Project Sunshine's Final Report and the Importance of Sharing Your Story

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.

Chogyam Trungpa

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.

Is a Master Needed in Order to Recognise the Nature of Mind?

Today’s post has two videos in it, one by me, Tahlia, and the other by Sangye, but we’re both talking about the same topic. We are examining whether or not a master is needed in order to recognise the nature of mind. The videos compliment each other, and I hope you will watch both and that they will encourage you to examine the question for yourselves. The literature on recovering from a cult says that it is important for cult survivors to examine the beliefs they held, and so this is what we’re doing.
We are not trying to teach anything or convince anyone of anything, or even suggest that we have some definitive answer to the question, these vlogs are simply how we see the situation from our present viewpoint.
As Sangye says in the description of his video:
“A personal investigation, applying critical intelligence to the topic. Looking at the broader truth in and around all the constituent elements and implications of this belief that “The master is needed to recognize the nature of mind”. Beliefs are risky formations that often masquerade as knowledge and proven truths. Investigation can benefit one to improve, confirm or disprove part or the whole of the belief.”
In this video (it’s about 19 mins) I try to use logic to evaluate the belief that you need a master to introduce you to the nature of your mind, and I make a clear distinction between experiencing the nature of mind and being introduced to it.
Warning: possible Dzogchen blasphemy. Don’t watch if you’re inflexible in your beliefs.
 
 

Sangye goes into the topic in more depth and makes some points I didn’t, for example that once you have recognised the nature of mind, you don’t need to be close to a master anymore. You just need to work on stabilising what you’ve recognised.
In Rigpa we became dependent on the ‘master’ continuing to go to retreats in the constant hope of ‘getting it’, even if we’d already got it. We became like junkies hooked on having the kind of spiritual experience we experienced with Sogyal which actually may have been nothing more than a trance state.
Sangye raises doubt as to the real nature of the introductions we were given. Staring without a focus as we were taught as part of our meditation instructions in Rigpa creates an experience recognised by psychologists as the Ganzfield effect, something that induces altered states and even hallucinations. Sogyal also asked us to stare into this eyes when introducing us to the nature of mind, and Giovanni Caputo from the University of Urbino did an experiment in which he discovered that staring into someone’s eyes for ten minutes induces an altered state of consciousness. None of the people in that study were masters, and yet “The participants in the eye-staring group said they’d had a compelling experience unlike anything they’d felt before,” Christian Jarrett wrote for the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest at the time.
Sangye’s examination is broader than mine and compliments it nicely. It’s about 40 mins long.
 
 

What are your thoughts on this? Can you step outside of the Tibetan Buddhist belief system and examine it from a different perspective?


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.

Recovering from an Abusive Group

Whether or not the French Legal system determines that Rigpa is a cult, if you personally accept that you were in a cult, you can then apply the wealth of support material for cult victims to your own situation, and that can be very helpful for moving on with your life in your post-Rigpa experience. Whether you can bring ourself to use that word or not, however, you likely cannot deny that, according to the experiences described in the July letter from 8 long term students and other publically available testimonies made by ex-Rigpa members, abuse did occur in Rigpa, and therefore Rigpa could be called an ‘abusive group’.
Though many of us did not experience or see physical or sexual abuse ourselves, most of us who went to a retreat with Sogyal Rinpoche would likely have seen some form of emotional abuse. What we were indoctrinated to see as ‘kindness’ or ‘personal teachings’ ticks all the boxes for meeting the definition of emotional abuse. And how many of those who worked on retreats, particularly in national teams experienced or saw some form of abuse? Unless they remain stuck in denial,  everyone who has seen or experienced any form of abuse in an abusive group will need to go through a process of recovery.
So I’ve gathered some free resources to assist with this:
If you’re not sure if you were in an abusive group or not, try these checklists:
SPIRITUALLY_ABUSIVE_SYSTEMS
Emotional_Abuse_Checklist 
 Group_Psych_Abuse_Scale
And the following two books can help with recovery, no matter what level of abuse you saw or experienced.
Ford, Wendy_ Recovery from Abusive Groups
Herman_Trauma-and-Recovery 
The following is an excerpt from Wendy Ford’s book Recovery from Abusive Groups. Just noting at what point in these phases of recovery you are presently in will be of assistance to you.
 

Phases in Recovery

The recovery process can span any length of time and, basically, breaks out into three main phases. These three phases are:
1. Awareness and Exit
2. Understanding and Feeling
3. Rebuilding and Dreaming

Phase One – Awareness and Exit

This first phase varies in length, and is often dependent on the method of exiting. This phase is marked by the experiences that alert members to the danger of the group and result in the member’s exiting permanently. The key to an effective exit is to “jump start” the critical thinking process of the mind. This process has been on hold for much too long because the group has told the followers that to question and doubt the group is to betray God (or whatever) [in this instance we would be betraying the lama and would show our lack pure perception and devotion and prove ourselves to be a samaya breaker].
The price for questioning and doubting, they are told, is eternal death [or breaking samaya and going to hell in this instance]. This is a very powerful fear to overcome. Awareness of the insidious nature of the cult and the decision to leave comes slowly for some and quickly for others. For example, someone forcibly deprogrammed becomes aware and leaves the cult very quickly as compared to someone who walks out after reflecting over several months or years on “devilinspired” doubts. Even after leaving, some ex-cultists are not sure if they made the right decision and “float” in between their old cult identity and their new liberated identity or pre-cult self. (See Floating, p. 36.) The more information and support cultists receives during this phase, the better equipped they are to handle the pain and loss of Phase Two.

