Missing the Connection

At a time when I personally am so sick of  Rigpa’s cultish manipulations of their members  that reading anything ‘they’ say makes me feel physically ill, I am particularly grateful that Jo Green is still writing for us. Thank you, Jo. Keep em coming! Without this kind of  exposure of the brainswashing tactics employed in Rigpa communications, many people will never realise how their perception of Sogyal lakar and Rigpa has been and still is being manipulated.

This kind of writing is vital if people are to ever realise that the organisation we once thought was beneficial, and many still desperately want to believe is beneficial, appears to really only care about keeping their members and getting new ones so they can pay their and their disgraced lama’s bills and pay the salaries of those who covered up Sogyal’s abuse for all those years.

Who, after all, still receives a salary from Rigpa? And how much power/respect do they have in the organisation? Would your local management team tell you the truth if you asked? Or would they say what they think you want to hear while never giving you a straight answer? Soothing words aimed entirely at keeping you a devoted member of the community (or kicking you out and ignoring you if they deem you beyond their ability to manipulate). 

The three stooges may have ‘stepped down’ from their management roles, but are these people suddenly not being listened to by those who have taken on their roles?  Has their mode of operation been discarded? The latest communication from Rigpa to the sangha, the topic of this blog post, indicates that the same methods of manipulation are still being used.

And how many of your local management team are more concerned about the Rigpa bank account and clinging to their guru – despite his now obvious flaws – rather than rooting out the cult tactics employed by their organisation or actually contacting the letter writers living in their country with an offer to help paying for their counselling?

Where is the honesty? The ability to say, “Yes, Sogyal did harm people, and what he did was wrong. And, yes, many in management covered this up, and that, too, was wrong.”

Sorry, I think I’m going to vomit!  

Rot makes me sick, especially when it clings at the heart of something pretending it’s healthy, and especially when after you cut it open for all to see, those reliant on the healthy image for their livelihood or spiritual security hastily tie it all up with a string called ‘code of conduct’ and ‘grievenace proceedure’, but the rot remains because no one representing Rigpa will actually say it was wrong for Sogyal Lakar to abuse people.

That’s how I’m feeling right now. Spiritual abuse is a huge betrayal of trust, and trust cannot be regained by using the same tactics used to betray that trust in the first place.  

Would it really be such a bad thing to sell off the assests and let the whole rotten edifice tumble down? It sounds to me like a really beneficial thing to do at this point, much better than pretending to change for the sake of their charity status while still secretly fostering the same beliefs that allowed Sogyal to abuse people in the first place.

Over to Jo, now, for an excellent and entertaining piece on the latest Sangha Connection newsletter.

Verbal abuse

The latest Sangha Connection Newsletter from Rigpa does not so much call a spade a spade as call it “an elegantly designed, handle-operated tool which fulfils a wide variety of agricultural and construction functions”. It does, however, demonstrate that a great deal of thought has gone into the really pressing issues for the leadership: how to appear to acknowledge the report without ever mentioning any of the damning testimony it contains, and how to refer to the victims of physical and sexual abuse committed by Sogyal, without using the words “victim”, “sexual”, “physical”, “abuse”, “harm”, or even the name “Sogyal Rinpoche”.

In this they have triumphed. With her fine legal mind, Catherine Paul has crafted the phrase “those who are hurt” to cover all of this. One particularly striking aspect is that it is not phrased as one would normally expect when referring to a series of events that occurred over a period of years: i.e. “those who have been hurt” or “Those who were hurt”. There is no way in English you can talk about any kind of physical injury or trauma that occurred somewhat in the past by using the present tense. The only things that can be discussed that way are ongoing feelings, e.g. “I’m still hurt that she never called me after my father died.”

The other loud, flashing alarm is the use of the passive voice – a top go-to strategy for anyone wishing to manipulate people’s perceptions of the facts. Catherine’s is a doozy. Instead of saying “those who Sogyal hurt” – which has definite sense of cause and effect, with the cause of the hurt identified – a word is substituted to create the bizarrely neutered “those who are hurt” as if the nature and cause of the hurt are unknown. And that’s without even changing “hurt” to the more appropriate “harm” – a word which appears to have the same effect on the Rigpa leadership that a crucifix has on Dracula. From when the letter came out last year to now, I don’t believe it has been used in any official communication from Lerab Ling in relation to Sogyal’s behaviour. This too is not an accident. The purpose of this linguistic abuse is to damp down the responses of the person reading.

