Is Tibetan Buddhism Really a Complete Path?

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? groupApply 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.

The Facebook page and You Tube Channel associated with this blog are called Living in Peace and Clarity. Click the relevant link on the side bar to ‘Like’ and ‘Subscribe’.

11 Replies to “Is Tibetan Buddhism Really a Complete Path?”

  1. I particularly liked the Video that accompanies this latest blog. Moonfire has hit the nail on the head in showing how the culture of Tibetan Buddhism is not a complete spiritual path for us Westerners who value the importance of psychotherapy and the need to be a balanced, well-rounded decent person in order to integrate what are exceptional teachings on a very subtle level of mind, into a healthy day to day life. Too many lamas have proved how they are incapable of walking the talk in this modern world because they are simply too flawed as individuals. It is very worrying indeed to consider how such perfect teachings in theory are being transmitted through the filter of problematic personalities resulting in a debasement of their intrinsic pure nature that are on par with the best of the non-dual Christian and Sufi traditions which I have had to turn to in order to find a sense of completion. Deeply problematic has been the practice of Guru yoga when it locks a student into the impasse of a Lama’s shadow side…..the blindspot. We have seen how traumatic it is for the student to break free from a blind belief system that then prevails within the Sangha as a coping strategy. This is most definitely not what true spiritual teachings are about. At the same time I have to acknowledge that the spiritual path is not necessarily a bed of roses. Life itself may take us down difficult avenues in order to instill in us a deeper awareness of our transcendent qualities and restore us to optimum health in body heart and mind. Yesterday I packed up nearly all my Dharma books to give to a friend who is setting up a centre. I am glad that they have gone to a good home and may be of help to others. I took many things off my shrine as well, keeping only what resonates in my heart. I breathed a huge sigh of relief at my rebuttal of any further indoctrination or control of my mind. Part of the fault had been with my own addiction to be a Tibetan scholar and acquisitively buy book after book after book. It has been a deliberate shift into trusting my own heart’s wisdom. Books have played their part and I am thankful to them, but at some point one has to let go and let be, at least I have felt so.

    1. Thanks Toria. I’m so very aware when I make these vlogs that I’m probably alientating those who still have faith TB as a complete path. It’s nice to know that others are coming to the same conclusions as I am.

      I’m glad I had my 20 yrs of TB study and practice because now I have no more desire to get any more teachings or even practice it anymore (though mantras do tent to pop up when I walk!) and like you I have a sense of freedom. I no longer try to fit into the Buddhist mould, and I’m amazed to see how much I did so, suppressing aspects who I am in the process.

      By thinking TB was ‘it’, was all I needed, I got stuck there long after I should have moved on – always looking outwards to the guru for more teachings, more experiences. There is value in the teachings for sure, as you know, but the guru student relationship model as outlined in Words of My Perfect Teacher is actually not a healthy one, and students need to be really careful not to go into it unless they have healthy boundaries and no tendency for co-dependency because that kind of relationship fosters codependency, and unscrupulous lamas feed on that. Lamas ignorant of such things also do not correct co-depent tendencies and so the relationship becomes toxic. I think Tibetan Buddhism is only for people who have done sufficient prior work that they have a very healthy ego. Considering that you can read all the major texts without ever seeing a lama, it’s hardly necessary any more. Certainly life has enough hard knocks without having to have a lama to push your buttons. And I believe that the lama principle in one’s life – that which acts as a catalyst for recognising our true nature – will appear when we are ready.

      As you say the spiritual path is not easy and though some Tibetan lamas like to think that they have a tough path that really works on you, carving your own path is much harder. It’s easy to give yours spiritual path over to someone else, but as the Buddha’s life story shows, in the end, you have to walk your own path and do the work yourself. I decided recently that life is my spiritual path and that if I pay attention to every moment and my responses to them, there is plenty of opportunity for growth.

