What Now Rigpa?

What now Rigpa? Building on the past

The What Now? blog, no longer wishing to be defined by our relationship to Rigpa and Sogyal Rinpoche / Lakar and his abuse, has changed its name to Beyond the Temple . We want to write more about where we go from here with our spiritual lives, instead of only writing about Sogyal’s abuse and Rigpa’s gaslighting tactics. But just as when we grow from a child into an adult, our childhood shapes us, so too does our experience of spiritual abuse shape our outlook moving forward, and our interests.

And so as an important reference area for all students of Buddhism, we have in our Abuse in Buddhism Reference area all the links to articles of interest and support that we’ve found helpful and collected over the last 18 months – though better organised now. It’s all great reading for anyone wondering if they’ve been abused rather than blessed or if they’re in a cult instead of a sangha. We have links to excellent articles on all facets of the guru abuse issue, from cult education to links to what lamas have said about lama abuse.

In keeping with this acknowledgement of where we’ve come from, this first post with our new name and URL http://beyondthetemple.com is a kind of ‘where I am with this spiritual abuse stuff now’ kind of post.

When I think of Rigpa or Sogyal these days, I just have a gentle sadness, one of those bittersweet sadnesses that recognises the good, which makes the bad so much sadder.

Abuse-enabling beliefs

I don’t think Rigpa will ever have healthy beliefs around following a Lama for so long as they listen the Orgyen Tobyal, Khenpo Namdrol and Dzongsar Khyentse. They are just too rigid on the ‘once you’re properly prepared and have taken me as your lama, shut up, don’t complain, and do as you’re told’ angle. That’s what it comes down to. (Even their code of conduct has a special section for your relationship with a tantric guru.) The way they enterpret their religion the power is still squarely with the lama, and the student is still expected to be totally submissive to and uncomplaining of his or her every action no matter how harmful. If people are clear that that’s the deal in Rigpa, (at least at the tantric level) then they can be sensible and stay away. And that’s what I’m doing – staying away.

Sogyal Rinpoche, Rigpa & abuse

I feel that Sogyal is just a sick man (mentally as well as physically) with illusions of grandeur and other symptoms of a narcisitic personality disorder along with a special ability to channel the transformative power of his teachers to give genuine introductions to the nature of mind. And Rigpa is a devious organisation, who never mentions the word abuse, despite the abusive behaviour of their lama, Sogyal Rinpoche, being the cause of their problems. The organisation is run by people who seem to have lost their way and become stuck in bad habits and skewed beliefs – though I suspect many are simply trapped by codependent tendancies and some come from abusive backgrounds that made the abuse seem ‘normal’ to them.

That Rigpa still talk to their members like a PR firm doing damage control – directing their members perception away from the truth of ‘the situation’ to a distorted version that makes them think their problem is an attack by ‘disgruntled students’, not the abuse and it’s enabling – is highly manipulative, and it isn’t care. It’s ‘we must keep our membership at all costs, so let’s direct their attention away from the nasty truth that our lama beat people, sexually harassed and used them, and kept them trapped in an abusive relationship through trauma bonding. Let’s pretend everything is right now and get back to earning money, even though we still hold the same abuse-enabling beliefs as we did before.’

Dzongsar Khyentse & the bottom line.

That’s the root of the problem with Rigpa, that they still don’t think that Sogyal did anything wrong in terms of vajrayana even though they know that he did all those things in the report. They won’t say it publically, but Dzongsar Khyentse – their main advisor – does. In his latest comments on the topic in Chile still made it clear that he hasn’t changed his bottom line that once you’re ‘properly prepared’ and you take a lama as your tantric guru, then you have to ‘continue with this practice of pure perception’, something that for many in Rigpa simply means you have to see everything the guru does as beneficial even when it’s clearly harmful.

‘And what I have basically, among other things that I’ve said, if Sogyal R had applied the correct procedure and if the students also knew what was happening, then if they had taken him as a vajrayana master, that’s it, then you have to continue with this practice of pure perception.

But if SR haden’t taken the correct procedure, and I have said that that time and I say now, that I doubt that SR had taken the correct procedure. This is my personal thought. You know the correct procedure … someone says you do my chores for 3 years, these are the correct procedures. If SR didn’t apply the correct procedures, students didn’t know what was happening and students also don’t know was happening, it is totally wrong for Sogyal to demand whole-hearted pure perception so that he can do what he likes; it’s totally wrong.’

