Later on in this post I share a video interview I did with ex-monk Sangye Nawang in which he tells us just what it was like to be in the firing line of Sogyal Rinpoche’s temper, but first some introduction to help explain why students entered into a close relationship with their guru.
The fire analogy
One of the teachings that I remember on a student’s relationship to a lama is the fire analogy. It goes something like this: If you’re too far from the lama you won’t feel the heat; it you’re too close, you’ll get burned. I presumed that the aim of this teaching was to make the the student aware that they needed to find a distance that was neither too close nor too far away from the lama, but it was also a warning that if you did dedicate yourself to working closely with a lama, you might get burned, or maybe even will get burned.
Being burned, however, meant that your ego got burned, and that was seen as a good thing. Once again we see a word being used that means harm. If we’re burned, we’re harmed. The bit being harmed is supposed to be your ego (grasping at a false sense of self), but these ideas of burning, attacking, crushing, and destroying ego are problematic in a world where students may be lacking in a basic healthy self-esteem, and that problem is compounded one-hundred fold if the lama has narcissistic personality disorder. In these cases, as I’ve seen with Rigpa inner circle survivors, an aggressive approach is more likely to cause harm than benefit. Instead of having their ego dissolved, they tend to end up having physical and/or mental breakdowns, and their basic sense of self is crushed, so that they see themselves as worthless and useless, and so on. This is in fact strengthening ego, because now the student associates him or herself with negative attributes.
Why put yourself in the line of fire?
In Rigpa, the idea of being close to the fire meant that you had the guts to commit yourself fully to a relationship with a person that, though most of us didn’t know was abusive, we all knew was highly demanding, but the pay off for being close was a better shot at enlightenment, the opportunity to be fast tracked along the path. The route was dangerous, and it took guts to take it, but the potential benefit was huge – at least that’s what we were told. This romanticised ideal of a spiritual warrior willing to take the blows coupled with a genuine desire to help spread the dharma teachings in the West drew people close to the raging inferno of Sogyal Rinpoche/Lakar.
But being close to the fire meant that you put yourself directly in Sogyal’s firing line.
I doubt that those who entered the inner circle knew the degree of his ‘burn’ before they took up their roles – did they know they would be hit, asked for sexual favours and be always found lacking? – but we all knew that working closely with him would be highly challenging. That was the point. We believed it was a kind of ‘trial by fire’ that if survived would be a great purification, a furnace in which to burn away your obscurations, in reality, however, a large number of people simply got third degree burns.
I sometimes used to wonder how I would handle the intensity of that level of ‘Rigpa work’, and all I knew in that regard was that I never wanted to find out. When I was offered the role of National Director for Rigpa Australia a decade or so ago, I said, “No way, I don’t want to get that close to the fire.” I feel for those who did.
A personal testimony
In August 2017, I interviewed Sangye Nawang, and ex-Rigpa monk and a good friend of mine. We didn’t release the video at the time, feeling that the time wasn’t right. Now, however, we feel it is time for the world to see Sangye tell it as it was, and I challenge those who think this is somehow made up, or some plot or campaign to deny the truth that comes through this interview. This is just someone who has been burned telling us about the fire he fell into through no fault of his own.
May sharing his story, told openly and honestly, be of service to others.
What being in a narcistic relationship does to you
This next video is long, but it’s well worth watching if you want to get an idea of the true cost to those in Rigpa’s inner circle who were or still are close to Sogyal Rinpoche/Lakar. If you were one of those people then you’ll find it immensely helpful to realise that other people experience this kind of thing in domestic and work relationships; it’s not something restricted to the guru/student relationship, and, in fact, it has no place in that environment at all. In this video you’ll hear just how crushing being in a narcissistic relationship is.
Please note that I am not making a diagnosis on Sogyal’s personality, just sharing the experience of people who were in a similar relationship because fits with the results I’ve heard from and seen in Rigpa inner-circle survivors. You’ll see the correlations with Sangye’s experience. As Dana mentions in the video, survivors of cults and abusive relationships will also find it very helpful to find language they can use to describe their experience.
NB: CPTSD is Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
In this video Dana of Narcissist Support says, “In a narcistic relationship it’s all smoke and mirrors. It’s all a lie.”
Which leaves me wondering: was the love I thought I experienced from Sogyal real or just my projection? Dana talks about how her narcissistic boyfriends fed off her need for love that came from a sense of lack of love in her life; how many of us saw in Sogyal what we wanted to see? Did our projections blind us to the red flags that screamed, “Fire. Fire. Danger. Do not enter!”?
Private discussion on this and other related topics can be had on our Secret Facebook Group. It is only for current and previous students of Rigpa, however, and we do moderate it closely. If you’re interested in joining, please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
Ex-Rigpa students and their Rigpa dharma friends who want to move on from the discussion of abuse in Rigpa can stay in touch through the Dharma Companions Facebook Group.
The What Now? Reference Material page has 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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