Issues with the Rigpa Code of Conduct

Rigpa has released their code of conduct. It comes in two documents, one is the rigpas_code_of_conduct_15_june_2018_eng and the second is shared_values_and_guidelines_of_the_rigpa_community_15_june_2018_ The second document informs and expands upon the first.
The actual code is short enough to post here:

Code of Conduct

Rigpa is an international community of individuals following the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. It is our shared wish to create a safe environment for the study and practice of the Buddhist teachings, one where we all feel a sense of responsibility for each others’ well-being and spiritual path.

Whatever their participation or role in the activities associated with Rigpa, everyone has a responsibility to conduct themselves in accordance with the laws of the land and the ethical behaviour outlined in this document.
To care for others, ourselves and our community we are committed to:

  • Acting in ways that are kind, loving and non-judgmental.
  • Being aware of our actions and the way we may affect others.
  • Acting in ways that are not aggressive or intimidating. Harassment and bullying of any kind are not tolerated under any circumstances.
  • Never treating anyone in a way that might cause physical harm or psychological trauma.

Teachers, instructors and anyone representing Rigpa at any level also commit themselves to:

  • Holding as their highest priority and motivation the welfare of the individual student, the Rigpa community and the Buddha Dharma as a whole.
  • Not entering into an intimate relationship with a participant during an event, retreat, course, or any situation during which they are in a position of authority. In other circumstances, any intimate relationships are expected to be based on mutual respect and openly acknowledged, meaning non-secretive.
  • Taking part in regular training in ethical behaviour, which will include recognising misconduct, receiving complaints and dealing with grievances.

Not as it appears

On the surface this looks like the kind of code that would make sure that the emotional, physical and sexual abuses in Rigpa attested to by various people over the last forty years could never happen again, but if you look closely, you will see that it doesn’t actually do that. If you take just the code document it looks like it applies to everyone, students and teachers – and a Rigpa representative assured me that it does – but when you read the ‘Shared values and Guidelines for the Rigpa Community,’ you discover a ‘specific’ category for Vajrayana and Dzogchen which appears to be a loophole for any lama wanting to practice ‘crazy wisdom.’

Why is it in two documents? If you asked, you’d probably be told that it’s so the document isn’t too long, but it could also be so just the good looking part can be displayed and shared without the part that makes it clear that the code document isn’t worth the webspace it takes up.

Rather than a document designed to stop abuse by lamas; this looks to me like a document designed to make students and the public feel that the right thing has been done, that Rigpa has dealt with the abuse issue, and has abandoned their policy of ignoring the abuse at the core of their organisation, but does it provide any real protection or is it just another step in their plan to minimise and move on from the fall out of the revelations of the 8 close students in July 2017 so they can get back to business as usual?

Does Rigpa know the meaning of the words they use in the code?

The problem is that without Rigpa management actually labelling their lama’s behaviour as abuse and publicly denouncing it, this code of conduct is nothing more than a smokescreen. Why? Because management and devoted students of Sogyal Rinpoche do not recognise abuse as abuse. Rigpa and Sogyal have a history of saying what people want to hear, but their words have no meaning because they are confused about the real meaning of words such as ‘kindness’, ‘abuse’, ‘inappropriate behaviour’, ‘benefit’ and ‘harm’ when used in relation to a master/guru/lama.

For example, the Rigpa press statement that came out in 2011 in response to the Canadian video In the Name of Enlightenment, which also raised the abuse issue, said “We have only ever seen him [Sogyal] act for the benefit of other people, and with their best interests at heart,” and this was distributed by people that, according to what was revealed in the 2017 letter by the 8 close students and confirmed to me by others in a similar position in the organisation, both witnessed and experienced physical and emotional abuse at the hands of the person they are defending.

That press release also said, “Nevertheless, any allegations of inappropriate behaviour are taken very seriously by the organization.” Not seriously enough to put a stop to it, however. And not seriously enough to reach out to those harmed with some offer of support or assistance. One can only assume that they were either lying or that they have no idea what inappropriate behaviour looks like.

They say the right things but don’t follow them, just like their master.

The problem with a belief system that distorts one’s perception of abuse

You can’t stop abuse if you don’t recognise abuse as abuse, and for so long as vajrayana ‘masters’ are held to a different set of rules to everyone else the problems around ethical behaviour by lamas in Rigpa and Tibetan Buddhism as a whole will continue.

What is kindness? In Rigpa we were taught to see Sogyal Rinpoche emotionally abusing his close students as ‘the greatest kindness’ and as a ‘training’ that will bring the student to enlightenment more quickly than one could achieve without it. This belief may no longer be taught to new students, but it will still be the prescribed view for those entering the vajrayana path because it’s a core belief of the organisation.

What is harassment and bullying? I have witnessed people being bullied by Sogyal Rinpoche, but they don’t see it as bullying. They see it as ‘training’, as a blessing. Many witnessed him punching a nun during a retreat at Lerab Ling. She ran off stage in tears and obviously in pain, but in a letter written months later, she declared that she saw the interaction as beneficial. In her mind, it wasn’t an assault, even though many hundreds of people saw her being punched.

What causes physical harm or psychological trauma? At the vajrayana level of Rigpa any perception of abuse by the lama is seen as a fault in the student’s own perception, not in the behaviour of the lama, and the value of an action is not the action itself but the motivation behind it. According this this belief system, if your motivation is good, the results of your actions are good, even if it appears negative. Also an enlightened being can do no harm, even if it appears as harm to us ‘lesser’ beings, and we can’t judge if someone is enlightened or not because we are a ‘lesser’ being. Since we are instructed to see our lama as a buddha, regardless of his actual status in reality, this means that whatever our lama does is seen as enlightened activity, and therefore not something that could cause harm or trauma. Circuitous logic indeed, but that’s the interpretation fostered in Rigpa.

What is the highest priority for the welfare of the individual student? In terms of Buddhism, the highest priority is the student’s enlightenment. And in Rigpa the quickest way to enlightenment is seen as having a master who attacks your hidden faults—or is it abuse?

The specific category for vajrayana and dzogchen

The “Shared Values and Guidelines for the Rigpa Community” document is a longer document which you can download by clicking here.  The problematic aspect of this is the ‘specific’ and separate category for vajrayana and dzogchen levels of the path in which  students give ‘consent’ to unspecified behaviour.

Here’s the relevant parts:
Entering the Vajrayana Path

  • Individuals who choose to follow the vajrayana path, and be guided by a master as set out in the vajrayana and Dzogchen teachings can only do so by making a formal request for this level of spiritual guidance. They will receive teachings on the ethics and commitments specifc to vajrayana and Dzogchen.
  • Making such a formal request is a serious step, which should come only after discussion with experienced instructors about the nature of the teachings and what it means to receive this guidance. It should be based on a strong foundation of study, practice, investigation and contemplation by the student, developed over a period of time. It is the responsibility of the vajrayana master to prepare the student for the master-disciple relationship.
  • Such formal requests are completely optional and voluntary, and when made by a student, constitute consent to this level of spiritual guidance.

For Teachers
This section is specifc to qualifed Vajrayana and Dzogchen masters.
In the case of qualifed vajrayana and Dzogchen masters, there are requirements and commitments specifc to the tantras, and based entirely on bodhichitta, with which they will be very familiar. Each connection between a student and a teacher is unique and based on mutual consent. We highlight the following:

  • It is the responsibility of the teacher to prepare the student for the disciple master relationship. This must be entered into consciously and through the student making a formal request. But the student needs first to create a strong foundation of study, practice, investigation and contemplation and also discuss with experienced instructors about the nature of the teachings and what it means to receive this level of spiritual guidance.
  • In the context of the disciple-master relationship, it is perfectly acceptable for both the student and the teacher to make their boundaries known, and for the student to seek clarifications from the teacher, with the support of senior students, or instructors or teachers.

The issue is the specific category

Rigpa is vajrayana and dzogchen. It has always been vajrayana and Dzogchen. Rigpa prides itself on bringing vajrayana and dzogchen to the West, and that’s what draws Western students to Tibetan Buddhism. So this special category is at the core of the organisation and represents the dzogchen level students most desire to attain, and yet, despite the assurance given to me by someone in Rigpa that the code of conduct does cover this specific category, it still reads like ‘an escape clause’ for tantric gurus in the form of the student giving consent.

Dzongsar Khyentse’s (DZK)stamp is all over this—the secrecy, the receiving teachings before making the ‘serious step’ into a tantric relationship with a guru (his evaluation of what went wrong in Rigpa was inadequate education) and the formal request. You might be asked to sign something like Dzongsar Khyentse’s ‘Deed of Agreement’ that he posted on Facebook and then hastily removed when people complained that it was in extremely poor taste. That deed of agreement certainly sheds light on what might be meant by this formal request and ‘consent’.