Dzongsar Khyentse, Being Savvy at Following the Guru, Santiago, Chile, January 20, 2019. https://youtu.be/A0HGS_iP0No

I gather being ‘properly prepared’ means being warned about how you’ll be treated – like anyone is actually going to tell you the truth when they’ve been sworn to silence as part of their ‘preparation’ and they see whatever their guru does to them as a blessing anyway. It seems to me that he’s saying that it’s still okay for a teacher to abuse a student, just so long as the student knows they’re going to be abused before they take him as their tantric guru.

At least he has admitted that what Sogyal did was ‘totally wrong,’ but only for those not ‘properly prepared’, and I suspect that some of those who were abused were actually ‘properly prepared’ when they asked to be trained. He doesn’t tackle the actual question of the appropriatness of Sogyal’s behaviour even for the ‘properly prepared’, he doesn’t state as Mingyur Rinpoche does, that abuse isn’t a teaching method.

Pure perception & abuse

How, I wonder, does he interpret pure perception here? Because the suggestion is that it means we see the abuse as okay, which isn’t pure perception, it’s the ignorance of not recognising the interdependence between the absolute and the relative. My studies tell me that, pure perception does not mean seeing abusive behaviour in your lama as somehow ‘good’ or ‘beneficial’; it’s simply seeing that the abusive behaviour is empty of inherent existence. It’s still abusive; it still causes harm, even when you see its true nature, which is, of course, beyond any concepts of anything – including benefit and harm. But despite an actions ultimate emptiness, on a conventional level, through interdependence, there is benefit and harm. There is only emptiness because there is form and visa versa. Yeah, it’s hard to get your head around. No wonder there’s so much confusion.

Root of the problem

So for me, as long as at the top levels of Rigpa there’s this idea that for the ‘properley prepared’ student whatever their lama does to them is okay and they care more about keeping their business running than their members or those they harmed, Rigpa is not a healthy place to be.

The what now? question will always remain because we never know what will happen next – because of emptiness anything can arise – but without awareness of our actions, people do tend to keep behaving the same way – organisations have karma just as individuals do – and so when a pattern is established over time, it’s likely it will continue. Unless a great deal of awareness and honesty enters the picture. Anything is possible.

If management ever actually admits that Sogyal did wrong, gives a genuine apology, and stops their gaslighting then I’ll reconsider my opinion, but pointing out their failures has become a bit like flogging a dead horse, so I’m happy to walk away and leave that horse to rot. I don’t want their stink on me.

The future

Now I’ve got that clear. What Now? What Next? Watch this space …

About the new site

And now, some information you might want to know about the new site:

  • This blog contains all posts and pages from the original What Now blog. It is the same blog, just with a different name and URL and with better organised pages optimised for search engines to make the information easier to find.
  • Apart from URL changes to the reference pages, all internal links should send you from one page to another here on this site, but links you’ve posted elsewhere to the What Now? blog will still go to the old site. Those links will still work, but won’t get any updates, so it’s best if you point your links here.
  • The old blogsite will not be updated. There’s a post stuck to the front page of the old site that will send people here.

I’d love to hear what you think, so please leave a comment.

If you’d like a more private place to chat, you can join the Beyond the Temple Facebook group for discussions related to our ongoing spiritual path, or the secret What Now? group, for Rigpa students only, which focuses on Rigpa and related abuse issues, (apply via the contact form here), or if you’re not a Rigpa or ex-Rigpa person and need support specifically related to abuse in Vajrayana try 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, please click the relevant link to ‘Like’ and ‘Subscribe’.

