What it's like to be in the line of Sogyal's fire: a personal testimony.

Later on in this post I share a video interview I did with ex-monk Sangye Nawang in which he tells us just what it was like to be in the firing line of Sogyal Rinpoche’s temper, but first some introduction to help explain why students entered into a close relationship with their guru.

The fire analogy

One of the teachings that I remember on a student’s relationship to a lama is the fire analogy. It goes something like this: If you’re too far from the lama you won’t feel the heat; it you’re too close, you’ll get burned. I presumed that the aim of this teaching was to make the the student aware that they needed to find a distance that was neither too close nor too far away from the lama, but it was also a warning that if you did dedicate yourself to working closely with a lama, you might  get burned, or maybe even will get burned.
Being burned, however, meant that your ego got burned, and that was seen as a good thing. Once again we see a word being used that means harm. If we’re burned, we’re harmed. The bit being harmed is supposed to be your ego (grasping at a false sense of self), but these ideas of burning, attacking, crushing, and destroying ego are problematic in a world where students may be lacking in a basic healthy self-esteem, and that problem is compounded one-hundred fold if the lama has narcissistic personality disorder. In these cases, as I’ve seen with Rigpa inner circle survivors, an aggressive approach is more likely to cause harm than benefit. Instead of having their ego dissolved, they tend to end up having physical and/or mental breakdowns, and their basic sense of self is crushed, so that they see themselves as worthless and useless, and so on. This is in fact strengthening ego, because now the student associates him or herself with negative attributes.

Why put yourself in the line of fire?

In Rigpa, the idea of being close to the fire meant that you had the guts to commit yourself fully to a relationship with a person that, though most of us didn’t know was abusive, we all knew was highly demanding, but the pay off for being close was a better shot at enlightenment, the opportunity to be fast tracked along the path. The route was dangerous, and it took guts to take it, but the potential benefit was huge – at least that’s what we were told. This romanticised ideal of a spiritual warrior willing to take the blows coupled with a genuine desire to help spread the dharma teachings in the West drew people close to the raging inferno of Sogyal Rinpoche/Lakar.
But being close to the fire meant that you put yourself directly in Sogyal’s firing line.
I doubt that those who entered the inner circle knew the degree of his ‘burn’ before they took up their roles – did they know they would be hit, asked for sexual favours and be always found lacking? – but we all knew that working closely with him would be highly challenging. That was the point. We believed it was a kind of ‘trial by fire’ that if survived would be a great purification, a furnace in which to burn away your obscurations, in reality, however, a large number of people simply got third degree burns.
I sometimes used to wonder how I would handle the intensity of that level of ‘Rigpa work’, and all I knew in that regard was that I never wanted to find out. When I was offered the role of National Director for Rigpa Australia a decade or so ago, I said, “No way, I don’t want to get that close to the fire.” I feel for those who did.

A personal testimony

In August 2017, I interviewed Sangye Nawang, and ex-Rigpa monk and a good friend of mine. We didn’t release the video at the time, feeling that the time wasn’t right. Now, however, we feel it is time for the world to see Sangye tell it as it was, and I challenge those who think this is somehow made up, or some plot or campaign to deny the truth that comes through this interview. This is just someone who has been burned telling us about the fire he fell into through no fault of his own.
May sharing his story, told openly and honestly, be of service to others.


What being in a narcistic relationship does to you

This next video is long, but it’s well worth watching if you want to get an idea of the true cost to those in Rigpa’s inner circle who were or still are close to Sogyal Rinpoche/Lakar.  If you were one of those people then you’ll find it immensely helpful to realise that other people experience this kind of thing in domestic and work relationships; it’s not something restricted to the guru/student relationship, and, in fact, it has no place in that environment at all. In this video you’ll hear just how crushing being in a narcissistic relationship is.
Please note that I am not making a diagnosis on Sogyal’s personality, just sharing the experience of people who were in a similar relationship because fits with the results I’ve heard from and seen in Rigpa inner-circle survivors. You’ll see the correlations with Sangye’s experience. As Dana mentions in the video, survivors of cults and abusive relationships will also find it very helpful to find language they can use to describe their experience. 
NB: CPTSD  is Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

In this video Dana of Narcissist Support says, “In a narcistic relationship it’s all smoke and mirrors. It’s all a lie.”
Which leaves me wondering: was the love I thought I experienced from Sogyal real or just my projection? Dana talks about how her narcissistic boyfriends fed off her need for love that came from a sense of lack of love in her life; how many of us saw in Sogyal what we wanted to see? Did our projections blind us to the red flags that screamed, “Fire. Fire. Danger. Do not enter!”?

Private discussion on this and other related topics can be had on our Secret Facebook Group. It 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.