The core of DZK’s teachings on vajrayana as explained in his talks at Rigpa is that once you take a lama as your tantric guru, you are sworn to secrecy, you see everything the guru does as beneficial—even if it is unethical—and you do not criticise. He made it clear that that part of his view of vajrayana was nonnegotiable.

In line with this approach, in Rigpa, according to this document, once you have accepted a lama as your tantric guru, you’ve given your consent. Consent to what?  “… consent to this level of spiritual guidance.” 
What this level of spiritual guidance entails is not explained. You’ll be told that later. But we know, because we’ve been there and done that.

What does it mean to receive the guidance of a vajrayana master?

The instructions you’ll get on what it means to receive the guidance of a vajrayana master will be the same instructions we received before, the ones that led students willingly into an abusive situation. Rigpa hasn’t changed their beliefs on this. If they had, they would have admitted and denounced the abuse. And DZK, their main advisor, has the same views. They are not stated in this ‘code of conduct’, but you can be sure that they are the same views that led to an environment that facilitated abuse in the first place, views that basically stop students recognising abuse as abuse and bind them to secrecy, even if they find themselves abused.

Why is there a separate category for vajrayana and dzogchen teachers if they are covered by the code? And since what is meant by ‘this level of spiritual guidance’ is not explained, what kind of behaviour is ‘consent’ needed for? Why can’t they be transparent about this?

The whole idea of consent, formal application, and instructions on what it means to receive guidance from a vajrayana master suggests that this special secret category has it’s own rules. And those of us who were indoctrinated by Rigpa for years know it does. That’s the whole problem here: this idea that whatever the vajra guru does we have to see it as beneficial even if it appears  contrary to basic human ethics.

That kind of  idea has no place in the modern world. And unless Rigpa releases a statement denouncing the behaviour of Sogyal Rinpoche, we have to assume that they still hold to this fundamentalist view. Especially when they are not being transparent about what the consent is for. And especially when, according to what we were told in Rigpa, those we saw being emotionally abused consented to their treatment by Sogyal Rinpoche by agreeing to be ‘trained’. Why wouldn’t that ‘consent to this level of spiritual guidance’ be seen as waving the code of conduct?

The repercussions of consent – never sign away your rights

By making a formal request for this ‘level of spiritual guidance’ and giving your consent to whatever that guidance includes, you will have signed your rights away. You could be said to have ‘asked for’ whatever the guru dishes out, and, presumably, due to the requirement for instruction, with full knowledge of what you’ve gotten yourself into. This would make it even less likely that anyone who eventually realises they have been abused rather than enlightened might say anything about it – let alone make a formal grievance.

Any formal agreement of consent has the potential to void the code of conduct for that student and so this code does not stop abusive behaviour by tantric gurus; instead it hides it behind a benign exterior, forces it even further underground and ties the gag even tighter to make sure that no word of it gets out.

You could say that it’s their business if they know what they’re doing, but even if students are actually warned that the guru can do whatever he likes to them and they can’t complain, students desire for the teachings and for enlightenment is so strong that they will likely ignore the warning, just as some of those who were abused did, and just as we who watched emotional abused at retreats ignored it because we wanted the teachings and figured the ‘training’ was part of the package.

True consent is not possible where there is a power imbalance

When the person requesting consent holds something of value (like special teachings and a fast track to enlightenment) back from the person they want consent from, refusing to deliver it unless they have that consent, any consent given is not truly consent because of the power imbalance. This is a point many people will miss, and it’s a real problem, because when someone complains, they will be reminded that they ‘consented’. That ‘consent’ will be held over them, a weapon to keep them quiet.

Some of those abused by Sogyal Rinpoche did give their consent to being ‘trained’ but they didn’t know that that training would mean that they would be assaulted or expected to provide sexual favours or that they should accept every bit of emotional abuse dished out to them. Will that be in the explanation given to potential tantric disciples? I doubt it.

Remember that these instructions will be given by people whose beliefs mean that they do not recognise abuse as abuse when it’s dished out by one’s tantric guru. And if those who were abused did know that they might be assaulted, they didn’t know that the result for them would be trauma, not enlightenment.

We were so keen to get the Dzogchen teachings (highest tantra) that we were willing to do whatever it took and that including putting our hands up for training. We were perfectly willing to ignore the possible repercussions of giving our power so totally to another, and perfectly willing not to examine too closely. That will still be the case.

Lured by the promise of enlightenment, students will still willingly embrace the demands placed on them by tantric gurus, only now they will be signing on the dotted line, so that unscrupulous lamas, who might think they are above any code imposed on them by students, can rest assured that they will face no backlash should they step over the line into abusive behaviour. And that appeared to be the whole point of DZK’s ‘contract’—a way to cover his arse.

What about the behaviour of the tantric guru?

Mention is made of requirements and commitments specific to the tantras, and based entirely on bodhichitta, with which they will be very familiar. They will be familiar with them, will they? Like Sogyal was? How about making potential students familiar with them?

“Towards the lifestyle and activity of the lama, may wrong view not arise for even an instant, and may I see whatever he does, whether it seems to be in accordance with the Dharma or not, as a teaching for me.”
A GUIDE TO THE PRACTICE OF NGÖNDRO. 2nd edition – January 2007, published by Rigpa. Page 210. 

So when you look closely, this ‘code of conduct’ would not stop the same kind of abuse from happening again. It’s a white wash, something Rigpa can use to show charity commissions and the public that they have dealt with the issue, while not dealing with the core issue. Unfortunately it will also manipulate naïve students into thinking they are in good hands.

Cult recruitment tactic

The Rigpa ‘code of conduct’ makes it clear that you are not told when you enter Rigpa what will be required of you at later stages of your involvement with the organisation. You are told only that the the ethics and commitments specifc to vajrayana and Dzogchen will be revealed to you at a later stage. Clearly, despite any assurances that the code still applies, the requirements change at this point.  The truth of the matter, unstated here but made clear in Rigpa literature, is that suddenly you are expected to take whatever the person you accept as your tantric guru dishes out.

This deception is a cult tactic of not revealing the true nature of the cult at the recruitment stage. The manipulation is that you are lured into thinking that the organisation is benign because it has a code of conduct that looks just fine. New recruits will not be aware that that once they enter the vajrayana and accept a tantric guru—presumably any tantric guru— they will be expected to “see whatever he does, whether it seems to be in accordance with the Dharma or not, as a teaching” not as assault, sexual coercion or emotional abuse. If you don’t recognise that you’re being abused, as many still in Rigpa don’t, you won’t turn to a code of conduct or a grievance procedure even if there is one.

“The main methods of cult recruitment revolve around deception and manipulation. Potential recruits are not told the true nature or intentions of the group. Instead, recruiters portray it as something mainstream, low-pressure and benign.”

Has anything really changed? Are you surprised?

I haven’t even touched here on the fact that sexual relations between students and teachers are only banned during courses and retreats, not banned entirely outside of a marriage! Read the comments for other problems people see with this code.

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.

125 Replies to “Issues with the Rigpa Code of Conduct”

  1. Not surprised at all – the Rigpa management are clever and more importantly – sly. This is what they have been hatching while they watched and waited – and it seems DKR (a person whose approach I once admired) is the cornerstone of their ‘guru’ statements. SR may come back – no word of him since he first ‘went missing’ for his treatment – it this gives a go-ahead for any other irresponsible and power-hungry guru to step right in and carry on.
    I hope others will be able to see what this/these documents are actually saying.

  2. I would like to take a step back from the “tantric guru” issue and try to look at the “Code” from the point of view of a new student. Is the “Code” a practical document? Is the “Code” understandable?
    First, the document(s) is obviously incomplete: The Code refers to Guidelines and the Guidelines refer to an unwritten Grievance Procedure. The critical elements of the constitution, roles, and powers of an ethics board are yet to be defined. The actions to be taken in the event of abuse are yet to be spelled out.
    Second, I submit that the basic structure of a three document ethics policy (Code + Guidelines + Grievance) is at best unwieldy, in practice confusing, and at worse deceitful. Shouldn’t an ethics policy be clear and straightforward?
    Third, the documents use Buddhist terms (sangha, dharma, bodhicitta, vajrayana, dzogchen) that cannot be assumed to be in the vocabulary of a new student. An ethics policy is a serious tool and it must be comprehensible by new students, as well as by adepts of other spiritual traditions (that may be called upon to assist).
    Fourth, the reference to another ethics standard (the “tantric guru” issue discussed in the post) is nothing short of bizarre from a logical point of view. How can a spiritual tradition possibly operate with multiple ethics policies? But how many new students will catch this discontinuity—the “deceitful” aspect in the second point above.
    (For sake of completeness, a fifth point is that there were very serious problems with how a student files a a grievance in the March version of the grievance procedure.)
    Overall one can’t fully understand or critique the “Code” while it is so glaringly incomplete. Yet, why is Rigpa having so much trouble writing an ethics policy? Why is Rigpa distributing such an inadequate product? Is the “tantric guru” issue the obstacle?
    Note that this “Code” is basically a polished version of the March version, sans ethics board and grievance procedure. The critiques listed above have been previously submitted to Rigpa, although clearly without effect. One might think the task of creating an ethics policy to be extraordinarily difficult, but other groups, including dharma groups, have done so in just a few pages and probably in much less time.
    My summary is that a new student might well find this ethics policy “Code” to be incomplete, impractical, and illogical. Hopefully they catch on sooner than later.