Credit should be given to the Australian Rigpa board for recently showing independence of thought by saying “we apologise and are sorry for any harm we have contributed to” in their own newsletter. At least that acknowledges that harm has occurred, and they have contributed to it. Lerab Ling fiercely resists giving into what they seem to view as inappropriate expressions of basic humanity and honesty.

Catherine writes too ably for any of this to be an accident. It is done knowingly to appear to refer to the abuse, whilst only actually being applicable to feelings – thus dovetailing into the contemptible “apology” by Sogyal, about people feeling hurt by his actions as a result of not understanding them properly.

Oh dear, and we have only arrived at the second line.

The omission of compassion

Still, “people who are hurt” do get “our compassion and our unreserved and wholehearted apology”. What is being apologised for, however, is not stated. It is not an apology for the actions of Sogyal. It is not an apology for Patrick Gaffney, Philip Philippou and Dominique Side conspiring to conceal reports of abuse and spreading malicious gossip about those who spoke out. It is not an apology for failing to believe or help people. It is an apology for unnamed things done by unnamed people. So, not actually an apology.

As for “compassion” – what the hell does that mean? Precisely zero has been done to support the many people left traumatised by the uncontrolled narcissistic tornado that Sogyal became. The report recommends Rigpa should fund the therapy of those harmed by him. It is one of the simplest, cheapest and most practical ways support could be offered, but this has not been done. So where is the compassion? Compassion must manifest in action or it is nothing more than pat-myself-on-the-back-for-being-so-great ego-stroking.

Considerably more space is then dedicated to Catherine saying how great her experience with Sogyal was and how important he has been in her life. Again, a person with compassion would understand how inappropriate it is to recite these affirmations any time the issue of the bad things he did is tiptoed towards. It is insensitive and has upset many of the victims a great deal.

Yes, we get it, you think Sogyal did some good things for you. Why does that have to be said every time? Perhaps Catherine should read my piece about Jimmy Saville. I guess if I had a conversation with a faithful Rigpa student about recent world events, it might go like this:

Me: “My God, did you hear about the tsunami in Indonesia? It’s terrible what happened, so shocking. I sent some money – lots of those survivors are in a desperate state.”

Student: “Actually I went on a number of trips to Indonesia and had a wonderful time. The people were very friendly, the food was lovely and it’s so cheap. Last year, I went on this yoga and meditation retreat. It was really beneficial for me at a difficult time. So that’s what I’m focussing on.”

Returning once more to Rigpa’s favourite weasel word (alongside “unfounded”), the advice of the newsletter is that “those who are hurt” contact the new Rigpa councils for support. Bizarrely, they later suggest that current students inform “friends who have left Rigpa and may have an unresolved ethical question or complaint that impacts on their peace of mind”. That’s a very delicate and low-key way to refer to matters such as having your ear half ripped off, or having a piece of furniture smashed over you and then being compelled to do degrading sexual acts, or being ordered to give a blow job whilst trying to carry out your professional duties.

The Rigpa leadership know who these people are and they know how to contact them. Would compassion not consist of getting in touch and offering support rather than telling victims to write to an email address? Do they honestly not realise that, having broken trust so badly with these people, the leadership of Rigpa must humbly reach out their hand and risk it being, quite justifiably, smacked away or bitten off, just as those who spoke up took a huge risk? That would truly demonstrate compassion and lack of ego.

 Staring into the abyss

For all my criticism of Catherine Paul, one must remember that she is the messenger, not the sole originator of the message, even if she applies herself to her job with apparent gusto. She has been rare in attempting to keep in touch with those who have left, although she withdrew from Facebook groups on the eve of the report’s publication for reasons which seem self-evident. But Rigpa needs people who are willing to listen.

