Time to Move On? Or not?

The idea of moving on as an indication of healing from a distressing situation can be applied to both individuals and to organisations. In this post I look first at how Rigpa is using the idea of Rigpa Moving Forward, and then at how a narrow view of the concept of moving on can be counterproductive to our personal healing.

Rigpa Moving Forward

Rigpa has a web page called Rigpa Moving Forward on which they list all the things they’ve done and plan to do following The Lewis Silken Independent Report on the allegations made in the July 2017 letter by the eight Rigpa students. Though it reads if all the right things are being done – and their transparancy is admirable – if they follow the pattern they’ve established so far in dealing with the abuse issues, the results are likely to fall short of their assurances, as they did with the Rigpa Code of Conduct, and what Rigpa are referring to as ‘apologies’.

What we see in their communications to the sangha is a desire to move on as soon as possible from a situation where the embarrasing issue of abuse in Rigpa is in the public spotlight. They want everyone to forget about it and get back to business, but isn’t it a bit premature to be pushing for moving on when the issues at the core of the problem haven’t been solved? Everything they have done, which they proudly list on the Moving Forward webpage, have been the equivilent of putting a Band Aid on a cancer.

Band Aid on a cancer

Why is it like a Band Aid on a cancer? Because their spiritual advisors apparently believe, as Sogyal did, that once a student has taken a lama as their tantric guru, they cannot criticise, must obey him or her without question, see their teacher as a living Buddha, and see his or her every action as the beneifical actions of a Buddha no matter what they do. These are the very same beliefs that created the Rigpa culture that enabled the abuse, and no matter what a code of conduct says and no matter how good they get at listening to their acolytes, while they still cling to these beliefs, nothing fundamental has changed. And just as cancer ignored will only fester, an organisation that makes only surface changes when the cause of the issue runs deep will never be truly healthy.

Ripe for reoccurance

It’s a situation ripe for reoccurance of abuse, even with a lama who has signed their code of conduct. How can that be? Because the code, though it sounds good on the surface, uses vague terminology open to different interpretations and does not catagorically rule out sexual relations between teachers and students other than during an actual teaching event. It does not rule out grooming a student during an event for a sexual relationship after the event nor does it define what kinds of actions constitute harm.

And the section of the Rigpa Shared Values & Guidelines document titled ‘Entering the Vajrayana Path’ says that when students make ‘a formal request for this level of spiritual guidance’ that constitutes ‘consent to this level of spiritual guidance.’ Given the beliefs mentioned above that are still in play about ‘this level of spiritual guidance’, that consent could mean consent to what some would call crazy wisdom and what others would call abuse.

Moving forward or putting on a good front?

The Moving Forward page is a handy resource for Rigpa management and instructors since they can point to it to assure anyone who raises the issue of Sogyal’s abuse that it’s all being taken care of. But is it?

The page says, ‘The teams managing Rigpa internationally and nationally, including the Vision Board, have been reflecting on the culture that enabled this situation to take place, and continue to do so. Workshops specifically addressing this topic will continue to take place in the coming months.’ This sounds wonderful –
as I pointed out above, getting to the root of the problem is exactly what they should be doing – however, sources inside Rigpa have told me that they have heard nothing about such workshops. But even if they do actually work out what beliefs enabled the abusive culture, will they be prepared to actually go against their advisors views and change them?

Given all this, isn’t the idea of Rigpa truly moving on from an abuse enabling culture at the vajryana level at the worst impossible and at the best premature?

When moving on is counterproductive

A popular idea is that healing from any distressing situation requires one to ‘move on’. Though some kind of alteration of one’s relationship to a distressing situation needs to occur for us to heal, the idea of the necessity of moving on as soon as possible can be misused. It can be a way of saying, ‘Shut up I don’t want to hear about it any more,’ or ‘the problem is solved, everything is now okay,’ even when it isn’t.

In the following video I talk about the importance of not moving on prematurely and not having a narrow view of what is meant by ‘moving on’. The ‘issue’ I refer to here is, of course, that of abuse in Tibetan Buddhism

Do you feel that you have ‘moved on’? In what way? And what does ‘moving on’ look like for you? Let’s talk about this in the comments.