  3. Thanks so much for your analysis Joe, it’s very revealing of all the ways that this document is just part of the PR campaign. They simply can’t seem to get real about this and face the issues at hand which involve the power of the guru. It’s all about deflection and double speak.
    They should just say what they believe. “We believe that a teacher should have the right to do anything they wish to a student including kill them if it’s for their own good” (OT said this at the Paris center). Then let people decide if that sounds in fucking sane or if they want to join in…

  4. Just more of the same OLD b.s. from these so-called “spiritual teachers” so that they can continue to engage in their sadistic, selfish, abusive and controlling behavior. Why not just steer clear of them and hit them where it really hurts….in their pocketbooks, lol? If they get no more money and support from people, they will pack their bags and go home. They are only here for the money, the free sex, the slavish devotion, and the free labor from their blindly worshipful followers.
    After just reading a disgusting story about what Trungpa allegedly did to a poor, innocent cat, I am even more disgusted with the whole bunch of these lamas and see no value in a tradition which honors and respects such a deplorable, ugly human being. (I believe the story is likely to be true because it is confirmed elsewhere that Trungpa hated cats. So much for “love” for all sentient beings!) There is no excuse for the revolting behavior of narcissistic lamas, and I’m afraid that even a properly worded code of conduct isn’t enough to stop them. Legal documents mean nothing to them. The only thing they really care about is the $$$$$ (and the sex of course).

    1. @Catlover I have to say that is one of the most disturbing stories about a Buddhist teacher I’ve ever heard. I never like to simply believe a story without hearing other perspectives, but the way the story is told, in all its specifics, seems basically truthful to me. In any event, if that is so, I simply cannot conceive of any justifiable motivation for it. It seems like pure sadism to me. Very shocking.

      1. Please, @Jacob and @ Been there, that website is not to be trusted. Before passing on this information, there needs to be other sources…

        1. Why do you say it’s not trustworthy? There is a woman named Leslie Hays who says she is breaking her silence after 30 years, the cat story seems to be written in the same style. You can read what she’s said on FB
          The nuance and detail add to the credibility, I would hate to add to her trauma by dismissing her recollections because of where they are posted?

          1. I doubt that the photo accompanying the post is fake, what kind of person poses with a gun to their head?

        2. @Joanne,
          You mean isn’t trustworthy? The jury is still out on that, imo.
          Whatever you think of that website, Chris is using material from another source. The woman telling the story sounds credible to me. While many of these stories cannot be proven, even if there is a likelihood that the story is true, it’s enough to make me want to run FAR away from lamas! FYI, I did research online and found several mentions that Trungpa hated cats. To me, this adds a lot of weight to the story.
          So much for “loving” all beings! What ever happened to loving all sentient beings?

          1. if Christine‘s website makes you uncomfortable you may read my first hand account on my Facebook page. But if anyone makes comments about how I’m lying they will quickly be blocked. I don’t have time to babysit as you come to grips with the truth of the matter. And while you’re there read the Tabi story. Leslie Hays

            1. Thank you Leslie. I still find it very weird, and ultimately hypocritical, how so-called Buddhists get very upset by people sharing their truthful testimonies.
              You know what you experienced, and anyone who tries to silence you should be ashamed.
              A dam has been broken, and the flood of truth will wash away the corrupted views that still linger. This can only be a good thing for everyone.

            2. @Sangyum,
              I posted this response before I went to your Facebook link and saw the story there, and also before I read the other Tabi story as well. It was also before our chat, so I was unfamiliar with you or your Facebook page. Further down in this discussion, someone posted a link to your page and that was when I went to your link. That was when I messaged you, after I saw your story there.

        3. Would a copy of my marriage license to Trungpa help??? It’s tough when things don’t fit into your paradigm isn’t it. The story has been confirmed but you believe what you want to believe

          1. I believe you completely, I think that Joanne Clark was only commenting on the website the story was posted on which may have hosted some questionable content at some point. It is important to separate the wing nuts who jump on the bandwagon from honest first hand accounts.
            Thank you for sharing your story, it’s very important and helps break down the construct that made it possible for sogyal lakar to succeed. Many students in rigpa deferred to trungpa as proof of why we mustn’t use critical thinking to assess the behavior of the lama. As more and more is exposed, as people see what a sad misguided pervert Trungpa was, the shakier the ground of their denial becomes.

  5. At : In the context of the disciple-master relationship, it is perfectly acceptable for both the student and the teacher to make their boundaries known, and for the student to seek clarifications from the teacher, with the support of senior students, or instructors or teachers.
    Will the teacher therefore respect the bounderies of the student, like not willing to have sex with a lama.
    Or is it possible not to accept a student for this choice of not willing to have sex with a lama.
    It creates the possibilty of group pressure if there is no phrase to respect in this document.

      1. To agree or consent to normalizing sexual abuse and physical assault of devotees under a tantric guru’s control, for instance. An agreement that effectively puts him or her above the (criminal) law is illegal in and of itself.

          1. The fiscal status (or ‘ANBI-status’) of the Dutch Rigpa branch is debatable for more than one reason. One of them is that as an institution Rigpa has to conform to good governance demands, one of which is that it is not allowed to incite the use of violence.
            Another problem might be that Rigpa had acquired liquid assets worth € 1,141,443 (ultimo 2016: Hoarding is allowed under strict conditions only, and I’d say that Rigpa might not satisfy or might no longer satisfy those conditions either.
            The Dutch Rigpa balance sheet 2017 has not been published yet, which may be another violation of the conditions imposed by our tax offices.
            It may turn out, of course, that the amount of € 1,141,443 has ‘disappeared’ in 2017: if that’s the case, I’d say that an investigation is warranted into its current whereabouts. Anyone can tip off our fiscal authorities on such matters anonymously, by the way:

  6. Chairman Michael Ritman of the Dutch Buddhist Union (BUN), the newest member of the council of the European Buddhist Union (EBU), has expressed great faith in the utility of codes of conduct: to Ritman they are the panacea to end all abuse.
    Now, it’s clear why: Ritman’s own organization Rigpa created an exemption for tantric gurus such as his own teacher Sogyal Lakar. Whatever tantric gurus do, is not abuse—by definition.
    Is it a coincidence that a Rigpa figurehead such as Michael Ritman launched himself as chairman of the BUN and a council member EBU?
    Think again.

  7. This is all about power power power. And just to be clear, DJKR has his students sign a contract not to criticize. This is his creation. And when we speak of Vajrayana, already we speak of lama’s having powers, just by virtue of the practices themselves, practices that can effect students in powerful and emotional ways. But now students are being asked to sign away their critical faculty as part of this. It’s creepy, like a lobotomy.
    And how can anyone practice Dharma without that critical faculty? How can you judge your own behaviors it you can’t judge the lama’s behaviors? If you start to think that a punch and a slap and a humiliation are positive behaviors, what does that do to your own moral code? If Rigpa, DJKR, SL can’t acknowledge harm, then nothing they say or do has any worth whatsoever.

    1. DZK has them sign a contract not to criticize? Yep. I can see that. That contract he posted showed where his head is at – covering his arse. Now why would you need to have someone sign a contract not to criticise unless you had something to hide? What a huge red flag, and what a stupid thing to actually agree to, but still they do it apparently, and that’s the point I was trying to make, people will agree to things they don’t really want to agree to get top grades/enlightenment/ that promotion, lucrative role and so on. Which is why even signing a document under such a power imbalance can never be considered consent.

      1. Only a pathetic pseudo Buddha would insist on a do-not-criticize contract or a code of conduct that exempts him or her by way of special pleading.
        Such would-be-Buddhas’ obsessive self-protection trumps everything else. What a sorry sight.

    2. I am a twenty-five year student of Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, have served on his Board, and there unequivocally is no such contract. Its a laughable idea. I am not a former or current member of Rigpa, so will not take up any further space, except to observe that some people are gullibly swallowing misinformation (including comments about Trungpa Rinpoche, who I studied with for 17 years) because it suits their narrative.
      I understand that there is a lot of pain and anger, and people are eager to not be fooled or misled again. Your degree of heartbreak is a testament to your profound yearning, which is an excruciating but brilliant path without clear markers.
      Please don’t cut yourself off from what is genuine (which is plenty and admittedly often hard to discriminate) by painting everything with outrage. That is a classic sign of trauma, and quite understandable as a feeling; not so good as a considered commentary on how things are.

