On the 29th of October, Rigpa management sent out an email to the Rigpa sangha. Titled Sangha Connection, it began with a quote from Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. “…In the midst of clouds of impermanence and illusion, dances the lightning of life. Can you say you won’t die tomorrow? Practice the Dharma.”
Lovely quote, but unfortunately it’s one that reminds me of how terribly Rigpa is doing on the score of practising the dharma. Many may be still doing their many sadhanas, but one wonders what they are actually doing when they practice. The results of genuine dharma practice is that we become more compassionate, more kind, freer of defensiveness, negative emotions, hope and fear and so on, and yet as an organisation we see Rigpa focused entirely on defending themselves and maintaining their business interests. This is the bad news: they still show no indication of applying the four healing powers of Vajrasattva to actually heal the situation.
As Chatrul Rinpoche said: “The authentic Dharma is not in the monasteries, it is not in the books and not in the material world, but within the mind. There is a need to awaken it through practice and to realise (actualise) it, in order to be called the continuation or preservation of the Dharma.”
Despite the chatty, (or for some perhaps insultingly jubilant) tone, the lack of compassion still shines through. Still there is nothing in the communication to indicate that management has taken any responsibility for their lack of care of students in the past and in the present. An organisation that cares more about keeping the money rolling in than facing their mistakes and caring for those that have been harmed while working for the organisation is hardly practicing dharma, no matter how many mantras they accumulate.
The communication seems to be designed to sooth readers into complacency by talking about lineage and higher purpose. The subtext is, “Look how wonderful we are; look how much we’ve done; look what new initiatives we’re undertaking; aren’t we grand? Aren’t we worth supporting?” All this communication does is entrench themselves into the position they’ve taken all along – minimise the damage in whatever way you can, make it look like you’re doing something to distract people from the fact that nothing is ever going to change, carry on as usual and wait for it all to blow over. Will it blow over? Or are people sick enough of these kinds of debacles in Buddhism to make sure that the talk will not stop until the issues are properly addressed once and for all.
They list the names of Lamas that have agreed to teach for Rigpa. Do these lamas realise that in Western eyes this indicates their support for a lama accused of abuse and for an organisation that allowed unethical behaviour to flourish in the name of dharma? These teachers need to make some statement about where they stand on the issue of abuse of power in Tibetan Buddhism if they are to retain any integrity in the eyes of Westerners. Sadly, the list includes reputable and excellent teachers: Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche, Dzigar Kongrul Rinpoche, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, OT Rinpoche, Ringu Tulku Rinpoche and Khenchen Pema Sherab. Notably absent are Mingyur Rinpoche and His Holiness the Dalia Lama. I’m left hoping that at least some of them will actually address the issue, rather than continue as if it doesn’t exist.
Only two lines are given to the upcoming investigation, and they tell us only that “the independent consultants carrying out the internal investigation will be announced shortly, with the aim of commencing in November. The investigation will compassionately and thoroughly investigate the allegations of abuse that were made against Sogyal Rinpoche and take into account first-hand experiences gained through confidential interviews.” Nothing new there. Another stalling tactic that contributes to a terrible feeling I have that this investigation might be just another cover up. Any investigation where the bill is being paid by Rigpa has to be suspect. Only a police investigation would really be reliable.
Code of conduct
We’re told that the code of conduct will be ready by the end of the year and that they are encouraging everyone to participate in the workshops in order to have their say. The trouble with the workshops is that the discussion is highly restricted. Even when run well, they are very limited in scope. Students are confined to talking only about set topics, and then only about what they themselves have experienced, so they can’t raise the issue of what happened to someone else, or what was reported in the letter from the 8. Many students have reported that during all the sessions designed to provide points for cultural change, the word abuse was never mentioned and would not have been discussed at all had the student not raised it. Others reported that their questions were not answered or they were asked to speak privately about their concerns. So though the workshops have the appearance of openness and listening, their scope is very limited and seems designed more to sooth the students, to make them feel good about the situation than to actually address the problem. It’s as if there is a huge unhouse-trained elephant in the closet that everyone is ignoring despite the stink that taints everything.
The root of the problem – the beliefs that ask students to set aside their discernment and ethical values – are not being discussed. I suspect that those people running the workshops with the best of intentions do not realise that these are cult tactics, designed to keep everyone happy and paying their fees. These workshops are not dealing with the problem, they are carefully avoiding it.
The communication responds to requests by students that there be a place for online communication amongst the whole sangha, and rather than make a new group, which will be of great relief to some, the suggestion is that the All Encompassing Path Facebook Group is the place for such coming together. Will we see a truely open communication happening there? Only time will tell. I expect that many of those within Rigpa are sick of talking about it. It seems that the general focus is to get on with their own path to enlightement, ignoring the fact that unexamined and unquestioned aspects of that path has caused harm to some students.