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.
Those of you who are interested in ‘keeping Buddhism clean’ could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook 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 is defined by the American Psychological Association (APA) as the emotional response someone has to an extremely negative event. While trauma is a normal reaction to a horrible event, the effects can be so severe that they interfere with an individual’s ability to live a normal life. In a case such as this, help may be needed to treat the stress and dysfunction caused by the traumatic event and to restore the individual to a state of emotional well-being.”
… “It is also possible to sustain trauma after witnessing something from a distance.” https://www.psychguides.com/guides/trauma-symptoms-causes-and-effects/
So even those not actually abused themselves, can be traumatised by watching someone else be abused.
Domestic abuse is commonly listed as a cause for trauma and is the closest form of abuse in terms of the psychological dynamics and kinds of behaviours involved to the situation in Rigpa and other similar organisations. Where an abused person is not cared for, or listened to, by others in the family or spiritual organisation, their trauma is worsened, their suffering increased needlessly.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse in Australia were scathing in their report on the inadequacy of the Catholic Church’s response to allegations of abuse. They found a culture of secrecy and failures in the church’s structure and the reason for their inadequacy is the same as it is for Rigpa—”It is apparent that the avoidance of scandal, the maintenance of the reputation of the church and loyalty to priests alone determined the response.” http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-12-06/royal-commission-report-on-ballarat-archdiocese/9231832
The report stated: “That failure led to the suffering and often irreparable harm to children, their families and the wider community. …
“That harm could have been avoided if the Church had acted in the interests of children.”
Replace the word ‘children’, with ‘students’ and ‘the Church’ with ‘Rigpa’ and the sentiments fit embarrassingly well. The difference is that the Catholic Church has seen the error of its ways, unlike Rigpa who has not taken any responsibility for their role in harming these students.


“Retraumatization is a conscious or unconscious reminder of past trauma that results in a re-experiencing of the initial trauma event. It can be triggered by a situation, an attitude or expression, or by certain environments that replicate the dynamics (loss of power/control/safety) of the original trauma.” http://www.socialworker.com/feature-articles/practice/preventing-retraumatization-a-macro-social-work-approach-to-trauma-informed-practices-policies/
So Rigpa’s continuing use of the same modes of behaviour that contributed to the trauma in the first place have the potential to retraumatise those harmed: for example, management’s continual refusal to take any responsibility, their disregard for the well-being of those harmed, and their apparent pretence that nothing is wrong. The employment of lawyers to undertake the investigation can feel like an intimidation tactic, and all of this makes someone who has been harmed by these kinds of tactics, to feel retraumatised.

The impact of trauma on a community

“Trauma is something that has an impact on communities, not just individuals. A community – be it a geographic one, an organizational one, or an identity-based one – can respond in various ways, from ignoring the trauma to offering support, respect, and collaborative action. A community can be retraumatized too.    http://www.socialworker.com/feature-articles/practice/preventing-retraumatization-a-macro-social-work-approach-to-trauma-informed-practices-policies/
All Rigpa students who find the behaviour outlined in the letter abhorrent may be traumatised to some degree, and re-traumatisation can be “triggered by a situation, an attitude or expression, or by certain environments that replicate the dynamics.” Yes, Rigpa is doing an excellent job of re-traumatising everyone, including those who are responding to the trauma by denying the abuse ever happened.
Article by Tahlia Newland.
The second part of this examination, what those harmed actually experienced and how we can help them now, will be posted soon.

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. 

Crazy Wisdom or Mental Imbalance? A psychological perspective: Part 2

Part 2 of a post by a ex-student and Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist.
Note that this is not an attempt at a diagnosis and should not be read as such. We merely aim to present an alternative framework through which to view the situation.

Unresolved grief

After the death of his Master HH Dilgo Khyentse, and also before that, I had perceived SR to be struggling with unresolved grief and to have very real psychological problems. I had tried on a number of occasions to help him with this, but those close to SR thought I had no right to perceive SR in any way as an ordinary human being who might be need of psychological and emotional help. However, in my view we are all human and it is possible for any of us to be seriously fragmented and act from split aspects of ourselves, despite having  otherwise real and valuable spiritual gifts.
To elaborate further, unresolved grief can often bring out earlier splits in the psyche, (replaying traumatic losses experiences by the child self). It appeared to me that SR went through quite a ‘manic’ phase after HHDK’s death, which is often a feature of unresolved grief, known as a ‘manic defence’. Unresolved grief can also result in psychotic episodes. I also perceived SR to be suffering from grandiose delusions after this period of loss, which were to my mind psychotic, such as when he declared at the three month retreat in 1992 that he could fly.
I tried to talk with SR (as have many others on many occasions) and said that I felt he needed help. At one point he momentarily agreed and a divination was done affirming that the person I suggested he go and see would be helpful to him;  however I understand that he did not follow through on this.