Phase Two – Understanding and Feeling

The second phase is full of ups and downs, of feeling as if you just returned from Mars, of exciting new freedoms and discoveries, and it is also full of rage and pain. It involves coming to terms with being raped, emotionally and spiritually. And for many, it involves coming to terms with being physically raped as well.
I don’t know how to convey the extremes of pain possible in this phase. Perhaps it is how you would feel standing by helplessly as some crazy person slowly murdered someone you loved. It seems so incredible to many that because they wanted to serve God and their country, [in this instance to become enlightened] wanted to help people, and wanted to make the world a better place-for this idealism (or selflessness) they were cruelly used. This is a very difficult aspect of the experience to reconcile.
“What ever did I do to be treated like this?” is a question that rings deep in the heart of any ex-cultist. The answer to this question resides in understanding how mind control techniques work. It is no wonder, then, that the rage and anger the ex-cultist feels is often overwhelming and frightening. So much so, that many tend to repress or deny the full expression of their emotions. But understanding and feeling one’s emotions in a nondestructive way, I believe, is critical to recovery.
This second phase can be an extraordinary journey through pain and loss to learning and mastery. It varies in length and is dependent on how able the excultist is to experience loss and how disciplined the ex-cultist is to study, think, and work toward a thorough understanding of the experience.

Learning to Trust Again

One of the truly tough parts about working through the experience is the very fact that it’s a very big job. The ex-cultist must learn how to trust life again, and learning to trust requires learning how to test reality. Because the cult phobias and teachings often touched on many aspects of life, such as family, government, education, religion, relationships, and economics, the ex-cultist often finds it necessary to examine and reality test most, if not all, of the teachings received in the cult for subtle, residual ideas that continue to manipulate the ex-cultist. In addition, it is in this phase that individuals must learn again how to trust themselves and their ability to make decisions. Learning to trust after you have been used and hurt can be very scary, but trust in yourself and in others can be rebuilt with disciplined thinking and courage. For those who come from dysfunctional backgrounds, recovering from the cult experience often means acknowledging and recovering from the effects of earlier patterns (Black, 1982), such as:
• Abusive parents, relatives, siblings, spouse
• Behaving abusively toward others
• Alcoholism, rape, incest, eating disorders, drug abuse
• Difficulties with intimacy, careers, law enforcement
If ex-cultists are willing to “roll up their sleeves” and “dig their heels in,” and to work through and out of the past, then they can move onto Phase Three, that of rebuilding one’s life and building toward a dream.

Phase Three – Rebuilding and Dreaming

To someone in the middle of the pain of Phase Two, the idea of having a dream again and building toward it is merely a sad, frustrating, and painful laugh. Having spent many years in Phase Two, I understand that despondent feeling very well. It is possible to rebuild your life. You will not be able to make up for all the years the cult has stolen from you, but you can make up for some of those lost years. I’ve worked very hard to recover from an overprotective and domineering family, seven years in a cult, a rape while in the cult, two forced deprogrammings each with conservatorships, a lawsuit for trying to help someone out of a cult, too many job changes, and too many unfulfilling relationships after the cult. If you are willing to stick with it, to work at it, to work through and let go of myths that look like truths, not only in the cult but also in society, and if you are willing to acquire new skills and improve others, you can build a healthy and well-functioning life with a dream you can work toward.
Do you recognise these phases? Where do you think are you in this process?


 
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. 
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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.


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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. 

Hollywood & Rigpa: a Comparison. Final part – Outcome

So what will be the outcome of the public revelations of abuse by Harvey Weinstein and Sogyal Rinpoche? In the non-Buddhist community, legal action is the obvious next step. It’s the way people get the perpetrator to take responsibility for their crimes, and it can be avoided, or sentences lessened, by making a heart-felt apology. Buddhists in general tend to not be focused on legal action; for them an apology would have much more power. Weinstein has, at least, apologised, but Sogyal hasn’t apologised, and, in that, his lawyers may have made a fatal mistake in misjudging just how important an apology is to some of the injured parties.
Certainly the 8 letter writers were not seeking legal action. They merely wanted to inform students of the truth. They said:” If we are wrong in what we write, please correct our mistaken view. If your striking and punching us and others, and having sex with your students and married women, and funding your sybaritic lifestyle with students’ donations, is actually the ethical and compassionate behavior of a Buddhist teacher, please explain to us how it is. If, however, we are correct in our assessment, please stop your behaviors that we believe to be harmful to others. … Our heartfelt wish is that you seek guidance from the Dalai Lama, other reputable lamas of good heart, or anyone who can help to bring you back onto the true path of the Dharma.”
Their request has not been met.

