Dalai Lama Speaks Out About Sogyal Rinpoche

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Recently, author and journalist Michaela Haas asked the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama for a statement about the current situation in Rigpa, in particular the allegations of abuse made by 8 former and current students.

In response, they referred to the following remarks the Dalai Lama gave at the Inauguration of Seminar on ‘Buddhism in Ladakh’ on August 1, 2017.

This is a transcript of his remarks.  There’s a video clip of this part of his address at the end of this post.

It can be helpful to listen to the video in addition to reading the transcript so you can hear the emphasis the Dalai Lama gives certain points.  For example, he’s quite adamant when he says, “That’s totally wrong,” in reference to following a spiritual teacher blindly.

“I feel some of these lama institutions have some sort of influence of the feudal system. That is outdated and must end – that feudal influence. Then eventually a lama institution creates lama politics [DL laughs heartily]. That’s very bad.

An individual lama’s disgrace doesn’t matter, but it gives a very bad impression about a monastery or a monk. Very bad. So we must pay more attention.

You should not say, ‘This is my guru. What guru says I must follow.’ That’s totally wrong! Buddha himself mentioned, ‘You must examine my teaching’. Similarly if one particular lama says something, you examine whether this goes well according to Buddhaʻs teaching or according to the circumstances in society. Then you must follow. If the lama says something; if you investigate and it’s not proper, then you should not follow the lama’s teaching. Even Dalai Lama’s teaching; if you find some contradiction you should not follow my teaching.

As far as Gelugpa is concerned, Lama Tsonghkapa clearly mentioned: if a lama teaches something that is against the dharma it should be avoided and opposed. If the lama’s teaching is in accord with the dharma it should be followed, if it is in discord with the Dharma it should not be followed.

Many years ago in Dharmasala at a Western [Buddhist] Teachers Conference, some Western Buddhist teachers mentioned some Zen masters and Tibetan Buddhist masters had created a very bad impression among people. Then I told them then; these people do not follow Buddhaʻs advice, Buddhaʻs teaching. We cannot do. So, the only thing is to make it public, through newspapers, through the radio. Make it public!

These lamas, although they don’t care about Buddha’s teaching, they may care about their face [points at his face, indicating shame]. I told them at that conference, almost 15 years ago I think. Now, recently Sogyal Rinpoche, my very good friend, but he’s disgraced. So some of his own students have now made public their criticism.”

Some Rigpa students refuse to accept this statement from the Dalai Lama. They say it’s not relevant to the Dzogchen tradition, although the Dalai Lama himself has received, practiced, and taught the Dzogchen teachings.

In the past, a segment of Rigpa students have also discounted the Dalai Lama’s remarks made at the 1993 Western Buddhist Teachers Conference, which he references and points us to in his current remarks, as not relevant to the tradition they practice.

However, in his 1993 teachings at the Western Buddhist Teachers Conference, the Dalai Lama specifically speaks about Vinaya, Sutrayana, and  Tantrayana and the behavior of “lamas,” a term used in Tibetan Buddhism, so it’s quite clear he means all schools.  These remarks can be found in Video 4 of the conference teachings, in which he responds to a question about sex scandals and alcohol abuse involving  Zen and Tibetan Buddhism teachers.  Teachers present at the conference (including a representative from Rigpa) represented the Theravadin, Zen, and Tibetan Buddhist traditions, so it’s nonsensical to claim he was speaking only about one tradition or one school.

View the videos of these meetings yourself.  Don’t just trust what someone else says, listen to the teachings and discern for yourself.  The series of videos from the 1993 Western Buddhist Teachers Conference covers a wide range of topics. Video 4 (from about 40 mins in), the first part of Video 5, and 60 mins into Video 5 are very relevant to the topic at hand.  Or you can read excerpts in this article:  What the Dalai Lama Says About Teachers and Unethical Behavior.

In his current statement, the Dalai Lama also says Sogyal Rinpoche is his good friend.  The Dalai Lama always advises to point out a teacher’s good qualities when you criticize their behavior.  Although clear they cannot accept abuse, many current and former students continue to express immense gratitude for all that they have received from Sogyal Rinpoche, and do not deny his brilliance as a teacher.

