Victim Blaming Disguised as Dharma

Bob Thurman recently did a podcast on abuse in Buddhism, and though he said some  things that some may find helpful in the examination of the issues raised by abuse in Buddhism, I think we need to talk about the part where he fosters one of the ideas that enabled abuse and victim blaming in Rigpa. By talking this way, Bob has shown that he has no idea of the toxic culture that arises around abusive lamas or how some teachings/beliefs/ideas can be misued to enable abuse and so need a very careful balancing of polarities if they are to be taught responsibly.

The problematic idea

Below is a rough transcript of the section in question. It is not word for word, but close enough for you to get the gist of what he was saying.

Someone who was more or less ready for the teaching and it was given by someone who was somewhat abusive but not perfectly enlightened and gave it to a disciple enough that the disciple was able to go beyond that teacher, then that disciple will still be using that lama who had faults as if he were a Buddha in order to transform their own faults. So we can say that it is still okay for that disciple that they don’t have to join in on rejecting that lama. In their mind they could stick with that guru, and they actually might go beyond.
What was harm to one might not be harm to another because they had an advanced level of something from something they obtained from previous lives such that it is possible that they could use something dished out to them from an impure vessel to go beyond. It is possible. It isn’t so black and white.” Robert Thurman

What teaching?

“Ready for the teaching’? What teaching? We’re talking about abuse here. Is Bob suggesting that abuse is a legitimate teaching method? Unfortunately it appears that way.
“Given by someone who was somewhat abusive but not perfectly enlightened.” Not perfectly enlightened? Is Bob suggesting that someone abusive could be even a little enlightened?

Actual harm and feelings of harm

“What was harm to one might not be harm to another …” This is subscribing to the idea that harm cannot be objectively determined, that if you don’t ‘feel’ harmed then you actually haven’t been harmed. But when someone has been knocked unconscious, pulled by the ear until it bleeds, beaten so that you can see the bruising, or punched in the stomach such that they have a hematoma, it’s clear to anyone that the vicitm has been harmed, and certainly a medic could attest to that in court because the evidence of harm is clear to see.  Anyone who experienced such things and then said that they didn’t ‘feel’ hurt, indicates that they have not only been physically harmed but are also so under the sway of trauma bonding and gaslighting by their abusive lama that they protect him and fully subscribe to his version of reality. Not feeling harmed in these circumstances most likely does not indicate some advanced spiritual level, but rather that the poor person is trapped in a web of lies and delusion created by their abuser for the purpose of control and exploitation.
Bob either doesn’t understand or simply neglects to point out that not feeling harmed doesn’t mean that you weren’t actually harmed – not where blood, bruises, scars, and ptsd are concerned. Not recognising or admiting to the symptoms of ptsd in yourself, for example, doesn’t mean that you don’t exhibit those symptoms for the objective observer to see.

Advanced level?

“… because they had an advanced level of something from something they obtained from previous lives …” Advanced level, really. You’re going with that? This idea did so much harm in Rigpa. One of the reasons students stayed and kept taking the abuse was because they wanted to be at that ‘advanced’ level, and they wanted to prove to themselves, other students and their lama that they were such an ‘advanced’ student. How did they prove it? By not complaining about the abuse, by trying really hard to “use something dished out to them from an impure vessel to go beyond.”
When they finally saw the abuse as abuse, this idea that if you’re at an advanced level you can use abuse by your lama to benefit you spiritually was used by others to blame the victim. That the victim ‘felt’ hurt was seen as their fault, not the fault of the lama who actually hurt them. Sogyal said he felt sorry that people ‘felt hurt’. He never said he was sorry that he hurt them. This idea that a good/advanced student would be able to ‘transform’ the suffering they experienced at the hands of the lama allows abusive lamas to not take responsibility for the harm they have caused – something that is karmically inadvisable – and it also results in some students continuing to see abuse by lamas as an acceptable teaching method.
It’s true that people can use all sorts of difficult situations in a way that contributes to their spiritual growth, but what Bob neglects to make clear, and what needs to be made clear in relationship to abusive lamas is that this does not give anyone the right to abuse people with the expectation that that abuse be used for spiritual growth.

Physical, sexual, and psychological abuse are not teaching tools.” Mingyur Rinpoche 

Correctly identifying responsibility

The major issue with this kind of thinking is that it takes the responsibility for harm away from the lama and places it on the student, making the issue a perception of harm, rather than actual harm that can be seen by an objective person. And so it bypasses the issue of the lama’s wrong doing, but actually the lama’s wrong doing is the issue here, not whether the student can ‘handle’ it or not.
They shouldn’t have had to ‘use something dished out to them from an impure vessel’. The kinds of behaviour Sogyal regularly exhibited should never have occured – especially in a spiritual setting – and the fact that he hurt people was his fault, not theirs. Abusing students is not teaching them dharma. It’s teaching them how to be a bully and get away with it by twisting the teachings such that they lay the responsibility for the harm on the student for their perception of harm rather than on the lama for causing actual harm.
We shouldn’t be judging the student here. It’s the lama we should be judging – preferably in a court of law. He’s the one in a position of power with a responsibility to his students to do them no harm.
This is what Bob Thurman neglected to make clear and what other proponents of this idea also forget, so the idea that students can use abusive behaviour to ‘go beyond’ becomes a justification of the lama’s behaviour, but even if there is some truth to the basic concept, justification of the lama’s behaviour is not a logical inference.

Different responses

Certainly in any shared situation people will respond differently, some will be more bothered than others by being yelled at by their boss for instance, but that doesn’t mean that their boss should yell at them, thinking that he is giving them a great opportunity to not let it upset them. The boss is still a bastard and abuse is never an acceptable or effective management method.
Also the person who yells back might actually be handling it on a more healthy way for that person than the person who walks away thinking to themselves ‘I will not let him get under my skin’ or ‘he’s just a really unhappy person.’ To assume that one person is somehow more spiritually advanced than another because they ‘handled’ it better is simply not true, because the guy who yells back may have seen that the boss needs to be yelled at for his own sake, or for him yelling back might be exactly what he needed for himself for his own psychological health at that moment. And the person acting all meek may be simply enabling behaviour that is very bad for everyone and increasing their own sense of worthlessness. Of course, if the guy who yelled back yells at everyone, then it’s a different matter, but either way, it’s a toxic situation those people should never have been put in in the first place.
Could someone being in a bomb blast and seeing all that carnage use that as a means of liberation? I doubt that very much. There is a point at which a situation is just too toxic for people to be able to avoid some kind of trauma, no matter how well they ‘handle it’ and trying to ‘handle it’ well, thinking that means not showing any signs of trauma can be highly counterproductive for their healing, a repression rather than a facing of the reality of their feelings.

Similarity to abusive families

And when the abuse is coming from someone who professes to love you, the situation becomes even more traumatic. This is where the situation of those who were abused in a Buddhist community cannot be compared to those of the yogis incarcerated and tortured by the Chinese. Their tormentors never professed to love them or be torturing them for their benefit. And they didn’t betray any deep spiritual trust, because the yogis hadn’t  placed any trust in them. The yogis still had their devotion to their own guru to sustain them, but the abused students were abused by the very person in which they had placed their trust.
The sense of betrayal and confusion that comes from being abused by a spiritual teacher adds a whole other layer of trauma. The inner circle culture in Rigpa had all the dynamics of a family with an abusive father, so the closest situation that can be used for comparison is that of domestic abuse, not incarceration in prison. The more the spiritual seeker in this instance relates to their lama in a way similiar to how a child relates to their father, the more traumatic the situation would be for them, and a child-like adoration of and complete faith and trust in Sogyal was definitely encouraged in Rigpa. The betrayal of trust and neglect of duty of care is similar to that experienced by the child of an abusive father.
An abusive husband makes his wife feel like it’s her fault, but we all know it isn’t. She loses her self esteem in such an environment, which makes it hard for her to leave and keeps her always trying to do ‘better’ (even to the degree of apologising for causing him to hit her), and it was the same in Rigpa, just replace ‘husband’ with ‘lama’. But the situation in Rigpa is worse because the general culture is supportive of the abuser by giving a philosophical, so-called spiritual, reason to blame the student for their trauma. This attitude only increases the trauma, and anyone who professes any kind of idea that contributes to this culture of victim blaming is enabling abuse, just like the neighbour of a family where she knows there is excessive violence, but instead of reporting the abusive father to social services, she tells herself that it’s just a parent disciplining their child.
Even if adults have been given tools to make the most of an abusive situation, having those tools does not take responsibility for the abuse away from the perpetrator. And it certainly isn’t an excuse or a reason for a lama to abuse people with impunity thinking he is giving them an opportunity to grow. And that applies regardless of the lama’s level of realisation. Permiting someone to hurt someone else on the grounds that it is good for their spiritual development is just twisted thinking that allows violence to be perpetrated in the name of teaching dharma.