Legal action

Scotland Yard has said it is investigating allegations made last month by seven women against Weinstein, some dating back to the 1980s.
Greenfield, a partner at the law firm Fieldfisher who specialises in personal injury cases, told the Guardian: ‘We have a sent a letter of claim to Harvey Weinstein’s London and New York offices. I am waiting to hear from them but I have indicated that [if it is not settled] we will be pursuing a civil claim in relation to sexual assaults by Harvey Weinstein.’
The LAPD requested victims of the Oscar-winning producer to go public.
‘“Please come forward so your cases — and justice — can be pursued,” said Mike Feueron. “We take allegations like these very seriously, and where the facts support conviction, we will prosecute,” he added.
‘As more and more claims of harassment or assault by Weinstein emerge, the New York Police Department and the London Metropolitan Police are already investigating potential complaints. The LAPD has not officially started its own probe, but, as Deadline reported last week, it is seriously considering doing so.’
New York criminal defense attorney Stuart Slotnick says. “The final area is whether the company has any liability, and I think it’s clear based on recent information that there will be lawsuits not only against Weinstein but against his company as well.”
In terms of Sogyal Rinpoche and Rigpa, the lack of apology, slow pace of Rigpa management to begin the independent investigation they promised, and the rigid adherence to dogma by some lamas and, apparently, the majority of those who remain in the organisation have pushed some ex-Rigpa students to make complaints to the UK Charities Commission and the French Police. (Note that the 8 letter writers did not initiate these investigations, just as they did not release the original letter to newspapers or on social media. Other people are responsible for these events.)
The extreme statements made by Orgyen Tobyal in Paris, such as it being acceptable for a great master to kill someone, have made it clear to some that nothing less than legal action will make such lamas realise that, no matter what they believe,  they simply cannot disregard the law.
The Charities Commission (who will take statements from all over the world) and the French police are therefore encouraging people to come forward to help them with their investigations. A specialist lawyer is working on the case with ADFI of Montpellier. (This is primarily for French nationals but will also include anyone who has experienced abuse on French territory)

Wake up call

In the interview with the Daily Beast, ‘Clooney expressed hope that publicising the allegations against Weinstein would serve as a wake-up call to the industry. “Hopefully, this kind of behaviour will end – or become harder and harder for it to continue,” he said. “We’ve seen this type of behaviour in politics, in Silicon Valley, and in corporate America. This is a big problem in our society, that people in power are taking advantage of people not in power – particularly powerful men with young women.”’
Exactly the same statement applies to Tibetan Buddhism, (Rigpa is only one example of a wider issue). And the issue in Tibetan Buddhism, though it is a necessary first step, will not be solved by the Band Aid solution of the installation of a code of conduct. The deeper issues of feudalism, misogyny and cultural arrogance need to be examined and addressed.
As Laura Bates said in The Telegraph, ‘Harvey Weinstein is not a “beast” or a “monster”. He is a man who has behaved like many other powerful men. The only difference is that Weinstein’s alleged offences have finally, after decades of shameful silence, emerged into the public eye. But thousands of men like him continue to operate with impunity.’
Again this applies to Sogyal Rinpoche. He is not a monster. He is a product of his upbringing and at the mercy of his delusions as we all are, but how many other Tibetan lamas ‘like him continue to operate with impunity’?  If students of Tibetan Buddhism don’t stand up and say, ‘This has got to stop. Now,’ how will it ever change? Clearly the lamas will not deal with the issue unless we insist.
 

Push for social equity

What we need right now is for Rigpa sangha members, past and present, to join together and decry the use of derogatory terms like ‘samaya breaker’ and to push for fair treatment of victims and a deep examination of the reasons why the abuse flourished. Because what’s been created in Rigpa is an environment where it isn’t safe to come forward with a history of abuse, and this is no different from how it is in any other large organization with money and power that has status to lose. But the Weinstein company has responded by firing Weinstein, and board members have resigned, and the company is taking steps to begin to reach out to employees to address their concerns.

Rigpa has an opportunity to be a positive force for change here but they have not stepped up to accept that challenge, instead they have hunkered down behind the same beliefs that enabled the abuse.

Rigpa students, please go to your local sangha meetings and ask questions. Don’t be afraid to speak up. Rigpa and all its representatives need to be held accountable.  After all, we were supposed to be a spiritual group and better than samsaric organizations, but the response from Rigpa to claims of abuse has been halting and half-hearted at best, and purposely victim-blaming at worst.
We, who devoted years and all our work and much of our disposable income, deserve better than this.

It’s not too late to turn it around, to drop the denial and face facts, but it gets harder with each passing day.


Current and previous students of Rigpa wanting personal and 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 can stay in touch through the Dharma Companions Facebook Group.  The group files include lists of online courses with reputable teachers, and members can join monthly Skype meetings and retreats. If you’re interested, click the link and ask to join. You will need to answer some questions before being admitted to the group.
Be sure to check out the What Now? Reference Material page for 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’ in general could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page. Links to posts on this blog will be posted there as well as links to other relevant information related to the wider issues.
And if you would like to make sure that this blog keeps running, please consider sponsoring our editor for the many hours of work involved.