Here’s the clip of the Dalai Lama speaking about the teacher-student relationship and the letter sent to Sogyal Rinpoche.

If you would like to verify the authenticity of this clip, here’s a link to the Dalai Lama’s full teaching. His remarks concerning Sogyal Rinpoche and the allegations of abuse start at 01.14.00.

We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.  How do you understand the Dalai Lama’s statement?

Note:  The photo is from the HHDL Facebook page, and not a photo of the event mentioned in this post.


If you have felt harmed, confused, or conflicted, the links on our resources page and the sangha care resources page may be of help.

More personal and private support for current and previous students of Rigpa can be found in the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite. Include a link to your Facebook profile or the email address you use on Facebook.

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40 thoughts on “Dalai Lama Speaks Out About Sogyal Rinpoche

  1. following the comments on this page pretty much from the start i really rather not write about what i think or feel. in the beginning i truly thought this site could be a way to share but then it turned out that the privacy statement is sham and didn’t even last for half a day, so everything here is public, and then the comments got so bad that by now this site seems to be a place where people come to verbally vomit, go on a whitch hunt and aggressively state their opinions over and over again. why? yes, there is criticsm, i get it but why this never ending drilling the same sore spot? do you seriously expect sr to come out and say something like “oh, i’m so sorry, i didn’t realise they didn’t enjoy stuff as much as i did, sure, you just let me know how to behave, you guide me to better ways and i’ll do it”? i don’t get the point of all this, it’s just painful.

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    1. Soulondre, It is a painful situation, for all of us, isn’t it? The people who wrote the letter were following HHDL’s guidance from his teachings at the Western Buddhist Teacher’s Conference in 1993. The purpose of this blog is to do so as well with the sincere wish for the harm to stop, and with the hope that people will be more aware when they enter Rigpa as to what they might encounter. There is no intention to ruin Sogyal Rinpoche, only to hold him accountable. Even most of the students who are clear that abuse is not acceptable, deeply appreciate all that they have received from him through the teachings.

      And yes, some people would be extremely grateful for an apology. That may or may not happen, but it can be their wish.

      I agree some of the comments here can be quite extreme and sometimes make me feel uncomfortable too. That doesn’t necessarily represent the feelings of the signers of the letter, people writing on the blog, or people who are concerned about abuse in Rigpa.

      Thanks for sharing your perspective. I know this isn’t easy.

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      1. If you truly hold him accountable then he has to face normal Worldly consequences for his worldly actions and that means jail time, probation, enforced therapy, monitoring for drug and alcohol use, and reimbursements to all whom have him money for Dharma spent on himself AND financial retribution to those he caused harm to if they request it. Anything less and you are covering up a crime. This is disguisting. Truly. Truly shameful. The true lineage masters don’t act like this. He is a fraud and acted worse than an untamed animal by these accounts!

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    2. I’m sorry you feel this way, but as Serenity says, the comments do not reflect the attitude of the people who run the blog. We revere Sogyal Rinpoche for all the good he has done and all the great teachings he has brought us, but at the same time we do not condone the behaviour pointed out in the email from the Courageous 8. We want it to stop.

      The idea of this blog was to allow people to talk openly, so you will read all kinds of opinions here, some you will not like, but you can always reply to a comment if you wish.

      As for drilling the sore spot: Yes it is painful to have to face the fact that the person you trusted to do no harm has in fact harmed a lot of people, but for so long as SR, Rigpa and a large number of its students do not seem to be getting the fact that some of his behaviour is unacceptable and must not be allowed to continue, we will post things that may help them to understand this point – abuse is not acceptable in any context.

      We share statements from respected sources to help people understand this. His holiness clearly does. He said, “Soygal Rinpoche, my friend, but he disgraced.” He has behaved badly. He and Rigpa need to accept that and deal with it, and they aren’t doing that at the moment.