Not a failure

My understanding of how it was for people is that they tried for years to transform the abuse into something beneficial for them, but eventually they saw the situation for what it was – a culture of abuse – and then they left. That was the point where their wisdom kicked in. Any suggestion that leaving, or ‘feeling abused’ was some kind of failure on the student’s part is simply a cult control mechanism, thought manipulation, nothing more. It is most certainly not true.
It’s like in family abuse where speaking up or leaving is seen as a betrayal of the family. The idea just keeps family members stuck in the cycle of abuse. In Rigpa fear of being seen and treated as a failure was one of the things that kept people stuck in that toxic situation.
That people struggled for years under the expectation that they transform the abuse into something beneficial, just made the whole situation more toxic and more traumatising.

Misplaced attribution

One can separate oneself and ostracise a lama who abuses the sacred trust of being a spiritual teacher to abuse students using spiritual things as an excuse and method. It is ethical to do that. It protects yourself and protects others, but if there was some genuine learning, then one cannot hate that miscreant. One works with compassion towards people we hate, so why not apply that to the lama as well. So we still love even the bad gurus if we learned anything from them. We love the teachings, we love them, we consider them no longer qualified and we ask them to try to rehabilitate themselves, and if necessary we use law and media and reason to do that.” Bob Thurman. Abuse in Buddhism podcast.

Bob suggests that we remember the benefit we gained from a lama and honor him for that even while we reject them. This is the usual dharma teacher’s response to leaving a teacher,  and being good little Buddhists, we immediatly assume that any benefit we gained from our time as an abusive lama’s student is due to the qualities of the lama.
But what if it was all a performance? All of it. Even what we felt as love. The idea that Sogyal was nothing more than a consumate performer is something that has been suggested to me by many of the people I’ve spoken to who were directly abused – and they should know better than anyone. What if the good qualities we see in our disgraced lama are just a projection of what we want to see? What if by holding onto the idea that he did have some good qualities we’re just making ourselves feel better about the situation? I guess that’s an okay reason, but we should be willing to accept that it may only be wishful thinking on our part, and if we are to see truth directly we need to drop all our attachment and aversion related to our seeking out the benefit.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to see some good in our experience, or that some of us didn’t gain some beneift – clearly we did or we woudn’t have stuck around – just that we need to be careful that we don’t attribute that benefit all to the lama or hold onto our idea of benefit as an excuse not to examine our ‘realisation’.
Those who remain, still thinking they weren’t abused, and those who did feel some shift from something Sogyal did are likely not more advanced spirituality, but rather more able to manufacture or convince themselves of ‘results’, blind to the truth of the dynamics that keep them trapped, ignorant of the teachings on what a crazy wisdom master actually is, and are erroneously laying the benefit they gained on the lama, not on themselves, which is where they should be placing it. It is their devotion, their openess and trust that allowed understanding to arise, not any quality of the lama. Anything they experienced in a positive way was because of them, not him. The point we should not forget here is that the lama was not fit to be in his position.
Anyone who honours Sogyal for any transformation they may have felt from being abused by him (or taking teachings from him) is actually misplacing their attribution of benefit. Given his almost complete lack of qualificiation for the role he took on, any benefit we received was more likely to be despite Sogyal than because of him. It is more realistic to attribute any benefit we gained from our time in Rigpa to the variety of causes and conditions present rather than to one man.

Tough love?

The idea that a student should be able to transform abuse into some kind of realisation also contributes to the idea that tough love is part of vajrayana, and if you can’t ‘handle’ the tough love then you shouldn’t be a vajrayana student.
Is this really the kind of idea we want to propagate for Tibetan Buddhism? A religion where abuse is seen as part of the deal?
No matter from where this idea came, it was used in Rigpa, and can be used in future for so long as its propagated by lamas such as Dzongsar Khyentse, as a cult control mechanism to keep students taking the abuse and in slavery to the whims of the lama. Though some people may need to be treated firmly sometimes, we’re not talking about a sharply given reprimand here, we’re talking about what Karen Baxtor called ‘serious abuse’. There’s a huge difference between the loving parent who shouts at a child to stop them running onto the road in front of a car and then explains why they had to yell and the parent who grabs the child by the hair, drags them off the road and then beats them while they scream, leaving them bruised and traumatise. The second is abuse. The parent is merely releasing his frustration on the child. In the first instance the child learns not to run onto the road without looking. In the second instance the trauma of the beating obliterates the intended learning. They learn only to fear their father, not to take responsibility for checking for cars before stepping into the road.
Physical, emotional and sexual abuse is not love, is never skilful, and is not a teaching method. It’s been proven through educational studies that people learn better in an environment where they are rewarded for learning, not punished for their failures. That Sogyal did not see and apply this is another indication that he is certainly not enlightened, and that he went so far as to inflict this extreme behaviour on his students indicates that, despite whatever benefit anyone gained from their time in Rigpa, Sogyal and other lamas who hit, humilate, or ask sexual favours of students are not fit to teach. That’s the main point, and it should never get lost in talks on abuse in Buddhism.

Personal realities and community responsibilies

Trauma arising from abuse by a lama is NOT the student’s fault – even given their role in their perception of harm – and anyone who suggests that it is by using this idea that an advanced practitioner could benefit from an abusive lama shows a lack of understanding of the dynamics of the situation – particularly that the lama has broken his part in the teacher student relationship and therefore the required dynamics for transformation in a teaching sense are not present. They are also particularly ignorant on how such ideas have been distorted and used as a cult control mechanism.
The idea that students of any capacity can benefit from violent behaviour on the part of the lama must be discarded from Vajrayana, or at the very least, not emphasised and where it is mentioned, taught with a warning for how the idea is not an excuse or justification for harmful actions on the part of the lama. It does not bypass the lama’s responsibility to behave ethically and should not be used to make a student feel that they are a failure if their lama abuses them and they feel hurt by it.
Spiritual abuse is the worst kind of betrayal. To not feel hurt by it, rather than indicating some kind of realisation is more likely to indicate spiritual bypassing and supression of normal healthy human emotion. So don’t assume that feeling blessed rather than harmed, or experiencing what you interpret as a transendent state, indicates some kind of advanced spiritual capacity, it may just brainwashing and the kind of dissasociative state people commonly enter as a response to trauma. Or it may not.
Only one thing is certain in this play of personal realities: whatever you believe will be what you experience as truth, and only by dropping all beliefs will you have any chance of seeing reality directly. If you are brave enough to drop all beliefs and look directly at what actually is, rather than assuming that the truth is what you want it to be, then you are a true dharma practictioner.
Stopping abuse requires community participation. If we are to root it out, it is up to all of us to become educated, and Robert Thurman is not behaving responsibly by propagating this victim blaming disguised as vajrayana.
However, to his credit, he did also make some good points about teaching tantra and made it clear how unscrupulous lamas use the teachings on pure perception to faciliate abuse:

So lamas dish out initiations and then use the aspect [of the teachings] that ‘I’m now a Buddha in your eyes, and anything you see about me that doesn’t look like a Buddha, you have to imagine it is’, and then they abuse you. And worst of all they cripple your learning ability, they make you helpless.” Bob Thurman. Abuse in Buddhism podcast.