      1. Comments like these feel more like we are communicating more directly to one another. We may have different takes, but we can turn toward one another and try to understand, but primarily listen and hear the range of ways we respond to these situations.
        For or against the teacher are both giving power to authority. We can discover ways beyond both approaches by listening to one another. There we might discover insights we haven’t considered and ways beyond this conflict.
        The folks at the Rigpa Organization seem to be talking and listening to one another (however skeptically we view their reports) might we find a way do the same, in our own way?

  8. Thank you for the analysis and details!
    Can anybody explain what Rigpa means with “non-judgemental”? This is one of the first requirements on ethics in this Code of Conduct for students.
    If “non-judgemental” means not to judge “this is good behaviour” or “this is not good behaviour”, basically this requirement to be “non-judgemental” can become or is a good brainwashing tool that undermines right ethical evaluations and thereby Right Conduct or ethics. Because if you don’t judge what is good and what is bad ethical conduct how can you cultivate the former and abandon the later? Ethics itself are the basis of the path. You could argue, ethics are only for yourself and not to judge others. While this is basically true, you have to judge others if they harm you or members of your community and you must be able also in that context to judge of what is right and what is correct ethical conduct. The Buddha and his followers did. They didn’t ignore the misdeeds of others when becoming aware but addressed them in most of the cases. Also, if you want to rejoice in good deeds or self or others and not to rejoice in bad deeds of self or others, you must be able to discriminate / judge what are good deeds and what are not. Otherwise you commit great non-virtues like rejoicing in the bad actions of others, accumulating thereby a lot of negative karma.
    Being non-judgemental would also undermine to call abuse abuse. Judging harm as harm etc. So what is the purpose, meaning and use to require from students as the one of the very first three qualities to be non-judgemental? “Acting in ways that … non-judgmental.”, does this include you cannot stand up against abuse or humiliation, bullying because you judge abuse as abuse and bullying as bullying but actual, according to Rigpa doctrine, its only a help to speed your enlightenment. And what else than a jugdement is it that abuse is not abuse and bullying is not bullying but quick tools to enlightenment? If these are not total perversions of the facts, at least these are also judgments because you judge bullying and abuse or physical or sexualised violence as good.
    Can anybody explain what Rigpa understands or subsumes under this term “non-judgmental”?
    BTW, also the NKT cult claims wrongly that actions are good if you have a good intention even if it harms the other person. This is not correct as far as I understand it.
    You can with the good intention, to protect your fellow soldiers from an enemy soldier, shoot as a sniper some of the enemies. Are these sniper’s actions based on a good intention to protect considered to be good actions because the sniper had a good motivation? Another example, you want to rescue a person but you give a wrong medication, and the wrong medication kills the patient, was giving the wrong medication with a good intention and killing the person a good action?
    In the NKT this good intention makes an action good even if the effects are harmful (or not in line with basic Buddhist ethics) leads towards recommendation not to pay taxes (which is stealing) because (as some in the NKT said), if you give the money with a good intention instead to the state to “the 3 Jewels” (they mean to the NKT), then its a good action if you do it with a good intention. Not only this, the state will use the money for war, what the NKT doesn’t so, its better to give it to the NKT than to the state. (There are or were a lot of such perverse thinkings in the NKT, including social benefit fraud.)
    Actual, I also asked a great Kagyu Lama about it in Berlin, Namse Rinpoche. He said that if you harm someone with a good intention it’s still a bad action.
    As far as I understand it, the good intention reduces the negative karma been created for yourself. It could also be that there is some positive karma been created by the mental action but negative karma by the harmful verbal or bodily action.
    A good action is labelled a good action because it has a good outcome in the long run. If an action causes harm in the long run for oneself or for other its been labelled a harmful action. Good and bad actions are determined by their results! Because results depend on causes and causes on results its a contradiction to call a resulting harmful action a positive action “because it was done with a good motivation.” If an action cause long term harm for self or others it was a bad action. If an action cause long benefit for self or others it was a good action.
    Moreover, since what are giving in into or acting out sexual desires or blatant rage etc good intentions? This is another similarity Rigpa shares with the NKT cult, hate or aversion or anger is labelled love, denying the real emotions behind it.
    Here is a lot still to critically reflect. And its complex of course.
    This blog does a great job in opening the doors to question all of this. Thank you!

  9. BTW, it just came to my mind: Did I get it correctly, Rigpa issued a Code Of Conduct without including the Buddha’s teachings on ethics like Right Conduct – which include truthfulness (Right Speech, abandoning lying which includes to speak the truth), or not to commit adultery, or which include Right Livelihood?
    HH the Dalai Lama on the latter:

    Mundane right livelihood is abandoning the five wrong livelihoods—hinting, flattery, bribery, coercion, and hypocrisy—and procuring requisites truthfully, honestly, and in a nonharmful way. Lay practitioners should engage in work that contributes to the healthy functioning of society and the welfare of others. Right livelihood is also a lifestyle free from the extremes of asceticism and luxury.
    I got an email on one case where SL is accused of having had a sexual relationship with the partner of one of his long term students for 5 years. (The student shared that himself among Rigpa followers.)
    This is sexual misconduct according to Buddhist ethics. According to this account from the student, his wife had to promise to SL not to tell her husband (him). This is even worse because this amounts to a vow to lie which – if it is a vow – creates day and night non virtue, its negative and a violation of Right Speech anyway. Also the story which was told to me from a partaker of a Dzogchen Mandala retreat where Sogyal Lakar offered hugs and then complaint suddenly that people don’t offer money for the hugs and people hastily run to their places to take money out of their pockets to put it into envelopes and to make “spontaneous offerings” to him seems to be rather a very coarse type of Wrong Livelihood, an emotional blackmailing to give what was not intended to give which is a type of stealing.
    So, abandon the basic Buddhist ethics and replace it with terms such as kindness, love and non-judgement which can be used to push you not to complain about being manipulated to give money, sex, or free work because if you complain you are unkind, you do not love Sogyal and the Rigpa management and you are too judgmental? Therefore, its basically your own ethical fault and not that of the wrong doer?
    How can such cases as described here or by the letter of the 8 or elsewhere be prevented by these Codes of Conduct? If it happens how could such cases be addressed without being accused (or gaslighted or bullied) to be unkind, unloving, ungrateful and too judgemental?
    So, whom serves these codes of ethics really and what makes them in line with Buddhist ethics?

  10. I would like to question at least one thing in the post.
    These sentences

    You might be asked to sign something like Dzongsar Khyentse’s ‘Deed of Agreement’ that he posted on Facebook and then hastily removed when people complained that it was in extremely poor taste. That deed of agreement certainly sheds light on what might be meant by this formal request and ‘consent’.

    might give the wrong impression that DKR meant this agreement seriously. Rather, as far as I got it, it was meant as a “joke” or “to provoke” and DKR didn’t foresee how bad this “joke” or “provocation” will be perceived.
    Of course, as seems to be his way of nourishing or actively creating ambiguity or fuzziness, you never know for certain if he didn’t mean it seriously. Often he seems to mix acceptable with unacceptable things and seem to blur things which need clarity (at least he seems to do that, when it serves the power of the lama). Instead of making things clearer for the students and to set the boundaries straight – as HHDL or YMR do.
    Also interestingly, YMR stressed ethics as a response to the letter of the 8. DKR stressed things which rather serve a cult setting, rather deemphasising ethics or ridiculing these as part of the “Cinderella teachings”. Its no real miracle that a cultish setting like we can see here in Rigpa where abuse blossomed so well and DKR’s views can meet, unite and make things even worse for students as the author of the post pointed out.
    Ok, now I shut my mouth.

  11. @tenpel,
    I think the “sex contract” was meant as a joke (in very bad taste) but people say he has another, serious document where people actually pledge not to criticize. I don’t know if there is actually such a document, but if there is, he makes people sign it when they reach a certain level of Vajrayana. That would explain why it’s kind of secret and many people don’t know about it. Actually, it wouldn’t surprise me if such a document actually existed. Some of his ex? inner circle claims they had to sign a “non-criticizing” agreement. So I think people are confusing the actual “Agreement” he allegedly makes people sign in secret and the “joke” on Facebook, which he took down when people were critical, etc. These are two, separate things.

    1. I think unless there is proof of such a “do not criticize” contract, it should be treated as a rumor.

        1. I also heard it from at least one but as far as I remember from two sources – long before these discussions started and some people (including me) started to doubt DKR’s integrity.

