The Good and the Bad
Though I will always love Sogyal Rinpoche (just as I love my child regardless of any poor behaviour she may exhibit) and honour the benefit I have gained from my association with him, the more first-hand accounts I hear from people who have found themselves harmed by their association and those within his ‘inner circle’, the more difficult it is to accept that the good this spiritual teacher has done outweighs the bad. Sometimes, it seems to me that the only ones that have benefitted from his despicable/enlightened (choose which word choice suits you best) behaviour are therapists and psychiatrists.
However, regardless of how you see his qualifications as a teacher, we cannot deny that he did introduce a great many people to Buddhadharma, the teachings of which are a huge benefit to all who hear them.
The Extent of the Hurt
He was always kind to me, even in personal interactions, up until the point where he betrayed my trust that he wouldn’t harm anyone. And in a similar fashion he has hurt every single one of his students, even those who are still in denial that anything wrong has occurred. But no one has suffered as much as those who experienced the stated behaviour first hand, and their difficulty in extricating themselves from the situation can be better understood by looking at the issues people face when escaping cults.
The Emotional Process
I’m not saying Rigpa is a cult, just saying that there are similarities in the emotional process for those who have left and also for those who are re-evaluating their involvement. Referring to this material can be very helpful for those trying to process this. Where are you in this process?
- Disbelief/denial: “This can’t be happening. It couldn’t have been that bad.”
- Anger/hostility: “How could they/I be so wrong?” (hate feelings)
- Self-pity/depression: “Why me? I can’t do this.”
- Fear/bargaining: “I don’t know if I can live without my group. Maybe I can still associate with it on a limited basis, if I do what they want.”
- Reassessment: “Maybe I was wrong about the group’s being so wonderful.”
- Accommodation/acceptance: “I can move beyond this experience and choose new directions for my life”
- Or … Reinvolvement: “I think I will rejoin the group.”
More on this in the following article. http://www.icsahome.com/articles/post-cult-after-effects-singer Another helpful article from the same website is this one on post-cult problems http://www.icsahome.com/articles/cult-problems-giambalvo
Those who are still seeing the behaviour outlined in the letter from the Courageous 8 or experiencing it and still not seeing it for what it is are those most in need of our compassion. To extricate themselves from the beliefs that have taught them to see harm as benefit is extremely difficult because they have suspended their critical thinking. The good thing is that this kind of wake-up call might eventually force them to get to the reassessment stage.
The Power of Beliefs
I was lucky, not just because I was never directly harmed, but also because I never thought SR was enlightened. I always saw his making students wait for hours, humiliating people publically, driving his team to ill-health, and his insistence on perfection in the most ridiculous of small details as indications that he was merely a man, flawed like us all, but also a Buddha in essence, like us all. My devotion was to the teacher who taught the dharma from his wisdom mind, not to the man with questionable behaviour. I accepted that in order to get the best of him—his teachings—I had to accept that he was also a grumpy little man. So when the crunch came, though shocked, I had no trouble accepting that he was capable of the behaviour documented in the letter by the 8. I also had no trouble accepting the good along with the admitting the bad, because I had seen it that way all along. The ‘bad’ was just much worse than I had thought, so much so that I knew immediately that my time as his student was over. I had it easy.
But those who had believed him enlightened—and many still do—have a much harder task in processing the fact that the behaviour of their enlightened master has been declared to be abusive. And processing this would be most difficult for those who have personally seen and even experienced the behaviour. Their belief in him as an enlightened being was (is) so strong that they were able to witness or experience the behaviours outlined in the letter from the 8 and not see it as abuse but as enlightened action.
Ego and Karma
The denial that any harm occurred, as professed by many, is not surprising, especially when that stance is solidified by emphasising certain religious beliefs. It’s a form of self-protection, an attempt to stop the sense of self constructed around their religious beliefs from crumbling. To question the person and the beliefs you have based your whole life around for decades requires enormous courage, a courage that is very hard to find in an environment that does not support such questioning—hence What Now?
My heart truly goes out to those still close to the fire, and those in Lerab Ling at present. I believe they are doing their best, but their perception is distorted by their belief that Sogyal Rinpoche is an enlightened being, and, therefore, he has done no harm. It also goes out to the cause of the problem. If Sogyal Rinpoche has become even a little aware of the extent of the pain his actions have caused, then he must be suffering indeed—and if not now, then when the karma eventually plays out.
“Although there is no self in absolute terms, in terms of the relative one still has to suffer the results of one’s past good and bad actions.” Progressive Stages of Emptiness, but Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, P22
The Belief at the Core of the Problem
Many, including Mingyur Rinpoche, have presented an alternative and more reasoned view of the teachings commonly used to support the ‘no harm has been done’ idea, but many times that has just turned into an argument, one fostered by different teachers in the tradition stating different views or seemingly confused themselves.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama with his characteristic simplicity and directness called out the issue back in 1993 when he said: “Seeing all actions of our teacher as perfect is like poison and can be misused. This attitude spoils our entire teachings by giving teachers a free hand to take undue advantage.”
Holding rigidly to such a belief suspends our common sense and stops us from using out innate wisdom of discernment, a situation that this debacle in Rigpa makes clear is very dangerous indeed. And this is the belief that has allowed this situation to go on for so long. This is the belief that for so long as it is held by those running Rigpa means the poison has not been removed. Why? Because if they hold such a belief, they will not be able to see abusive behaviour in their teacher as abuse, even if it is happening right in front of their eyes. If they can’t admit the harm they have done by enabling and covering up the attested abuse, they should resign. We cannot trust someone to clean up a mess if they don’t see the cause of the mess.
A Sensible View of the Same Belief
We CAN be students of Vajrayana without holding tightly to a belief in the actions of our teacher as a manifestation of enlightened action (and therefore not harmful even if it appears so to us). As the Dalai Lama says: “I have had many teachers, and I cannot accept seeing all their actions as pure. My two regents, who were among my sixteen teachers, fought one another in a power struggle that even involved the Tibetan army. When I sit on my meditation seat, I feel both were kind to me, and I have profound respect for both of them. Their fights do not matter. But when I had to deal with what was going on in the society, I said to them, “What you’re doing is wrong!” We should not feel a conflict in loyalties by acting in this way. In our practice, we can view the guru’s behavior as that of a mahasiddha, and in dealings with society, follow the general Buddhist approach and say that that behavior is wrong.”
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.