So watch out for any lama who suggests that anything you see about them that doesn’t look like a Buddha, you have to imagine it is. That’s a misuse of the pure perception teachings.

101 Replies to “Victim Blaming Disguised as Dharma”

  1. I agree in full, and want to add that I am afraid its to much truth than a real good “buddhist” could ever swallow.
    ( Why being so judgeful about others: my wife, ex-Rigpa as well, just read it and told me something like : thats too much truthful, nobody wants to read it)

  2. Maybe if good, old Bob Thurman kept his statements really short, sweet, and to the point, his message would be less confusing, lol! 😀
    What I got out of it was that he was specifically talking about someone like Milarepa when he was talking about a student gaining benefit from an abusive teacher. (He actually admitted that Marpa was abusive, which I found refreshing.) His point was that there are some exceptional saints who can turn adversity into something spiritually beneficial, no matter how bad it is. Milarepa was the kind of person you could put into a Chinese prison and he could be tortured and still get some sort of benefit out of it. That doesn’t justify the torture. I don’t think Bob was justifying lama abuse either, but with some of these teachers, it’s sometimes hard to tell what they mean. It would have been better if Thurman could have focused less on rare beings like Milarepa and focused more on the rest of us, lol! Most people aren’t Milarepa, so it’s almost irrelevant to bring him up when talking about whether or not abuse is ever acceptable.

  3. Very good and clear comment, Catlover, and helpful to me. I think that was the point of Thurmans statement.
    I personally however think, that it was useful to mention Milarepa, even if there are not so many beings like Milarepa around. Because it has something to do with showing another possibility of dealing with a situation of abuse. And thus showing us how we hold on to limiting beliefs, maybe more than necessary and beneficial sometimes. Even thinking of yourself as “victim” can be limiting you potential to deal with the situation or even mature from it. Thoughts and beliefs are very powerful. There is this saying: “Whether you think, you can do something or whether you think, you cannot, in both cases you are right.”
    After Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute barrier, within one year 24 other people could run a mile in a shorter time than 4 minutes, because the concept that this is impossible was broken.
    And I know one woman with a rare genetic disease, classified as “uncurable” upon hearing of another woman with the same disease, has healed herself, also healed herself shortly after.
    So if Thurman’s statement even gave one of the victims the belief, courage and will to forgive, heal the trauma and evolve, that benefitted at least that one person.
    And if the endeavour and commitment of all the bodhisattvas of all times to bring all beings to enlightenment, would have any purpose and effect, then by now it should be easier for more people to reach the same level as Milarepa.
    But anyway I fully agree with you that the probability is rather high, that most people are not yet at this level.
    So it’s not the question whether abuse is accaptable or not.

    1. I think the danger of these kinds of ideas comes when we use them to look at others instead of looking at ourselves – and looking at ourselves is their purpose. If we know that it is possible to transform even the worst situation into manure for enlightenement, that’s great and could indeed be beneficial for us to just have that possibility opened to us, but if we take this ideal as something we ‘should’ be able to do such that we feel bad about ourselves if we don’t manage it, or take it as a way to evaluate others or demand a certain kind of behaviour from them, such that we expect others to transform extreme adverse circumstances into something that we think is realisation, or feel that the worse we are to them the greater is their opportunity to grow, then the same idea becomes toxic. And this is what has happened in Rigpa.
      The ideals of the Milarepa story became really twisted around. The lojong teachings fed into it as well. Transforming adverse circumstances into enlightenment was something we were all supposed to be able to do, and anyone who admitted that actually this just feels like abuse to me, was seen as a failure. It’s ridiculous, but that’s what happened. Because even if you’re practicing methods for transforming shit it doesn’t give others the right to dish it out.
      And then there’s the other point that taking the shit may not actually be the response of a realised person in this situation. Perhaps taking S to court is the truly enlightened action here.
      So I think the point at which any Buddhist teaching becomes twisted is where we use it as a lense through which to look at others instead of a way to look at ourselves.

      1. @Moonfire, good points. Both the lojong teachings and Vajrayana have been badly used to muddy the water so that students no longer see abuse as abuse. The fact that is always missed is that Milarepa himself, as a realized yogi who often behaved in “crazy” ways, NEVER treated his own students with anything but complete, conventional kindness and patience.
        And because the lojong has been used to undermine the real suffering of those who have been abused, this then makes it harder for them to use those teachings in real ways as tools for healing. And because the Vajrayana has been used to imprison those who have been abused, this deepens their spiritual confusion and pain.
        It seems that the main trouble Bob has run into with his ideas is simply that he hasn’t been there and doesn’t have sufficient sensitivity to how these teachings have been abused.

        1. @joanneclark7,
          I assure you that Robert Thuirman and the Dalai Lama are on the exact same page re: abusive lamas, so if you don’t think RT understands, then you probably wouldn’t think the DL understands either. Frankly, RT sounded exactly like the DL to me in his recent talk. He said nothing different from what the DL would say, except that he rambled and got off onto tangents when he should have stuck to the topic. He didn’t endorse abuse, but he acknowledged the possibility of “crazy wisdom.” The DL has also said “crazy wisdom” exists as well. Where is the difference in what they say?
          Also, I see no difference in what they do either. Both of them pay lip service to standing up to abuse, but neither one has actually done anything to stop it. I realize that they have no power or authority to kick out lamas like Sogyal, but they could shun them. If the Dalai Lama can shun Geshe Michael Roach for bad behavior, then he could shun Tibetan teachers too. Apparently, if a teacher is a Tibetan, other lamas let them get away with anything, or make excuses for them. If a Westerner starts acting inappropriate, they get shunned and scolded. Double standard, anyone?

        2. @joanneclark7,
          Well actually, I take that back. Some crazy Western teachers haven’t been shunned at all by Tibetan teachers, so maybe it’s just certain Western teachers that the lamas pick as a scapegoat.

      2. @ Moonfire “So I think the point at which any [….] teaching becomes twisted is where we use it as a lense through which to look at others instead of a way to look at ourselves.”
        Respectfully, isn’t this what the blog has become, i.e. looking at others (Rigpa Organization, Sogyal Rinpoche, Dzongsar Khyentse, Chogyam Trungpa, Bob Thurman, etc.,etc.) instead of ourselves?
        Couldn’t we join in together and begin to explore our own situation and how we together created the Rigpa Organization and how we might be repeating the same mistakes here? Couldn’t “What Now?” be about those that are here? What might it take to make that kind of shift?

        1. @Richard New,
          “Respectfully, isn’t this what the blog has become, i.e. looking at others (Rigpa Organization, Sogyal Rinpoche, Dzongsar Khyentse, Chogyam Trungpa, Bob Thurman, etc.,etc.) instead of ourselves?”
          Sometimes I really wonder what point you’re trying to make and what your agenda really is. No, this isn’t a blog to just look at ourselves. This blog looks at the issue of abusive teachers, and how we respond to them. It also looks at how other teachers respond to them. If you want to just look at your own mind, that’s what your spiritual practice is for. This blog is to address what others are doing and how it effects others.

        2. @Richard New,
          I should say that we are talking about teachers in positions of authority, and their moral responsibility to take care of others and not betray their trust, etc. If you can’t see that, and you’re trying to get people to just naval gaze and not “criticize” bad behavior of so-called teachers, then what is it you’re trying to do?

          1. Hi Catlover,
            I’m suggesting we at least consider trying to do what we are asking others to do. Just a few years ago, we were “them”.
            Were you part of the Rigpa Organization, Catlover? It might make a difference in perspective. I was part of the Rigpa Organization for a long time and still feel quite connected.
            As always, I think online textual communication is quite difficult. Just as we might like it if those in the Rigpa Organization reached out to us with our concerns, we can also reach out to one another in good faith via other mediums that have a bit more flesh and blood, i.e. voice and visage.

            1. @Richard New,
              “Were you part of the Rigpa Organization, Catlover? It might make a difference in perspective.”
              No, I wasn’t part of Rigpa, but I have been around the “Buddhist block” long enough to see how people are treated by gurus. One doesn’t have to be part of Ripa to get a load of that, lol! But you’re right that my perspective may be a bit different than yours.

