It’s okay to leave
Many lamas have said that if you discover, even after making a commitment to them, that a lama is not who you thought they were, or if they are not good for you, or if the relationship has broken down for whatever reason, then one can walk away from one’s vajra master without an issue with samaya, so long as one retains respect for the good one gained from the relationship.
And HH Dalai Lama said in Dharamsala 1993, “If you have already taken tantric initiations from them [a guru], you should not develop disrespect or antipathy. In such cases, the Kalachakra Tantra advises us to maintain a neutral attitude and not pursue the relationship any further.”
Chokyi Ngyima Rinpoche told a friend of mine, “If you can no longer see your tantric guru as a Buddha, then you should leave quietly.”
The usual advice is to leave quietly, but both His Holiness Dalai lama and Mingyur Rinpoche have said that when serious abuse has occured if a teacher does not respond to private requests for the behaviour to stop – as is the case with Sogyal – then it is necessary to make the abuses public in order to protect others and the purity of the dharma.
Motivation is the key: speaking out of hatred or desire for revenge is wrong. However, if we know that by not speaking out, their negative behavior will continue and will harm the Buddhadharma, and we still remain silent, that is wrong.” HH Dalai Lama. Dharamsala 1993.
That’s why people have spoken out publically or have spoken to Karen Baxter as part of the independent investigation into the allegations raised in the Letter to Sogyal Lakar 14-07-2017
A master of serious physical, sexual and emotional abuse
The results of the independant investigation confirmed that the behaviours outlined in that letter are true:
Based on the evidence available to me, I am satisfied that, on the balance of probabilities: a. some students of Sogyal Lakar (who were part of the ‘inner circle’, as described later in this report) have been subjected to serious physical, sexual and emotional abuse by him;
Karen Baxter in the Lewis Silkin report details widespread evidence that members of Sogyal’s inner circle – who catered to his every need, including providing massages as he fell asleep – were subjected to repeated acts of brutal violence. The lama’s wooden backscratcher was a favoured method for beating people, as was punching them in the stomach. Baxter says she has been provided with evidence of one individual being knocked unconscious, others being left bleeding and concussed.
She also outlines “significant” first-hand evidence of young women being coerced, manipulated and intimidated into providing sexual favours. One witness, a teenager who arrived at a Rigpa retreat seeking respite from depression and self-harm, was asked to strip a week after coming to work in the lama kitchen. When she refused, she alleges, she was beaten and then later forced into sex.
If you are a student of Sogyal Rinpoche and haven’t read the full report, you need to. Until you do, you have not fully investigated your teacher.
And you need to try to understand the depth of the harm that Sogyal caused, that the harm was not only in the event that caused the trauma, but also in the resulting Post Traumatic Stress that plagues survivors for decades (if not their whole life) afterwards.
Rigpa communications pay lip service to compassion, but their actions show no real compassion towards survivors of Sogyal Rinpoche’s abuse and no understanding of the long-term results of the trauma they experienced. Research Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the dynamics and results of domestic abuse, and you might start to understand the depth of the harm, and begin to see just how sick the Rigpa culture is in the inner circle. The trauma is similar to that experienced by children with an abusive family. And what you read in the report is only the tip of the iceburg.
Now that you know the truth, can you still take him as your teacher?
So, with that in mind, how can anyone possibly still take Sogyal as their teacher now? I think we can try to rationalize staying faithful with all sorts of philosophy, but it’s likely to be be the same philosophy that allowed it all to happen in the first place – the Rigpa-speak party line of crazy wisdom, pure perception and devotion all slightly skewed to enable the abuse. That’s what we were fed, after all, and it’s what we’ll still believe unless we’ve examined those beliefs in light of what happened and seen how they were used to manipulate, control and silence us.
If you’re trying to hold onto your belief in Sogyal’s worth as a teacher, then ask yourself why, against all evidence to the contrary?
You may have had only good interactions with him yourself, but does that make up for the serious harm he caused others? No it does not, just as in the Jimmy Saville case. No one would say that the good that he did makes up for the harm he caused.
Over the last year I have heard many more stories such as those in the report. This didn’t happen to only a few people, and a lot of people are too scared to speak out. Some are too scared to even consider that they were abused in the name of training. The long-term results of that denial is not good for their mental health. If you’re having flashbacks to your ‘training’, particularly ones associated with a feeling of fear or anxiety in your body, then you have been traumatised, and your mental gymnastics to tell yourself that it was love, not abuse, is the result of the brainwashing you were subjected to that made you ‘take’ it and see people ‘taking it’ without complaint. Listen to your body, not your mind on this, and if you are unsure if what you experienced was abuse or love, then don’t talk to someone in Rigpa (because they’ll pretend to be open but their agenda is likely to be to try to convince you it was love), find a councilor from outside and have a chat.
Fear is not a good motivation for remaining with a teacher – fear of hell, of being shuned or shamed, of losing one’s practice and so on – but you can leave without breaking samaya. You just say thank you for the good you brought me, but my trust in you is now broken, so I must move on. And there are other lamas who you can go to so your practice need not suffer if you’re afraid of it falling apart. Just substitute one lama for the other. After all, the focus of our practice was supposed to be Guru Rinpoche, the embodiment of the love and compassion of all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
I handle this situation by thinking – he was my teacher and I gained much from my relationship with him. I’ll always be grateful for that, but now he is no longer my teacher. I could not possibly take him as my teacher now that I know what I know. He is, as HHDL says, “Disgraced.”
Were the teachings as pure as we thought?
Now I believe that his teachings on devotion and pure perception, though not incorrect, were subtly distorted in order to set himself up at the centre of our spiritual life, to make us dependent on him, and to make his inner circle his virtual slaves, just as in any personality cult. I doubt this was intentional; it is, however, what happened.
It’s hard to accept that you were, or are, in a cult, but after studying what characterises a cult, and seeing how Rigpa management persists in using cult tactics for manipulation of student’s perceptions, I can come to no other conclusion. Once I accepted that, I found the literature on recovering from a cult very helpful. Here on the blog, we looked at some of the key beliefs we were taught and saw how they had been used to manipulate and control us, and to give Sogyal permission to behave as he liked. Once you see that, there is no going back.
The yes-or-no question
But whether or not you want to use the cult word, and whether or not you want to stay and try to help Rigpa reform, you still have to ask yourself: Is this a man I can follow as my spiritual teacher now? And the answer to that for this moment in time has to be yes or no.
For so long as you avoid asking yourself that question, and for so long as you avoid making a decision, you will be in a state of confusion, and your spiritual life will suffer. So I encourage you to decide. Can you still take Sogyal as your teacher now that you know what he is really like?
Current and previous students of Rigpa can participate in private discussion on this and other abuse-related topics on our What Now? Facebook Group. If you’re interested in joining, please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
People from any Vajrayana sangha can join the Survivors of Vajrayana Abuse and Allies Facebook group for support. Click the link to request to join.
Anyone who has left a Buddhist sangha that had an abusive teacher can join the Beyond the Temple Facebook Group. The focus in this group is not on the abuse, but on ourselves and our spiritual life as we recover from our experience and look to the future. Click here and request to join.
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.
Those of you who are interested in ‘keeping Buddhism clean’ could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page, which posts links to related articles as they come to hand.