If you’d like a more private place to chat about your ongoing spiritual path after you’ve left an abusive community, you can join the Beyond the Temple Facebook group. This group is for people who don’t want to talk about abuse, but want to keep in touch and share their discoveries, inspiration and challenges as they move on with their lives.

If you want to talk about abuse, then Rigpa or ex-Rigpa students can join the secret What Now? groupApply via the contact form here, telling us about yourself and why you want to join the group. 

Students from other Vajrayana communities who need somewhere where they can talk about abuse and find survivor support can join the Survivors of Vajrayana Abuse and their Allies group.  

Note that you will not be added to these groups if you don’t answer the questions.

The Facebook page and You Tube Channel associated with this blog are called Living in Peace and Clarity. Click the relevant link on the side bar to ‘Like’ and ‘Subscribe’.

Image by Stafford GREEN from Pixabay

Update on the Independent Investigation

What Now received the following update on the Lewis Silken independent investigation from someone who has been supporting the process of negotiation around the investigation. The writer is not one of the 8 letter writers and does not represent all those involved in negotiations, so the following should be taken only as one viewpoint.
Since the investigation commissioned by Rigpa from London law firm Lewis Silkin was announced, five months ago, not much has been said in public about its progress. The reason for this is that there has been a protracted period of negotiation back and forth via the Lead Investigator, Karen Baxter, between those who would like to participate and the Rigpa “Investigating Committee”. This committee consists of trustees Rich Snow and Liz Acosta in the US and Russell Blakely and Susan Burrows in the UK. Although in contact with the Rigpa leadership, to fulfil their obligations the Investigating Committee has to act with independence from them and their decisions in relation to the investigation are final.
The areas of negotiation have been around who participates and how, protection of confidentiality, protection from prosecution and the publication of the report.

WHO PARTICIPATES AND HOW

When Rigpa announced the investigation, they presented it as being centred around the eight letter writers and announced that these would be participating. However, there had been no discussion with these eight people about whether they wished to participate and, if so, on what terms. Furthermore, all of the issues raised in their letter had already been raised multiple times over past decades, so it seemed important that people with a historical perspective on these issues should also be included to give a more rounded and nuanced picture. Meanwhile there were other current and former students who wished to share their testimonies about experiencing or witnessing abuse or financial misconduct. So, it was agreed that the investigation could be broadened to include a greater diversity of contributors. It was also agreed that whilst the preference of Karen Baxter, the Lead Investigator, was to meet people face to face where possible, people could contribute in whatever way they felt comfortable with, including giving written submissions.

PROTECTION OF CONFIDENTIALITY

The kinds of information and stories that people wish to share are difficult and often traumatic. Victims feel a variety of emotions about discussing their experiences – including fear, shame and anxiety – and many would not wish to be identified as this would add to their trauma. For this reason, it was agreed that each person who participated could chose to what extent they were identifiable or anonymised in the final report. No information about the participants would be shared with Rigpa, unless permission was explicitly given. This means there is the possibility of sharing testimony to provide context, that would be useful in giving the Lead Investigator a clearer picture, with the proviso that none of it can be used directly in the final report, if that’s what people prefer.

PROTECTION FROM PROSECUTION

Another reason that people have felt inhibited about coming forward with their experiences is the concern that what they say may be used against them by Rigpa and they may be threatened with being sued for defamation, despite telling the truth – an intimidatingly costly process for most people to defend. The Investigating Committee offered guarantees that this will not happen. Immunity from prosecution by Rigpa was offered to the letter writers but, on request, the committee has extended that and has stated in recent days “We confirm that no legal action will be taken by or on behalf of Rigpa against any of the 8 letter writers or against any other victim of abuse who comes forward, as a result of their providing witness evidence to Karen [Baxter] as part of the investigation.”

