How is Rigpa doing now? Can we see any indications that the organisation is changing to the degree that is needed for it to become a healthy organisation.
A heartening apology
From Feb 2018 Sangha Connection Newsletter
“The boards and the national teams feel deeply sorry for any hurt experienced by past or present members of the Rigpa sangha. The allegations of the 8 students and anyone who speaks up with criticisms or stories of hurt or wrongdoing will be respected and heard – not marginalised or suppressed. We take full responsibility for ensuring that Rigpa provides a welcoming, open and safe environment for all. These are our heartfelt commitments to our community.”
The use of the word “experienced” is significant, as is the acknowledgement that people who speak up have been marginalised and suppressed in the past. Of course those who are criticising have left and even if they wish to return are not allowed to, so this is a bit like closing the gate after the bull has bolted. Nevertheless, the rest of the letter does show that they have listened to people, because they list the concerns they have noted, for these reasons, this communication can be seen as a big step forward. Actions speak louder than words, however, so let’s see if anything changes in their actions.
Sogyal’s message to the Australian retreat
Sogyal’s audio message to the Australian retreat was shared with the whole sangha at a sangha day recently and was widely seen as a true apology. I was told that it is obvious that he is reading a prewritten script but those who have heard it say that his tone of voice is such that the message appears to be truly heartfelt. One person who heard it was surprised, therefore, to discover the actual wording. Here’s the transcript of the relevant part:
“I know that some of you in the Sangha still feel very hurt and upset, perhaps even at me. I really want to acknowledge your feelings of hurt and once again offer you my deepest apologies for anything you feel I may have done to cause you really pain.
”Not a single day goes by where I don’t take these things seriously, and ask forgiveness for whatever I may have done knowingly and unknowingly in the presence of all the Buddhas and also in your presence I invoke you, the sangha, too, really heartfelt, and pray that the healing will take place soon, that something really good may come out of this.”
Sincere apology or pseudo-apology
Sogyal’s apologies have always been dependent on the feeling of harm, not the actual harm. This article in the Tricycle points out the difference between a sincere apology and a pseudo-apology
“Apology is part of the third force, remedy. An apology can do much to mitigate the harm done and to set things in a more constructive direction. Even in serious medical situations, when a doctor does something wrong, in many cases what the aggrieved party wants most of all is a sincere apology. To know that the doctor knows he or she did something wrong and sincerely regrets it may put patients at ease, if only because now they have some confidence that no one else will suffer the same fate.
What constitutes a sincere apology? A sincere apology consists of an admission and expression of regret not for the results of an action but for the action itself. Feel the difference between the words “I’m sorry if I offended you” and “I’m sorry I spoke harshly to you,” or even “I’m sorry—that was insensitive on my part.” In the latter two versions, I am acknowledging my action. I am not making the apology conditional on your state of mind. We can only take responsibility for our actions and the intention motivating our actions.”
Note these parts of the ‘apology’: ‘your feelings of hurt” and “anything you feel I may have done”. This use of the word feel makes it another pseudo apology, indicating that he has not accepted that he actually caused hurt, only that people felt hurt. This puts the responsibility for the hurt on the person harmed, on their feeling of hurt. He’s sorry for their feelings not for his actions. Can one heal with a pseudo-apology?
Of course, it is also possible that a lawyer got to the script.
Want to know who’s running Rigpa these days. Take a look here: http://www.rigpa.org/rigpa-vision-board. Oh, look who it is? The people who enabled and covered up the behaviour outlined in the July letter for decades. Are we really supposed to trust that they can suddenly start doing a better job than they did before?
Code of Conduct
The first draft is out and they are taking feedback on it now. Of course, it’s wonderful that they are working on such a thing, but as it stands at the moment, there is nothing in it that will stop abuse by a lama of his close students because there is a special category for the student who has accepted a teacher as their vajra master. This section has has little in it at present because ‘the lamas’ are looking at it, so we can’t really say anything about it except that it exists, and that’s a worry in itself.
However we can say a little about other parts: The document suggests that students use lojong practices to look at their feelings and perception. Do such directions, ones that suggest that the problem is the student making the complaint, have a place in a code of conduct? One student in evaluating the code said that this focus simply ‘codifies the cult.’
A student joining Rigpa presumably accepts this code of conduct, but a new student does not even know what lojong is, let alone have the spiritual experience and knowledge to apply the practice with a correct understanding.
And sexual relations between students and teachers are permitted, so by agreeing to this code, a young woman may be putting herself in a worse position than if there wasn’t a code. She is joining a group where, though harm is not permitted, sexual relations with teachers are, and teachers in vajrayana are powerful people who can flatter potential conquests with their attentions and promise all sorts of spiritual rewards if they accept a sexual advance. How does one define ‘harm’ when it comes to what happens in the privacy of a lama’s bedroom and a woman has agreed that such relations are permissible. Where is her protection? With such an allowance in a code of conduct any woman who feels as if she has been sexually abused will be at a disadvantage similar to a married woman trying to convince someone they have been raped.
They would be better to keep the philosophy out of it and make it based on behaviour not perception of behaviour, because focusing on our perception of behaviour rather than the behaviour itself is what got Rigpa into this mess in the first place. Any special category for the vajra master and their student that gives the vajra master special licence in terms of conduct is also completely missing the point that this special relationship is exactly what was abused in Rigpa.
The key to proving they aren’t a cult (any more)
Regardless of the outcome of the court case Lerab Ling has undertaken to try to prove they aren’t a cult, for so long as they do not denounce the behaviour laid out in the July letter, everything they do will remain suspect, and people will have good reason to see Rigpa as a cult. On French TV the lawyer the Lerab Ling community is suing emphasised the importance of the fact that they have not denounced the abusive behaviour.
What point is a code of conduct if management still sees abusive behaviour as acceptable? Can we trust management if they don’ t denounce it?
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