  4. Thank you for the post and your thoughts and analysis!
    It’s an incredible tricky problem – because also “harm” is a dependently arising and is not existing from its own side (still it exists conventionally and performs its functions) – that it is hard to get at it from a philosophical POV, covering all angles. I lack time and a motivation to add a reasonable comment to it but there are many things in the post really important to consider and to reflect. So, thank you for it!
    Just as a side note, Rigpa inner circles petition Sogyal Lakar to return to his post.
    I guess those Rigpa inner circle members and senior Rigpa members who – according to Remski – asked for the reinstallartion of Sogyal Lakar because of not having a problem with the abuse “allegations” see themselves as spiritual progressed.

    The petition letter asks for Lakar to be effectively reinstalled as spiritual figurehead of Rigpa. It uses the language of inclusivity to argue that Rigpa students who “don’t have a problem” with the abuse allegations against Lakar are now unfairly marginalized because of the controversy.

  5. @Lola,
    I truly get what you mean, and I understood what R. Thurman meant too. There are some special people (and they don’t all have to be Buddhists) who can take adversity, ANY adversity and turn it into diamonds. I think that was his point. Having listened to his talk more carefully again, I realize that he was also saying that someone might not necessarily be quite at the level of Milarepa to get benefit from an adverse situation with an unenlightened teacher. What he probably should have stressed, to avoid a misunderstanding, was that these kinds of people can get something good out of many kinds of hardship situations, not just abusive gurus, so it still doesn’t excuse an abusive teacher just because some people are able to get personal benefit from it. He should have been more clear on that point, but I cut him some slack because he tends to ramble and get off topic, so he got distracted before he could finish his point, lol! 😀
    I think it’s safe to assume that Robert Thurman is on the same page with anything that the Dalai Lama says regarding what should be done about abusive lamas. RT and the Dalai Lama agree on most things. If HHDL doesn’t support abusive lamas, then you can be sure that RT doesn’t either. I would be surprised if they had opposing opinions, wouldn’t you, lol?

    1. I thought so too Catlover. He basically neglected to qualify that part such that it couldn’t be used as victim blaming, and in so doing gave ammunition to those who want their victim blaming stance backed up.

    2. Well, one could say, it doensn’t specifically need a bodhisattva to provide for opportunities to turn adverse circumstances into a diamond. There are plenty of other unenlightened people doing this job 😉

  6. So, apparently senior Rigpa students are lobbying for Sogyal Lakar’s reinstatement—the recommendations in British lawyer Karen Baxter’s report notwithstanding. It fits a pattern: so far, I’ve seen no indication that any attempt at reform beyond paying lip service to principles of good governance is seen among the senior Rigpa members that remain at this time.
    It’s a measure of their intellectual stasis and moral inertia, I think, that senior students should persuade themselves that arguing for a reinstatement of Sogyal Lakar lies within the realm of reason.
    They feel no compulsion to argue that the alleged abuses did not occur, of course. For they are true believers, who presuppose that these were mere ‘seeming abuses’. To them, Sogyal Lakar is incapable of harming others by definition. In effect, these senior students argue that he is above the law. This is not a manner of speech. These students truly believe that their own view is superior: their guru’s nemesis is no match for their personal hubris. It never is.
    Not to belabour the obvious, but Sogyal’s victims would no doubt be re-traumatized if such a reinstatement occurs. Fortunately, the senior students’ ‘arguments’ are incoherent and fallacious—they will not hold up in a court of law. There’s no legal exemption for Vajrayana gurus’ supposed enlightenment. Moreover, Sogyal Lakar will likely be arrested and/or extradited upon his return to Europe or the United States. His reinstatement is a moot case: this particular ’emanation’ is not even remotely interested in ‘showing the aspect of going to prison’.
    Believing that spiritual teachers are above the law has happened before, of course. Over and over again, in fact, with disastrous consequences: the histories of Rigpa and Shambhala (formerly known as Vajradhatu) are a case in point.
    All of this may not be these senior students’ “problem”, but it may cause concern in others. I’d suggest that those of you who are concerned about this development alert the appropriate authorities, fiscal oversight committees, and authoritative media in your home countries that Rigpa is going through a relapse into business as usual.

    1. It’s remarkable timing too, with the UK charity commission opening their statutory inquiry.
      My understanding is that the letter was sent to Dzogchen Mandala students, soliciting further signatures.
      It’s ironic how the letter talks about their glory, yet none of the signatories were prepared to respond to Matthew to even acknowledge, never mind support, their petition.
      And what a bind this puts Rigpa “leadership” in – denounce the letter, and offend the most loyal remainers. Embrace the letter, and face the examination of the UK CC’s lawyers.
      Those who wish to express devotion to Sogyal should feel free to setup their own organization, but not free to use the resources of a tax-advantaged public regulated charity.

    1. @ Padmasambhava
      Thanks for making me laugh out loud, we need more comments like yours.
      …….but to put it another ( much longer ) way:
      It’s refreshing to see such perceptive, rational and well-deserved criticism that doesn’t cut Thurman any slack just because he’s a famous Buddhist scholar who’s a friend of the Dalai Lama.
      If any good has come out of all this upheaval it’s the widespread and growing understanding that credentials, reputation and perceived authority should be set aside when examining what someone’s saying and what they do. ( The Buddha said this, but his advice doesn’t seem so popular with a lot of Tibetan Buddhists. )
      It’s a thorough analysis that doesn’t need adding to, except to consider Thurman’s motives for trying to make exceptions for abuse by effectively insisting that ‘Crazy Wisdom’ exists. This touches on something many people would rather not think too much about.
      Thurman has built his life and career on Tibetan Buddhism, his take on it and Tibetan society may be rather starry-eyed, but he’s shrewd enough to understand how indispensable this kind of traditional magical thinking is to the entire structure of Vajrayana: the belief that there have been ( and therefore still can be ) human beings who have super-normal powers and perception that allows them to abuse others in order to benefit them, because their victims have like them super-normal abilities due to merit accumulated in past lives.
      He knows that the literal-minded passive acceptance of this is no longer a given and this constitutes a threat to the status quo of an establishment that he belongs to and profits from.
      Traditional examples of this exceptionalism such as Marpa and Milarepa are often invoked here, but these are obviously mythical stories of people who may have lived a thousand years ago, mostly written and embellished several centuries later to teach, inspire and construct a credible version of a lineage stretching back to Sakyamuni, aimed at a generally non-literate, pre-scientific audience in an era when abuse was a structural part of the feudal society that prevailed.
      I appreciate that it still suits some people to believe this sort of thing literally : that Milarepa had the superhuman strength to put up a nine-story tower single-handed, in the same way as Jesus was capable of walking on water, and if this willing suspension of belief, even if it lasts a lifetime, helps, then that might be considered a purely personal matter, but it’s not so simple.
      Because it exists collectively, this kind of belief isn’t neutral: it fosters credulity, the abandoning of rationality and critical thinking, and creates vulnerability to manipulation and abuse. It creates a whole parallel reality where anything no matter how destructive and deranged can be justified. It underpins Tibetan Buddhism and the problems of Tibetan Buddhism too.
      Imagine if Sogyal had lived in tenth century Tibet, would any hint of his real nature, his depravity and the damage he did, ever have survived for us to read, or would the ugly truth be retold as the story of an incredible unconventional mahasiddha whose great realization brought only benefit to all those who met him?
      After all Drukpa Kunley sounds like a dangerously unhinged, serial rapist who should have been locked up…..but that’s not how he’s seen in Bhutan. Never much mentiton of the women he raped of course. I only remember the story of a woman who fought him off, he told her that as a result a famous lama would be reborn as a donkey. A tradition of centuries of victim-blaming to draw on.
      It seems that even today, in an age of science, rationality, even with the internet and the rapid global dissemination of information, this twisted process is still at work…..all thanks to the same magical thinking and refusal to see a truth that’s too painful or inconvenient for some people to accept.
      I appreciate that fairy tales can have a didactic purpose but I think if they really have to be used, then these days their use should be carefully restricted to children.