Developments in Rigpa
Lodyi Gyari Rinpoche and Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche are mentioned as lamas that have been consulted on the matter of putting in place the new spiritual body. If you have been paying attention to what OT has said on this matter you can see what a disaster his involvement is for the future of Tibetan Buddhism in the West – or at least for any healthy future for its students. He’s the one that told the Rigpa sangha in Paris that there was no problem, that Sogyal had done nothing wrong, that the 8 were samaya breakers (how can he tell; he’s not in their minds?) that if a great being kills someone it’s not a problem, and suggested that dharma law is higher than worldly law. Just the sort of person you want running a dharma organisation, right? (Sarcasm!)
Rigpa senior instructors will lead the programmes at the national retreats and “The great news is that these retreats will include specially recorded teachings from Sogyal Rinpoche.” I thought he had retired from teaching! But then his devoted students will be very pleased about this. Also some of these students leading the retreats are likely burying trauma, still in denial about the nature of their treatment at the hands of their teacher. Hardly psychologically healthy role models. If I sound somewhat scathing, it is only in order to point out just how unhealthy the institutional denial of the attested abuse is. Some members of the What Now? group have expressed great concern for the mental health of many still involved in the organisation at its upper levels. Rigpa needs to look very seriously at this.
If anyone is reading this who is unsure of whether or not they have been abused, or who needs assistance to remove themselves from service to Sogyal or Rigpa, please refer to our healing resources page, and feel free to contact us privately via our contact page.
The letter mentions Sogyal’s health but gives no further information than that he is undertaking chemotherapy. We are also informed that Rigpa aims to have closer ties with Lerab Gar in Tibet.
To make Rigpa look good?
The communication announces that “where public courses have recommenced after the summer, instructors have informed new people about the controversy and difficulties Rigpa is currently facing so they can make an informed choice whether they want to continue. This openness has been well received.”
Why was this included? It’s basically saying, “Look how open we are.” But are these students given the link to this blog, to Mingyur Rinpoche’s article, to DZK’s article where he questions S’s qualifications? When existing students aren’t given links to these resources it seems highly unlikely that new students would be given the full picture either. Do they hand out copies of the letter written by the Eight attesting to the abuse?
Twisting words in an attempt to discredit the Eight?
Apparently many students had asked if anyone had “reached out to the long-standing students who wrote the initial letter of grievances to Sogyal Rinpoche.” Instead of saying that no one from Rigpa management has made any attempt to reach out to them, they divert attention from this fact by mentioning S’s group email to the Eight in response to their letter, and they share it to the sangha as an attachment. As their reasoning for sharing S’s reply now the communication states: “The eight students made the reply from Rinpoche public by emailing it to many other people.”
This is not strictly true; that letter is not public. Search for it right now and you will not find it posted on line anywhere.
It was sent openly along with the Eight’s response to S’s letter to the monastics, national directors and international management of Rigpa, not as a Bcc email. Since none of the Eight had heard from Rigpa management they assumed that they knew nothing about this communication and so shared it in the interests of transparency. That openness has been turned against them in this communication by the use of the word ‘public’, which insinuates not only that it was posted publically somewhere, but that sharing the email to Rigpa management was somehow reprehensible. This sentence is entirely unnecessary. It appears that the reason for including it is an attempt to discredit the Eight. Why else is it there?
On the 15th of September the letter did appear on the secret Facebook group, but that is also not public, and as one of the 8 said, “we didn’t agree to let it be posted in the group until the rumors of how we were all being well cared for by S personally became wide spread, then we agreed to post it to set the record straight.”
However, all of this diverts attention from the fact that those running Rigpa, those who failed in their duty of care, have still not reached out.
It is, in fact, Rigpa management who have made S’s letter public by sharing it with the whole sangha.
Watch out Rigpa students; sweet words can have hidden barbs.
P.S. Just to make it completely clear and in an attempt to stop the misinformation circulating within Rigpa, the Eight DID NOT post the original letter outlining the abuse they experienced on the internet or share it on social media. Since the letter went to all Dzogchen mandala students and many of them shared it with other students and likely ex-students, any one of them could have leaked it, but the intention of the Eight was for it to be kept within the sangha.
Current and previous students of Rigpa wanting personal and private support in regards to the abuse issue can be found in the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite using the email address you use on Facebook
If you would like to stay in contact with and support ex-Rigpa students, we have created the Dharma Companions Facebook Group. The group files include lists of online courses with reputable teachers, and members can join monthly Skype meetings and retreats. If you’re interested, click the link and ask to join. You will need to answer some questions before being admitted to the group.
Be sure to check out the What Now? Reference Material page for links to a wealth of articles in the topics related to abuse in Buddhist communities. For links to places to assist in healing from abuse see the sangha care resources page.
Those of you who are interested in ‘keeping Buddhism clean’ in general could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page. Links to posts on this blog will be posted there as well as links to other relevant information related to the wider issues involved.