The Buddhist_Project_Sunshine_Phase_2_Final_Report is out and is something that anyone concerned about abuse in Tibetan Buddhist communities should read as it relates not only to the Shambala community but to any Tibetan Buddhist community where abuse, such as we saw in Rigpa, is perpetrated by those in power, facilitated by the way certain teachings are interpreted, and covered up by the inner circle.
If you were abused, particularly if you had sexual relations with Sogyal Rinpoche/Lakar that you were uncomfortable with, this report is a ‘must read’.
The report is well considered, well written, and has contributions by professionals working in relevant fields as well as stories by students who were abused.
The Buddhist Project Sunshine is a grass roots independent healing initiative started by second-generation Shambhalian, Andrea Winn, in February 2017 for the Shambhala Buddhist community and people who were forced to leave this community. She wrote the Phase 1 Final Report at the end of the first year of the project, and this caused the Shambhala leadership to publicly acknowledge the widespread sexualized violence in the community.
This caused people to look more closely at the teacher many of us respected for his books. Most of us knew he was a womaniser and a drunk, but we didn’t know details of his behaviour until the stories of abuse started coming out.
Here’s one: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1881730772127723&id=100008724543238&hc_location=ufi
And here’s the story about him torturing a cat. https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1866927776941356&id=100008724543238&hc_location=ufi
By now, you’ve probably all read the story of the couple at the party being stripped and beaten. (https://boulderbuddhistscam.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/the-party.pdf and http://www.litkicks.com/MerwinNaropa.) It’s horrific behaviour from someone who has set himself up as a spiritual teacher, and like Sogyal Lakar/Rinpoche it’s the kind of harmful behaviour that, despite the attempts of those who consider these teachers enlightened, cannot be justified by religious philosophy. There is no justification for causing harm. None. Especially for a Buddhist who’s first vow is to do no harm.
If these teachers were enlightened, they would realise the results of their behaviour. The fact that their behaviour did cause harm, indicates that they are not enlightened. I’m not buying the ‘I’m a lesser being so how can I tell’ line. I have discernment, and the Buddha encouraged his disciples to use their intelligence, not follow in blind faith.
Sogyal Rinpoche and Dzongsar Kyentse and who knows who else in the Tibetan Buddhist religion look up to this guy!
Sogyal the disgrace
Sogyal Rinpoche is also mentioned in the report, along with a list of other Buddhist teachers who have also behaved in abusive ways:
“Sogyal Rinpoche has been among the ranks of the most famous Tibetan lamas in the world and his Rigpa community has been one of the largest Tibetan Buddhist communities in the world for many years. The first public revelations regarding Sogyal’s abusive behavior arose during the early 1990’s when Sogyal was sued by one of his female American students and settled out of court.
Over twenty years later, a group of eight of his senior students published an open letter decrying his “unethical and immoral,” “abusive and violent behavior,” “physical, emotional, and psychological abuse of students,” “sexual abuse of students,” and “lavish, gluttonous, and sybaritic lifestyle,” concluding that Sogyal’s “actions have tainted our appreciation for the practice.”nSogyal would be one of the first of several Tibetan lamas exposed for clergy sexual misconduct, including Lama Norlha, Thomas Rich, and others.
Although Rigpa attempted to do damage control, when an audience of thousands witnessed Sogyal punching a nun in the belly, a global public condemnation ensued. Sogyal and Rigpa became the paradigm case for abusive gurus and their circles of complicity and collusion, a model of disgraced dharma. The Dalai Lama himself has publicly denounced Sogyal as a disgrace, and vehemently criticized the conditions, beliefs, and behaviors which allow Sogyal-like behavior to fester and damage sentient beings.”
Why sharing stories is important
The report includes two anonymous survivor impact statements and a story submission that are people’s experiences. These are very powerful because they show exactly how the teachings are used to facilitate abuse, how the inner circle students facilitated it, and how the power difference plays out to negate any idea that there is consent involved.
The stories tell the same kind of tale as those told by women abused by Sogyal. The pattern is the same.
These impact statements are very powerful. They cut through any preconceived notions you may have about the abuse, because the person’s own words as they describe their actual experience. It takes us from the realm of hearing into the realm of experiencing as our empathy kicks in and we identify with the survivor. That, were circumstances different, could have been us.
And we need to hear more of them. Why? Because the pattern is virtually the same regardless of the guru, and the more such stories that we hear, the more we are unable to ignore the fact that these stories tell us the truth. And once we have accepted the truth, we can no longer sit by and allow it to continue. Our sanghas may be reticent to look at the beliefs that allowed this kind of thing to happen, but the voices of truth will remain and the power of their truth will eventually result in change.
Project Sunshine would never have happened had Andrea M. Winn, MEd, MCS not been prepared to break the silence, and the Rigpa sangha would still be in ignorance of the true nature of their lama had 8 people not spoken up. And there are many, many more with similar stories to tell. Stories that people must hear if something is to change at a fundamental level: the level of behaviour of those in power and the power structures that give them total control.
