One of the result of Sogyal’s betrayal for me is questioning EVERYTHING about Tibetan Buddhism. I realise that I accepted too much on faith alone. I had faith that ‘Buddhism’ was all good. But the Buddha himself said we shouldn’t take what he said on faith alone, let alone what some teacher 2500 years in the future might say.
I tested some of it, the stuff that related specifically to me, my mind, and how I handled my life, but I never doubted that Tibetan Buddhism was a complete path as Sogyal said. It certainly appeared to have everything covered, and we did have a step by step progression to follow that was supposed to end up with us being enlightened – in one lifetime. Given the actual results, however, I now have to ask whether or not this is actually the complete path we were told it was.
What are the results?
After forty years in Rigpa, and longer for Shambala, do we have any enlightened beings amongst the students? Are Sogyal and Trungpa’s oldest students the wise and compassionate beings they should be if this path according to them is truly what they say it is? And look at these abusive lamas; If they did actually practice the path they taught – which is highly doubtful – then they are hardly a good advertisment for their path. They may be highly developed in the area of meditation and be able to share some dharma gems, but they are also emotionally immature and highly manipulative people. This is hardly the kind of person we should be aiming to emulate, and they are clearly further from any genuine ‘enlightenment’ than the average law abiding citizen, so something must be amiss in what they taught.
Look at those still running Shambala and Rigpa. In both organisations we see the same kind of DARVO responses (Deny. Attack. Reverse Victim and Offender) as given by every person and institution accused of abuse. There is nothing enlightened or even genuinely compassionate in their behaviour – and certainly no following the vajrayana teachings on purification of bad karma as the basis for their actions (confession, regret and reparation before a witness). What we’re seeing is people concerned primarily with protecting and continuing the very institutions, teachings and teachers who caused and enabled the abuse in the first place.
Can a cult stop being a cult?
In both cases, Shamabala and Rigpa, the changes are superficial, and will remain so unless they actually denounce the behaviour of the teachers who perpetrated the abuse – and in Shambala that’s a lot of teachers, since abuse of one kind or another seem to be throughout all levels of the organisation. These organisations are clearly cults, and I don’t believe they can be redeemed, because though they may remove their teachers from the organisation, they will not denounce their behaviour. They still think it was crazy wisdom and therefore accept abuse as a legimate part of the vajrayana path. For so long as this is the belief at the core of these organisations, their codes of conduct are only for show, and the lovely facade they present at local centres are nothing more than cult induction techniques.
Does the path work with the whole of us?
I realise now that I suppressed my feelings for years under Rigpa’s tutelage, so though my awareness of my own mind and the empty nature of reality is fairly firmly established, I’m underdeveloped in terms of my emotional intelligence – just like my lama. I’m grateful for what I gained in the area of mental awareness, but I can’t say that it’s a complete path.
I’d done a lot of work on my childhood patterns before coming to Rigpa, and I have a high level of physical awareness gained from years as a dancer, but there was no place to work on those aspects of ourselves in Rigpa. The physical aspect of ourselves was simply ignored, and we were advised against looking into our past to examine what we might have picked up from our childhood that is holding us back today.
Not all teachers are the same
Other teachers don’t ignore the physical aspect, however. Namkahi Norbu had his Vajra dance (which I always wanted to learn and never managed to) and Tsoknyi Rinpoche talks about dropping our mind down into our body and tuning into what is happening there. He also talks about acknowledging our feelings by giving them a ‘handshake’ before letting them go. So clearly there is variety within the tradition which makes a general evaluation impossible.
Some people tell me that there are some teachers who are genuinely good people. His Holiness the Dalai Lama appears to be a fine example of compassion and wisdom, so really here, I’m talking about Tibetan Buddhism as it’s taught in Shambala, Rigpa and other organisations of abusive lamas, because in these organisations, the results are not well-balanced wise and compassionate people, and those that are were likely like that before they joined up.
Because there is no central authority in Tibetan Buddhism, many lineages, and individual lamas can basically do and say what they want, there will always be exceptions to disprove any evaluation of the tradition as a whole. But in general the teachings do primarily work with one’s mind, emotions are the enemy and the body is ignored, and so it’s easy to end up with people (including teachers) who are not grounded in their body and in the world, and who are experts at bypassing their issues and emotions rather than dealing with them.
If you have experience of teachers who do seem to teach and embody a path that acknowledges and works with all aspects of ourself -physical, mental and emotional – please do share in the comments. I’d also like to hear your thoughts on how Tibetan Buddhism did or did not live up to your expectations. Do you feel as if you’d been sold a lemon?
For more on this topic check out my vlog.
If you’d like a more private place to chat about your ongoing spiritual path after you’ve left an abusive community, you can join the Beyond the Temple Facebook group. This group is for people who don’t want to talk about abuse, but want to keep in touch and share their discoveries, inspiration and challenges as they move on with their lives.
If you want to talk about abuse, then Rigpa or ex-Rigpa students can join the secret What Now? group. Apply via the contact form here, telling us about yourself and why you want to join the group.
Students from other Vajrayana communities who need somewhere where they can talk about abuse and find survivor support can join the Survivors of Vajrayana Abuse and their Allies group.
Note that you will not be added to these groups if you don’t answer the questions.