Equally obvious is why she cannot confront head-on the terrible damage that has been done by her teacher. Beneath the outer bluster and love-bombing of Sogyal, for some there is of course guilt that people they knew, people they were close to, were being harmed right under their noses but they never paid attention – or saw it but did not recognise it for what it was, preferring to hide behind “pure perception”. It’s very hard to look that guilt in the face, to remember how you joined in with running down those who criticised Sogyal, and to now realise your most trusted leaders fed you lies. That’s difficult to look at without wanting to turn away.

The questions it throws up are scary. What if those sacrifices weren’t worth it? What if you weren’t serving a bigger purpose but just serving Sogyal’s out of control ego and facilitating his abuse? Then you have to stare into the abyss, as so many driven out of Rigpa have, and wonder what it all meant and where to go now. That’s why so many at Lerab Ling and elsewhere are still living in complete denial, even in the face of all the report has revealed. They are terrified that if they allow one crack, the whole edifice will collapse.

But such a view is bereft of compassion. This hardcore group is selfishly fixated on their quest for enlightenment in this lifetime, so they see those who participated in the report as traitors, fools who failed to learn, obstacles to be swept aside as you carry on battling to get a seat in that helicopter to the top of the mountain. Nothing else matters but me and my enlightenment. It is the highest manifestation of pure spiritual egotism.

Recommendation vs Implementation

Passing on to other subjects in the newsletter:

There is an update about the Vision Board, confirming that Patrick Gaffney and Philip Philippou have “stepped down”. It’s worth remembering that their original appointment to the board, even after the publication of the letter, was the product of Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche’s much-vaunted divinations. I have no skill in these esoteric areas but my divination at the time was that they wouldn’t be there for long. If a vacancy has now opened up for OT’s job, I’m available.

They move on to the Lewis Silkin report’s recommendations, which apparently the reduced Vision Board is “fully focused on acting on”. However, not one specific recommendation is mentioned here, nor even the general substance of them. All that is said is that they aim to “meet any national legal requirements” and “work in ways that suit local culture”. But this is just a statement of obligations, which should never have been neglected in the first place. None of this directly addresses any of the 12 recommendations.

One recommendation that is tackled, under the next heading, is getting lamas to sign up to the new Code of Conduct. The list of those who have done so apparently “includes Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, the group of lamas and monks who held the Vajrakilaya drupchen in Lerab Ling, Khenchen Namdrol, and Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche.” They do not state whether Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche has signed up, despite being a key advisor, a recent visitor to Lerab Ling and currently teaching in Australia.

They go on to discuss the new “Independent Council” for complaints, which presently consists of Jann Jackson and Helen Berliner, from outside Rigpa, who I know little about. The report recommended “An abuse helpline outside of Rigpa should be set up, in addition to the internal reporting mechanisms made available.” But it’s not clear if that is what this is: for one thing, the word “abuse” is not used and although there is an email address provided, it is not stated who monitors it or how the system works.

The guru of non-apologies

In terms of Sogyal himself, whose geographical location is still unstated, they say the message/teaching he created for the August Dzogchen retreat will be shared at optional gatherings in October. Apparently, “The message includes an apology to those who are hurt and the news that he is going more deeply into retreat.” There’s that weird piece of language abuse again: “those who are hurt”. But the weirdest part is the idea that he has apologised, yet it will only be shared in a way that ensures that none of the people he should be apologising to can hear it.

In my whole life I never heard of a meaningful apology which could not be heard or read by the injured parties. A few months back there was an alleged audio “apology” which turned out to be nothing of the sort – just more self-justifying nonsense. If Sogyal is making an apology then why is it not being shared online, where everybody can hear it or see it? Why has it not been included in this newsletter? I can only think of one reason: that the leadership know it is worthless to anybody but the devoted.

The faithful down at Lerab Ling are already telling people that Sogyal has apologised and that he did nothing wrong (a slightly contradictory perspective, but there it is). The reality is that Sogyal has acted appallingly and his lack of an apology is just yet another manifestation of his abusive, narcissistic personality and the vacuum of compassion in his soul. I do not doubt he is very sorry, though – for himself.