  7. Strangely, I can’t get the image of a photo I recently saw out of my head. It was taken during a panel discussion on Buddhism at which both Sogyal and Thurman spoke, and Thurman was leaning his head against Sogyal’s shoulder in a very deferential and almost devotional way. I don’t know what moved him to do this, but the image made me feel very queasy.

  8. @Been there,
    Eeeeew. Really? Well, maybe Thurman isn’t telling the world just how devoted to abusive lamas he really is. He and the Dalai Lama at least give lip service against lama abuse in general, but who knows if they really mean it? I didn’t feel that Thurman was endorsing abuse in his talk, but if he cuddles up with Sogyal so devotional, I don’t know. I guess you can’t trust a word they say. Now that you mention it, I remember the picture and it made me feel icky too. Ugh!
    It’s true that some of those lamas who are now legendary were probably abusive, but we can only go by what they were supposed to be, since there is no way to investigate who they really were. I personally don’t believe so much in the myths, but I accept that there are many people who do, and from their point of view, these lamas were saints. To me, these legends are just stories, which are just teaching tales, meant to illustrate some point. I don’t take them as gospel fact.
    I hope you didn’t take my earlier comment wrong. I didn’t mean to say I am giving Thurman slack for everything he says just because he is a friend of the Dalai Lama. I was just cutting him a bit of slack for getting distracted when he was talking about that one point he was trying to make. He is older now, and to me he acts a little forgetful sometimes. I’m not saying he is senile, but he may have some “senior moments” (as he himself said.) I think he was just saying we should honor those people who can make something good out of something bad and recognize their spiritual attainments, even if the abuse itself isn’t justifiable.

  9. @Pete,
    As another example, which isn’t related to abusive lamas, but abuse in general….I think one could also mention some of the real Tibetan practitioners (who deserve the title “lama”) who were tortured by the Chinese, (such as Palden Gyatso), yet they were somehow able to come out of that with their compassion in tact, with no hatred or malice toward their abusers, (if you can really believe what they say and assume they aren’t telling fibs). NO one is saying that the torture was ever justified, but we can respect the people/victims who endured adversity and were examples of grace under pressure. So it isn’t wrong to admire those people and give them credit, (although one shouldn’t say they didn’t suffer any real trauma, or that they should be idolized as perfect saints). I hope people can understand the point I’m getting at, which I think is similar to what RT was getting at as well. I’m not justifying abusers at all. I agree that the lama myths (Marpa/Milarepa, etc.) shouldn’t be used to justify abuse either, and these stories are often used to justify it. So, don’t get me wrong. I really hope people don’t misunderstand me and think I have switched sides because I haven’t. I fully stand with those who are abused, and fully want to see no-nonsense reforms against those “teachers” who abuse people. I’m just afraid that will never happen in an organized religion.

    1. @ Catlover
      No, I didn’t think you were justifying abuse at all, I completely got what you were saying in your original comment, it was perfectly clear and unambiguous, as your comments always are.
      Your attitude to Thurman is very kind and your point about people who experience suffering and derive understanding from it without bitterness is an optimistic one. It’s more balanced than my relentless cynicism.

  10. @advanced level
    Did the Buddha torture himself? Or did he want to prove his advaced level of realisation?
    As long as you want to prove something to others it is ego clinging.
    The four noble truth is the basis of buddhism, there is suffering, but you learn how to manage it, not by denying the existence of suffering. Otherwise great compassion is not neccesary, why do boddhicitta prayers at the start of a practice?
    I got so irritated by the so called advanced students, that I desided to tread the short and thematic suttras.
    The atmosphere in the suttras is one of great respect of the buddha to others. I could not find any physical contact, never sexual service being asked by the buddha for his teachings.
    Crazy wisdom is just the product of mental retardation, brain damage.

  11. It’s slightly depressing to witness Rigpa, ( which has now become irreversibly ‘The Cult of Sogyal’ ) still doing what it always has done…….but who’s surprised any more?
    As always, my commitment to Godwin’s Law obliges me to note that there are also a frighteningly large number of people who think Hitler was a heroic patriot, the Holocaust didn’t happen and even more who think facism, racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia and predatory capitalism are all perfectly reasonable guiding principles for living on the planet……which definitely isn’t experiencing runaway climate change.
    On particularly bleak days I think it might be as much as a third of the human race and at the other end of the spectrum are roughly a third of good people, with the third in between capable of leaning towards either extreme, depending on how they’re swayed by and caught up in circumstances.
    I was going to call it: “The Rule of Three.” but apparently that’s already the title of a post-apocalyptical thriller I won’t ever read, a movie I won’t ever watch and a mathematical formula I won’t ever understand.
    Looked at this way, Rigpa is just a microscopic aspect of a very big problem with our species.

  12. @ Pete “Looked at this way, Rigpa is just a microscopic aspect of a very big problem with our species.”
    Yes, and here on this blog, almost by definition, we have the same microcosm. This place, this body, these relationships are where it seems to me we have some possibility of real change. Talking about and criticising others doesn’t seem to change the overall situation much. For some reason (as this blog points out) it just seems to come back more strongly than before or perhaps pop-up somewhere else.
    “It’s too easy to be anti-fascist on the molar level, and not even see the fascist inside you, the fascist you yourself sustain and nourish and cherish both personal and collective.” G. Deleuze
    The above seems like a much more powerful (though much more difficult) doorway to walk through. If we sustained looking at the fascist inside us as energetically and subtly as we sustain our exploration of the Rigpa Organization, I think we might make real progress in moving the “rule of three” into a more whole perspective.
    Is our resistance to making this move the same resistance we see in those in the Rigpa Organization?

    1. @ Rick New
      We’ve got fascists inside us?
      I know my memory isn’t perfect, but annexing the Sudetenland…..surely I’d remember something like that.

      1. @ Pete That’s a pretty narrow definition and fascism Think Plato, Hobbes, Hegel, Machiavelli, etc.
        Anyway, the point is the very microcosm you pointed to. Part of that is the tendency to see the problems as always somewhere else. When you were part of the Rigpa Organization, didn’t you resist critique in a similar manner as now?

        1. @Richard New,
          Please just stop overthinking everyone’s comment(s).
          Stop trying to shut down the conversation by telling everyone that it’s somehow wrong to criticize what needs criticism. Telling people to “look within” instead of “looking without” is just a way to get people to feel ashamed of discussing what needs to be discussed. Sometimes we need to look at what’s happening around us too.

        2. My understanding is that even though Sogyal is a very abusive person and many Rigpa-officials are enabler and Rigpa-organisation in itself has a very sick and dysfuctional corporate identiy, still all those Rigpa members of the past and presence including myself have a responsibility to look within what all this mess have to do with us.
          A buddhists job: to look within? to look out through the window ? Both ?

          1. @Adamo,
            Sure, the enablers should look within, alright! I’m not saying they shouldn’t. But I don’t see why people should be told to “look within” when they make a comment here.

          2. Thanks @Adamo
            In addition to examining ourselves, perhaps to look at how we treat one another here. What do we do when someone has a different approach, a different view or way of thinking?
            Isn’t difference the crucial activity that wasn’t encouraged or allowed in the Rigpa Organization?

            1. @Richard New,
              My suspicion is that you probably never left Rigpa and you’re still part of it, and you’re here on this blog as damage control. You may take offense to my comment, but I can’t help the impression I am getting from your comments. It’s possible that I am misunderstanding your intention, so if it is really the case that I have misjudged you, then you might want examine how you are expressing yourself. So far, I am not clear what you’re trying to get across to people, other than the constant suggestion that we all need to “look within” instead of criticizing so-called gurus (and their cronies) for their inexcusable, pathetic, stupid, illegal behavior.