Paranoid schizoid position

When people suffer from uneven psychological development, it is perfectly possible for them to be well developed in the ‘higher charkas’ while at the same time having rather wobbly foundations –  a lack of Bowlby’s ‘secure base’. The earlier that trauma occurs – especially if it happens in infancy – the more likely we are to be caught in what in psycho-analytic terms is named the ‘paranoid schizoid position’. This is the place where everything polarises, swinging between extremes of good and bad and feelings of persecutory anxiety. Integration is possible when we can bring these splits into a state of equilibrium resulting in a more grounded balanced position.
We could say at the moment that Rigpa as a whole is going through a kind of group psychosis and  is fundamentally split in this in the paranoid schizoid position,  leaving people feeling raw, anxious  and uncertain, because the ‘secure base’ has been taken away.
Splitting can occur in multiple ways. Naturally each of us is capable of acting from our various ‘child’ and other states of mind if we are ‘triggered’ by some traumatic memory. This can happen even when we are relatively mature grownups. Unfortunately the splits and fractures which to my mind seem apparent within SR, and may even involve fragments from past incarnations are explained away by Rigpa and SR as being ‘The eight manifestations of Guru Rinpoche’.  Indeed there may be aspects of this which contain a grain of truth, which makes it all the more confusing.

Dissociative identity disorder

Looked at another way, when the different aspects or our being are not properly integrated into a unified whole, we could also perceive this to be a form of DID (dissociative identity disorder), or some other dissociative diagnosis, where a person can ‘switch’ from one state to another and behave completely differently, depending, on which aspect of the personality they are inhabiting. Unfortunately, if the different self-states are disconnected from one another, and the compassionate part is not connected up when the wrathful side manifests, a student at Rigpa who has an abusive childhood will experience the inconsistency of SR as matching the inner dynamics of their own abusive upbringing. This significantly adds to the student’s trauma, rather than as SR claims, healing it.
To my mind SR exhibits the features of someone with multiple splits in his psyche which are not at all integrated or under control. An added difficulty is the danger of him having considerable power – including spiritual power. Also when close students have either directly or indirectly been in or been affected by sexual relationships with their spiritual teacher, an extremely incestuous environment is created which is compounded by any underlying psychological disturbances.
There is a bitter irony here in that the practice of Vajrakilaya is supposed to cut through such delusions and confusions of ego, and yet we can see SR as a man with considerable spiritual and communicative gifts who is caught up in his own Rudra – the delusions of his own fragmented ego.
I offer these thoughts with the intention and wish for benefit to come from the ‘clearing out’ that is happening at Rigpa – may we find a way of integrating all of this experience into a deeper understanding  – and ‘May confusion dawn as Wisdom’.
The writer of this piece wishes to remain anonymous.
A further perspective.

A note from the editor. An examination of the dynamics of abuse in relationship to the beliefs of the students around S will be undertaken at a later point.

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. 

Crazy Wisdom or Mental Imbalance? A psychological perspective: Part 1

Today in this post by an ex-student and Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist, we examine what might, in psychological terms, be the basis of the extreme behaviour of SR as attested to in the letter written by the 8 students.
 Note that this is not an attempt at a diagnosis and should not be read as such. We merely aim to present an alternative framework through which to view the situation.

Understanding attachment theory (a strand from within psychoanalytic theory) is I feel helpful in understanding some of the dynamics between Sogyal Rinpoche and his students.

Attachment theory

Attachment theory shows us that people re-enact their childhood attachment patterns, whether these patterns are ‘insecure, anxious, avoidant or disorganised and chaotic’ ( the four basic attachment patterns).  Attachment trauma presents in a variety of ways: fear of intimacy and attachment; fear of separation and inability to hold onto healthy power and autonomy;  difficulties having and maintaining stable relationships, and co-dependent relationships. Generally speaking, the chronic insecurities faced by those with unhappy attachment histories results in lack of confidence, an impoverished capacity to love, a lack of a healthy self-esteem, and, most particularly, emotional  dysregulation.  Freud’s notion of ‘repetition compulsion’ is painfully evident as we see  re-enactments of traumatic relational patterns repeat and repeat. Underpinning all of this is a lack of what John Bowlby termed a ‘secure base’, which  has major implications for our capacity  to evolve  and hinders our capacity to grow up and Individuate  (Jung).
Learning how to regulate our emotions relies on the existence of a consistent loving care-giver, so inability to regulate one’s emotions generally comes directly from early childhood trauma. All this points back to the fact that, assuming that he does lack this ability, Sogyal Rinpoche may not have had healthy attachments to his parents or caregivers. If he had, he would not have created such apparently unhealthy dynamics with his students.
It is my view that we can understand the constellation of SR’s ‘psychology’, i.e., the apparently disturbed nature of his ego, a number of different ways.