      If you want truly private discussions, you can join the secret Facebook group. You can apply to join it by filling in the form on the contact page

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      1. Well, I have to say, if your teacher can act like this then he is has not recognized his Buddhanature and therefore, you need at least one other teacher who has if you are to recognize yours. How can you have a pointing out in which you realize enlightenment by someone who cannot see your mind? And how can you believe you have had an effective pointing out if you cannot see his mind in return? It is either you have not or you did and were willing to hide these acts of violence. It is shameful of him. Very. He is disgraced. Like Kalu Rinpoche and Trungpa before him for the same sorts of abuse, now one wonders what his future will bring. Soygal, may I suggest retreat is not for you. May ai suggest you go get a teacher and learn. You are obviously not a master – yet. From an Americna woman who has known of these abides by Soygal for far too long and would never take refuge in such a person. I would however take an empowerment because my faith is in the deity and not in the ordinary mind. If Soygal becomes truly Rinpoche and realizes his own innate divinity, then I would happily take refuge in him. Until then he cannot protect the treasure that is my mind and it is apparent he could attempt to hurt it. Not that he could. Because I have had true pointing out and true experiences though small and am liberated. Good luck Soygal. And you owe everyone an apology. You truly are a weak and ordinary man to run away to “retreat” instead of make an apology and get help. But these are our times. I feel sad for you Sangha. Please get a qualified teacher. Outside The Rigpa institution. Learn from a truly enlightened master now. Peace and love, Jangchub

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      2. If these accusations are true Sougal should go to jail. Any of the rest of us would if we did these things. That any of you protect him under any pretense is truly insane. Retreat? Retreat is blessing many beings can never have because they have to work so hard to survive. Soygal was given donations to be a good teacher and acts like this? The truth is if you really are fair, he not only goes to jail, he also pays back these monies. How utterly shameful! And in this sacred time of eclipses. And for years people have been speaking out against him and the centers silenced them. The centers should be shut down. You all need real teachers. Ask me for a list. I have sat with, received refuge from, been empowered and blessed by numerous fully enlightened masters in this world. There are plenty to chose from in all traditions.

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    3. @Soulandre’S first comment: That would be great. If he took some responsibility and showed integrity and guidance, it would really help out a halt or at least a truce on the sangha infighting. We really need him to say something publicly addressing the hurt in our community. People are reeling.

      I know you were probably being facetious, Soulandre, but he really needs to say something.

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    4. I agree with The sore point. None Should enter propaganda, great master of logic Tsongkhapa opposed Dolpopas shenton view so radical that today an opposite rangton dominates Tibets Buddhists. A sad history of power stole the freedom of belief up there with supression from schism dominating. It would be healthy if todays lineage holders would join Lord Buddhas intension and refrain from teaching biased. Still HH is One of The Best in this kaliyuga time

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  2. Your Holiness, thank you for standing strong against abuses done be some Buddhist teachers & lamas like Sogyal Rinpoche toward his students in the period of 30 years ! Indeed Buddhism in modern societies and democratic states must not be prolonged hand of feudal system . Lamas must respect the laws of the countries and they should never think that they are above the laws . As you pointed out, their cruel and unethical behaviour toward some of their students is disgrace for Buddhism . Please, address these problems again and again, otherwise unethical lamas will continue their wrongdoings . Education is everything . Wishing you very good health and long life . Tashi delek . ▒▒ PΞДCΞ ▒▒ ❤ WISD☼M ▒▒ (ツ) ☼

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  3. Wow I am very glad that HHDL has made a public comment about SR. Unfortunately SR’s reply to the letter from the 8 essentially amounts to public relations damage control. My guess is that his last line of defence will be that his behaviour is crazy wisdom of the Vajrayana tradition. But the letter from the 8 is very clear that his incredibly harmful behaviour doesn’t square up with that. I left Rigpa (not the real Rigpa!) 12 years ago and unfortunately don’t believe that fundamental change in SR’s view of himself is likely. But I am following the advice of Ram Dass’s guru, Neem Karoli Baba – never put anyone out of your heart.

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  4. As you sow so shall you reap….the eternal law of nature will etrnally preveil…. w e muste know this.h.h.dalai lam is indeed a pure monk,so he can say with athourity how not to abuse the position of guru…..

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  5. Thanks (whatnow) for opening and handling this topic with transparence and tact … in over thirty years of trying to practice Buddhism, I have not experienced one dubious action from my teachers, including His Holiness the Dalaï Lama, so I am grateful for their impeccable example and make prayers that the confusion and hurt now surfacing may be healed, for the benefit of all sentient beings.

