Climate Change: The Challenge of the Decade

I have lots of ideas for posts for this blog that take the idea of ‘beyond the temple’ broader than it has been, but it could take a while for me to get around to writing them. Those who are my friends or followers on social media will know that I’ve been consumed by the bush fire crisis facing my home state, NSW. I even had to evacuate one day. But today we have a little rain, so perhaps we’ll dodge the bullet this time. The nearest fire is about 20 kilometres away, but it hasn’t moved towards us for a week now, so the ever present anxiety has eased.

The expected rain isn’t enough to put out the fires, though, just slow them down, nor is it expected to be enough to fill the dams and break the drought. Ferns and trees are dying. Kangaroos are coming into the garden to get water and vast areas of Australia are burned and/or in severe drought. Wildlife is devastated. I read somewhere that scientists predicted that Australia would be one of the first countries to feel the effects of climate change, and here we are.

So discussions around Tibetan Buddhism all seem rather inconsequential and even indulgent in light of the fact that if we don’t act in the next decade to lower carbon emissions, we truly will be facing the extinction of life as we know it.

We are truly, all of us, facing the great impermanence.

Ah, back to Buddhism. Wait, no. That’s simply a statement of truth. Life is impermanent. That’s a fact, not a belief. But let’s not let be distracted …

Civilisation as we know it is dying. I can see it in the destroyed forests just south of me, and in the dead animals lying in the paddocks. We will not be able to feed ourselves if we don’t have sufficient water, and the fighting over water has already started here. It isn’t machetes or guns, it’s protests and angry voices, but it’s still a fight because it’s unjust, ordinary people’s rights are being ignored in favour of the rich.

We either change or die out along with all those other species going extinct through humankind’s negligence.

At times I’ve had to wear breathing apparatus to go outside. I felt as if I was living in an apocalyptic world.

Oh, wait. I am living in an apocalyptic world,

We can’t grow food without water. It’s that simple.

The Garnaut Review concluded that unmitigated climate change would be “bad beyond normal human experience”, both due to the extreme weather and the consequences that those extremes would have on the safety of our societies. Even with immediate action, the impacts on Australia will be far more severe than they are now. It is likely that, even if we do everything we can to cut emissions, the Great Barrier Reef will be dead, or close to dead, if temperature rises reach 2 degrees. Such a path may become inevitable by 2030.

“Without mitigation, the best estimate for the Murray-Darling Basin is that by mid-century it would lose half of its annual irrigated agricultural output,” says the Garnaut Review. “By the end of the century, it would no longer be a home to agriculture.” Since then, the temperature rises driven by rising emissions have been causing impacts that are tracking at the more dangerous end of scientists’ forecasts.

The challenge we face

The challenge of the decade is lowering carbon emissions and dealing with the environmental issues arising out of our lack of care of our earth since the industrial revolution. But there is a lot of resistance from the Australian government and in right wing sections of governments all over the world. In Australia, our politicians are virtually dictated to by the coal industry. The coal industry gives both major political parties huge amounts of money. Corruption is rife in water management, too, with the interests of big business being deemed more important than the right of ordinary folk to water to drink, wash in and farm their land.

It’s been a miserable start to the decade for me. Climate change has become very real. And the old ‘righteous anger’ has returned, but this time it’s not because of a corrupt guru and the system that supported him, it’s because of those morally bankrupt and corrupt politicians and big business who are actively destroying this planet. Now that we know what is coming, to do nothing or not enough is worse than negligent, it’s criminal.

If emissions aren’t cut drastically before the end of the decade, my daughter will face starvation at some point in her life. Her children, if she has any, will not be able to go outside for much of the year because the heat will be higher than a human can survive.

If you aren’t joining protests asking for greater climate action, it’s time you did. And yes, I’m telling you that you should do this because if you don’t, you’re being someone who sits by, saying nothing while evil proliferates. I doubt any of the readers here want to be that kind of person. Perhaps you are already out on the streets and gathering your friends to join you. If so, tell us what you’re doing.

“The bushfires have shown that doing nothing is itself a choice,” says Herd, “with radical implications as Australia is highly vulnerable to the frontline effects of climate change. As such, we are choosing to lock-in climate change and the damage it will bring rather than reduce the emission intensity of our economy. And the extent of this damage will worsen the longer we choose not to act and the more temperatures increase.”

What can we do?

We can live a life with the lowest carbon footprint we can manage. And we can educate ourselves with the facts on climate change and share what we learn. But don’t forget to check that you’re sharing from reputable sources and not sharing misleading information or outright lies – there’s a lot of that about, unfortunately. And we can join the protests, email our local MP and vote for politicians committed to saving the planet.

Some people find the sharing a bit much doom and gloom, but it’s only gloomy if we fail to act. We have a decade to save our future from the worst predictions. If we don’t recognise just how gloomy that future is if we don’t severely cut emissions ( to near zero ) by 2050, we likely won’t act in time.

It’s just like all the stories of abuse in Rigpa; we had to know just how bad it was. We had to know the truth. It’s the same here. We have to come down from our lofty spiritual mountains and see what’s happening in the real world. We can’t spiritually bypass this crisis!

Luckily there are stories of people doing good things.

And here’s another positive view about what we can do.

Waking up has never been more imperative

Waking people up is not just a spiritual imperative, it’s a survival imperative. The following video created by my husband Chris Newland who wrote the music is designed to help wake people up.

Please do your bit to wake people up by sharing this widely. It’s a powerful statement.

If you need any more convincing as to the nature of what we’re facing, take a look at this article with its wonderful graphic. It lays it out really well.

What are you doing to fight climate change?