      1. Beautifully put Thalia. I do still treasure what I connect to as being heart essence Teachings in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, but now quietly and secretly on my own. I do trust that life will give to me all that I truly need and that there is no difference between the so-called ordinary and the so-called spiritual and living in this way brings a wonderful sense of freedom and well-being. It has been such a pleasure to link up with you and other like minded people in the ex-Rigpa What Now group and I feel quite hopeful that a fresh energy is moving through the Tibetan Buddhist scene and that at last the best of Western and Tibetan wisdom can meet to provide a complete path in times to come.

        1. Ahhh, that gladdens my heart, Toria. I think there is fresh look at spirituality happening. Jeff Brown is an important grounding voice and I plan to review his book soon.

  2. I think the path may be a complete path. However we confused that with belonging to a Sangha and following a teacher. As I understand it the Buddha sought out things for himself. We have to do the same. We have to put the instructions into action. Not easy. We followed a teacher for guidance and help. We didn’t get it. Nowadays there are a lot of books we can read to figure it out for ourselves. There were always in Buddhism hearers and solitary realiszers so it is possible. It is said they reached a certain level of realisation but there was more to be seen directly and understood. As to the swift path, if the teachers ‘do it in the manner of a king’ then they are really only out for themselves. So it is still up to the individual student to figure it out. I think it is possible to follow a complete path unfortunately getting guidance and advice from a qualified teacher is just not possible.

    1. Yes, I think it’s possible if a student was truly able to work with the teachings deeply and honestly, but I’m not sure how many of us can do that without guidance, and the teachers don’t seem to have the required knowlege of emotional baggage they need in order to address it. Which is why as you said, we can’t look to the teachers for advice. But maybe we can look to each other! There is a wealth of experience that we all have had that we can share with each other and if we trust our inner direction, we can each choose whatever feels right for us at any time.

  3. In one of the suttra’s the Buddha discusses a master with his students. He askes if this master is famous and this master is famous his direct students say. Then this master is in great danger the Buddha replies. Why ? Primate instinct!
    There is one aspect of human behaviour or primate behaviour which is not addressed in the paths of Buddhism and that is what leadership, being the boss, having power in or of a group does with your mind. There is no practice to overcome this effect. I think it is very basic primate behaviour. Is there really any difference between the behaviour of the leader of a group of chimps or gorillas and SR? Both mess around with sexual behaviour in their group.
    So I don’t think we are sold a lemon, but we are witnessing an unaddressed problem in buddhism or other relegions where one person has to much power, just instinct.
    Humans are very clever, this instinct behaviour is sold with strange concepts like crazy wisdom.

  4. Thalla,
    Thanks for in the insightful vid on Tibetan Vajrayana.
    Your efforts to spell out your understanding will benefit others.

    I was the student of 2 good lamas for 20 years, but in the end abandoned the path.

    As I see it, the basic, irredeemable flaw in the tradition is that the Great Creator Spirit is left out, and in fact denied. Problem is, only one’s heart reconnection with the Heart of the Being of “God” sets one straight in a way nothing else can. There is no substitute or method that can accomplish the genuine and complete healing we all long for. Only the reawakening to our inherent heart-continuum with Who Is can accomplish this.

    Even though I had 2 lamas who were genuine and pure masters of their lineage, over time I recognized what was missing for them. Their tradition had not quite returned them to the Source of themselves. Their dzogchen samadhi was actually keeping them outside of this reconnection, kept them floating a bit above the “place” in the heart that must open to find that Radiant Spring of Conscious Life that sustains us all.

    I am glad and grateful to have befriended those lamas I met, and I wish them well in their quest for wholeness.

    I hope you keep up your efforts to clarify your experience and discuss for the sake of others. In the end, we all must trust ourselves.


    1. Trusting ourselves is the key, but it’s also hard for people to do, which is why we always look for answers outside. And all these belief and practice systems can be helpful for various people at certain stages of their life, I think we just need to know the limitations and strengths of each and know when we’ve learned what we need to and it’s time to move on. I should have left Rigpa 5 years ago when I discovered I simply could not practice formally anymore, but then if I had, I wouldn’t have created What Now? and Beyond the Temple.

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