Around a month ago, a group of 20 Rigpa and ex-Rigpa students sent an email to teachers listed as teaching in Lerab Ling in the coming year. Included was a copy of the letter by the 8 to make sure that they could read it for themselves, a summary of the issues that had arisen in the sangha as a result of the reveleations, and a request for them to teach on topics that would be helpful to students in processing the allegations. Our concern was that the issue of abuses of power were being swept under the carpet in the interests of business as usual, and that this was detrimental to the students. We felt that visiting teachers were in a good position to help students if they didn’t ignore the ‘elephant in the closet’ and actually addressed the issues that had come up.
The email was sent to Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche, Dzigar Kontrul, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Ringu Tulku, Jetsun Palmo, Kamdrul Rinpoche, Philippe Cornu, Alain Beauregard, Christine Longaker, and Pascale Tanant. We ony received replies from Jetsun Khandro, Dzigar Kontrul, Jetsun Palmo and Tsoknyi Rinpoche. Jetsun Khandro and Dzigar Kontrul were decent enough to reply, but essentially only said that they were praying for the sangha. Jetsun Palmo was candid in her reply but did not want her comment made public.
It seems that even in Western teachers there is a desire not to become involved in the issue, even when a teacher’s misuse of power reflects badly on Tibetan Buddhism as a whole. All credit to those who have actually spoken up, like Matthieu Ricard and Venerable Thubten Chodron.
The silence from the majority of recipients is telling, especially in contrast to the reply from Tsoknyi Rinpoche, who not only gave a careful reply to our letter but also gave permission for us to publish it.
Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s reply
He said that he had read the letter from the 8 carefully and that:
“I am increasingly more aware of the situation and have informally talked to some students in Europe and the U.S. Also, I have read some of the letters by other Rinpoches and teachers.
“My commitment, to the best of my abilities, is to teach pure dharma, especially when there is a deep need.
“I do agree fully with what Mingyur Rinpoche wrote and the importance of ethics in dharma by teachers and students, including the need for teachers to practice ethical behavior. What he said is very important:
[Quote from Mingyur Rinpoche’s Lions Roar article] . . . the violation of ethical norms needs to be addressed. If physical or sexual abuse has occurred, or there is financial impropriety or other breaches of ethics, it is in the best interest of the students, the community, and ultimately the teacher, to address the issues. Above all, if someone is being harmed, the safety of the victim comes first. This is not a Buddhist principle. This is a basic human value and should never be violated.
“I do value my long-term friendship with Sogyal Rinpoche and want to acknowledge that he has helped many people with teachings, books and the dharma to flourish in a good way around the world. At the same time and apart from my personal relationships with him as with many Rinpoches and lamas, the ethical core of dharma is what is most essential (again this is expressed really clearly by Mingyur Rinpoche.) ”
In reply to the part of the letter detailing the aftermath of the revelations for the sangha, he said:
“I am aware of this, and although I don’t know all the details of the situation personally, I am most concerned about how to help with the suffering and trauma for all the students. When there is conflict everyone feels pain and confusion. I do want to focus, when I have the time to teach, on how to work more and more with skillful ways of healing. My online course on Fully Being also addresses how to heal in different ways.”
We were all very grateful to have this reply from Tsoknyi Rinpoche, and relieved that here was another lama we could trust, someone who is firmly committed to ethical behaviour from teachers.
Some ex-Rigpa students from the Dharma Companions Facebook group are doing Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s online course Fully Being and are finding it very helpful.
One such student said, “Tsoknyi Rinpoche is very good at helping students to not fall into spiritual bypassing of feelings and issues. He helps you to deal with issues, not just sweep them under the carpet in the name of ‘letting go’.”
Current and previous students of Rigpa wanting private support are welcome to join the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
Ex-Rigpa students and their dharma friends can stay in touch through the Dharma Companions Facebook Group.
The What Now? Reference Material page has links to a wealth of articles in the topics related to abuse in Buddhist communities. For links to places to assist in healing from abuse see the sangha care resources page.
Those of you who are interested in ‘keeping Buddhism clean’ could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page.
Please consider sponsoring our editor for the many hours of work involved in keeping this blog running and the information up to date.