        3. @ Rick New
          No, I think you’re wrong there…’s a (slightly facetious) but accurate, emblematic definition of Fascism, which is the blending of Nationalism, Militarism and Imperialism, but if you find it helpful to include yourself in that……well that’s rather weird, but it’s your prerogative.
          I have to say bluntly that it makes no sense to me, because I doubt if you, like me or anyone else here, subscribes to any of those ideas in the slightest, so you’re mis-using and devaluing the term by conflating a single personal moral decision to criticize abuse with the worst, most extreme tendencies of human beings to collectively abuse and kill one another on an industrial scale…… they are not the same thing, in fact they’re diametrically opposed.
          I don’t know why you would prefer to always take the blame for things that aren’t your fault and it would be presumptuous of me to speculate, but whatever the reasons, I think as a default mode it directs attention away from the source of the problem and it’s no coincidence that this way of seeing is encouraged and encoded in organized religion and authoritarian systems, because it discourages analytical investigation into structural abuse and oppression.
          Original sin, bad karma, impure perception, mea culpa…..take your pick, it’s all basically a means of control and disempowerment of victims.
          Your criticism that there is: “….the tendency to see the problems as always somewhere else.” can be an expression of this, in many cases it can be learnt behaviour, internalized victim-blaming on the way to Stockholm Syndrome.
          What happens when the problem is actually somewhere else? Let’s face it, for victims it is.
          If a victim has been thoroughly brainwashed into always “looking within” (when they should be keeping their eyes open and looking around ) then they won’t be able to see, understand or be able to deal with abuse, so how will they be able to even begin to recover?
          It’s a psychological trap.
          As a rhetorical question: could you give me an example of how any of the horrific expressions of human abuse and cruelty: wars, genocide, slavery, racial, social oppression and so on, were overcome by the victims “looking within”?

            1. @Pete
              > What happens when the problem is actually somewhere else? Let’s face it, for victims it is.
              It’s a little tricky in our situation as we were all there when the problems were taking place. Also, it’s just a few of us here now, the folks still in the Rigpa Organization aren’t participating here. So, it seems like our response can better fit this actual context
              Even if we were ALL here, what if we’d created an atmosphere here where the folks still in the Rigpa Organization felt welcomed to join in the dialogue. No approach is going to be perfect, but blaming seems like a practice of blaming. There are other possibilities, I’m not saying I know what they are, but that we could work together to discover them.

              1. It’s not tricky at all, Richard.
                The criminal behaviors were hidden to many.
                When they fully came to light, there are now, broadly, two views.
                One is the view that there were clearly abusive, and probably provably criminal, behaviors. Additionally, there were extensive and expensive coverups of those behaviors by those who were knowing and willing accessories.
                The second view (expressed clearly by OT and in the new letter from DZM) is that the master (or bodhisattva/mahasiddha/whatever) can do no wrong By definition!! The master defines morality by his actions. What he does, is what morality is. This is also the basis of the feudal/lord system of law.
                So we’ve basically got two very different moral systems, trying to talk to each other.
                And it sticks at this point. As much as we can argue about trauma, about criminal law, about quality and quantity of corroborate testimonies, coverups etc., at the end of the day, we see there are people who will never accept that their master is capable of immoral behavior.
                That’s what’s fundamentally wrong here, Richard. Not how we discuss or criticize things, or criticize each other. We have facts out in the open now, and still it comes back to: we’re dealing with people who have fundamentally different moral systems.

                1. Hi @RH.
                  The tricky part is that we were there. The fact that Sogyal Rinpoche slept with hist students and the harsh ways he related to students were not hidden. The letter from the 8 was little surprise to many other than the fact it became widely public.
                  I posted a short talk below about how the ways we criticize and treat one another can have a bit effect it situations much more extreme than this one.
                  The conclusion from the speaker (who was much more deeply involved than we’ve been in this kind of violence) was “understanding is the answer.” Of course, this can cynically be seen as naive, but take a few minutes to listen to talk and see how hard and “reality based” it is. Also, by the speaker is a film “White Right: Meeting with The Enemy.” and I think she’s produced another one, too.
                  Also, here….

                  1. There are certainly people who knew what was happening, knew it was wrong, and later expressed shame for not exposing or trying to stop it. Of course there are, and I have great sympathy and time for them.
                    If you want to look at research from de-radicalization, I think that’s worthwhile to consider, yes.
                    One explanation for why people become radicalized, is the 3 Ns: Need, Narrative, Network.
                    We could try apply that to the situation in Rigpa.
                    1) “Needs” describe the basic human quest to matter, to live with significance. For some, their needs drive them to do good, to serve people. I know many people became involved with Rigpa from interest in meditation, compassion, how to die well etc. These are good reasons.
                    2) “The deciding factor for acting for good or evil, according to Kruglanski, is the second N — “narrative” — that people are exposed to.”
                    This is where things start to get shaky, as I tried to explain above. The Narrative in Rigpa leaves a lot to desire. “A wisdom master can kill, no problem”. Thinking is the source of our problems, no judgement (of right or wrong). Etc. People were actually deliberately trained out of their ability to think critically. And, as you point out, discouraged from speaking out or criticizing.
                    The only TRUE good is “devotion”.
                    3) The third N is “network,” a community that rewards behavior and validates members who act in accordance with the narrative for good or for evil.
                    This is something Rigpa did provide – a community, community centers etc. It served as a social club for some people who had no other such venue. That can be very difficult to give up, and again, I sympathize and wish no one ever felt lonely or isolated. Being surrounded by people with very similar beliefs is wonderful. But I think everyone has to be deliberately responsible for finding social outlets for themselves. I see it a hard fact in modern life, that we just have to keep trying to make new friends, because everything changes so often.

                    1. @ RH Yes, these are all good points.
                      It’s just that they apply here, also, right?
                      1) “Needs” describe the basic human quest to matter, to live with significance
                      Pointing out the “bad guys”, the “abusers”.
                      2) “The deciding factor for acting for good or evil, according to Kruglanski, is the second N — “narrative” — that people are exposed to.”
                      If anyone varies from the narrative of good vs evil here, what happens? Before the good was the Lama, now the evil is the Lama. Speak differently and yo might get, “What, are you a spy?”
                      3) The third N is “network,” a community that rewards behavior and validates members who act in accordance with the narrative for good or for evil.
                      See #2
                      Like Pete said, we are a microcosm.
                      I think you are right, we have to keep reaching out, to others, try to keep making new friends. We also might try to support those who think differently, so we don’t rely on a group of like minded people for support.

                    2. Yes, they apply everywhere, that was the point….
                      But if you think everything is “radicalized”, then nothing is.
                      Unfortunately that’s just not the case.

                    3. @RH But if you think everything is “radicalized”, then nothing is.
                      Could you say more about what you mean by that?

                    4. Not everything has to be talked to death, Rick. Sorry I don’t have the energy, but I feel like it’s time for me to step out and do my dissociation practice now. Have a good day.

                  2. Yes, it was hidden. The general sangha knew that he had relationships with students, but it was impossible to know with how many at the same time, how often they changed, how he treated them and who these “harem members” were.
                    It was also known that he treated some selected older students harshly , but in 20 years I have been to Rigpa events with him it has always been quite authoritarian verbal dressing downs. To what extent this turned into physical attacks behind closed doors a general follower couldn’t know.

              2. @Richard New,
                “Even if we were ALL here, what if we’d created an atmosphere here where the folks still in the Rigpa Organization felt welcomed to join in the dialogue.”
                If Rigpa crooks felt “welcomed to join in the dialogue” we would have to all censor ourselves and watch what we say, because they would never “feel welcomed” to any conversation that focuses on the ugly truth. (I certainly hope any actual **victims** of Rigpa would feel welcome to join this conversation, and I hope they would realize that they are supported.)

                1. Since you are, judging from your own statements, not one of these victims, how do you know what exactly “the truth” of what was going on is?

              1. @ Catlover & Been There
                Many thanks, I’m probably expressing my understanding a bit simplistically but it’s an important issue. I think RH above makes several points that I missed, especially that we have a kind of an impasse situation her that “sticks” because of two diametrically opposed views.

