa Sangha would be now if that was never the case? So, perhaps the human tendency towards negativity bias and the mindful application of recognising what is good and useful is worthy of some attention here.

Pure perception and trust.

Ironically, the controversial and as far as I can see often misunderstood practice of pure perception, goes against the deepest grain of negativity bias. However, it is a practice to be done only with someone we trust without doubt has our best interests at heart, a conclusion the student comes to due to their previous study, practice and analysis. As we know, the Lam Rim has a lot to say about how to recognise an authentic teacher, what qualities they should have and DJK dedicates time to this in his book, The Guru Drinks Bourbon, as well.

Silence and evaluating a teacher.

As for the question of how we can analyse a teacher if their student’s cannot speak about their methods, it presupposes that the methods a teacher uses with one student shall be the same as the methods they use with another, which as far as I understand may not be true due to the unique, fluid and dynamic nature of each individual Vajrayana student-teacher relationship, therefore, analysis made on that basis may well turn out to be unhelpful in any case. I would suggest it more beneficial to focus on getting to know the teacher’s qualities, (which isn’t a purely intellectual endeavour but one also of the heart that is helped through personal practice) however long that takes, and trusting what their motivation is, however long that takes, because then the methods will be understood within that context, whatever they may be. Moreover, as DJK explained, if you find a teacher that you cannot get close to, then perhaps they aren’t for you. And as has been mentioned again and again, a Vajrayana teacher-student relationship isn’t mandatory at all.

Recognising the difficulty.

I recognise the extreme difficulty here in attempting to call out injustice and abuse to protect future individuals as it is fraught with many outer, inner and no doubt secret (people’s blind spots to mention one) obstacles. It is not one I think I could manage as I would not know where to draw the line between exposing abuse and protecting people and their connection to the Dharma and exposing abuse and therefore turning people off the Dharma before a genuine connection can be made. Gun shots always make more noise than hugs, but that doesn’t mean there are more gunshots in the world than hugs, although it can seem that way if we simply believe our ears and people generally do. To those of you who are brave enough to walk this tightrope, I salute you! 👏
I do believe, or perhaps pray and hope, much like DJK also said, that bringing these issues to light and the subsequent interest and discussions that result, will in the end strengthen the authentic Dharma, help protect future people from being led astray or being prey to those who would use it for their own ends, as it takes root in the West at this relatively early stage.
May it bring benefit!
P.S. DJK can be a provocateur and confronting, and I think that is either a turn on or turn off for many. The good news is that no one has to listen to anything he has to say about anything. We must also know that we do not have to totally accept or totally reject what anyone says, Lamas or otherwise. Instead we can take what we personally find useful and leave what we don’t or are unsure about.

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.