Part 3- Telling it like it is.
When Mimi’s story came out several years ago, senior students in R led me to believe that the online activity was all masterminded by one disgruntled Irish student with the ability to mobilise others to her cause. The methods of some who have a clear agenda to ‘bring him down’ are indeed cyber-bullying tactics, and the anger behind the campaign just makes any truth that may be in it easy to dismiss.
But this ‘big reveal’ email was communication from within the sangha to the sangha, this simple ‘telling it like it is’, is not an angry campaign aimed at bringing anyone down. It is a clear statement that reveals the teacher’s abusive behaviour and its damaging results. It is a request for SR to see his abusive behaviour, to admit that it caused harm, to fully regret his action and to never repeat such behaviour again.
This is Vajrayana in action. A result of all the 100 syllable mantras the Rigpa sangha has been accumulating for SR’s health. It is the dirt coming out. As it must for SR’s karma to be purified so that he can live long. The only thing that can purify this karma is the Four Powers of Purification: Confession. Regret. Reparation; and a vow never to repeat the negative action.
The courageous ‘gang of 8’ is not the cause of the negative karma, SR’s actions are. The gang of 8 could be seen as emanations of Vajrasattva, agents of purification sent by Ekazati to defend the Dzogchen teachings. Why not? Many positive things have come from their actions already.
Now I question whether any religion is a wise choice for me. And yet when I practice, it is Vajrayana that comes most easily, and I cannot deny its transformative power. I figure that Vajrayana just needs to get rid of this poisonous idea that everything that a teacher does while in a human body—and so subject to its desires to some extent—is acceptable behaviour. We must not deny our own pure knowing, and surely anything that does that is contrary to the whole point of the dharma which is to realise our true nature.
Can we have Vajrayana without this poisonous belief that “Your outlook should be so broad that you can accept whatever your teacher and spiritual companions may do.”? (From Words of My Perfect Teacher by Patrul Rinpoche) There are still some students who refuse to accept that anyone has been harmed. Their blindness is staggering, and scary. Unfortunately, the word brainwashing does come to mind,
SR introduced me to the nature of my mind on my first retreat. I didn’t have a chance to examine him in the way Patrul Rinpoche says is vital before committing yourself. Had I done that, I would not have followed him, for upon examination he does not meet the criteria Patrul Rinpoche elucidates, and yet I benefited greatly by following SR for twenty years. I do not regret that, just as I do not doubt my experience and the understanding I gained. I do regret my blindness, however. And I have little faith left in ‘the system’ that allowed this to happen.
In the letter from SR in response to the email from the ‘Courageous 8’, which came to everyone in the sangha, he said, “Please know that I take this very seriously and I will not ignore it”. Though some were disappointed in what wasn’t stated in that letter (like an apology), most seemed to take it as a positive step in the right direction, and my conversations with someone in management indicate that there is a feeling of relief and almost excitement that this is finally in the open and things can change. She assured me that change has already occured. There is a new openess. R groups are meeting all across the world to discuss what these revelations about their lama means personally and for the sangha. Feedback will go from the groups, through national coordinators and then to the international management.
Showing the wisdom and compassion that we ordinary students know and respect him for, he has asked that those holding the sessions to listen with compassion and tolerance, that no one is to be ostracised, and that we should not speak out of anger.
I feel very good about that. Those words are what every R student needs to hear, because there has been an unfortunate polarisation within the sangha in some circles. Some are still wary of my positivity but only time will tell. In the end it comes down to every single sangha member to make sure that their voice is heard; that is all any of us simple students can do.
This abuse by my spiritual teacher has made me question everything, except that which cannot be questioned, not because someone says it is bad to, but because in surety, in Vajra confidence, it simply is: indescribable, indestructible, the true nature of my mind and the nature of everything. To the man who allowed me to recognise that and who confirmed that I had indeed recognised it, and to the man that brought me in contact with a bunch of wonderful people, I prostrate. But the man who abuses his students is not my teacher. My samaya is with his wisdom mind, because it is his wisdom mind that introduced me, not the confused mind of a man that cannot follow the most basic vows.
His wisdom mind is always pure, as is ours; his behaviour cannot stain that, but his behaviour must be purified or the Dzogchen teachings will bear the taint in public perception, and that would be a great disservice to the very dharma he aims to spread.
SR is still teaching me. This has taught me to rely not on the outer lama, but on the ultimate lama, the inner lama, the nature of my own mind, my own clarity, openness and compassion. And that is a very good teaching indeed. Thank you SR.
My advice for SR is: Do 100,000 recitations of Vajrasattva and clean up this shit. If you are anything like the master you led us to believe you are, then you can change your behaviour it in an instant. This is not criticism, by the way, it’s simply how it is, what is needed now.
My advice for students who are still struggling with (or ignoring) the cognitive dissonance—the struggle to accept that such a wonderful man can also behave so badly—is : It is possible to hold both at the same time, your devotion and your disgust. Just be aware that if the abuse continues and you remain his student, you will be tainted by it. As the Buddha said: “Just as the clean kusha grass that wraps a rotten fish will also start to rot, so too will those devoted to an evil person.” You can already see the truth of this in the abuse-enabling behaviour of his ‘most devoted’ students.
Please understand, however, that I am not meaning here that he is an evil person. He is a good person who has behaved badly and needs help to get out of a negative cycle of abuse in which he is as much trapped as those around him. I am also not suggesting that you leave the sangha. I am suggesting, however, that if you want to stay that you make sure this whole situation is completely purified so that such abuse can never happen again in the Rigpa sangha, not by any lama. If you can do that, Rigpa sangha, I shall prostrate to you all.
How are other students managing the cognitive dissonance?
This is the final part of Confessions of a Devoted Student. Part one can be seen HERE,
This is my story. If you wish to tell yours here or share your deep reflections on this matter, please contact us and let us know what you’d like to offer. If you are or have been a student of SR and you’d like a more private discussion, you can make request on the contact page to join our Facebook group.