I encourage anyone who has been abused to contact me and share their story anonymously on this blog. Doing so will be a healing process for you and for others with similar stories who read it, a great service to the development of a Vajrayana Buddhism relevant to the modern day, one where such abuses can never happen again. When women know how they may be manipulated into a guru’s bed, they will be more likely to avoid it. Speaking up will save other women from the same trauma.
The #metoo movement showed the extent of sexual abuse in society in general, and only the same kind of unreserved breaking of the silence will show the extent in Tibetan Buddhism as well. And only once the full extent of it is known will the lamas be moved to do something about it from their end, so please, do speak up. Contact me now.
The report is dedicated to the women who have been abused by their guru. I know you have struggled alone, some of you for decades, and I hope you have found a way to come to terms with your experience. I also hope that our efforts in breaking the silence now will help you be able to finally finish with the repercussions of that phase of your life.
This report is dedicated with honour to the brave women who each found her own way to survive sexual abuse by her guru.
May each of these women find a true and lasting peace and benefit from the deep healing of the truth coming to light.”
An analysis of Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s essay on Sogyal Rinpoche & Rigpa
One of the appendices is an analysis of DZK’s essay on Sogyal and Rigpa and it is brilliant. Andrea Winn states, with great clarity, what most everyone I have spoken to about that essay have observed as regards to it. It’s another reason to read this report.
Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche’s pseudo-apology”
Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche’s ‘apology’ is included in this report, but, like Sogyal’s attempts at apology, it is another pseudo-apology. I read the whole thing and at the end, I said to myself, ” Where is the apology?”
He says: “I have recently learned that some of these women have shared experiences of feeling harmed as a result of these relationships. I am now making a public apology.”
That’s it. He says some women have felt harmed and that he is making an apology, but there is nothing that says, “I’m sorry I hurt you. I really regret my actions. I feel ashamed that I behaved like that, and I will refrain from behaving like that again.” Why do lamas find this so hard to do?
Have they ever actually engaged in the practice of vajrasattva? If they had, they would have internalised the importance for purifying negative karma of accepting responsibility for their negative actions, feeling regret that they caused harm (not just a feeling of harm) and vowing never to repeat the action.
Either they don’t practice or understand the teachings they give or they really don’t think they have accumulated any negative karma. If that’s the case, given all that we know now, their arrogance is incredible.
From page 266 of The Words of my Perfect Teacher.
Confessing without regret cannot purify them, for past misdeeds are like poison within; so confess them with shame, trepidation and great remorse. … Without resolve for the future there is no purification.
What kind of Buddhism do we want in the West?
The report also includes steps for the future on a personal and organisational level. It truly is a ray of sunshine in that respect. Some of us these days find it very hard to feel positive about the future of such organisations. I hope that Shambala has better results than Rigpa, but I can see from the report that similar dynamics are playing out. What they do have is the benefit of Project Sunshine. Well done, Andrea and the other contributors.
I found the section titled ‘Ahimsa: Envisioning A New Buddhism In The West’ by Dr. Elizabeth Monson inspiring. She basically asks what kind of Buddhism do we want in the West, and makes it clear that it is up to us to not settle for anything less. I include here an excerpts for your reflection:
It is important to bring our own misunderstandings and naivete, as well as the abusive behaviors perpetrated by teachers, into the light and out of the darkness of collusion and secrecy. This is not only to prompt teachers to take responsibility and stand accountable for their actions, but also to encourage all the practitioners who put their faith and love in a teacher who has triggered experiences of profound pain and suffering to participate in the processes of change that must take place. Whether we love and respect a teacher or not, we should recognize that anyone who serves as a Buddhist teacher and role model is responsible for upholding a standard of moral behavior and a vision of what true liberation, true compassion, and true wisdom really look like on a practical, daily level. Whether the teacher’s teachings are brilliant or not, his or her actions must be in accord with the view. As Padmasambhava taught back in the eighth century, “Though the view should be as vast as the sky, keep your conduct as fine as barley flour.” Ahimsa: Envisioning A New Buddhism In The West – Dr. Elizabeth Monson By Lopon Eli
We welcome Shambala students and other Buddhist students disenchanted with their teacher and their organisation to join our Dharma Friends Beyond the Temple Facebook Group. See description below.
What did you think of the report?
Private discussion on this and other related topics can be had on our Secret What Now 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.
People from other sanghas can join the Dharma Friends Beyond the Temple Facebook Group . It’s a support group for anyone who has left their Buddhist sangha after hearing revelations of abuse by their teacher or after experiencing such abuse. It’s for people who see ethical behaviour, love, compassion and introspection as the core of their spiritual path. The aim of the group is to support each other in our spiritual journey wherever it takes us. Click here and request to join.
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.