PUBLICATION OF THE REPORT

The final, and initially insuperable, obstacle to many people’s participation in the investigation was that Rigpa would not agree to publish the full report once it was completed – and furthermore, neither the letter writers nor any other participants would be allowed to see it. They would only commit to publishing the “recommendations”. Understandably, many people felt this was totally inadequate and that after decades of failure to deal with these issues or even talk about them openly, this would constitute more of the same and sounded like a cover-up, so participation would be a pointless exercise in which victims were effectively being mistreated yet again. For this reason, many people who had initially offered to participate no longer wished to. Fortunately, there was a change of heart by the Investigating Committee and/or the Rigpa leadership and they recently released the following statement via Karen Baxter, the Lead Investigator at Lewis Silkin:
The investigating committee has asked me to highlight to you that its members wholeheartedly share your desire to ensure that your concerns are investigated and addressed thoroughly. The committee has absolutely no desire to facilitate a whitewash and its members are clear that that cannot be allowed to happen. There is a need to balance a desire for an open and transparent process against the highly personal, sensitive and confidential nature of the information that might be provided; where witnesses come forward on condition of anonymity or confidentiality, that needs to be respected.
As a result, the investigating committee has agreed to commit to making a copy of the final report available to each of you and to the public. This is on the understanding that I will be asked to ensure that any highly personal or confidential information is redacted, anonymised or otherwise dealt with in a way which respects these sensitivities in the final report. It has been agreed that the way that this is done will be left to my discretion and not determined by the investigating committee or Ripga.”
So, the report will not only be available to participants but also to anyone else who is interested. As a result, the people who had withdrawn their cooperation are now participating and the process of the investigation has begun in earnest. The Rigpa “Vision Board” have stated that they hope the report will be ready “by the summer”. This seems quite a tight deadline, given the work that needs to be done. Although it is understandable that all parties would like to see it as soon as possible, it is more important it is done as well as possible.
Inevitably, some people will still feel wary of being involved in the investigation, given things that have happened in the past. Ultimately it is a question of trust – on both sides. But beyond that, given what the Investigating Committee and the Rigpa leadership have committed themselves to, any attempt to renege on these promises would leave the individual members of the committee, the Rigpa leadership and even Lewis Silkin open to damaging legal action – so it is unlikely.

Why participate

The more people that come forward with compelling evidence and information, the more specific and thorough the final report can be. The investigators can only draw conclusions from the information they are given.
Hopefully this set of assurances will encourage others to come forward who may have felt reluctant until now. If you have experienced or witnessed anything that you feel would be relevant to the investigation, please contact Karen Baxter at Lewis Silkin, via this email: karen.baxter@lewissilkin.com
I have posted this article in good faith after being assured that the information is accurate, but it may not give a full picture of the situation because these assurances are probably not legally binding. I  advise anyone participating to only give evidence that is completely accurate, such that you would feel comfortable testifying to its truth in court. 
Details on other investigations of Rigpa that you may wish to participate in can be found on our Details of Investigations page.


Private discussion on this and other related topics can be had on our Secret Facebook Group. Is 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.
Ex-Rigpa students and their Rigpa 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.

Trust, Communication and an invitation from An Olive Branch

Ordinary people

It must be frustrating for those in Rigpa who organise the initiatives and write the communications to have everything they do viewed critically, and publically. Of course, if I and those I speak for had a voice inside Rigpa, I wouldn’t have to do it publically, but for the moment, this is the only voice many of us have.
It’s easy to forget that those doing all the work are ordinary people with jobs and families who are doing their Rigpa work for free in their spare time, so things move more slowly than people like me would like. I don’t doubt that they are doing their best, as we all are. I also suspect that most of the people engaged in this debate over unacceptable lama behaviour are working to protect the dharma. We just have different ideas of what that protection entails; for some it means sticking rigidly to every instruction ever passed down, even if it’s potentially damaging to student’s health, and for others it’s stepping outside of the provisional meaning of instructions on things like samaya and pure perception, examining the definitive meaning and, with that understanding, interpreting it for the modern world. Luckily His Holiness the Dalai Lama and other lamas have done that already, so no one has to make it up.

Working together?

Wouldn’t it be great if those working for the protection of the dharma and the future of the vajrayana in the West could work together rather than in opposition? Couldn’t we find a solution that is true to vajrayana and also healthy for students? Certainly it’s what I want. No one has to impose their views on others, we just have to be willing to find a solution that has a place for all views and is a healthy environment for everyone. Together we could re-brand Rigpa into an organisation with many options for how students interpret certain teachings rather than a one view, one lama organisation it is at present.

