I’m interupting the series comparing the Weinstein accusations with those of Sogyal Rinpoche to remind us all that everyone involved in both scandals are just human and therefore like us. We all have failings and we all have our special abilities and these two sides of us can and do go together.
Some of you are not going to want to hear what follows. Some of you will likely leave terrible comments. Others will simply not believe it, but since I have been putting my name to my writing here recently, I want to be clear on my personal ‘position.’ I believe there are some misunderstandings floating around due to the fact that our deluded minds tend to be very dualistic. We assume that if something is so, then its apparent opposite cannot also be so.
Language requires that we decide at what point something is this and what point it is that and label it so others will understand. Black contains no white, and white contains no black, so they should be easy to ascertain. But where there is no light, everything appears black. Grey, however, has a much greater breadth of meaning because grey can be dark or light and every shade in between. One thing we know about grey is that, regardless of how much of each colour it has, it contains both black and white. People are like that. We have within us the seeds of happiness and the seeds of suffering. Sometimes we water the seeds of suffering, and sometimes we water the seeds of joy. That’s how it is. Buddhism teaches us to water the seeds of joy, but that doesn’t mean that all Buddhists manage to do that all of the time. That’s why we need teachers and sangha, to remind us of the dharma.
Hatred or compassion?
So if someone does something unskilful, they have watered the seeds of their own suffering. For that reason they are due our compassion, not our hatred. Hatred does not help them, and it does not help us; in fact hatred when we cling to it harms us, not just the person to which our hatred is focused. I don’t have to tell a Buddhist that.
Buddhaghosa, in discussing anger said: “By doing this you are like a man who wants to hit another and picks up a burning ember or excrement in his hand and so first burns himself or makes himself stink.” Visuddhimagga IX, 23.
Emotions tend to polarise people. If we are angry, then we are not happy, that’s clear. However we label our own feelings is up to us, but when we try to label other people’s feelings we can misread situations very easily. We can be angry one moment and happy the next, so if we note an angry tone in someone’s voice, that does not make them an angry person. What we read as angry, may not even be anger at all; it may be its purified form, mirror-like wisdom. Avoiding projections is not easy when emotions come into play. Judgement can leap to the fore, and we can forget that it is human to feel, and that it is not the arising of emotion, or even the brief expression of it, that causes us problems, but the holding onto it. We think of anger as bad, but anger purified is wisdom. Our task is to see the true nature of the anger and release the wisdom at its core. That frees us of its hold and frees us to act without agenda.
Negative or positive?
What appears negative may not be negative in the long run. Maybe you know the story of the old man, his horse that ran away then brought back more horses, and his son who broke his leg by falling off the horse then avoided being drafted into a war. The old man never framed any of the events as good or bad, because though they appeared bad or good at the time, later circumstances changed them to their opposite. So if you think this blog is all negative, all against Sogyal Rinpoche and Rigpa, remember that story. And the same applies if you think it is too positive. If the results of what you see as negative (or not negative enough) is a clarification of our understanding of what dharma truly is, and particularly if it contributes to removing abusive behaviour from Buddhism, then even the (to some) apparently negative words here will have served a good purpose.
The aim of my writing on this topic, and of this blog, is not to bring anyone down, but to help wake people up, to make them aware of the bigger picture, and rouse them to act for the benefit of the future of the dharma in the West.
As His Holiness said in Dharamsala in 1993:
“What is in the best interest of the Buddhadharma is much more important than anything concerning an individual guru. Therefore, if it is necessary to criticize a guru to save the Buddhadharma or to benefit several hundred of their disciples, do not hesitate. Afterwards you can go to that teacher and explain that you acted as you did with a pure motivation.”
Sometimes I may sound a little harsh, and I apologise if that hurts anyone. I do try to walk the middle way, but I am a deluded being like all of us and prone to the same lacks of judgement we all display sometimes. The point I am making here is that, just as SR was quite certain that he had never acted with the intention to harm anyone, I too have the intention only to benefit. If my methods seem harmful to you, then understand that, in the same way, SR’s methods were also harmful to some. If what I write does not contribute to the benefit of the dharma, then I apologises for my lack of skill.
The behaviour is not the person.
If someone expresses their love for someone who has behaved badly, that does not mean that they support the person’s behaviour, but our dualistic minds tend to make those kind of assumptions. As a parent I could scold my child, but my love for her never waned. I could tell her that her behaviour was inappropriate or unskilful, but my love for her never wavered for a moment. It was necessary for her development into an ethical human being that I made it clear when she stepped over the line between what is beneficial and what is harmful, and so it is for me with Sogyal Rinpoche and Rigpa.
So let’s get this straight.
Though I have zero tolerance of abuse in all its forms, and I do not condone in any way at all the behaviour attested to by the 8 students in their letter, I still love Sogyal Rinpoche. My heart connection with him is unbreakable. I still pray for him and wish him well.
Though I no longer wish to receive teachings from him, I still honour him as my root teacher.
Though I recognise that the interpretation of certain teachings contributed to a lack of ethical discernment in both student and teacher, I still recognise the value of what SR taught me, the heart-warming interactions I had with him, and the good he brought to many.
I still love my Rigpa friends, even those who have abused me.
I still care for the Rigpa community and, even when most unforgiving of the organisation’s failings, pray that it will truly heal.
I find myself in a position to be a necessary voice for those who see the need for reform, but I bear no ill will to anyone, including those with more radical views on either ‘side’, and I see the validity of all points of view, even when most vehemently stating mine.
I respect the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and do not want to see the power of it as a means of personal transformation diminished, and since His Holiness the Dalia Lama and Mingyur Rinpoche have shown the way forward with their enlightened commentaries, it’s clear to me that removing the feudal structure will not diminish its effectiveness in any way.
I am deeply sorry for the harm people have allegedly experienced at the hands of my teacher and from the lack of care from my vajra brothers and sisters.
I am sad that the alleged actions of my teacher have harmed the reputation of Tibetan Buddhism, and I pray that my words may go some way towards the reparation of that harm and that they will contribute to the causes and conditions for a more enlightened future.
The reason I am still here, still writing, is because I care, and because others care enough to support me to keep writing. If I didn’t care, I would have walked away months ago.
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.
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