Hollywood & Rigpa Comparison, pt 4 – Time to Stand Together

The alleged abuses by Sogyal Rinpoche and Harvey Weinstein have been going on for decades, sometimes in situations where others were aware of the behaviour, so why did it take so long for people with complaints to be taken seriously? Where they not aware, or were they complicit by their silence?

Just rumours

Again some of the statements made by celebrities about Weinstein echo the feelings of many Rigpa students about Sogyal:
Kate Winslet acknowledged that there had been whisperings over the years: ‘I had hoped that these kind of stories were just made-up rumours, maybe we have all been naive.’
George Clooney said, “The rumours in general started back in the 90s, and they were that certain actresses had slept with Harvey to get a role. “It seemed like a way to smear the actresses and demean them by saying that they didn’t get the jobs based on their talent, so I took those rumours with a grain of salt.”
In the past when other accusations came to light, Rigpa management held special sessions for instructors to tell them what to say to anyone asking about the accusations. In these sessions we were told that the women making the claims were unstable or simply a girlfriend who felt jilted, and senior instructors running the session assured us that they believed that Sogyal had never harmed anyone.

Normalising the abuse

Many students (if not most) who have experienced being hit or publically humiliated do not consider it an abuse but an act of love.  Earlier this year Sogyal Rinpoche gut punched a nun in front of around 1000 people, but despite her obvious distress at the time, a year later in a private letter she explained how she didn’t see it as abuse at all.
Rigpa students are taught from their very first retreat with Sogyal to see his public humiliation of students as a form of kindness and the actions of an enlightened being or ‘crazy wisdom’ master. They are told to suspend their critical mind and drop their concepts of good and bad. The result is a normalising of abuse as happens in the case of abusive families. It’s also one mark of a cult. Even with Sogyal resigned from his position, if students are still being taught in that way there is still a problem.
The equivalent in the Weinstein case would be his employees accepting that abuse by Weinstein was perfectly normal and acceptable, and those effected not being aware that they had, in fact, been abused.
The normalising of the boss’s behaviour appears to apply in both cases. In an article titled ‘The Cult of Harvey’, The Guardian reports that ‘Webster admitted that Weinstein’s predatory behaviour towards young women was common knowledge but that the culture of Miramax led them to “compartmentalise it”.’
Statements in the article make it clear that, according to these employees, Weinstein’s behaviour was not only damaging to women. Paul Webster, who was head of production at Miramax between 1995 and 1997, said, “Everything Harvey did was all about manipulation and fear. He was a massive bully. He would flatter people, get the best out of them and then dump on them really, really hard to destroy them. It was this whole thing of breaking people down so you could build them up in your own image.”
And from the letter from the 8 students:
“Your emotional and psychological abuse has been perhaps more damaging than the physical scars you have left on us. When we have worked for you while organizing and setting up the infrastructure for you to teach at different places around the world (Europe, North America, Australia, and India and Nepal), your shaming and threatening have led some of your closest students and attendants to emotional breakdowns. You have always told us to be appreciative of the personal attention that you give, that you were “pointing out our hidden faults” in our character, and freeing us from “our self-cherishing ego.” We no longer believe this to be so. 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.”
These similarities remind us that the case of Sogyal Rinpoche is not an isolated one, and not exclusive to any organisation.  However, when it occurs in a ‘spiritual’ organisation, it is even more shocking and reprehensible.

Silence suggests support.

In one article, The Guardian says that they ‘contacted more than 20 male actors and directors who have worked with the movie mogul over the years. … All declined to comment or did not respond to inquiries about the accusations.’
Very few Tibetan lamas have said anything on the matter.
‘Migdia Chinea, a film-maker and screenwriter, said it was “outrageous” that so few men had been willing to speak up.
Many feel the same about the lack of comment by Tibetan Lamas.
‘Rose McGowan, one of the most prominent Weinstein accusers, has called for the entire board of men in Weinstein’s company to resign and tweeted that men have remained silent because “they are weak and scared”.’
An article on the What Now? blog also called for the resignation of Rigpa’s upper management and the accusation of them being weak and scared could equally be applied to them. Though five members of the Weinstein Company’s board have resigned, no one has resigned from Rigpa’s upper management.
Laura Finley, a Barry University professor and author of Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault in Popular Culture, said it can make a huge difference when men publicly support women who have come forward.
It also makes a huge difference when other women come forward, and when members of a community as a whole support those who speak out. This has happened a lot more in the Hollywood community than in the Tibetan Buddhist community where the silence of so many Tibetan lamas is seen by many to make them supporters of the abuse.
Many Rigpa students are also remaining silent, but isn’t it time, given the overwhelming indication about how the majority of the Western world feels about abuse that they, and those men contacted by The Guardian stand by those who have spoken out, and support them for their courageous stand. It appears that those who stand up in support have more courage and moral fibre than those who remain silent.