Change

Sogyal Rinpoche has often said that the cultural aspects of Tibetan Buddhism must be stripped away if it is to flourish in the West, but that it isn’t something that can be done quickly, so to assume that those running Rigpa are not aware of the necessity of real change is likely a misperception, but until we see action that indicates a willingness to change on a deep level – like having discussions with Mingyur Rinpoche and His Holiness the Dalai Lama or making a statement that individual lamas’ points of views, even those advising the Vision Board, do not reflect any ‘Rigpa policy’– we have no indication that any deep discussion on interpretations of samaya, pure perception, and so on are taking place or will take place in the future. From outside and from the point of view of an ordinary student all we see is what Rigpa does, not what they think or what they are discussing. If there was more communication misperceptions as to their motives and thinking would be avoided.
Negative perceptions may also be solidified, of course—that’s the risk of communication—but if one is speaking face to face or via video call, then people can clarify and discuss points of conflict in a way that, simply because they are being discussed, will garner greater understanding from all sides. Those who have managed to speak to people in management in Australia and the USA have discovered a greater openness than expected, but frustration continues when the openness is not reflected in action or initiatives fall short of expectations. Such falling short could be avoided if people like those in the What Now? Facebook group were consulted as part of the process. The criticism could then happen privately, and those involved, even if they don’t like the results, would at least understand the reasons for the outcome.

Why is such communication not happening?

Some time ago I suggested instituting a liaison person between the What Now? Group and Rigpa international management, but the suggestion was ignored, and yet, a greater understanding of the issues and discussions behind decisions would most likely result in less of a negative view. I would find it hard to be negative about someone who is actually bothering to talk to me, and, after all, we are all vajra brothers and sisters with a shared past and experience of the teachings.
I suspect that one of the reasons why that suggestion was not taken up, and why I was not allowed to go to the Australian Retreat, was fear that such communication or attendance would result in terrible things being said on the blog, a fear that comes from a lack of trust, which (if the lack of trust is unwarranted) comes from a lack of personal knowledge of the individual involved. If you don’t know a person, if you haven’t spoken to them personally, you don’t know if you can trust them to view your actions in an unbiased way or not. If you speak to them, the trust issue can be discussed and resolved. At the very least you can decide after such discussion whether they are trustworthy or not.
Lack of trust is at the core of the lack of communication and consultation, and reconciliation cannot happen without trust being established first.
The lack of trust, of course, goes both ways.
People who, for good reason, do not trust those running Rigpa view them very critically, and the only way for Rigpa management to change that is to talk to them, to hear what they say and take it into account.  And they must behave in a trustworthy way and understand just why they have lost people’s trust.
Acknowledgment of the harm done, an apology and a promise not to continue in the same way would do the trick!

Can we trust again?

Establishing trust is the challenge, because without trust communication either won’t begin or it will fail, and reconciliation cannot happen without communication based on trust.
Trust
Lack of trust of Rigpa management, of the people who, by their indifference, added to the trauma of abuse victims, is the core reason why every communication is dissected so critically here, and would explain to a large degree why some of the 8 may not participate in the investigation. I’ve personally seen some of Rigpa’s initiatives a lot more positively than it would appear from my blog posts, but I am the voice of those who have experienced abuse first hand, who have born the trauma of betrayal by their lama and of not being cared for by those running Rigpa. They have shared the reasons for their traumatisation, and they tell me how they feel about what they see and read. I hear their voice and speak for them because they have no voice inside Rigpa. Since I only write about what I know about and reflect the opinions of those who talk to me, if Rigpa wants more balanced articles here, they need to share their process with me.
As for trusting me, the primary writer and editor of this blog, I would never share anything divulged in a private conversation without permission.
Openness can only come after trust is established, and in this instance Rigpa is dealing with people whose trust in the lama and the organisation has been completely blown. How can they re-establish trust and institute real communication? An Olive Branch should help with that. And I see no reason why what happens in the USA would not become the model for a similar process in other countries.
Rigpa US employing An Olive Branch for healing and reconciliation is the best chance we have for restoring trust. They have a big job ahead of them, and I wish them well. But what is required to even get it started? Trust. Those harmed will need to find it within themselves to trust An Olive Branch enough to participate.
For some it will be quite a leap of faith to trust anything arranged by Rigpa, but I hope they will set aside any reservations they may have and be part of what, by the very fact that it is being run by An Olive Branch, I see as a genuine attempt at reconciliation.
Of course if you want Rigpa to disappear from the face of the earth, then you will have no interest in healing and reconciliation, in which case, the following is not for you.
Post by Tahlia Newland, editor & author