          1. Hi Pete,
            “I don’t know why you would prefer to always take the blame for things that aren’t your fault ”
            It isn’t about blame. That’s our default mode, blame others or blame ourselves. I’m in agreement with you about original sin, bad karma, etc. I also agree that as a default mode blame directs attention away from the source of the problem and I would add “regardless of the direction it is pointed.” It also isn’t about looking within, that’s not what I’m suggesting either.
            “As a rhetorical question: could you give me an example of how any of the horrific expressions of human abuse and cruelty: wars, genocide, slavery, racial, social oppression and so on, were overcome by [whatever your suggesting.]”
            Certainly, walk outside and look around. Go to the neighborhood family store, go anywhere where people are respectful toward one another, where they listen deeply and are concerned about their relationships.
            Anything overcome by force seems to come back, while those things worked through with communication, respect, and deep listening seem to last forever.
            Look at your relationship with your family, your wife. How do you avoid violence there? Why aren’t you someone who is cruel and oppresses your family? What are the tools you use to communicate, stay in love, keep harmony, etc?
            How were we when we were in the Rigpa Organization? Did we treat one another respectfully? Did we make those with different views feel on the “outside”, did we encourage them to feel left out and go to extremes? Did we talk to them about bad karma, blame them for creating discord? What really allowed and created the ground for the situation to happen in the Rigpa Organization? Reading back, it seems to be all the things you said about different ways of blaming.
            Has our fundamental attitude changed or do we just have a new target?

            1. @ Rick New
              I think you’re confusing issues that aren’t related. There is normal basic human behaviour that has nothing to do with the extremes of abuse that we’re discussing. Of course in the normal run of events nobody experiences genocide while trying to buy a packet of biscuits and most normal people don’t treat their families violently. That’s not relevant.
              And none of it changes the fact that when there is abuse we rightly criticize and sanction the abuser not the victim and any line of thinking that implies responsibility on the part of the victim is highly suspect.
              Obviously abuse doesn’t arise where people respect others but that’s also irrelevant because we’re discussing a situation where abuse has already taken place and how we understand that and allocate responsibility, blame and punishment. This is no longer a hypothetical question or an abstract talking point, it’s about real cruelty and suffering.
              It may not fit with your world view, but there have been and will continue to be many instances where, contrary to your assertion, trying to work things “through with communication, respect, and deep listening” just won’t work and force has to be used to provide a permanent solution.
              There are so many examples that I don’t really need to cite many, but ( Godwin’s Law yet again ) I’m certain that ending the Holocaust by appealing to Hitler’s listening skills wasn’t ever a realistic option.
              I don’t understand your last paragraph at all. Back when I was in Rigpa there wasn’t any dissent that I was aware of and the abuse didn’t happen because of any kind of “blaming and no-one “created the ground ” for it by blaming anyone either.
              I was struck by what you said previously: Do you seriously believe that we should be ” looking at the fascist inside us as energetically and subtly as we sustain our exploration of the Rigpa Organization,”?
              What on earth does that mean?
              Anyway, even leaving aside the inherent contradiction of repeatedly telling others to look within at their own faults, ( a very classic lama type of activity) if blaming abusers makes you uncomfortable, then you’re free to not blame anyone, or you can even accept blame yourself if you wish, although that makes no sense to me.
              What I don’t understand or accept is your trying to invoke what I see as a flawed quasi-therapeutic imperative to spread responsibility for abuse where it doesn’t belong. I would respectfully suggest you also seem to have a target, but it’s the wrong one.

              1. Hi Pete and All
                I’m not suggesting anyone stop the approach they are taking, but that we add the possibility of listening and being curious about other approaches.
                “What really surprised me, is I found wounded human beings…the same confusion, the same sorrow, the same feeling of being betrayed.” “I could see understanding was the answer.”
                Watch it all the way through (20 minutes)


              2. Hi Pete,
                If I was saying the things you think I’m saying, I’d feel the same way as you.
                Textual interfaces are ripe for misunderstanding. Seems like we run into this boundary every so often, getting beyond it might take more than can be done here.

              3. @ Pete
                ” there have been and will continue to be many instances where, contrary to your assertion, trying to work things “through with communication, respect, and deep listening” just won’t work and force has to be used to provide a permanent solution.”
                Of course, I agree.
                Do you think that’s where we are with the Rigpa Organization? Do you think that is where we are in how we communicate with one another on this blog?

                1. @ Rick New
                  Years back, while I was working at Rigpa in London, I went into a cafe Camden Town and sat near an average-looking couple who seemed deep in conversation. Eventually one of them got up and left but the other one kept on talking.
                  I realized then that they weren’t two people who knew each other having a conversation, just two crazy people talking to themselves.

                2. Agree except for the last part ” to provide a permanent solution.” I don’t think that is what you mean, right?

              4. @Pete,
                You’ll never be able to make sense of what Richard is saying because he speaks in “lamaesque” style. Lama talk never makes sense. He is either here on a mission to subtly defend the abusive lamas, or he has simply spent too much time around this kind of thinking and it has rubbed off on him to the extent that he is unaware of how he sounds to others. (The fact that he ignores my posts and doesn’t respond to me makes me even more suspicious.)

                1. Hi Catlover,
                  Do you really disagree with me that:
                  — It’s good to support those who are bullied or abused.
                  — Treating one another with respect is a good thing.
                  — Trying to help communication by listening to one another is a good thing.
                  — As no one in the Rigpa Organization is participating in this blog, we could try to talk directly to one another.
                  — It is harder to communicate by online text that by voice, video or especially face-to-face.
                  — For those that were previously part of the Rigpa Organization, our inability to listen to those talking about these issues early on might have played some role in what happened.
                  — If possible, we wouldn’t want to repeat that same attitude in another setting.
                  — Therefore, we might make an extra effort to listen to one another, knowing it’s a very hard thing to do.
                  — If we resist listening to one another and setting up circumstances for deeper communication, we might ask ourselves why.
                  — It’s better to spot early signs of what leads to abuse than to wait for it to reach these kind of proportions.
                  — Trying to spot those signs need not involve blaming anyone, but we also ignore them at the risk of creating another similar situation the next time.
                  — Since this is such a crucial point, we could set up spaces to listen to one another as a kind of experiment, as many groups in crisis do. We are the only ones here.
                  I’m certainly open to talking by phone or Skype and I think just a few minutes of face to face could connect us in deeper, more healing ways.

                  1. @Richard new,
                    I will try to respond, but if you attempt to turn my response into an intellectual debate, I will not reply any further. (Your text is in quotes and my responses are beneath them.)
                    “Hi Catlover,
                    Do you really disagree with me that:”
                    You’re starting off on a negative note, trying to make me look like the “bad guy” for “disagreeing” with basic human values. Just stop. It’s not a good beginning to create a listening atmosphere.
                    “— It’s good to support those who are bullied or abused.”
                    Yes, and you know I do. That’s why I don’t like ambiguous statements (dressed up as Dharma) that try to subtly shift the blame away from those who abuse others.
                    “— Treating one another with respect is a good thing.”
                    Yes, I agree that treating each other with respect is a good thing, but I am going to call out b.s. when I see it out of respect for people who have heard enough b.s.
                    “— Trying to help communication by listening to one another is a good thing.”
                    If you mean that it goes both ways (which includes you listening to other people when they talk too) then it is a good thing. 😀
                    “— As no one in the Rigpa Organization is participating in this blog, we could try to talk directly to one another.”
                    I never thought that people here were not talking directly with one another here. (Also, I am not certain that you aren’t really from Rigpa. You said you used to be with Rigpa, and judging by your tone sometimes, I am not sure if you ever really left.)
                    “— It is harder to communicate by online text that by voice, video or especially face-to-face.”
                    Not always. I think if we express ourselves clearly enough, there is really no need for misunderstanding each other just because it’s text.
                    “— For those that were previously part of the Rigpa Organization, our inability to listen to those talking about these issues early on might have played some role in what happened.”
                    Yes, I think that was part of the problem. That’s why I wonder why you sometimes aren’t listening to people here when they talk about the same issues.
                    “— If possible, we wouldn’t want to repeat that same attitude in another setting.”
                    I don’t think it’s possible for a blog to come anywhere near the atmosphere in Rigpa. For one thing, there are no gurus to worship here, lol! 😀 (Your comments on the same theme put together to consolidate space.)
                    “— Therefore, we might make an extra effort to listen to one another, knowing it’s a very hard thing to do. If we resist listening to one another and setting up circumstances for deeper communication, we might ask ourselves why. It’s better to spot early signs of what leads to abuse than to wait for it to reach these kind of proportions. Trying to spot those signs need not involve blaming anyone, but we also ignore them at the risk of creating another similar situation the next time.”
                    It sounds like you are comparing this blog to Rigpa, which is not an apt comparison, imo. The worst that can happen here is that feelings might get hurt, or someone might feel offended, get mad and huff off. Much worse things than that can happen in lama groups.
                    “— Since this is such a crucial point, we could set up spaces to listen to one another as a kind of experiment, as many groups in crisis do. We are the only ones here. I’m certainly open to talking by phone or Skype and I think just a few minutes of face to face could connect us in deeper, more healing ways.”
                    No, I think this forum is good enough.