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  6. Hearing HHDL speak again about the feudal system and how some Lamas carry on this system, our weakness as the Sangha to come together in a democratic way with one another is part of supporting that system, too. We may have adopted much of it without realizing it.

    What SR says or how he responds is our of our hands, but how we speak and respond is up to us. It is the divisions in the Sangha that may be creating more issues than we realize. These divisions were inherent since the early days and continue on, is it possible to look into these divisions together?

    At this juncture the challenge seems to be ours, collectively, deeply democratic, an offering to move beyond the feudal system we have all supported.

    “The collective thought is more powerful than the individual thought. In fact, the individual thought is mostly the result of collective thought and of interaction with other people. The language is entirely collective, and most of the thoughts in it are. Everybody does his own thing to those thoughts – he makes a contribution. But very few change them very much.”

    “The power of the group goes up much faster than the number of people. I’ve said elsewhere that it could be compared to a laser. Ordinary light is called ‘incoherent’, which means that it is going in all sorts of directions, and the light waves are not in phase with each other so they don’t build up. But a laser produces a very intense beam which is coherent. The light waves build up strength because they are all going in the same direction. This beam can do all sorts of things that ordinary light cannot.”

    — David Bohm

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    1. Thank you, Rick. I agree, we can’t control how Sogyal Rinpoche responds, and how we respond is up to us. There have been “listening” meetings in the US, which I feel has been a step forward. Each person was able to share their feelings, perspective, and experiences without any crosstalk or leadership telling them the right way to see the situation.

      I think there are others as well that would like to heal the division in the sangha. At the same time, the bifurcation that exists is a mirror of the bifurcation Sogyal Rinpoche created by teaching in a certain way about pure perception and engaging in allegedly abusive actions at the same time. So it’s not surprising to see the division in the sangha.

      That’s a very interesting quote from Bohm about the power of the group. Thanks for that.

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      1. Thanks, Serenity.

        I’m gladdened to hear there have been listening meetings without crosstalk.

        My wish would be that these meetings could continue and perhaps become part of the culture and retreats, be encouraged at the local level, as well as requiring all those in leadership positions to participate.

        If this kind of listening could take place even when there isn’t a glaring issue to talk about, the effect could be quite strong.

        A friend of mine conducting these kind of meetings in prisons. Eventually, the guards started joining in and tensions were reduced somewhat between the prisoners and guards.

        “Sogyal Rinpoche created by teaching in a certain way about pure perception and engaging in allegedly abusive actions at the same time. So it’s not surprising to see the division in the sangha.”
        Yes, it is true, this is one of the key divisions and seems like a block or frozen place worth exploring. Thanks for bringing it up so succinctly.

        FWIW Toni Packer regularly conducted these kind of listening meetings. She addressed issues in the system early on, before they had a chance to proliferate.
        https://www.springwatercenter.org/toni-packer/dialogue/on-transmission-and-teaching/

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        1. Hi Rick, these open listening meetings were actually already a work in progress before the letter came out, as a Round Table with the intention to have all the voices of the sangha heard. I too think they are essential, not only for conflict, but also to tap into all the creativity and talent and experiences of the sangha.

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          1. Glad to hear that and good to bring up ‘tapping’ into the creativity, talent, and experiences of the sangha, tool. Perhaps, if as much time and emphasis could be spent facing one another as we face the teacher(s), there could be more balance and ‘coherence’ with one another.

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  7. On Bohms statement of light turning to dangerous laser; in comparrison with schisms destroying Buddhas teachings is very relevant. STAY away from judging and intervening in other affairs and seek The Best for all of us.

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    1. That would be hiding under a rock. Using dharma as a way to manipulate people. The Buddha was clear he didn’t want statues built to him. He new this would create problems. Take away from the teachings. As soon as he died there was a meeting and things began to change. The Buddha new this. The ego will do anything to not die. Wake Up Mogens.