15 Replies to “What Now Rigpa?”

  1. I think it is important to separate the concept of pure perception from the general understanding of what amounts to abuse. Sogyal and Rigpa conflated the two. Maybe I am wrong but for me pure perception is a state of pure awareness of unitive consciousness, a heightened intelligence that would at once discern whether a guru’s actions were altruistically motivated or based upon a selfish agenda. Until a student has reached this level they should not be attempting to practice Tantra. And any Guru who is not him/herself on this level should not be attempting to teach Tantra. Then we come to what is being meant by the word abuse. It could indicate a means to shake the grasping onto belief in a false separate self and awaken the student to their natural freedom of being but I don’t think in this case that abuse is the right word to use, hence Mingyur Rinpoche saying that “abuse is not a method of teaching”. It could be that the idea of having a false self is disabused by a Guru, but abusing a student is something quite different. In the case of Sogyal real physical and sexual abuse certainly took place and it was erroneously seen through a distorted “pure perception” as a permissible process of training. I think it would be more accurate for the term “disabuse” in the sense of removing a false belief to be used rather than the word abuse which leaves a student in danger of actually allowing themselves to be abused in a manner that has no place in Dharma Teachings.

    1. I can’t edit my earlier post, so just need to clarify the context. I was referring to how it is currently being said in some naive circles that it is ok for a Guru to abuse the student. It is true that many Rigpa students will protest that they weren’t being abused when it is blatantly clear to outsiders of Rigpa and those who subsequently left that some of them were and just believing that you weren’t, is not imo correctly understanding pure perception.

      1. I agree with you about pure perception. To see harmful behaviour as somehow acceptable is not pure perception. And I get what you’re saying about differentiating abuse from some valid form of ‘waking people up’, but really I think we all need to make it clear that violence in any form has no place in any religion. There are other methods to use.

        But if some people want to accept violence as a legitimate teaching method – which it really isn’t – then they need to be able to distinguish between when it is used indiscrimitively, lashing out at everyone no matter who they are as Sogyal did, and the rare use of a slap or something for a very particular student. I’m afraid I would have nothing to do with a religion that sanctions the use of violence in any way at all – be it physical, emotional or sexual, small or large, often or not often – and if that’s the way they want to go, then they need to be upfront about it, not hide behind a code of conduct with a special section for your relationship with a tantric guru. Prospective students need to be aware of the belief system they’d be buying into.

  2. All the best for you on your journey and for moving on!

    I agree: It seems Rigpa lacks the honesty to see and then to learn from their faults. Subsequently, the causes of abuse won’t be seen – far more as abuse is not even openly acknowledged. If the harm is not seen and the causes of harm not understood, the cycle of harm will perpetuate, like ignoring the first two of the Four Noble Truths. No insights, no freedom but sooner or later more suffering. As you said, like old habits. However, it needs also the abuser. And since Sogyal Lakar is not active anymore in Rigpa , hopefully with non-abusive Lamas at least these types of feudal exploitations won’t happen again.

    It seems wise now to let Rigpa go their own ways and to find now your own way on your spiritual journey. These things – at the end – can teach a lot about deception and self-deception.

    Thank you for the updated pages (link lists) and your work.

    I didn’t know about this statement by Namgay Dawa Rimpoche on Facebook: “I can only speak for myself when I say to those who have taken refuge with me or to those who hold me in their high regard , If you see me cause injury to others , mental or physical it becomes your sacred duty to protect yourself and your Varja brothers and sisters. Don’t let anyone suppress your free will to reason . Don’t be afraid to question me if you feel my actions and speech are not in accord with the Dharma.”

    Well said. Well put.

    May all your spiritual wishes be fulfilled and may you have wonderful, insightful. learned, experienced and compassionate spiritual friends. OM MANI PÄME HUM.

    1. Thank you Tenpel. Yes, one of the What Now? group members questioned him on Facebook and that was the reply he gave. TB needs more lamas wo not only think like that, but also say it.

  3. Hi Thalia,

    You say: “I feel that Sogyal is just a sick man (mentally as well as physically) with illusions of grandeur and other symptoms of a narcisitic [narcissistic] personality disorder along with a special ability to channel the transformative power of his teachers to give genuine introductions to the nature of mind.” “A special ability”? “Genuine introductions to the nature of mind”? By whose standards? Is this not a repackaging of Sogyal’s legacy, and if so, how different are your efforts from those of current Rigpa establishment? Kind regards, Marek

    1. I knew that would get some flack! No, it’s not an attempt to repackage or reframe his legacy – his legacy is his disgrace. And it is very different to Rigpa because I don’t deny that he seriously abused students, that he harmed a lot of people, and I don’t deny that what he did was wrong. Also I’m not trying to make him look good or any of that. My concern is only to be truthful to my own experience.