          2. @Pete,
            Excellent post. I couldn’t have said it better myself. I tried to comment on your post a bit earlier, but my post ended up in the wrong place. I hope this one ends up in the right slot.

  13. It’s even worse than that, at least within Shambhala. There, they treat you this way even if you’re not a vajrayana practitioner. You enter the community in good faith to practice the mahayana, believing that everyone there is striving to remain faithful to their bodhisattva vows, only to find that not only is this not true, something close to the opposite can be found and is entirely endorsed by those in power. The double-bind-producing bewilderment of it all eventually produces insanity. But no one ever — which is to say ever — gives a shit, because they are so deluded in their messianic agenda and self-protection they literally don’t care whether you live or die. This is truly how it is.

  14. I really don’t see why people think Robert Thurman’s talk was encouraging abuse when his stance is just the same as the Dalai Lama’s, only RT expresses it differently. He talked about going to the police and reporting abusive lamas. He even made an analogy about a lama recklessly driving, but then he said we shouldn’t throw out the car just because of the bad driver, (throw the baby out with the bathwater). He joked that “the car might be put to good use. It could even be used to drive the lama to jail!” 😀
    The only thing wrong with RT’s talk is that he went off-topic, quite a bit, especially considering that this talk was supposed to be about lama abuse. He rambled, but I don’t think he was doing it on purpose. I’m not saying he is senile, but he seems a bit absent minded to me, and his age is showing. When he *did* touch on the subject, he was pretty much in line with the Dalai Lama, imo. Anything he said regarding “crazy wisdom” or students turning adversity into the path, is also stuff the Dalai Lama has also said at different times in the past. RT also said the same stuff about going public, shunning the teachers, and other stuff the DL has mentioned. (I just wonder why RT and the DL don’t shun the abusive teachers themselves.) Anyway, HHDL is more lucid than RT, but they are pretty much saying the same thing, imo.

  15. Erm, benefit can only be gotten by a teacher who teaches genuine dharma. You can not gain liberation by following the teachings of an abusive charlatan who teaches bogus tantra.
    A teacher may give teachings of genuine sutra dharma and tantra meditation methods while himself not being liberated. Now if that teacher happens to have some abusive habits, you as student can still profit from the sutra and tantra teachings, use them for yourself in your meditation practice to become liberated.
    Though it would be a lot easier if you picked a non abusive teacher from the beginning. Plus, this doesn’t take into account that the abusive teacher, if he breaks samaya by harming students (for example if a samaya bound students loses faith in the dharma due to the selfish, unskillful actions of that teacher), may very well go to the lower realms (for example the infamous vajra hell) and that may very well also affect the student with the intact pure perception who makes good use of the teachings of that teacher.
    So even if it can be done, the boat load of potential obstacles a generally not samaya conscious teacher may create is something you should avoid if you have the choice.

    Before we get into actionable insights, first it must be noted that Margaret is no Pollyanna.
    She firmly believes civilization is in a stage of collapse. In stating this, she was matter-of-fact, pointing to a well-established pattern throughout history of societies going through natural cycles of creation and destruction.
    Accepting this status, she acknowledges, is painful, but that being aware of what’s possible given such strong negative dynamics is ultimately helpful. She cautions against thinking that change on an industry level […] is possible at this juncture, and certainly not from the top-down.
    All effective shifts come bottom-up. And all change has to start small, on the individual level.
    Which is where you, reader, comes in. What can we, while living through a civilization in decline, and in an industry facing such complex and huge crises beyond any single person or company’s control, actually do?
    Margaret Wheatley says we can listen, and that the very act of listening is “revolutionary.”

  17. ‘”Rinpoche is a bachelor, and he’s free to indulge his desires to date girls,” says Robert Thurman. “People knew about that, but until this incident it didn’t create a huge stink. Nobody was that concerned about it, although people were nervous it could lead to some problem, because it’s kind of careless.’
    (Mick Brown, ‘The Precious One’, The Daily Telegraph Magazine, 2 February 1995,

  18. Dating, lol?!?!? Did Thurman actually realize that Sogyal was abusing and exploiting women, and not just “dating” women?

    1. Apparently, Thurman is more concerned about ‘stink’ and ‘carelessness’ than about trauma. It’s important to note that his current behaviour is consistent with his past behaviour. He found his voice only after a ‘huge stink’ began to pervade his Tibetan Buddhist sanctuary, not before.
      Remember: Thurman himself participated in the Western Teachers Conference in Dharamsala in 1993 where Sogyal’s abuses were on everyone’s mind—the Dalai Lama included:
      In 1994, he would have been very aware of the allegations in the complaint for damages, which went well beyond ‘dating’ girls. That was 25 years ago. Robert Thurman could have made a real difference—but didn’t.

          1. Was the 1993 paper just for Western Buddhist group reps to sign? Is that why the Tibetan lamas present didn’t sign the paper, including the Dalai Lama?

              1. @M,
                Thanks for the clip link. I watched it, but it doesn’t really explain why the Dalai Lama didn’t sign it. All it says is that he didn’t sign it. My question is, why?

                1. Stephen Batchelor’s take in 2010 (see weblink above) on the ‘why’ of the Dalai Lama’s refusal to sign the open letter was this:
                  “It took weeks for the Dalai Lama’s private office to ratify the document. And when it was finally returned to us for publication, it was unchanged except for one thing: the sentence in which the Dalai Lama personally endorsed the text had been deleted. Without his endorsement, the open letter gave the impression that twenty-two self-selected Western teachers had taken it upon themselves to issue a decree to the entire Buddhist community. From the moment the Dalai Lama first suggested writing an open letter, I had assumed that I was drafting a joint statement that would be released by the Dalai Lama and our group. I fully agreed with the content of the letter we published, but the whole experience left me with the slightly unpleasant taste of having been used. The Dalai Lama had succeeded in communicating his concerns and proposing a solution, but by removing his endorsement from the letter, his staff ensured that he did not have to take any responsibility for what it said.”

                  1. @Rob Hogendoorn,
                    Thanks for the links.
                    It seems very strange that the Dalai Lama’s staff would delete HHDL’s endorsement. Did the Dalai Lama know that his endorsement was deleted? Did his staff do it without telling him?

                    1. I’d say it’s highly unlikely that his office’s staff would delete the Dalai Lama’s previous endorsement without his explicit consent. Besides, I’d say that the Dalai Lama’s accountable for the actions of his own staff.

                    2. Sometimes the people around the Dalai Lama act without his permission (if they think they have to “protect” him, or if they know he won’t like whatever they want to do). However, it’s unlikely he wouldn’t find out what they did and then insist on fixing it afterward. Since it was never fixed, one would have to assume that he at least knew what they did and he certainly did not try to add in his statement later. Why would he want to take out his endorsement when the paper that was signed was basically just a summery of what he talked about anyway?
                      I am a little confused about what the “endorsement” was that they took out because he never signed the document in the first place. So, what was it they took out? Also, how could they edit the document after it was already signed at the conference? Did they turn the original document into just a copy? What good do any of the signatures do if it’s just a copy?

    1. Mark, it’s been taken down. Tahlia spoke of that in her post after this one– called “What Now?”. She is winding down in her involvements.

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