An Olive Branch Invitation to participate in reconciliation and healing

Here is the letter sent to the US sangha inviting past and present students to be involved. It’s restricted to the US because AOB is not an international organisation, but what happens in the US will have an effect elsewhere and will likely be used as a model for other national management teams to follow.
Please share this invitation with anyone in the US who has left Rigpa and is interested in participating in the healing and reconciliation lead by An Olive Branch.
January 15, 2018
Dear Current and Former Members of the Rigpa US Sangha:
We are writing this letter to introduce ourselves and announce that the Rigpa US Board of Directors has engaged the services of An Olive Branch to support the sangha’s reconciliation and healing in the wake of complaints that have been raised about ethical misconduct on the part of Sogyal Rinpoche. We also want you to know about the ways you can be involved in our work, if you so choose.
On December 19, 2017 a letter from us — similar to this one — was sent to the eight former and current Rigpa members who wrote to Sogyal Rinpoche in July 2017 to share their concerns about his harmful behavior. Portions of our December letter have been shared via social media so you may have already read about our work with your sangha. Our intent in this letter is to provide more detail and also to inform everyone equally.

About An Olive Branch

An Olive Branch was formed in 2011 as a project of the Zen Center of Pittsburgh. Growing out of the need for greater understanding and reduction of ethical misconduct on the part of religious leaders, we provide services to organizations in conflict after a beloved teacher has been accused of misconduct. We promote understanding and healing and work to strengthen organizations’ boards and policies to reduce the likelihood of future misconduct. We have expertise, knowledge of best practices, and standards of excellence for our services. Our consultants have complementary skills related to training, facilitation, governance, and intervention.
Questions about this project or about An Olive Branch may be directed to me, Katheryn Wiedman, Co- Director of An Olive Branch and Project Director for the Rigpa US effort: katheryn@an-olive-branch.org

Timeline

On October 18, 2017 Richard Snow, Treasurer of the Rigpa US Board of Directors, contacted An Olive Branch on behalf of the board. He inquired about our services and asked how we could help with the situation precipitated by the July 14, 2017 letter to Sogyal Rinpoche from eight former and current Rigpa members. The letter detailed four abusive behaviors: 1) “physical, emotional, and psychological abuse of students,” 2) “sexual abuse of students,” 3) “lavish, gluttonous, and sybaritic lifestyle,” and 4) undermining the letter writers’ “appreciation for the practice of the Dharma.”
In Ventura, CA on November 29, 2017 the Rigpa US Board of Directors met with Co-directors of An Olive Branch: Rev. Kyoki Roberts, Dr. Katheryn Wiedman, and Leslie Hospodar. The purpose of the meeting was two-fold: 1) for the Rigpa US board to describe the needs of the US sangha and to ask questions about our services and 2) for An Olive Branch to learn more about the situation within Rigpa and to determine the appropriate services to include in a proposal.
During December, we developed a proposal that includes six elements:
Collaborating with the Rigpa US board to communicate with the sangha regarding our work together
Making recommendations regarding the forthcoming Code of Conduct and Grievance Procedure
Providing a “Listening Post” for individuals who have been harmed
Leading a Community Reconciliation and Healing meeting
Strengthening the organizational structure and board governance

Managing the project.

The proposal was accepted by the Rigpa US board and our two organizations have been working together since December 17, 2017. The scope of this project is limited to current and former members of the Rigpa US sangha as well as the eight individuals who wrote of their concerns in July 2017; the project is designed to respond to the needs of this specific group. Other Rigpa sanghas are continuing to hold their own sangha processes, and look forward to learning from the work of An Olive Branch in the US through the investigation and reconciliation committee.
Three of the elements listed above are of importance to individual current and former members of the US sangha because they involve your participation and thus are the subject of the remainder of this letter:

  • Code of Conduct and Grievance Procedure
  • Listening Post
  • Community Reconciliation and Healing Meeting
  • Code of Conduct and Grievance Procedure