            1. Really, who are you to tell anyone to watch their mind. You’re worried about him getting a story wrong while seemingly ignoring serial physical, emotional, and sexual abuse by lamas…get a grip!

              1. my motivation is that i dont like gossip . . .clear enough? but of course you are free to gossip as much as you want and like . .

                1. @piero, gossip happens when there is no purpose to speaking. In this case, I spoke because I think it is important that students are fully informed and are able to think about this being a possible outcome of Rigpa’s direction. That way, students can make fully informed, safe decisions.

                  1. @piero, for example, if I had been informed that Rigpa thought it was ok for their teacher to sleep with new, young students, I never would have attended my first teaching and I would have saved myself much trouble. So I inform others of what I know, with always that thought in mind.

                2. @piero,
                  If there is an Agreement to sign then it isn’t gossip. Even if there isn’t an agreement, I guess you’re saying we should all keep hush-hush about it until everyone is 100% SURE that there is no such paper? I didn’t even say there was such a paper for sure. I just said it wouldn’t surprise me, and other people are simply saying what they heard there was one. No one is saying they know for sure, so it isn’t slander. But I personally think it’s pretty safe to assume that there is probably such a paper, or there may be one in the near future. After all, DKR has gotta protect his behind, just in case all of his secrets are discovered and he loses the $$$. But having said that, i am not saying I know all and it’s possible there isn’t such a paper….yet. (But that wouldn’t erase all of the other stupid stuff he and other lamas say and do.)

                  1. Perhaps what some are calling ‘gossip’ is simply the gates of secrecy opening at last. We can discuss, openly and maybe for the first time, exactly what troubles us in what up until now have really been ‘secret societies’. Ties have bound us, for our different reasons, not the least being the Samaya bond. This stands outside ‘normal’ life really, and its difficult to negotiate this one. But we can, and are beginning to try. Not gossip, just searching. For now at least.

                  2. @Catlover, @Piero. Perhaps Piero hasn’t had the dubious pleasure of becoming acquainted with DKR’s facebook feed – so he’s not aware of how transgressive DKR can be of a woman’s right not to be objectified or worse. You’ll also find some odd statements there concerning human rights and the current socio-political context which don’t gel with my personal understanding of how Buddhist values should be practised in the broader society.

  12. The leader of the Shambhala community, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, issued a public apology to women who “have shared experiences of feeling harmed”.
    He writes “in my past there have been times when I have engaged in relationships with women in the Shambhala community. 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.”
    He also states that he has “apologized personally to people who have expressed feeling harmed by my conduct, including some of those who have recently shared their stories. I have also engaged in mediation and healing practices with those who have felt harmed. Thus I have been, and will continue to be, committed to healing these wounds.”
    He says that “kindness can sometimes begin with acknowledging the ways we have harmed others”. He says that he is a human on the path and that he has at times struggled “how to be a teacher and a human being. I have found that there is no easy solution to navigating these responsibilities.”
    His public apology concludes with a call to change the community together to the better: “Above all, it is important to me that we continue to create a caring community where harm does not occur. It is my fervent wish that we be a community that relates to each other with compassion and kindness, so I have offered teachings and written practices to support such a culture. I want to encourage our community to completely immerse itself in caring and kindness. …”
    Read the whole statement and the background of it at Lion’s Roar.

      1. A public apology, acceptance of wrongdoing and harm, repentance and attempts started to heal.
        If some can do it……?

        1. Almost an apology. He says he’s sorry they “feel that way” but does he really acknowledge any wrong doing on HIS part directly? He says:
          “It is my wish for you to know that in my past there have been times when I have engaged in relationships with women in the Shambhala community. 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.” (If you notice, he doesn’t say he harmed them. he says they were “feeling” harmed.)
          In addition, I would like you to know that over the years, I have apologized personally to people who have expressed “FEELING” harmed by my conduct, including some of those who have recently shared their stories. I have also engaged in mediation and healing practices with those who have “FELT” harmed. Thus I have been, and will continue to be, committed to healing these wounds.” (Again, he says they were “feeling” harmed, or they “felt” harmed, not that he actually harmed them.)
          As the lineage holder of Shambhala, I want to demonstrate how we can move toward a culture of kindness in line with our legacy of teachings. Kindness can sometimes begin with acknowledging the ways we have harmed others, even if we did not intend to do so.” (Well, at least he admitted he could have harmed them, even if he did not intend to. The problem is, I don’t think these guys even know what is harmful, so even if they don’t “intend” to harm, they just can’t seem to help it!)

      2. A public apology, acceptance of wrongdoing and harm, repentance and attempts started to begin healing.
        If some can do it……?

      3. @ Joanne Clark, he did the same thing sl did, he apologized that they felt harmed, he did not apologize for harming them, it’s a subtle shift of phrase that changes the entire message.

        1. @notsohopeful,
          I agree. As I said in my post above, he used phrases about how the women “felt” harmed, or that they are “feeling” harmed, but nowhere does he actually say he caused harm. He takes no responsibility for what he did. He only says that the women “feel” that they were harmed. That’s what’s called a non-apology. It’s a subtle but significant difference from a real apology. A real apology would be where he takes full responsibility for his actions, and acknowledges that he caused harm.

    1. While in the case of DKR, the purported contract of secrecy would quite possibly prevent any of his students with whom he got physical from similarly speaking out. Job done.

    2. I have to say, as someone who used to be in that community and knows it well — too well — that reading this statement elicited a big, dark chuckle. Especially the following, variations of which I heard many times in that community and which, if I may say so, always prove to be a rather large pile of excrement:
      “Above all, it is important to me that we continue to create a caring community where harm does not occur. It is my fervent wish that we be a community that relates to each other with compassion and kindness, so I have offered teachings and written practices to support such a culture. I want to encourage our community to completely immerse itself in caring and kindness. …”

      1. I totally hear you, Jacob, lol! I felt a slight chuckle come up when I read that passage too. Of course, it’s not really funny, but sometimes things that aren’t can cause a chuckle to come up when it’s totally stupid.

        1. Yeah, actually it has been angering me all day. Can’t help it. Those people completely destroyed my life. And they don’t give a shit.

          1. @Jacob B,
            I’m sorry it has caused you so much suffering too. The sad part is, you’re right that they don’t care and they never will, but WE care. Things are changing and you will see that more and more people will care and wake up as time goes on.

            1. Thanks so much Catlover. And it is my most fervent wish that you’re right, that things will change.
              It’s the followers that are the most soul-crushing to me, I think. They start out with such open hearts and gradually, as they become apologists more and more, end up behaving like genuinely cruel human beings.
              It really feels like a form of brainwashing to me. Like the anti-dharma.

              1. @Jacob I think power has a lot to do with it. Lamas aren’t the only ones enmeshed in the power structures of big Dharma organizations. And you’re totally right, this is not just about Tibetan lamas– Westerners have drunk the cool aid of being close to the lama and many of them have become corrupt as a result. It is very sad.

                1. @Joanne,
                  Yes, I agree. Some of the senior students become like mini versions of the corrupt teacher themselves. They are the ones who usually get closest to the teacher and end up staying around the longest. They are also the type who put down and “gaslight” the students who say anything about being abused and they cover up for the guru as well. If a scandal comes out, they are generally the ones who try to solve problems through “talking” and “inner reflection,” rather than by any practical means, such as getting the authorities involved, for example.

                  1. This is exactly the case with the Rigpa ‘management team’. The address to the sangha at LL which appeared on YouTube said absolutely nothing of any substance whatsoever. Just ambiguous bletherings in the ‘soothing’ tone adopted by them from guess where?
                    Plenty of talking, no real interaction or any kind of action at all.
                    Then this statement – or two statements – if your’re in your’e in and if you’re out, then you’re very firmly and totally – out.

                  2. That’s certainly the case with Shambhala, where there are dozens of “acharyas” and now “shastris.” So many of them become mini-wannabe gurus. But then you have the students under *them* who want to be recognized, and rise up within the kasung or just get praised to the Sakyong or whatever it might be, so that they’ll keep moving up the ranks too. And *those* people never contradict their “acharya,” or do anything that might lead the latter to suspect their full loyalty. So then they ostracize as well, they learn how the pretty straightforward words “kindness” and “compassion” can be twisted into meaning their very opposites. Everybody covers up for everybody else because they have taken loyalty oaths, and they are told that if they break them it means they are going to “vajra hell” in their next life.
                    And this means that other people have to become scapegoats. There always has to be a scapegoat because, in the end, whatever occasional gestures they might make, whatever occasional crumbs they might throw to the notion of fallibility, nobody must be allowed to stand in the way of The Agenda. And also because the Lama, who is also The King (theocracies always work well, right?) is basically, effectively, perfect. Which means that those taking His orders and serving Him cannot admit to anything substantive either. Which means that the Kasung/Military and the students with any ambition also back everybody else up or their dreams of being in the Inner Circle might take a hit.
                    Sadly, the teachings are out there which would check all of this: spiritual materialism, and compassion. Aren’t Tibetan Buddhists supposed to be practicing tonglen? How could you treat so many people with such cruelty if you are practicing tonglen? You’re supposed to get up from tonglen and then carry it forward into real life. Whereas, in my experience Shambhalians are told — at least the ones who’ve already committed, who are moving up the ladder — that they should *reject* and not speak to anyone deemed insufficiently loyal, anyone who has been critical in any way, asked questions, struggled, been harmed and said so. Reject?! Total violation of the bodhisattva vow. But in Tibetan Buddhism you can do anything you want, it seems. Including flagrantly harm others. Because the mission, The Agenda, trumps everything else.