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      1. Some how the computer didn’t put up the entirety of what I was saying…..
        I get the no judgement part but, Bohms best point was that as a collective conscious and thought is more powerful than an individual. The Buddha asked us to judge. Not a person but, their actions. All humans are all the same at the core. But we need as humans to get our heads out of the sand. The point is not to become a good Buddhist. It is to wake up and bring the collective conscious up to the frequency that we don’t die off. Maybe we do…I am here to be conscious and to evolve. Buddha’s teachings have helped me with that but, I am certainly not identifying as a Buddhist anymore. This is low frequency and not helping. Those of us who are really here to wake up need to stop falling back to sleep. Keep going. Know why you are here to do this right now. We need you to stay AWAKE. With Love. Julie

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  8. Thanks, Mogens. I think Bohm meant that if a group wasn’t internally divided, it could accomplish a lot.

    However, your point that this power could also be used in a destructive way is well taken. Thank you.

    Perhaps, we are both asking, how can we come together in wholeness as a Sangha, seeing how we sometimes fall in the trap of feudalism, hierarchy, and the divisions this creates?

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  9. Culture and Being Human are major aspects of life and are destroying Buddhism and Spirituality in general. I have spent significant time in Dharamsala, India where the Dalai Lama lives and am positive the monastery mode is outdated. This is an epademic in most monasteries I have been to in India and Nepal. A large population of monks are into porn, shoes, iphones, ipads, woman in general and NOT the dharma. This is because their culture put them in these monasteries then did not teach them about natural human nature, gave them ipads, iphones and money….YES! I saw a group of 5 young monks ages about 18-25 watching porn in a coffee shop in Dharamsala on an ipad. That is just one experience. I wish the Dalai Lama and the rest of us would address this. This is real life. This is how you AWAKEN. Awakening to TRUTH is the point of the Buddha’s teachings. It is the bigger picture. Look at all the “teachers” that have gone down because of sex. We are in 2017….this is an issue. Sex is natural but we need to stop hiding from the TRUTH and how EGO is a lot harder to deal with than we think. I have 100 more stories like this one. From western Lamas to Eastern ones….I am starting to get more brave about talking about this. Sogyal Rinpoche has always been questionable…..look at his past. We are all carpet sweepers….sweeping under the carpet what we don’t want to look at honestly and collectively. How are we going to continue as a species if the the dynamic is speeding up towards abuse and war and away from TRUTH, AWAKENING, HARMONY WITH NATURE. I could go on and on….thank you for your time.

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    1. Thanks, Mariele. I appreciate you posting the link. There’s a lot in the talk!

      Initially, what stood out for me is:
      The title:
      If we only perceive the Lama as Buddha, but not one another, it seems a rather lopsided approach. We become out of balance.

      and:
      “Actions that are rooted in compassion and wisdom—even when they appear odd, eccentric, or even wrathful—do not instill fear or anxiety.”

      If we are afraid, this means something is wrong and rather than criticise those feeling the fear, perhaps our shared attention could be alerted. and we could come together.

      ****

      This may not be of interest to everyone as it is outside the Buddhist context, but it is a clear description of better ways to live with the violence in our world and relationships.

      Jump ahead a bit to get past the ‘housekeeping’.
      https://www.samharris.org/podcast/item/living-with-violence

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      1. San Harris is great. His book Waking Up was a great help when I first heard of the lama’s behind the scenes violations of the law.
        Thanks for mentioning him, Rick. I’ll check out the link you put up.

        It’s really a good time to go back to philosophy and ethics studies.

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  10. Mingyur Rinpoche’s article is clear, wise and compassionate.

    It is the best statement on the issue of ethics in contemporary western Buddhist communities that I have yet read.

    It is wonderful to see someone in the tradition finally take a leadership role in responding to ethics. He has gone up even further in my estimation.

    It deserves to be read widely amongst all communities.

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  11. Is it true that Rigpa students are saying HHDL is not qualified to speak about Dzogchen and therefore shouldn’t speak on SR’s behavior?

    EG “Some Rigpa students refuse to accept this statement from the Dalai Lama. They say it’s not relevant to the Dzogchen tradition…”

    I think that the following statements from SR should make clear that he believe HH is very relevant to the Dzogchen tradition!:

    “Having received and studied teachings of all the Buddhist schools of Tibet, His Holiness is an authority on the whole range of teaching and practice within the different traditions. On four occasions during his tours of the west, he has taught on Dzogchen, the innermost teachings treasured at the heart of the ancient Nyingma order of Tibetan Buddhism, and these occasions are recorded here in this book. To receive such teachings from His Holiness is, I feel, something quite extraordinary…

    “In fact it was Jamyang Khyentse’s own disciples who passed on the different lineages to the Dalai Lama, and especially Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Ripoche, who offered him Nyingma and Dzogchen teachings and became one of His Holiness’s main teachers.