Further cases make the mood clear

Allegations of sexual abuse has destroyed the reputation of actor Kevin Spacey, and The Minister of Defence in the UK and comedian Louis CK confessed that allegations made against him were true. Complaints are stacking up in the Illinois Capital, and the Gate Theatre in Ireland made a statement in the wake of claims of abuse and misuse of power. The reactions to these are the same as they were for Harvey Weinstein, making it quite clear where the Western world stands on this issue.
The success of the #Me Too campaign also highlighted the extent of the problem,  the desire for change and the power of people standing together.
In a discussion on News Hour Lynne Bernabei said, ‘I think that’s why this talk of banding together, the #MeToo campaign, all the campaigns to bring women together to sort of create that change or break through this sort of veil of silence on this issue, is going to be the most important thing we can gain from this series of scandals.’
Not only does the success of this campaign make it clear that sexual abuse is rife in our society but also that it’s clear that the time has come to act decisively to stop it and other forms of abuse.  Buddhist organisations are not exempt from this movement in our society, and if they do not reframe the beliefs that allow these abuses to flourish, they will be discredited. The very institutions they think they are saving by holding onto antiquated ideas will die because they are holding on. Change has always occurred when Buddhism enters a new country, and the West is demanding that the abuse cease. Considering that ethics is the very basis of the Buddha’s teachings, it is hard for people to understand why this should be an issue. It’s time to stand together and stand up against abuse in all its forms.


Current and previous students of Rigpa wanting personal and private support in regards to the abuse issue can be found in the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite using the email address you use on Facebook
If you would like to stay in contact with and support ex-Rigpa students, we have created the Dharma Companions Facebook Group.  The group files include lists of online courses with reputable teachers, and members can join monthly Skype meetings and retreats. If you’re interested, click the link and ask to join. You will need to answer some questions before being admitted to the group.
Be sure to check out the What Now? Reference Material page for 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’ in general could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page. Links to posts on this blog will be posted there as well as links to other relevant information related to the wider issues.
And if you would like to make sure that this blog keeps running, please consider sponsoring our editor for the many hours of work involved.

Hollywood & Rigpa: a comparison. Part 3 – Reactions

The news of Weinstein’s abusive behaviour set off a landslide of comments by celebrities against sexual abuse and in support of those who spoke out .
“It’s with a feeling of nausea,” Colin Firth said, “that I read what was going on while I was benefiting from Harvey Weinstein’s support. He was a powerful and frightening man to stand up to. It must have been terrifying for these women to step up and call him out. And horrifying to be subjected to that kind of harassment. I applaud their courage.”
 
The Guardian Reported that:
‘Pulcini, a writer and director, emailed a statement to the Guardian after publication of this story, saying: “I have such admiration for the women who have spoken up. What bravery. There should be zero tolerance EVERYWHERE for this kind of horrifying behavior.”
 
‘DiCaprio published a short statement late Tuesday night that did not name Weinstein but said: “There is no excuse for sexual harassment or sexual assault – no matter who you are and no matter what profession.
 
‘Affleck also released a statement Tuesday, saying: “I am saddened and angry that a man who I worked with used his position of power to intimidate, sexually harass and manipulate many women over decades.”’
 
These reactions reflect the responses of the broader community to the Wenstein scandal, and they also reflect the reactions of a large number of Buddhist students both in and outside of Rigpa to news of Sogyal Rinpoche’s allegedly abusive behaviour.
 
In an article in The Lion’s Roar Mingyur Rinpoche, a respected Tibetan Buddhist teacher, said:
“We must distinguish teachers who are eccentric or provocative—but ultimately compassionate and skillful—from those who are actually harming students and causing trauma. These are two very different things, and it is important that we do not lump them together. There are plenty of teachers who push and provoke students to help them learn about their minds, but that is not abuse. Physical, sexual, and psychological abuse are not teaching tools.
… It should go without saying that when schools, businesses, and other public institutions are expected to adhere to a code of conduct and the laws of the land, then spiritual organizations should be role models of ethical behavior. And teachers even more so.”
 
On the 1st of August in Leh, Ladakh, India, His Holiness the Dalai Lama said, ‘Now, recently Sogyal Rinpoche; my very good friend, but he’s disgraced.’  
And in Frankfurt on 14th September 2017, he said that lamas that do wrong should be arrested. He also said that such behaviour is not in accord with Buddhism:
‘The ethical principles of how to behave as teachers are clearly stated in the Buddhist texts. And these cases of abuse, which are reported, are clearly diametrically opposed to these principles.’
The Buddhist Union in France revoked Rigpa’s membership, and many Western teachers spoke out, most notably Mattheiu Rickard who said, ‘The behavior described in this letter and in the other past testimonies is obviously unacceptable—from the point of view of ordinary morality and especially from that of Buddhist ethics. This is all the more so given the considerable suffering that has resulted from such actions.’

