Folk wisdom is wisdom passed down through families sometimes from unknown sources; one such piece of wisdom I was brought up with was ‘Credit where credit is due’. This reminds us not to forget the good people have done or are trying to do, even if they have also behaved badly. So, with this bit of wisdom in mind, just in case those folk who are trying to forge ahead with Rigpa think that all we do on this blog is criticise, I thought it prudent to do a post that supports those people and initiatives that deserve it. While we wait for news on who is doing the investigation, what its scope, aims and jurisdiction are, let’s not forget that Rigpa has at least promised an investigation. It could have been worse. Only time will tell how meaningful the gesture will be. We also have a code of conduct being worked on and a new advisory body being chosen. Positive changes are happening inside the organisation. They aren’t moving fast enough or going deeply enough for some, but they are happening.
Expectation and disappointment
When our expectations are high, our disappointment and criticism can be correspondingly great, and in a situation with great potential for moving Tibetan Buddhism forward in a healthy way in the West, it’s no wonder that there is disappointment when those who really want to see that development feel that the change is not going deep enough. Criticism is helpful when it is constructive, and I hope the criticism of Rigpa management that we post here can be seen as constructive – sometimes it is hard to keep the tone moderate – but I can see that it may be quite disheartening if those doing their best to institute change, care for present students, and communicate with the wider community feel that their initiatives are being too rigorously criticised or disregarded. So in this blog I’d like to encourage them and honour them.
Keeping Communication Alive
I would like to personally acknowledge the few people within Rigpa who are actually communicating with me. Some I have emailed and they never responded, which I think is very sad, but I have a few people at national or international level who do still talk to me. We don’t talk much, but they do respond politely to my emails or messages, and if they ask questions, I answer. We respect each other’s views (and avoid going there) and I think we all understand that this situation is difficult for everyone. Their communication helps me to remember that there is no ‘they’, just ordinary people doing their best to help an organisation they believe in to survive a crisis. And I hope they understand that I am an ordinary person doing my best to care for those uncared for by Rigpa in the past and to provide a space where they and those outside the organisation can express their views and perhaps have an impact on the way events unfold. If you are reading this, thank you.
A previous post talked about the unskilful behaviour of some members of Rigpa, so I think it only prudent to remind everyone that those were generalisations and certainly did not apply to all members of Rigpa or Rigpa management. There really is no single thing that is Rigpa. It is made up of individuals. However, there is a team at the top that makes final decisions, so in the end, the buck does stop with them, and that’s why our critical pieces refer to Rigpa management, not Rigpa. Even within that group, however, we must remember that they may not be in agreement on certain things. Nouns are merely labels we must use in order to communicate.
Though still no one from Rigpa International management has approached any of the 8—not even just to see how they are—someone in the US management, entirely on his own behalf (not as part of any push from management), has communicated with four of the Eight letter signators in recent weeks. Never discount the actions of one person. Positive actions and kindness, no matter how small, can have enormously beneficial results. They spread like ripples in a pond.
Code of Conduct Workshops
Despite the workshops’ limited format, undoubtably there are some well-meaning and good hearted people doing their best to actually listen to people and collate their feedback into the code of conduct which is also supposed to bring in cultural change. These people are unpaid and giving huge amounts of their time to visit centres and give the sessions on what to keep and what to abandon in Rigpa. All credit to them and their commitment to the organisation.
One person working on the cultural change aspect of the code of conduct even agreed to take feedback from members of the What Now? Facebook group who had left Rigpa via Skype calls for small groups in Australia, USA and UK/Europe. This person was open and caring enough to give her time to allow those who are most disenchanted with the whole situation to add their opinions to the process. Though not everyone was happy with the results, one member commented to me that if this person were running Rigpa, things really could change for the better. Unfortunately she is only one person, and she is not running Rigpa.
The point here, however, is that every Rigpa member who can show genuine openness and concern for others to the extent that they reach out with respect for others views (without trying to change them) changes the perception of those who might otherwise label ‘Rigpa’ in a poor light. Just as the poor behaviour of some reflects badly on ‘Rigpa’, so the positive behaviour of some reflects well and gives people hope that not all is lost.
Kudos to the German and Dutch sanghas
One initiative undertaken by both the German and Dutch sangha that merits a mention is the establishment of a drop box in which they placed articles and video’s and then sent a link to it to their whole sangha. Included in it are Mingyur Rinpoche’s article, two of HHDL video’s where he speaks of the Sogyal Rinpoche or Rigpa, as well as links to this blog and the How Did it Happen blog. DzKR’s Facebook post in response to the matter and the video in which Khenchen Namdrol speaks about samaya are also in it. Reports are that the included material is very balanced and not biased. Germany goes a step further in that they include letters and texts by individual Rigpa students who wanted their views and feelings shared with the whole sangha. These are indications that those running these sanghas are happy to allow students access to all relevant information and allow them to make up their own minds on the issues this scandal raises.
Unsurprisingly given these initiatives, feedback from students in these sanghas indicates that there is a more welcoming attitude to those with different views than in other countries, even to the extent of once providing a separate session for those who didn’t want to watch a teaching by SR. In other countries students wanting to return to Rigpa or even visit for a particular meeting have been turned away either abruptly or more subtly.
Ordinary students who keep asking the difficult questions
Though many students have left in disgust, leaving a greater percentage of people in Rigpa who apparently don’t care about ethical behaviour than those who do care, some students deeply concerned about all the issues shared in this blog do remain students so they can observe progress, continue to hold groups and care for others and to contribute to positive change. Each time one of them asks a question that those running groups would rather no one asked, or remind them that there has still been no acceptance of responsibility for the care of those harmed and so on, they break through the stupor of other students in the group who have been soothed (brainwashed?) into thinking everything is now fine. Everything is not fine, and I applaud those who remain in order to remind them of that. Don’t stop asking your questions. And please refer people to this blog, the categories on The Root of the Problem is particularly full of the sort of thing Rigpa students need to be aware of.
The man himself
I almost forgot the man at the core of this debacle. For me it’s important to give Sogyal Rinpoche or Lakar or whatever you want to call him credit for the great benefit he has brought to me personally and to many other people. That does not, of course, excuse his behaviour in any way, but I think it is something that we should not forget, for our sake. Despite his apparent limitations, he did introduce a lot of us to the noble dharma, and if we consider it was all a waste of time, we’re cutting ourself off from the benefit. Look for the benefit and you will find what’s worth holding onto.
You could compare denying the benefit gained to someone discarding everything they learned from a brilliant physics professor because they discovered he wasn’t a nice person. People can be brilliant in one area and really bad in another area, particularly in personal relationships. Credit where credit is due does not mean white-washing the bad, just recognising how things actually are.
Not in opposition
I regularly check my motivation and I find that the bottom line for me, as it is for any Mahayana Buddhist, is the desire to help bring beings to enlightenment. Those in Rigpa management are, I expect, aiming to do the same thing. They are just approaching it from a different perspective. In the end we are all just playing different roles in the same drama, a drama from which a great deal of good has already come, and I pray it may result in a renaissance for Tibetan Buddhism in the West, a renaissance that leaves the feudal structures and lama-centric dictates behind. That renaissance is unlikely to come from within Rigpa as I had initially hoped, but the ripples from this revelation will have an effect that goes beyond whatever Rigpa may do.
Keep up the good work everyone.
Post by Tahlia Newland.
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.
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