In terms of his health, they say “he is frail, his condition remains serious and he is following ongoing treatment”. After seeing a recent photo of Sogyal with Dodrupchen Rinpoche on Facebook – where he looked much healthier and more robust than the wan picture from 8 months ago, pinned to the top of his own feed – I hoped that there had been a significant improvement. Time will tell, I suppose. As for “going more deeply into retreat”, I think we should take this literally. He realises he is now compelled to distance himself from Rigpa and he may be considering a move to a more geographically remote location.

A friendly little raid

Meanwhile, “Lerab Ling is undergoing a preliminary investigation conducted by the French authorities into its activities. As part of this process, on September 19th, the lead investigator accompanied by a group of gendarmes visited Lerab Ling. Although it was an unsettling surprise for the community, they were met with kindness and openness.”

Yes, whilst some in Rigpa were busy weaving a giant rug to sweep everything under, the French authorities were taking all these matters very seriously indeed. For a group of armed police officers to be authorised to do a raid on Lerab Ling, investigations must have progressed quite a long way – so watch this space. How nice that “they were met with kindness and openness”. I can almost picture the scene now…

“Yes Inspector, if you just sit yourself down there, we can bring out the wads of cash and count it for you, whilst your officers have a coffee. Someone from admin will be along in a minute with that file of reports of abuse that we compiled over the years, and I’ll jot down Sogyal’s address in case you want to pop over and have a chat with him. Are you all right there or would you like a cushion?”

They add that the raid “is not related to the Lerab Ling lawsuit for defamation”. Of course it isn’t: they don’t need to raid Lerab Ling to form an opinion about whether the place has been turning into a cult – just read the report. This is about how to respond to the evidence in the report and elsewhere, and what the French state should do about it.

And if the French state is looking for more evidence of Lerab Ling being cult-like, this newsletter is a great piece of evidence. I mean what can you call persuading the faithful to believe something is an apology when it doesn’t acknowledge any wrongdoing, except “brainwashing”? What can you call only sharing that “apology” in closed groups, but “cult-like”? What is misusing language through subtle shifts in meaning and employing the passive voice to make the crimes and criminal disappear, if not “gaslighting”?

Over the last year the leadership of Rigpa has been engaged in a huge survival project: making the changes that must be made so as not to lose their charitable status in different countries and thus their right to exist. That is the “outer” appearance. meanwhile, at the “secret” level they are engaged in a project to not give a millimetre, not accept any criticism, or any demotion of “Rinpoche” and reassure the faithful that this is the case.

They are playing a risky game. The French state bestowed Lerab Ling’s crucial status as a “religious community” and it can take it away. France is also unique in having the “About-Picard” law, designed to protect vulnerable people from exploitation by religious groups who behave like cults. Every single thing Rigpa says that is evasive and manipulative goes towards building a case against them under that law. They would be wise to get real and get real fast.

As for that defamation lawsuit; if they really intend to still pursue it, in the face of all that has been revealed, then – to quote the comedy series, Blackadder – they are “madder than Mad Jack McMad, the winner of this year’s Mr Madman competition”.


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.

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44 thoughts on “Missing the Connection

  1. Every time I read that phrase about “those who are hurt” I think of a child having a boo boo.

    Thanks for this Jo, very nice parody. It really is so bizarre and needs to be shown up.

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  2. Bravo, maybe the best piece ever written on Rigpa! It should be read publicly at the Lerab Ling temple.

    I guess that “Those who are hurt” in Rigpa means the losers who didn’t integrate properly the precious teachings and are not even able to transform their suffering. Losers, you don’t realize like us that this suffering is just an illusion! You didn’t deserve to receive the highest teachings from our Master. But we have compassion for you, being so ignorant and confused…

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  3. In my opinion, Sogyal should ordain as a monk and stick to the rules meticulously.

    As Rigpa goes, it should be kind of divided in two. The old students, like the dzogchen mandala people have every right to continue the path with him as the central teacher, but those events should be closed to new people, he should no longer be marketed to new people and at open events as the main teacher or the main figure in Rigpa.

    What is in my opinion lacking is a spirit to create a new “after Sogyal” Rigpa. It’s too much continue as before just at events sprinkle in a bit more videos of other teachers and that Sogyal’s retreat is quite enough to satisfy the masses.