Image by Fuzz from Pixabay

Karma, Impermanence and suffering in Action

“The world is afflicted by death and decay. But the wise do not grieve, having realized the nature of the world.” The Buddha (From the Sutta Nipata)

The story of what has been built up

For roughly forty years Sogyal Rinpoche built his community and worldwide network of Rigpa centres with the help of a band of devoted students which grew considerably after the success of his book The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. Over the years many students worked up to 7 days a week with no or little pay to build this network. Believing that he could do no wrong and that serving him without question was important for their spiritual development, those closest to him rushed to attend to his every whim, and accepted behaviour that an ordinary Westerner would see as abusive as a method of transformation that would speed up their spiritual development and even bring them to enlightenment in this lifetime. It was a successful formula for gaining students and keeping those who experienced hitting, public humiliation, and sexual coercion from seeing it as harmful. Instead of abuse, they called it a blessing. Add the Vajrayana instructions on not criticising your teacher – especially not in public – for fear of going to hell and Sogyal was set up to be able to do whatever he liked with impunity. And he did exactly what he liked, with, he assures us, the very best of intentions.
Sogyal Lakar/Rinpoche did a great deal to help establish the Tibetan Buddhist tradition in the West, and from the outside, apart from his lack of concern with being on time, his growling at students in public, questions about his fondness for young attractive women, and his fussiness over the placement of objects around him, he seemed to be a genuine teacher who brought benefit to a great number of people. Certainly, he introduced thousands to Buddhism through his book, and his teachings were conversational and so easily accessible by people who might not have sat through a formal teaching by a traditional Tibetan teacher. The majority of his students, including those now disenchanted with him, acknowledge the benefit they gained from their years as a student of Sogyal. He taught genuine Tibetan Buddhism, had the patronage of the Tibetan Buddhist community, and brought in other teachers to teach what he did not have the qualifications to teach himself. The list of achievements includes things like the Rigpa Shedra and the Rigpa Wiki. It’s no wonder Tibetan Buddhist teachers respected him.
But all this had a shadow side. Negative karma was also accumulating and karma cannot be escaped.

Why it is collapsing

Over the years many students who had worked at high levels in Rigpa for decades left and were never mentioned within the organisation again. Often they spent months or even years regaining their health after suffering either emotional or physical breakdowns or both. With the advent of the internet, some people did speak up publically about their experience of abuse at the hands of Sogyal, one even brought a court case, but the organisation always managed to weather the storm and carry on as usual. Students were told that those who spoke up publically were people with ‘an agenda’ an ‘ax to grind’, ‘unbalanced’ and so on. Anything that would dismiss their claims as having any truth. And yet there was truth there. Regardless of whether or not people thought anyone was being harmed, clearly some were being harmed. Their physical and emotional break downs attested to it.
Some of these students before they’d left had brought the abuses to the notice of those in management, but management did nothing to support those who felt abused or to stop it from happening again. Teaching the dharma builds good karma, but harming people builds negative karma, and you can’t outfox karma.

“Even an evildoer may see benefit
As long as the evil has yet to mature.
But when evil has matured,
The evildoer will meet with misfortune.”
“Don’t disregard evil, thinking,
“It won’t come back to me!”
With dripping drops of water
Even a water jug is filled.
Little by little,
A fool is filled with evil.”
The Buddha, v 119 & 121 Dhammapada. Gil Frondsal translation

6 months ago, 8 students who had worked closely with Sogyal realised that they and others had been the victims of abuse and decided it was time to let the community know exactly what was going on behind the scenes. They wrote a letter that detailed the kind of behaviour they experienced out of sight of the main student body and sent it to the community and associated lamas. This act began the decline of Sogyal Rinpoche and Rigpa as a respected teacher and organisation, and threw a spotlight on unhealthy interpretations of feudal-orientated teachings. Sogyal’s cancer had already been eating away at him for years, of course – a direct result of him not looking after his health properly.

The cause of suffering

The events that then unfolded are now being referred to by some as the Rigpa soap opera, due to the anger, hatred, infighting, denial, lies, fundamentalism, defensiveness, personal attacks, and, from some, an almost fanatical commitment to either singing Sogyal’s praises or bringing about the destruction of Sogyal and Rigpa.
And yet all of these human reactions come from attachment, aversion or denial of what is (ignorance), the three things that according to the Buddha’s teachings cause our suffering. The clinging is to fame, to livelihood, to being ‘right’, to known structures and so on, and to emotions and beliefs, even though events indicate that those beliefs may not be correct interpretations of reality. Much of this clinging is also denying the truth of impermanence, an aversion to those who are agents of change and to change itself. For some the aversion is simply to the person and institution that committed and supported the abuse, and a denial that they brought any benefit. For others ignorance/ignoring takes the form of denying, despite evidence to the contrary, that any harm has been done.
We are all in this soap opera together. And we all have our roles to play. I think it would help if more of us could step outside the play and so gain some freedom from it.


“What is born will die,
What has been gathered will be dispersed,
What has been accumulated will be exhausted,
What has been built up will collapse,
And what has been high will be brought low.”
Sogyal Rinpoche. Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.

Because impermanence is a fact of existence, trying to keep something the same, clinging to how things were or are now, or even to how you would like them to be, is a recipe for suffering – Sogyal himself made it quite clear in his book – and pretending to change is not the same as accepting real change and flowing with it. It’s not just a matter of instituting a code of conduct and setting up an investigation, it’s a matter of accepting that the truth has been exposed, that the West does not accept the behaviour as allowable, and that the beliefs that contributed to this gross misconduct by a teacher must give way to a deeper and healthier understanding of the teachings.
“The world is afflicted by death and decay. But the wise do not grieve, having realized the nature of the world.” The Buddha.
Post by Tahlia Newland

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.