Childhood abandonment

‘Dependent Personality Disorder’ – this originates from various forms of attachment traumas and / or abandonment in childhood. Being taken away from his mother as he was at 6 months old would not have helped Sogyal Rinpoche. It is the mother who helps the child learn to regulate their emotions in infancy, and an early abandonment such as this may be one of the reasons why SR’s emotions appear to be completely ‘all over the place’, compounded by the abandonment when  Jamyang Khyentse Chokid Lodro died when SR was around 10.  In many ways SR suffered from the extremes of being both neglected and, at the same time, perhaps being made to feel overly ‘special’ – something which he also appears to enact with his students. Apparently, his unchecked temper tantrums are legion, like a child who regularly ‘loses’ it. Such incapacity to regulate emotions is a significant factor in abusive behaviours – sex addiction, addiction to violence, food and so on are all ways of ‘acting out’ that which cannot be contained and processed internally. Perhaps if SR had been required to undergo more retreats and been more of a practitioner, he might have been able to learn how to regulate his emotions through the practice, but his early childhood experiences would mean that he started out with some significant vulnerabilities.

Tulku upbringing

The upbringing of tulkus is part of the picture and a matter for concern since most Tulkus do not grow up in normal ways. In “Dragon Thunder” a book by Dianna Mukpo, Trungpa’s son Taggie was described as being  agitated, out-of-control, hyperactive and couldn’t talk. However he was given no help or psychological treatment. Changling Rinpoche at Sechen monastery, spoke of the difficulties in educating Tulkus. He said they often had quite ‘wild’ natures, and when they ran wild, they were difficult to control, like ‘herding cats’. Jamyang Khyentse Choki Lodro was said to be highly sensitive and superstitious, and Sogyal Rinpoche, who was close to him, would have grown up in an environment where he may well have witnessed JKCL’s own disturbances. (He was known to hit people, and in various biographies, Dilgo Khyenste and others describes his psychological vulnerabilities and pre-occupations.)
Given the complexity of Rinpoche’s own traumatic history and culture, he may find it hard to see and acknowledge any damage and harm he may have done in the name of Vajrayana.  His psychological structure may be so wounded, and he may be so defended, that he believes his own ‘story’. If that is the case, to let that go would have overwhelming implication on a range of levels, and in particular, his psychological structures and defences.

Addiction and attachment

Attachment theory also shows how abuse creates habits of addiction. People prefer to remain stuck in negative attachments to known, familiar, and therefore seemingly ‘safe’ relationships (‘attachment to the bad object’ – Fairbairn) while struggling with internalised self-attacking voices of shame and lack of self-esteem. In such circumstances, self-hatred is often prevalent, and to soothe the anxiety-ridden emotions, self-soothing and comfort is sought through  addictive behaviours – such as sex, alcohol, eating disorders and binge TV watching   – or whatever other addictive behaviours.
A difficulty with entrenched attachment patterns is the strong resistance to change and difficulties in letting go. This is especially true in treating addiction.
People with traumatic backgrounds, such as that experienced by SR, often find it difficult to control their addictive tendencies and dependency behaviours. Their adaptive child within need constant stimulation to keep at bay their overwhelming experiences of pain and anxiety (some of which may not be fully conscious). In this case, he may unconsciously justify and believe that his shocking behaviour is in the service of helping people develop pure perception. This in no way excuses the pain that he has possibly inflicted on others, but it might help in our understanding of why this might come about. Simply speaking, it is possible that SR is acting out his own pain, pain which he has never learned to process in a healthy way.

Complex trauma

In addition to the genuine aspects of SR’s gifts (he has shared with many students his ability to transmit the experience of the nature of mind), I feel that his psychological aspects are very much disintegrated. We could say, in light of the recent allegations, that he displays an alarming number of conditions diagnosed within psychiatry, which in contemporary psychotherapy would be subsumed under the more compassionate ‘label’ of ‘complex trauma’.
Many have mentioned that SR appears to have what in the mental health world might be termed a ‘narcissistic personality disorder’ (determined by an excessive concern with power and a desire to be in complete control, to defend against helplessness). He could also be perceived to have ‘psychopathic’ tendencies since he appears to have no real capacity to reflect on the traumas he inflicts on others, nor to genuinely feel compunction for what he is done. He could also be seen to fit the ‘old’ label which used to be termed ‘borderline personality disorder’ which ranges from emotional dysregulation and constant triggering, to being on the borders/ edges of psychosis. Chogyam Trungpa spoke of realisation as being like licking honey off the edge of a razor blade – i.e.,  this is the ‘border’ where we can go ‘either way’ into wisdom or madness.
Part two of this exploration will be posted tomorrow.
Again, please note that this is not a diagnosis, just a sharing of a modern psychological perspective.

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