Since August, an international task group has been working to develop a code of conduct and grievance procedure. Rigpa members world-wide have been informed about the process and input has been solicited. The group working on these documents hopes to share a draft with the world-wide sangha in February, 2018.
An Olive Branch is reviewing and providing recommendations on Rigpa US’s draft ethics policy and grievance procedure. Our advice is based on best practices for organizational ethics policies that define acceptable/unacceptable behavior for teachers and students and specifies fair grievance procedures. In the US, boards have a fiduciary responsibility to develop and enforce policies that define clear boundaries that protect both teachers and students in the sangha.

Listening Post

An Olive Branch offers a Listening Post for individuals who have been harmed, providing a way for them to tell their story to a neutral third party and to be heard in a safe, compassionate, and confidential manner. The Listening Post is available to receive the experiences of any current or former Rigpa US sangha member, as well as the individuals who wrote the July 14, 2017 letter, who experienced harm as a result of the actions of Sogyal Rinpoche or other Rigpa teacher(s). The harm may have been direct – such as physical, emotional, sexual, psychological abuse – or indirect – such as guilt from witnessing abuse but not stopping or reporting it, or severe stress related to the situation. Any current or former Rigpa US sangha member who has been harmed may participate in the Listening Post along with letter writers who are not / were not members of Rigpa US.
It is important to us that people who have left the Rigpa US sangha receive the information in this letter so they may participate in the project if they want to. If you know of such individuals, will you please forward this letter to them?
The Listening Post has three objectives: first, and most important, is to provide some measure of relief to people who are hurting; second, is to help respondents formulate any requests they would like to make to Rigpa; and third is to expose the full extent of damage to the fabric of the sangha.
To accomplish the third objective, above, a summary of the information collected via the Listening Post will be reported to the Rigpa US board and later to the sangha during the Community Reconciliation and Healing meeting, described below.
Reporters of harm have the right to remain anonymous; both An Olive Branch and the Rigpa US board respect this right. Names and identifying details of the participants in the Listening Post will be carefully omitted from all reporting, unless requested by an individual reporter.
Current and former Rigpa US sangha members and letter writers who want to participate in the Listening Post should contact Dr. Barbara Gray via email: Barbara@an-olive-branch.org. You may request a private, confidential telephone interview or submit your personal experience via email message and make any requests you may have of the Rigpa US board.

Community Reconciliation and Healing

The Rigpa US board and An Olive Branch will collaborate on the design of a two-day, face-to-face Community Reconciliation and Healing meeting at a date and time to be determined. Members of the Rigpa US sangha and leaders of Rigpa sanghas in other nations will be invited. We currently envision the following components:
 
Led by An Olive Branch, there will be opportunities at the meeting for attendees to:
Hear the summarized information gathered in the Listening Post
Process the events (raise additional concerns, share residual feelings, etc.)
Learn about the new US sangha’s Ethics Policy and Grievance Procedure
Receive training on the misuse of power in spiritual relationships.
 
Led by Rigpa, there will be components such as:
Spiritually-based opening and closing ceremonies
Traditional ceremonies of reconciliation, forgiveness, and peace-making.
Underlying our proposal is the intent to help return the Rigpa US sangha to health and balance. We believe that through working together with open hearts and minds everyone can learn from this situation, strengthen the sangha, and restore peace and stability to the Rigpa community.
Katheryn D. Wiedman, Ph.D. Project Director
Co-director of An Olive Branch



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. 
Please consider sponsoring our editor for the many hours of work involved in keeping this blog running and the information up to date.
 
 

What Those Harmed by Sogyal Rinpoche Experienced & How to Help Them Heal

What those harmed actually experienced from their trusted teacher.

Let’s look at the attestations of abuse in the letter written by 8 people who experienced or witnessed apparently abusive behaviour at the hands of Sogyal Rinpoche. If you did not personally experience these things, imagine how you would feel if you had experienced them, and not just occasionally, but for those in his household, continuously for many years.