  13. I heard recently from an ex Rigpa person that more members have resigned since the 8 signatories letter because they disapprove of the way Rigpa has behaved since then, rather than as a direct result of the letter. It must have been agony for the Sakyong to issue a public apology, because in a Tibetan cultural context that constitutes total loss of face — ie the worst possible thing to happen to a member of the elite. What has emerged from Rigpa since the letter convinces me that the “management” is taking orders from the boss and obeying them with the help of lawyers and spin doctors. Same old same old same old. Sogyal would rather drink bleach than lose face.

  14. it would be enough to understand and follow: 1)5 precepts 2)Bodhisattva vows 3)Vajrayana vows. Of course you need teachings on that by a Master who himself follow and apply the 3 in an unbiased way.

    1. @piero,
      Wouldn’t that be nice if they even read their vows, lol? I personally think that they believe they are above all the vows when they reach a certain level, so maybe they don’t care anymore about what the vows say.

      1. i dont know who are “they” and even less if “they” believe to be above vows. I am talking about my personal experiences with Tibetan Lamas which started in 1969 and has been uninterrupted until now. In those experiences i never assisted to such things as you are describing. I have to add that i have always been extremely careful and watchful at every step of this ongoing experience. That does not mean at all that i m a good practitioner.

        1. @piero,
          “They” means the lamas who misbehave and think they are above the vows. I don’t know how many that includes, but I would say quite a few of them aren’t so nice.

  15. What’s actually hilarious is that folks in Rigpa think they know what a “qualified vajrayana master” is.
    Don’t put a term in your guidelines, that your organization is practically defined by it’s lack of knowledge about!
    Or if you want to, go ahead, and define clearly what it means. Included how to spot a “pretender”, and then apply that analysis directly to Sogyal.
    Here’s a big hint: one of the things that both HHDL and DKR agree on in this situation, is that Sogyal was not qualified.
    Do you even listen to your own advisors, Rigpa management?

    Why am I not surprised with the Rigpa Code of Conduct?
    It is, because it looks like the clever defense of well trained lawyers. Some days ago I spoke with a Tibetan Buddhist expert, who showed little compassion to the victims of LSR and Rigpa. I asked him why. He then said, that people who join Rigpa, or become student of LSR, could and should know better. Despite of his years long experience I had to explain to him, that you can not apply this. We all know that we may have attended teachings full of trust and that we were welcomed in the warm environment of the so called sangha. And then the proces begins, or in other words, the train leaves the station. Destination: unknown.
    A lot of well thinking people now analyse Rigpa and its teachers, and come to conclusions that are seriously negative about the institution and its leaders, not to say it is harmful.
    This is valid for the people involved, and at the same time for the teachings, that have been misused and corrupted by teachers,
    According to cult laws the mere observation is enough to condemn the observators and the messengers. And, all energy put into the action to bring Rigpa to reason seems to lead to more smart and politic answers. It looks like that Rigpa specially created a maze for opponents to get lost.
    Are we then without any power?
    Not at all. We will have to keep knocking on the doors, or even stronger: tear those walls down.
    We can not trust that Rigpa will implode from it self, though it must be a near empty shell over there now.
    But the building has been built strong, and with a lot of capital behind it.
    We must walk around seven times and make so much noise that every living being can leave before it collapses.
    Because I am sure that will happen by the time.

    1. Or at any rate, Eckart, keep the public informed so that Rigpa gains no new membership. They need new membership to endure this– and it is before one enters the shrine room door– or in the early days of exploring a new center– that people are most receptive to hearing of wrongdoing.

  17. Update 28/6: Though apparently my assumption that vajra gurus are not covered by this code is incorrect (see the clarification below), I am not the only person who thinks that is not clear at all, and the other issues around the code that I raise and others raise in these comments still stand.
    I still find myself asking: Why is there a separate category for vajrayana and dzogchen teachers at all? And what exactly are you giving consent for when you make a formal application to have a relationship with a vajra master? What kind of behaviour is ‘consent’ needed for?
    I received the following clarification from someone in Rigpa:
    Note the following wording which applies without exception to everyone:
    “Whatever their participation or role in the activities associated with Rigpa, EVERYONE has a responsibility to conduct themselves in accordance with the laws of the land and the ethical behaviour outlined in this document.”
    Then on page 3 of the Code
    “Teachers, instructors and anyone representing Rigpa at any level ALSO commit themselves to:”
    That makes it pretty obvious that there are ADDITIONAL standards of behaviour for that group. It doesn’t cancel out the preceding commitments that apply to everyone from the caterer in the kitchen to the Lama giving Mahayana and Tantrayana teachings.
    The Rigpa community wanted a longer document that set out our Buddhist values – hence the longer values & guidelines. It is not a vision statement. It’s part of the code of conduct and will very useful for training and courses. For a non-Buddhist or new student this document would not make a lot of sense – it uses a Buddhist framework and terminology.
    On page 1 of the Shared values document it says:
    “These Shared Values and Guidelines apply to the Rigpa community at large, and include Rigpa members and anyone with a role in the activities associated with Rigpa—such as employees, contractors, volunteers, instructors, TEACHERS and VISITING TEACHERS from other organisations.
    The Shared Values and Guidelines INFORM, but DO NOT override the Code of Conduct.
    “The section for Instructors and qualified Vajrayana and Dzogchen teachers is specific to them but does not mean they are exempt from the Code which applies to everyone.

    1. I see a lot of fuzziness here. There are hundreds of teachings on ethics and behavior in the Buddha’s teachings. They are good teachings that can help individuals be kinder and more discerning human beings– but they can also be misinterpreted and quoted out of context to justify harm. Rigpa officials have done that for years. The very fact that Rigpa has made no statement acknowledging that harm has even taken place makes every statement here about ethical conduct fuzzy– and actually null and void.
      It looks to me that they are really struggling with this because the writers are people who have found fancy words to justify SL’s behaviors all these years– now they are just writing more fancy words. That’s all it is until they come clean. And the fuzziness I see in the writing is the world where cults are born and people’s sense of right and wrong can be easily bought and sold.

      1. @Joanne Clark This is my view too Joanne. I read in the document the words “kind, loving and non-judgmental.” And then I read an injunction against “psychological trauma.” But these words, in my experience, can be made to be endlessly elastic by Tibetan Buddhists. It’s really quite incredible: the overwhelming majority of human beings know when someone is being kind or being cruel. It takes a Tibetan Buddhist to pervert the word beyond recognition.

  18. @Moonfire,
    “I still find myself asking: Why is there a separate category for vajrayana and dzogchen teachers at all? And what exactly are you giving consent for when you make a formal application to have a relationship with a vajra master? What kind of behaviour is ‘consent’ needed for?”
    Good questions, lol! I think ‘consent’ means that you (I’m using “you” figuratively) give away your right to stand up to anything the lama puts you through after you sign the agreement. You give your ‘consent’ to sex, beating, psychological torture, witnessing the abuse of others, or whatever else he wants to do to you (or others). Since you signed the paper, you agree to all of the above. They will just use that against anyone who dares to complain; “You signed the paper, so it’s your fault if you don’t like it. You have no right to complain after the fact.”
    I would be surprised if the lamas follow the so-called “code” or whether it can even be enforced. How are the authorities going to enforce the code? And if people have to sign their n”consent” then what good is a so-called “code” of ethics, which is overshadowed by the “consent” form.

  19. And if everyone was ethical to begin with, why would anyone need to sign a consent form to the lamas at all? What would there be to consent to if everything is ethical and on the level?

    1. It is about the word harm I guess. Perhaps you have to sign for that whatever a lama does is with pure motivation and therefore harmless. And then there is no contradiction with the other public documments. Just a tric? And if you cannot agree with that then there is a problem, but as I understood you have to talk lot to instuctors before you get a chance to sign such a consent, they have to be sure you will agree. Otherwise it becomes clear nothing has realy changed.
      The same story seems to be sugar coated.