      It’s just my personal take that recognises the actual benefit that some of us got from being his student, likely more due to our qualities than his, but real nevertheless. Maybe some can look back at those magical times and discard or dismiss them, maybe some never experienced anything that changed their view of the world, but I did, and I’m not going to deny that, just because in all other ways he was a complete a..hole. I was with him for 20 yrs. You don’t stay that long if there’s no benefit to you.

      If saying, ‘Actually, my recogition is real and he facilitated that somehow, not because of his own qualities, but because of the power of the lineage and the vajrayana ‘system” means you’re then labelled a Sogyal supporter, that’s sad, because I am not a Sogyal supporter. I’m just ruthlessly honest, which means I don’t deny either the good or the bad. I accept both, and in the same package, because that’s the reality. For most of us, it wasn’t all bad.

      That doesn’t make up for what he did, of course, not one little bit. It’s just honoring my personal experience, and I understand that it’s not everyone’s experience.

      HH DL says we should acknowledge our teacher’s good qualities even as we speak out about their abusive behaviour, and that’s what I’m doing. But, as I said, I expect that for those of us who did actually ‘get’ an introduction, it had more to do with our own qualities than his.

      And you say ‘“Genuine introductions to the nature of mind”? By whose standards?’ By mine, actually, because it’s my experience and I’m owning it, not rejecting it. I’m not speaking for anyone else here (though I’m pretty sure that others feel the same way). I can reject the man that set up the situation conducive to that recognition, but I’m not going to reject the actual experience. I’m not going to look at my mind and go, ‘Ah no, that can’t be it after all, because he was a fake’ when I know without a shred of doubt what is and what isn’t the nature of my mind. I have more respect for myself than that; I can acknowledge my own role in it; it wasn’t all up to him, not something he gave me.

      And it’s not up to anyone else to look at someone and say, ‘Well, no, actually, you must have got it wrong.’ That’s for each of us to work out for ourselves. Were we taken in by a show? Did we manufacture what we thought we should experience? Or did we have a geniune insight into the nature of our mind? The only way to answer that is to sit on your cushion, turn your mind in, and see what’s to be seen, and if there is no clarity about it, no absolute sureity, then I recommend working through the vippashyana sections in Clarifying the Natural State by Dakpo Tashi Namgyal. That will help you sort it out.

  4. Thank you for your efforts in assisting with liberation and clarification. and healing.

    “The master should be realized in the words’ meanings, full of loving
    kindness endowed with eight skills,
    finished with personal benefit, accomplished in emptiness and
    compassion and skilled in clearing away faults.” – from CHOD the Sacred Teachings on Severance translated by Sarah Harding

    1. Thanks. That’s a nice quote, but even with the help of such words we can be blinded easily. Sogyal could turn on the charm and make you feel that he did have enormous love to give, and we were seduced/brainwashed into believing that what looked like harmful behaviour was kindness.

      And skilled in clearing away faults? That’s rather open to enterpretation, I’m afraid. That’s what Sogyal told us his verbal abuse was! Only when we discovered that his ‘clearing away faults’ took the form of beatings and sexual perversions did some of us come to see that that was a lie. We have to be much more critical of teachers and not think ‘this is the kindness of clearing away faults’ just because they say it is.

  5. @Moonfire, as the intention of Beyond the Temple is to move beyond the discussion of Rigpa abuse, I’m wondering about the various sanghas where abuse has been reported on since the Rigpa scandal broke? Is there still a place here to discuss such matters or would you rather not have those matters raised here?

    1. You’re welcome to raise the issue of guru abuse in a wider context, and you can submit a guest post if you want. There is definitely still a place to discuss these matters here – our disgust at the abuse in Rigpa is what created this community, after all. And there is no ‘ban’ on discussing that issue further if something new comes to light; I just don’t want our relationship to Rigpa to be what defines us.

  6. I attended 2 retreats with Rigpa & Sogyal Rinpoche. I was shocked & shaken to learn about the abuse, which has deeply affected my practice. I would appreciate support in sorting out & moving forward, as I feel my spiritual life has been stunted. I feel I need a spiritual practice as I am experiencing many challenges now, stripped of family friends work. Please advise as soon as possible as I feel near psychological crisis.

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