Differences in Reactions

You’ll notice how very polite these statements from Buddhist teachers are and how they do not actually criticise Sogyal Rinpoche or his behaviour. Instead they speak in general terms. This is because in Tibetan Buddhist Culture it is not considered right to criticise other teachers. In light of that, these statements by His Holiness and Mingyur Rinpoche are very brave. Most Tibetan teachers have remained silent on the issue.
Many Buddhist students, however, in private or on social media were less polite in their responses, and were the letter to get into the NYT it’s likely that the reaction would be the same from the general population. It’s only within the Buddhist community that reactions are muted and even supportive.
Despite Weinstein sending an email to ask for support, no one spoke up publically in support of him, and yet many still support Sogyal Rinpoche and even feel he has done no wrong. Those voices are loud in certain Facebook groups. The most notable support for Sogyal Rinpoche and his behaviour are the statements made by fundamentalist lamas who cling to unnecessarily rigid ideas in stark contrast to His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s position on the beliefs involved.

Supportive comments

Dzongsar Khyentse addressed the situation specifically, and though he raised questions about Sogyal’s qualifications as a teacher and lacks in adequately training his students, he basically said that the students should not have criticised their teacher or spoken up about the alleged abuses.
This is in direct opposition to what His Holiness the Dalai Lama said:
‘Buddhist teachers who abuse sex, power, money, alcohol, or drugs, and who, when faced with legitimate complaints from their own students, do not correct their behavior, should be criticized openly and by name. This may embarrass them and cause them to regret and stop their abusive behavior. Exposing the negative allows space for the positive side to increase. When publicizing such misconduct, it should be made clear that such teachers have disregarded the Buddha’s advice. However, when making public the ethical misconduct of a Buddhist teacher, it is only fair to mention their good qualities as well.’
Dzongsar Khyentse also said: ‘However you describe Sogyal Rinpoche’s style of teaching, the key point here is that if his students had received a Vajrayana initiation, if at the time they received it they were fully aware that it was a Vajrayana initiation, and if Sogyal Rinpoche had made sure that all the necessary prerequisites has been adhered to and fulfilled, then from the Vajrayana point of view, there is nothing wrong with Sogyal Rinpoche’s subsequent actions.’
All the students who spoke out had received the ultimate empowerment of the nature of mind, so according to this view, they should have seen nothing wrong with being hit, humiliated and sexually harassed. And if they did see it as wrong then they shouldn’t have spoken out about it. Furthermore, he is saying that according to his religion there is nothing wrong with a teacher abusing students so long as he has given them an empowerment.
Imagine the furor if someone said the following about Weinstein:
However you describe Weinstein’s style of management, the key point here is that if his employees had received a contract, if at the time they received it they were fully aware that it was a contract, and if Weinstein had made sure that all the necessary prerequisites has been adhered to and fulfilled, then from the contract’s point of view, there is nothing wrong with Weinstein’s subsequent actions.
 

No place for victim blaming

When teaching in Lerab Ling, Namdrol Rinpoche, another Tibetan Buddhist teacher, said about the student’s speaking up, not about the teacher’s behaviour: ‘From a spiritual point of view it [speaking up] goes against every aspect of Dharma. And from a worldly point of view it is so disrespectful and unnecessary and also instilling doubt and wrong view in the minds of so many disciples unnecessarily, to the point where they may even turn their minds away from the Dharma for good.’
Here he says that the ‘problem’ lies with the students who spoke up, not with the unethical behaviour itself. It’s akin to blaming the child abused by a Catholic priest of breaking the sanctity of the confession box, while ignoring the crime committed by the priest.
Try substituting the word ‘it’ for the word ‘abuse’ and the above statement makes a lot more sense.
Unsurprisingly, the words of Namdrol Rinpoche infuriated some, confused others and reassured those who want to hold onto the idea that their teacher is enlightened and the apparently abusive behaviour is only the complainant’s perception, not reality. For many it was the final thing that turned them away from the religion. And yet, Namdrol Rinpoche blames the students who spoke up for turning their minds away from the dharma, not the teacher who abused his students and the lama who defended him.
This is in stark contrast to the enormous support those who spoke up about Weinstein received in the general community. Imagine the backlash that would occur if someone publically stated that it was wrong for those women to have spoken up? No one would suggest that those who came forward in the recent investigation into abuse in the Catholic Church should not have done so. They were applauded for their courage, and many Buddhists also applauded the 8 letter writers for their courage. The idea that people should not tell others that they have been abused is untenable in today’s Western society.
Orgyen Tobgyal is another teacher who takes the same stance. He told one of the 8 letter writers that he had broken samaya (his spiritual ‘contract’ with his teacher) and would go to hell for speaking out. In a subsequent statement, he essentially blamed the students who spoke up for Sogyal’s ill health, and in a teaching at the Rigpa Paris centre, he said that he saw ‘no problem’ with Sogyal’s behaviour, that ‘beating increases wisdom’ and that if a great master kills someone it is not problem.
Is anyone saying that Weinstein’s alleged behaviour is not a problem? No. They are not. Clearly it is a problem, and so is the allegedly abusive behaviour of Sogyal.
An article in the Seattle Times made it quite clear that in the modern world there is no place for victim blaming, and this is true no matter which way you phrase it. Blaming the girl who is raped for her rape is something we relegate to third world countries with medieval beliefs and to our own past in less enlightened times. These ‘fundamentalist’ teachers are showing that their ideas on the matter of abuse by a spiritual teacher do not belong in the West. Luckily there are other lamas with more enlightened views, thus the problem is not with the religion itself, but with how it is interpreted.
The mainstream Western world would not tolerate support for such behaviour in Weinstein’s case, and they would not tolerate support for it in Sogyal Rinpoche’s case either – if they knew. Though they published an article on allegations of abuse by Sogyal Rinpoche back in 2011, The Guardian, whose articles I have sourced here, has so far not published anything on the recent scandal. An article has appeared in The Telegraph, however, but the story is yet to make it to the New York Times. If it does will the Western world make allowances for Sogyal Rinpoche because he is a religious figure? No. They are more likely to be more horrified than they were over Weinstein, not less.
There are two more parts to this examination, so stay tuned …