    “The years during which His Holiness gave the teachings in this book were also a time when truly great exponents of Dzogchenpo were still among us, masters born in the early part of the last century, whose soaring realizations embodied the full force of the wisdom and mystery of the Dzogchen teachings. I think of Dudjom Rinpoche, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Tulku Orgyen Rinpoche, and Nyoshul Khenpo Jamyang Dorje. They are gone now, though of course their presence is always with us, and their wisdom lives on, in the disciples they cared for with such compassion. These extraordinary masters had been instrumental in establishing these teachings in the West, so enacting all those prophecies that the practice of Dzogchen would take root here. And as they left this world, I am sure that as they prayed for the teachings of the Buddha to benefit countless beings, they will have invested those prayers and all their aspirations, in His Holiness the Dalai Lama. For now that this generation of masters is no more, a teacher like His Holiness becomes even more precious, his role in securing the future of the teachings and their authenticity of even more vital and urgent significance.” (from the introduction to Dzogchen; The Heart Essence of the Great Perfection, Teachings given in the West by His Holiness the Dalai Lama; Snowlion Publications, 2000; pp7-10)

    When I staggered out of my last Rigpa teaching in 1999, my life was in ruins– and the single precious thing that SR gave me during those 18 tortured, horrible months was faith in HHDL. So I think Rigpa students can’t– and shouldn’t– turn away from that one now.

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    1. Joanne, Yes, it is true that some students are saying that HHDL is not their teacher and they don’t need to listen to him. I hope it’s only a tiny number. Thank you for these timely reminders in the form of quotes by Sogyal Rinpoche in this book on Dzogchen gathered together by Rigpa.

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      1. If you truly have students who say that- even in minority- then you all have a fraud organization going and at least some of your students have no understanding. Dzogchen, Mahamudra, Middle Way, Nature of Mind, Natural Mind, etc are all words that describe the same thing. There is one goal and it is the same outcome for all of these traditions. If any of you had been enlightened under Soygal and rested your mind in unity mind then you would know this. I fear not a single one of you has been liberated. You need to go to other teachers! Please! There are many in all schools and you really need to help these grasping students understand Rime and before my mother, not a single one will raise ire or harmful thought against Holiness. Not a single one. They will have to get through my emanations first. And they won’t because they have no powers- yet. This is astonishingly stupid. Soygal- you wretched, old, nasty, terrorist abuser, sexual assaulting maniac. You’d better get help and pray to be reborn in Dewachen. Disguisting. Just look at how terrible the results were for Kalu Rinpche and Trungpa- especially Trungpa Tulku. It is remarkable sad. Not a single person raises their voice against holiness or I swear! I swear! Not a single one of you speaks against holiness for your own ignorance! Holiness has always been profoundly sincere and kind and truthful and loving. And Soygal if you had any decency you would come out right now and denounce comments against Holiness. I can’t say what I think of you here! Terrible! Ordinary! Traitor! Shame on you. Never even met you and so ashamed of you! Get real teachers Sangha. Obviously this institution is a fraud.

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  12. Many countries have now had long expensive and thorough investigations into institutional abuse. They now have appropriate procedures to deal with this type of behaviour.

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  13. As in every religion, a person howsoever holy or great he or she may claim or be if he or she goes against the very basics of religion he or she should be exposed which would be of help in preserving the precepts of this time tested age old tradition and by doing so, in deed, they would be helping the religion to maintain in its pure form as has been envisaged by Buddha and his followers from time to time.

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  14. As in every religion, a person howsoever holy or great he or she may claim or be if he or she goes against the very basics of religion he or she should be exposed which would be of help in preserving the precepts of this time tested age old tradition and practice by doing so, in deed, they would be helping the religion to maintain in its pure form as has been envisaged by Buddha and his followers from time to time.

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