  20. Also, isn’t there a code of ethics already built in to the precepts, Bodhisattva, and Vajrayana vows? If the lamas can’t follow that, what makes anyone think they will follow a new “code” of ethics? if they break the code, who do you go to? I think the code is just a smoke screen to placate newbees and non-Vajrayana students. The Vajra students will sign the “consent” form, which overrides the code of ethics, and they will have to sign it if they want to be accepted into Vajrayana/Dzogchen.

  21. The ‘Shared Values and Guidelines of the Rigpa Community’ states about “Individuals who choose to follow the vajrayana path” that
    “They will receive teachings on the ethics and commitments specifc to vajrayana and Dzogchen”
    “In the case of qualifed vajrayana and Dzogchen masters, there are requirements and commitments specifc to the tantras, and based entirely on bodhichitta, with which they will be very familiar”
    as if it were self-evident what this amounts to in practice in real life.
    Simply put: within Rigpa “qualified masters” familiar with “requirements and commitments” will teach “ethics and commitments” that pertain to them alone to those who “choose” to follow them, and “consent” to practice guru devotion and be forever bound by the ‘samaya’ with this master.
    In other words: the only way these “individuals” could reject the “spiritual guidance” of these “qualified masters” on ethics is to argue that they’re not qualified and/or not familiar with the requirements and commitments that pertain to them.
    The individuals who continue to “choose” and “consent” to follow “the vajrayana path” shown by Sogyal Lakar—who has always been demonstrably unqualified and unfamiliar with the “requirements and commitments specific to tantras”—are a living proof of the empty promise and false security sentences such as these provide.
    Mind you, the very individuals who proclaim, oversee and enforce the ‘Rigpa Code of Conduct’ and ‘Shared Values and Guidelines of the Rigpa Community’ are the ones who so “choose” and “consent”.
    It’s very much as if one lets lunatics run the asylum.

  22. @Rob,
    “It’s very much as if one lets lunatics run the asylum.”
    Unfortunately, the lunatics from the asylum would probably do a better job running Rigpa than Sogyal and his cronies, lol! 😀

  23. “You do not know me but I have watched what has gone on at Vajradhatu and then Shambhala since 1982 and I am glad there is some chance that sanity may now reign, even if Shambhala International does not have the fearlessness to confront the problems. I am a lawyer with many years of experience in sexual issues in the US workplace and I know that unless perpetrators are held to account, it is very hard for organizations to heal. I haven’t seen much willingness for SI to do that. Just know that there are folks out here supporting you.” (Source:
    Indeed: unless perpetrators are held to account, it is very hard for organizations to heal. Impossible, I’d say, *especially* for Buddhist organizations with their habitual guru-centric reflexes and ‘non-judgmental’ discourses and pretense of ‘not-knowing’.
    Academic scholars have described how religions turn themselves into a ‘religion for abusers’ by making the abuser, his or her entourage, and his or her institution the center of attention—instead of the victims of abuse and their traumas.
    Buddhism in the West is well on its way turning into just that: a religion for abusers.

  24. I came across an interesting quote by Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö today. Not that I’m a big fan, but this particular observation is entirely appropriate within this context:
    “The Buddha, who attained a state free from all fear, declared that his teachings could not be dismantled by anyone outside its fold. For example, when a lion has died, he is only consumed from the inside by worms and insects; no animal will eat his flesh from without. Similarly, the Buddha’s Dharma will be consumed and dismantled only by those within it. This has been prophesied in the Sutras. By remembering this, and always being aware of it, we must ward off this internal consumption by abandoning what must be abandoned and doing what must be done.”
    Source: ‘Four Essential Buddhist Texts’, p. 21,
    It seems to me that this is exactly what we see while watching Sogyal Lakar, Namkha Rinpoche, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, and other lamas saving their skin: Tibetan Buddhism is being consumed and dismantled by those within.
    Thomas Laird quoted the fourteenth Dalai Lama recently, citing his ‘The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama’ (pp. 94-95), which makes for another worthwhile observation:
    ‘I was lucky enough to hear these words from him in person, and they have remained with me. I hope they have some benefit for others: they are not offered as any excuse for misdeeds by hypocrites who claim to teach the dharma but do not obey its teachings. These comments from him were offered in the context of a discussion about the Muslim invasions of India in the 11th-13th centuries. Still they seem to ring true for each of us, today.
    Begin Quote:
    The Muslims had led annual campaigns out of what are now Afghanistan and Pakistan, fighting their way across the Gangetic Plain from west to east for two hundred years. Muslim armies looted and then torched the monasteries: the Buddhist statues appalled the iconoclastic Muslims. Finally, the Muslims reached Vikramashila, the last great monastery left intact. At Vikramashila, the Muslims slaughtered the monks. The libraries burned for days. The attackers shattered the statues and stole the gold and jewels that adorned them. The army demolished every building, down to the last stone in the foundations of the dozens of temples that once towered in the morning mists; they uprooted them and threw them into the Ganges River. The destruction of Vikramashila was complete: the site has never been identified. This image of the destruction of Buddhism in India, the irony of its disappearance from the land of its birth, had haunted me for decades. I was eager to discuss with the Dalai Lama how Buddhism died in its homeland.
    “How was Buddhism destroyed in India?” I asked. “Was it just the Muslim attacks?”
    “Nothing is caused by one factor,” the Dalai Lama began. “One good scholar, who has now passed away, sent me a book that he wrote where he discussed the three causes of the decline of Buddhism in India. “First,” the Dalai Lama continued, “the patrons of the monasteries developed more of an inclination toward non-Buddhist traditions. Second, external forces like the Muslim invasions and others—these forces tried to destroy Buddhism. Third, the monasteries and the monks themselves became very wealthy, and they accumulated a lot of gold in the name of Tantra. As we have discussed, there was drinking and sex. These things happened. So the public lost their respect for the monks, some despised the monks, or lost their trust. So I think that there was not one cause but many.”
    I was surprised to hear him blame Buddhists for these events; I had always held the Muslims responsible. “Really?” I inquired. “You do not blame the Muslims?”
    “I think in the Tibetan case also, just as with the Indian case, there is a tendency to look at the external causes. The tendency to look at external forces first is deeply rooted in the human mind and difficult to eliminate. We cannot do so much about others, about external forces. But then ourselves, if we do not practice well, if we are not disciplined, then our religion becomes hypocritical. This is real. So this is the real history of Buddhism in India and Tibet.” End Quote.’

    1. Ironic that the behaviour and speech of the main emanation of Choki Lodro appears to be functioning to damage the dharma from within…

  25. Yes, Rob, and His Holiness quotes from that scholar, Professor Joshi, at the 1993 conference when he advises that for the sake of the Buddhadharma as well as for the wellbeing of students, students should and must speak out against abuses.

    1. “The tendency to look at external forces first is deeply rooted in the human mind and difficult to eliminate. We cannot do so much about others, about external forces.”

        1. Yes, that phase of work (started by the eight) is underway, within Rigpa, to whatever degree they can do it. If the Rigpa Organization were part of this conversation, then it would be internal. However, we’ve created a new group.
          Now we are here, together. Yet our focus continues to be on the external, on what we’ve left. Here, together, we have the chance to turn toward one another, to make a turn. Our continued turning outward “is deeply rooted in the human mind and difficult to eliminate. ”
          We’ve seen the damage it causes, that can be our motivation to discover these problems in ourselves and support one another in the process.

            1. Thanks, Lola. As the Dalai Lama said “The tendency to look at external forces first…” and Peter Senge wrote “It’s [seeing their own part] how we collectively learn to take responsibility for the conditions we have created.”

  26. Rick, Can you elaborate? I’m not quite sure what “it” is in “We’ve seen the damage it causes…”? And “these” problems are abuse?

    1. Hi Joe!
      Sure, sorry for not being clear.
      It is from the Dalai Lama quote, “The tendency to look at external forces first is deeply rooted in the human mind and difficult to eliminate. We cannot do so much about others, about external forces..” and the damage is from this tendency. The Dalai Lama is pointing to this tendency as the root of abuse, this is what we can work together to reverse, to turn towards ourselves. We didn’t do this while in the Rigpa Organization, but perhaps that possibility exists for us here?

  27. The past few years, it has become abundantly clear that the abuse of power within Western Buddhism is endemic and systemic. Since the 1960s, Buddhism in the West has shown a continuous baseline level and sustained transmission of sexual and other abuses.
    I believe these abusive patterns to be integral to the very reception of Buddhism in the West, which effectively situates too many Buddhist teachers and their sanghas in a moral and epistemic vacuum—a cloud of habitual, pernicious unknowing.
    Buddhists in the West have always been as prone to abuses of power as non-Buddhists—perhaps more so.
    To me it’s simply inexcusable that successive generations of Western Buddhists believed themselves and their Asian teachers to be immune to the temptations of power, as if their ‘understanding’ of Buddhism somehow made the Western history of ideas superfluous.
    As the present alternation of generations continues—babyboomers are mortal, after all—Western Buddhists in their prime have a moral duty to help address and redress the fateful mistakes that were made by putting the countless victims of this Buddhist bonfire of the vanities first—nót their teachers, nót their sanghas, nót their organizations, and most definitely nót themselves.