Current and previous students of Rigpa wanting personal and private support in regards to the abuse issue can be found in the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite using the email address you use on Facebook
If you would like to stay in contact with and support ex-Rigpa students, we have created the Dharma Companions Facebook Group.  The group files include lists of online courses with reputable teachers, and members can join monthly Skype meetings and retreats. If you’re interested, click the link and ask to join. You will need to answer some questions before being admitted to the group.
Be sure to check out the What Now? Reference Material page for 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’ in general could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page. Links to posts on this blog will be posted there as well as links to other relevant information related to the wider issues.
And if you would like to make sure that this blog keeps running, please consider sponsoring our editor for the many hours of work involved.

Hollywood and Rigpa: a study in responses. Part 1 – Management

This is part one of a three part series on the present social context for the issue of abuse in the Western world.
Early in October Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein made big news after a New York Times investigation uncovered allegations of sexual abuse of women going back decades. What followed was a series of events, revelations, confessions and statements of support for victims and for ending the silence around abuse. All this shows just how important freedom from abuse in all its forms is to the Western world, and why, for the future of Tibetan Buddhism in the West, Rigpa must look deeply at the core issues and make healthy decisions on their interpretation of the teachings that allowed this to happen. Without this deep examination and change of interpretation of the teachings that enabled the abuse, instituting a code of conduct and thinking that deals with the issue is like applying a Band-Aid solution to a cancer.
Anyone who is disgusted that news of SR’s behaviour has gone public should consider just how more public it could be. Sogyal Rinpoche’s disgrace has not made the New York Times. But if it does, what will those who commented on the Weinstein case think about how SR and Rigpa have handled the fall out of their own scandal?  The comparison between Sogyal Rinpoche and Rigpa and the Weinstein case and how his company dealt with it is telling and to some of us even embarrassing.

Apology

As soon as the news broke, in a statement to the Times on October the 5th, Harvey apologised, saying, “I appreciate the way I have behaved in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologise for it. Though I’m trying to do better, I know I have a long way to go.”  He went onto say that he was working with a therapist and planned to take a leave of absence.
Sogyal, however, took six days to respond and did not apologise. In fact his words were more a defence than an apology, dwelling on the good he has done and his lack of harmful intent.
“I have spent my whole life trying my best to serve the Buddhadharma, to bring these teachings to the West, and not a day goes by when I am not thinking about the welfare of my students, holding them in my heart, and feeling concern and responsibility for their spiritual path. It’s clear now, though, that a number of people do feel very disappointed and hurt, and are looking for answers and changes. Please know that I take this very seriously and I will not ignore it. I am clear in my own mind that I have never, ever, acted towards anyone with a motive of selfish gain or harmful intent. This is unthinkable for me.”
Not only does he not realise that his behaviour has caused pain (only that a number of people feel disappointed and hurt) but also he virtually denied causing harm by saying that he has “never, ever, acted towards anyone with a motive of selfish gain or harmful intent.” Having no harmful intent is not the same as taking responsibility for the fact that people have found his actions harmful and apologising for those actions.
That lack of apology has poisoned Sogyal and Rigpa’s attempts to manage the situation effectively. Denial does not form a basis for healing. Attempts at healing while denying harm is like stitching up a wound without treating the infection beneath the surface.
Sogyal also said he would take time off, in retreat, but instead of talking to a therapist he said, “I am seeking advice from masters who have a genuine care and concern for Rigpa.” Considering S’s possible mental health issues and the medieval opinions expressed by some of these lamas, a therapist would probably have been a healthier choice.

A history of cover ups

When confronted with allegations “stretching over three decades” the NYT says, “Weinstein has reached settlements with at least eight women.” Likewise, “in November 1994, a $10 million civil lawsuit was filed against Sogyal Rinpoche and Rigpa by an anonymous plaintiff, who was given the name “Janice Doe” to protect her identity.  The complaint alleged infliction of emotional distress, breach of fiduciary duty, and assault and battery. Sogyal Rinpoche avoided service of the charges by not publicly entering the U. S. and thus was never deposed.  The lawsuit was settled out of court through mediation.” [ref. http://howdidithappen.org/history-abuse-allegations-rigpa/]
In this instance, Rigpa and Sogyal has behaved in a very worldly way, paying off complainants to keep them quiet.