“You have punched and kicked us, pulled hair, torn ears, as well as hit us and others with various objects such as your back-scratcher, wooden hangers, phones, cups, and any other objects that happened to be close at hand. … Your physical abuse — which constitutes a crime under the laws of the lands where you have done these acts — have left monks, nuns, and lay students of yours with bloody injuries and permanent scars. This is not second hand information; we have experienced and witnessed your behavior for years. …

“Your shaming and threatening have led some of your closest students and attendants to emotional breakdowns. … it was done in such a way that was harmful to us rather than helpful, a method of control, a blatant means of subjugation and undue influence that removed our liberty. You have threatened us and others saying, if we do not follow you absolutely, we will die “spitting up blood like Ian Maxwell”. … You have told us that our loved ones are at risk of ill-health, or have died, because we displeased you in some way.” At public teachings, you have regularly criticized, manipulated and shamed us and those working to run your retreats. …

“Some of us have been subjected to sexual harassment in the form of being told to strip, to show you our genitals (both men and women), to give you oral sex, being groped, asked to give you photos of our genitals, to have sex in your bed with our partners, and to describe to you our sexual relations with our partners. You’ve ordered your students to photograph your attendants and girlfriends naked, and then forced other students to make photographic collages for you, which you have shown to others. You have offered one of your female attendants to another lama (who is well known in Rigpa) for sex. You have had for decades, and continue to have, sexual relationships with a number of your student attendants, some who are married. You have told us to lie on your behalf, to hide your sexual relationships from your other girlfriends. …

“With impatience, you have made demands for this entertainment and decadent sensory indulgences. When these are not made available at the snap of a finger, or exactly as you wished, we were insulted, humiliated, made to feel worthless, stupid and incompetent, and often hit or slapped. Your behavior did not cultivate our mindfulness or awareness, but rather it made us terrified of making a mistake.”

The kind of effect their experiences may have had on them

Remember that we are talking here about students who have been abused or seen abuse occur regularly, often for more than a decade, so in addition to the injuries they sustained at the time, the trauma created by being in an abusive situation runs deep. Their trust in their teacher is similar in a fashion to the trust a child has for a parent, and the sense of betrayal almost as deep.

“Some common emotional symptoms of trauma include denial, anger, sadness and emotional outbursts. Victim of trauma may redirect the overwhelming emotions they experience toward other sources, such as friends or family members.”

“Physical effects can be such things as: “paleness, lethargy, fatigue, poor concentration and a racing heartbeat. The victim may have anxiety or panic attacks and be unable to cope in certain circumstances.”

“Depression and trauma have high comorbidity rates, and feelings of despair, malaise and sadness can last longer than a few days or even weeks. When a trauma occurs, post-traumatic stress disorder often occurs.”

“The sooner the trauma is addressed, the better chance a victim has of recovering successfully and fully.” https://www.psychguides.com/guides/trauma-symptoms-causes-and-effects/

However, the only attempt at helping anyone who felt harmed not blessed by the behaviour outlined above was by a ‘Rigpa Therapist’ where, as the 8 declare, “our very tangible and clear discernment of seeing you as an abuser was blocked and instead we were blamed and made to feel inadequate.”

The cost

Their trauma has cost them not only pain and suffering but also their faith in their teacher and spiritual path as well as the considerable amounts of money they needed for therapy. Unsurprisingly, few remain Tibetan Buddhists, though some remain Buddhists in other forms, others have given up the spiritual path entirely.

For those of us traumatised simply by the knowledge of the harm our teacher caused in the name of crazy wisdom, consider how much worse it must be for those who were regularly beaten, belittled and generally treated like slaves, while they tried for years to work with the abuse in a positive way, and consider now all those who were treated the same way and yet still defend their teacher’s actions. Are they more deluded than the rest of the Western world, or are they more enlightened? Those who spoke out know how hard it is to escape the delusion. Those harmed but still in denial need our compassion as well, and so does the man who is still unwilling to take responsibility for his actions.

What can Rigpa students do to help those harmed?

Every student can put themselves in the shoes of the students harmed. They can imagine what it was like for them to experience such behaviour from someone they trusted to bring them benefit not to harm. Even if someone doesn’t believe that a punch from Sogyal Rinpoche consitutes harm, a punch still hurts, and they can imagine how it felt for those who could no longer see it as crazy wisdom. Students can open their hearts, actually feel the pain of their fellow students and then act appropriately to alleviate it.