  28. Rob, I agree with your statement, except that I would take it a step further and say, “The past few years, it has become abundantly clear that the abuse of power within Western Buddhism AND WITHIN TIBET AND INDIA AS WELL” is endemic and systemic.” I’m not knocking the Tibetan and Himalayan peoples as people, but I am saying that the abuse of power has always been there. Wherever you have human beings and people who are given too much power, there is always corruption, regardless of race or culture. It is very important for us to realize that the abuse in Tibetan Buddhism is a universal problem, and not just a problem only in the West. I think that because the West is a more open society, these problems are more likely to come to the surface and be seen. That doesn’t mean they didn’t exist before, or that they don’t exist in other cultures. It’s time to stop putting human beings on pedestals in any culture and realize that wherever there are humans, there is going to be corruption of power. Some of the ideas in Buddhism are good, but worshiping human beings is where the problem lies. The lesson here is that all “heroes” and “gurus” have clay feet, if you get close enough to that person to see their flaws. It is naive to believe that human beings behave any differently in any culture where excessive power is given into the hands of one individual.

  29. I want to add that because Westerners do have a tendency to idolize lamas without hesitation, and be totally naive and fall into guru worship very easily, the lamas take full advantage of that.

    1. I second both your observations, Catlover. Even the Dalai Lama observes remnants of medieval feudalism in present day Tibetan Buddhism. Besides, there are many ideas floating around in lamas heads that are plain backward. And yes, evidently, Buddhists in other Aslan countries have problems with power of their own.
      I’ve seldomly seen power (and its abuses) being discussed by Asian Buddhists or Western teachers, and I wonder if there’s even a Buddhist word for it. The most dangerous form of power is the power that is not seen for what it is, of course.
      This is why I find it abhorrent and highly destructive that so many Western Buddhists continue to ignore insights into power and its abuses that took their own native cultures and societies centuries (and much suffering and death) to reach and develop.

    1. Crikey – horrific.
      DKR used to praise CTR very highly, encourage students to read his work.
      What the hell is going on?
      I personally have such an aversion now to the Tibetan Buddhist scene after personal experiences in SI and the revelations following the exposure of SL last year. Now Shambhala and others are rightfully under the spotlight.
      DKR says it’s the teacher’s responsibility if wholesome dharmic seeds within the student are damaged by his behaviour…. bon chance monsieur

      1. I think SL and DJ KR where in awe about trungpa’s ability to manipulate and con westerners. I really do think it’s a cultural thing. We westerners were incredibly gullible to think there was something noble about a predatory brutal, feudalistic society.

        1. I read that Sogyal, visiting Trungpa in the early days and seeing his set-up (women on tap) said ‘That’s what I want’. Could be hearsay but I’ve seen it written more than once.

          1. @Barbara van Schaik,
            It’s not just hearsay. Trungpa was Sogyal’s inspiration, especially when Sogyal saw all the women lined up for sex! He thought, “Wow, just like a rock star! This is what I want!” How could he not want it? They are birds of a feather and so much alike. How could Sogyal not find Trunpa’s lifestyle totally perfect for him?

        2. @Not so hopeful anymore,
          Yes, it’s true Westerners are gullible. When are they going to wake up?!?!? How much have these lamas got to do before people finally realize what they are really like?

    2. I’m not going to watch it myself but going by the reactions of others, it sounds like a TRIGGER WARNING is needed. CRUELTY TO ANIMALS.

      1. It was a written testimonial and yes Matilda a warning would be useful. I skim read it only and that was enough for me…. can’t imagine what it would have been like to actually be present at the time.

        1. @Rose,
          Yes, that’s what I did too. I couldn’t stand to read all the details, but I saw enough! What a disgusting man!

    3. @notsohopeful Thanks so much for this link. Reading this story again especially in this context, and seeing the comments as well, renews my trust in it. It is interesting to see that none of the few Shambhala apologists who made comments denied the story, but rather tried to bat it away, or explain it away. My favorite is the person who informed us that the cat could have been Satan in disguise. Oh goodness.
      Just a horrifying, appalling story. I’m so grateful to Leslie for telling it. The truth is a broom keeping things clean, open, and transparent. It benefits everyone.

  30. The whole collective behavior of lamas as a group is what has damaged it for me. I can’t even respect someone who would respect Trungpa. His sadistic behavior makes a mockery of the teachings on “compassion” and “love for all beings.” Anyone who could excuse that kind of behavior, or think he is a true “crazy wisdom” master is off my list as far as I’m concerned! It’s really stupid that insane, crazy people are held up as “enlightened” beings in this tradition.

    1. Yes sadistic seems to be the right description for cruelty to people and animals 🙁
      Inflicting their own psychological damage on others…
      Steer clear!

  31. Unfortunately, this story is probably true. Trungpa Rinpoche had a visceral, almost pathological, dislike of cats, and both his body and mind were falling apart during his last years of life. I never saw him do anything like this, myself, but I can easily imagine him doing it, and I can also imagine his guards and attendants standing by and watching him do it. This is completely heartbreaking to me.

    1. @Been there I can imagine his guards and attendants doing literally whatever he told them to do. Who would ever disobey him? Merwin and Naone tried to at the Halloween party, in the nicest possible way, and they had their door beaten down and were dragged kicking and screaming to the meditation hall to be insulted by Trungpa and stripped naked by the kasung goons.
      The all take loyalty oaths to the King within Shambhala — the paramilitary kasung and teachers alike. No one can disobey. Your choice is to obey or leave — but if the latter then you are told your loyalty oath sends you to a bad rebirth, and you lose all your friends and are ostracized from what might have been the only community you’ve ever known. Oh, and you are slandered pervasively, and your sense of self-confidence, self-esteem, and basic goodness might be ground to a pulp. What a sick, perverted system.

      1. Trungpa’s group: a true cult in every sense of the word, complete with henchmen and goons, abuse and forced participation. Why wasn’t this group ever shut down by the authorities, and why do lamas still revere this pervert?

  32. Over the years, I’ve acquired originals of some very hard to find sources on the so-called ‘Naropa Poetry Wars’. I’m making them available through this link:
    Besides, this special issue of Yoga Journal (‘Perils of the Path: Why Teachers Go Astray: Gurus, Sex, & Spirituality’) proves that already in 1985 there was a clear awareness that something was wrong:
    I believe studying contemporaneous documents such as these is very helpful, and actually desperately needed. They put the abuses by Sogyal Lakar, Sakyong Mipham and many, many other Buddhist teachers in the West in a proper historical context.
    The abuses derive from clear patterns in the very reception of Buddhism in the West. I personally think they were preprogrammed in that reception, and I believe that was obvious early on—at least since the 1970s and 1980s.
    Unfortunately, we now have entire generations of senior Western Buddhist teachers who failed to heed clear warning signs along the path and for decades chose to look away. Of the senior teachers who act with dismay when confronted with the prevalence of the (sexual) abuses that are being reported, many do so in bad faith.
    As a result of choices made, by and large, the self-critical awareness and very teachability of Western Buddhist communities have proven to be very limited indeed.
    I don’t know if there’s a Buddhist word for ‘intractable’, but it is certainly a word that first comes to mind whenever I think of Western Buddhists: as a rule, they don’t learn from past mistakes at all.
    The second word that comes to mind is ‘premature’, for I personally believe that an uncritical or a-critical ‘reception’ of Buddhism is no reception of Buddhism at all.
    Mahatma Gandhi reportedly answered the question ‘What do you think of Western civilization?’ with ‘I think it would be a good idea’. I tend to give the same answer when asked about the reception of Buddhism in the West.
    If the rampant (sexual) abuse is to be addressed and redressed at all, it’ll be up to Western Buddhists in their prime—not those in the autumn of their lives.

    1. Great archive, thanks for posting it. I’ve seen a lot of the material, but not the full versions.
      Very, very, good, nuanced interview with A. Ginsberg in the Boulder Monthly.

  33. That is such a big help, Rob, but the two links lead to the same page so I can’t find Yoga Journal (‘Perils of the Path: Why Teachers Go Astray: Gurus, Sex, & Spirituality’). The old Trungpa materials are invaluable and should not be forgotten.

    1. Thank you, Rob. It helps to know all of this long history. So many of the older generation of practitioners must have turned a blind eye to a lot, or convinced themselves everything was good when it was obvious it was not.

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