Code of silence

“Dozens of Mr Weinstein’s current and former employees from assistants to top executives, said they knew of inappropriate conduct while they worked for him. Only a handful said they ever confronted him. Weinstein enforced a code of silence. Employees of Weinstein Company have contracts saying that they will not criticise it or leadership in a way that would harm their ‘business reputation’ or any employees ‘personal reputation.’” [ref. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/05/us/harvey-weinstein-harassment-allegations.html]
In the same way, according to the attestations many in Rigpa management have been aware of the emotional, physical and sexual abuse for years. But in Rigpa’s case, anyone who raised concerns were disregarded and when further information came to light with Mimi’s story in 2011, management hired a PR firm, stated that they ‘believed’ that Sogyal Rinpoche had not harmed anyone, and while attempting to discredit and belittle those who spoke out, actively encouraged students not to look at online sources.
Rigpa also has a code of silence. It’s a literal interpretation of 8th Century teachings on samaya that say that one should not criticise one’s teacher for fear of going to hell. And yet HH Dalai Lama made it quite clear in Dharamsala in 1993 that in situations of abuse, students should speak out to avoid continuing harm to students and damage to the integrity of the Buddhadharma. S and R’s adherence to this fear-mongering interpretation of the teachings on samaya acts like a gag, keeping students quiet and compliant. In Rigpa’s case, being a belief system students are expected to adhere to rather than a contract, it meets one of the criteria for cult-behaviour – complete obedience is demanded and dissent and criticism are not permitted.

Resignations

The actions of the Weinstein board members compares to those of Rigpa’s upper level students and “holders” of the group.
On the 6th of October, just a day after the news broke one third of the Weinstein Company board resigned, and the four who remained announced that they had employed an outside law firm to investigate the allegations and that Weinstein would take a leave of absence. Two days later, they fired him. Weinstein’s advisor also resigned. On October the 15th a fifth board member resigned.
In comparison, those at the top of the Rigpa International management hierarchy remain the same as it has been for the decades.
On the 11th of August, nearly a month after the letter attesting to abuse came out, SR resigned.
The glaring issue is that those at the top of Rigpa Management, those who knew of the abuse and covered it up for years, have still not resigned, instead, they are steering Rigpa through this minefield of public opinion using the same tactics as previously: make some token gestures, ignore criticism, carry on as usual, build up the good, and wait out the storm.

Investigation

Just one day after the information of abuse emerged, four members of the Weinstein Board hired a law firm for an investigation and gave a public statement: “We have retained an independent and leading lawyer and firm, John Kiernan of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, to undertake a thorough and independent investigation and report to the full Board on the results of that investigation.”
It took the Rigpa management one month to announce that they would undertake an independent investigation, and four months later, they have yet to announce who will be doing their investigation. Rigpa is taking months to do what the Weinstein Company did in days.  This gives them time to ‘cover their tracks’ should they feel they need to.

Code of Conduct

Rigpa management announced that they would institute a code of conduct. The Film Academy announced the same thing, not the Weinstein company itself. However the Film Academy’s initiative came from their recognition of the culture in the film industry that supports sexual abuse, whereas the Rigpa workshops on cultural change are not looking any further than how students feel, not what they believe, which is at the root of the enabling culture.

How does Rigpa compare?

There are similarities in the cover up of decades of abuse, the announcement of an investigation,  the resignation of the leaders, and in the culture that fostered the abuse, notably a culture enforcing silence and offering rewards for ‘close contact’, and I’ll go deeper into this in the next part of this series. The difference in situation is that S has also been accused of emotional and physical abuse as well as sexual, which makes it a more widespread issue in the community, involving men as well as women and the more subtle areas of emotional abuse. Rigpa’s business, of course, is spiritual rather than worldly, but that leads to expectations that management would behave more ethically and more definitively than a company making movies, not less as seems to be the case. The differences in responses are that S and R have given no apologies, no one in upper management has resigned, and they have been slow to begin initiatives, respond to individual’s concerns and communicate with interested parties.
The Weinstein Company seem to be much more aware of social expectations and the ethics involved, and more willing to act definitively, but then they are in the mainstream press. What kind of pressure would be on Rigpa were this scandal given the same coverage?
Don’t miss Part 2 – Culture and Part 3 -Responses. Sign up to follow the blog.
Post written by Tahlia Newland.


Current and previous students of Rigpa wanting personal and private support in regards to the abuse issue can be found in the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite using the email address you use on Facebook
If you would like to stay in contact with and support ex-Rigpa students, we have created the Dharma Companions Facebook Group.  The group files include lists of online courses with reputable teachers, and members can join monthly Skype meetings and retreats. If you’re interested, click the link and ask to join. You will need to answer some questions before being admitted to the group.
Be sure to check out the What Now? Reference Material page for 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’ in general could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page. Links to posts on this blog will be posted there as well as links to other relevant information related to the wider issues.
And if you would like to make sure that this blog keeps running, please consider sponsoring our editor for the many hours of work involved.