    I mean, sure, no more abuse is happening in Lerab Ling, the whole bizarre inner circle is gone, along with Sogyal. (by the way, did these people, personal servants, “girlfriends”, cooks etc go home, did they join him wherever he is now, are they still in LL in another capacity?), but this whole “business as usual” that is going on right now is really annoying.

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  4. @thewindhorse,

    Sogyal can teach them from jail, if need be. He has no business running free in the world, leading a private group of followers, and posing a serious threat to whoever he comes into contact with. Sometimes society and law enforcement has to protect “True Believers’ from themselves, even if they think they want an abusive cult leader as a guide. That’s why the police crack down on cults, as they should, when cults get out of hand.

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    1. Like with an abusive husband or wife, people are allowed to make the choice of spending time with the abusive person and expose themselves to this behaviour. Just as it is allowed to ruin your life by becoming an alcohol or drug addict.

      Of course the victim can sue the offender afterwards if enough proof for specific incidents can be provided, like for example witnesses.

      My opinion? SR is in his early 70ies, has had colon cancer with no chemotherapy and is otherwise not in good health either. Not much of a threat to anyone anymore. The abuse was on a personal level, he has never encouraged any students of emulating his behaviour and become abusive themselves so not much to fear in terms of unhealthy messages that could bring harm to viewers of his teachings in videos, just as it’s quite fine to read Trungpa’s books, despite his abusive behaviour.

      Of course anyone who was victimised and has witnesses for specific instances of sexual offences or violence can sue him, but so far karma has not spared anyone and that’s a lot more “just” than any human jurisdiction.

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      1. @thewindhorse,

        “The abuse was on a personal level, he has never encouraged any students of emulating his behaviour and become abusive themselves so not much to fear in terms of unhealthy messages that could bring harm to viewers of his teachings in videos, just as it’s quite fine to read Trungpa’s books, despite his abusive behaviour.”

        Oh, so abuse is okay if it’s only on a “personal” level, eh?

        No unhealthy messages? All of his guru-worship, be-my-slave indoctrination isn’t harmful, eh?

        Frankly, abuse is NOT okay whether it’s done “secretly” and “privately” and “only” in the “inner circle” or whether it’s public. ANY teacher who is abusive, even to just one person, is no longer worthy of being followed, as far as I’m concerned. If people want to continue to read his books or be inspired by what he says, that’s their choice, but he should still be in jail. Abusive husbands go to jail, (if they are reported and/or caught), so what kind of example is that?

        It’s clear that you are either a member of the Rigpa establishment, or you just support “crazy wisdom” teachers in general and see nothing wrong with it, so there is no point in ever discussing this issue with you. It seems to me that you’re defending Sogyal and his abuses, and it’s okay with you because his abuses “only” had an impact on the so-called “inner circle.”

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        1. You find equally guru-centric messages with non abusive Tibetan buddhist teachers because the guru principle is the core methodology of vajrayana. Without devotion to the guru who gives you transmission and samaya there is literally no vajrayana. It’s what defines it beyond normal sutra mahayana methodology.

          And yes, that makes Tibetan buddhism extremely easy to abuse and exploit if you as a teacher have that nefarious streak. That’s why all the texts advise that student and teacher should test each other for 12 years before committing, the lists of qualities that a teacher must have, the list of types of teachers to avoid. Those stern warnings wouldn’t exist pervasively in all preparatory vajrayana texts if there hadn’t always been problems of this sort going on.

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      2. @windhorse. The problem with this idea “people are allowed to make the choice of spending time with the abusive person and expose themselves to this behaviour” is that though it seems reasonable, it doesn’t take into account just how difficult it is for anyone subjected to trauma bonding to leave the abusive situation. Nor does it take into account the fact that for so long as someone holds the belief that the abuse is crazy wisdom and therefore beneficial for the victim, they actually can’t make such a choice. From the perspective of people who hold such beliefs, there is no need to make a choice, no need to get out of the situation because they don’t see it as abuse. Anyone who holds such beliefs are not only vulnerable to abuse but also UNABLE to make the decision to leave an abusive situation by themselves, and so it could be said that, like children, they require the protection of the law.