Simply sitting and doing loving kindness or tonglen is not enough when your actions can help relieve someone’s suffering. And if you can’t do anything personally, you can still encourage those who can — your management teams — to step up and walk their talk. To take their bodhicitta vow seriously, to stop thinking about themselves and their own spiritual path and to consider actually helping those harmed by their teacher and organisation.

You can reach out to your friends that have left the community, apologise for not supporting them before and tell them how sorry you are that they experienced what they did. You can listen to their story of pain without judgement, without diminishing it, without trying to make them see it a different way, instead you can not only listen but also hear them, truly hear them and believe them.

And don’t be surprised if it’s too late and they don’t want to talk to you —they may feel that speaking to you will only re-open old wounds — even so, your reaching out will be appreciated so long as you do it out of true concern for them and with no agenda on your part.

The power of apology

“Though receiving an apology is not necessary for a victim to heal from trauma, it helps enormously, and quickens the process of healing. ‘Receiving an apology from their attacker that acknowledges responsibility and remorse for the assault can help to combat the effects of the trauma,’ said Dr. Suvercha Pasricha, lead psychiatrist at the women’s inpatient service at Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. …

“Pasricha also added that there are certain criteria an apology must fit in order to be beneficial. The perpetrator must accept responsibility for the incident, show remorse and validate the victim’s experience.

‘“For (the accused) to take ownership and responsibility for their actions is very powerful for the victim,’ she said.” http://www.victimjusticenetwork.ca/resource/736-sexual-assault-trauma-can-be-combatted-by-receiving-an-apology

Legal implications are often brought up as an excuse for not apologising. While concern in that direction is understandable, we are talking about a ‘spiritual’ organisation here, and regardless of what happens on a worldly level, according to the religion they supposedly practice, those who have caused harm (and to a lesser degree even those who have supported someone who has caused harm) have created negative karma that they will carry until it ripens unless they purify it through confession practice (which includes regret, apology/restitution and a commitment not to repeat the negative actions). Add the bodhisattva vow that all older students and, supposedly, all lamas take that commit them to undertaking activity for the benefit of others and one wonders how not giving an apology could possibly fit with that world view.

The problem is that Sogyal and his devoted students think that, despite clear evidence to the contrary, the behaviour outlined above does not constitute harm, and their clinging to that belief re-traumatises those already traumatised by facing this group denial of their suffering.

A lack of acceptance of responsibility, rather than helping Sogyal and Rigpa to avoid legal action may only bring them closer to such action since those who bring legal action do so because they need closure on traumatic events in order to help alleviate their suffering and help them move on with their lives. Closure comes from knowing that the perpetrator has accepted they’ve done wrong, is genuinely remorseful and willing to make some kind of restitution or compensation. If a perpetrator of a crime does not take responsibility for his or her crimes, the only way to make sure that person sees that what they have done is wrong is to take them to court.

Help alleviate the suffering of victims by accepting responsibility for your role in it, by apologising and giving some compensation, and people have no need of legal action. Our courts recognise the value of this as perpetrators that show no remorse and no understanding that what they have done is wrong get longer sentences than those who show remorse and apologise.

Wouldn’t a fund for reparation for the victims be a better use of the money of a spiritual organisation than spending it on a PR firm and lawyers?

But given the unlikelihood of Sogyal or Rigpa management of taking this kind of bold action, a private apology may avoid legal implications. Management could ask those who have been harmed to contact them, and Sogyal Rinpoche and someone from management could phone them individually and apologise.

Individual students who contributed to the trauma of those harmed could apologise to individuals on the telephone. You don’t need to wait for management, you can assist in the healing of those who are suffering, and you would assist in your own healing as well

If Rigpa management and Sogyal Rinpoche were truly practicing what they preach, they would do that.

But first they have to recognise that some of Sogyal Rinpoche’s actions have actually caused harm.

How hard is it to say sorry?

It can be done, even after all this time. In this video, I show how such an apology might sound.

 


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 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.
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Don’t forget about those who were harmed – Retraumatising

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

“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.

Retraumatisation

“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.


Please consider sponsoring our editor for the many hours of work involved in keeping this blog running and the information up to date.
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 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.