        It’s not as simple as you make out because though adults who are functioning well psychologically can make such decisions, someone under the sway of a narcisistic serial abuser and subject to brainswashing and gaslighting is not in the same position.

        Where are the girls who surrounded Sogyal? I did ask about them last year, but no one would tell me. Why not? Is it because they’re right where they always were? With him? And if they are still attending to his every need, as I suspect at least some of them are, then is he behaving any differently towards them? We have no way of knowing, but anyone still serving him as they did before is not someone who can make a choice as they are too compromised by their beliefs. And even if they do ‘feel’ abused, like a battered wife, leaving is fraught with difficulties because of the complex dynamics of the domestic abuse situation. They have been subject to trauma bonding for so long that they are well and truly stuck there.

        The abuse will never be as wide spread or open to scrutiny as it was – Rigpa cannot risk that – but for so long as Sogyal has attendants and for so long as people still see the abuse as crazy wisdom (rather than just plan wrong), the potential for further abuse is still there.

        The code of conduct even has a special category for the tantric level of spiritual guidance, one that includes ‘consent’, so even if a lama signs that code, it is pretty much meanlingless for those who request the vajrayana level of ‘spiritual guidance.’ But you can be sure that such a ‘contract’ between student and teacher, whether spoken or unspoken, includes silence as a requirement. There will always be students greedy for a fast track to enlightenment, so they will still be lining up for that ‘level of spiritual guidance’, and they will, once committed to that system of belief, be vulnerable to abuse (particularly young women) and their ability to make a choice will be compromised.

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  5. @thewindhorse,

    Just to clarify that I didn’t say the police should arrest the True Believers just for believing in Sogyal. I’m saying they should arrest Sogyal, since he’s a criminal and put him in jail. He has no business running a closed inside group, even if it’s for his biggest TBs. If his TBs want to continue studying with him, then he can find a way to record teachings from prison and they can watch it via teleconference.

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  6. When I got started calling them a cult only a few people were even willing to consider them “slightly cultish” … but since then I think most people have gone back to find out what a cult is. Your breakdown shows that any association with this story leaves one shaking their head and makes a person wonder how they participated even for a short time. However, back in the past it felt like this was Tibetan Buddhism and to criticise was to take on the entire establishment. These days the establishment, even if Sogyal is “in disgrace” is often attributed as the source of good teachings. This by people who wouldn’t even know 10% of all the crap he said privately as “teachings” to shock, subjegate, trauma bond and suppress people into silence. The devil himself constantly saying “the devil can quote scriptures” and going ahead himself to quote them and then frame them way out of context.

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    1. As I understand it, you have lived a decade or so in Lerab Ling, in the “crazy circles”. So you can not have an informed opinion of whether the experience for a normal member who has no direct contact to SR, attends courses and maybe a retreat a year is in any way meeting the criteria for a cult.

      Which it does not. For the average consumer of services out there Rigpa was and is not more cult like or dangerous than, for example mainstream Catholicism.

      The danger was exclusively for people who chose or through other circumstances happened to get closer than that, and even on the level of national employees etc the danger was mainly burning out by overworking themselves, something i guess a lot of them felt morally pressured to do because of a certain culture in the organisation (something that also happens in tons of companies in totally worldly circumstances). True abuse, brainwashing, indoctrination only happened to people who had close contact with Sogyal and the unhealthy dynamic of his inner circle that he explicitly closed off to everyone not in it, probably for the explicit purpose to keep his more nefarious activities secret.

      Why would he have made such a big secret about what was going in with the inner circle if everyone in Rigpa was so brainwashed and emotionally dependent that he could sell them anything anyway? He explicitly created an organisation that had two layers that were not interacting with each other, just like oil filled into a glass of water.

      If the Silkin report is accurate that the donations at events were stashed cash in a safe and cash was taken out to pay Sogyal’s mistresses a cushy salary. I wouldn’t be surprised if this constitutes of some kind of financial crime in France, in Germany misappropriaton of money donated to a charitable organisation certainly is.

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      1. @windhorse, that’s just not true. I only spent two years in Rigpa, was never in the inner circle, but I sat through teachings where people were abused. Watching that abuse was abusive to me and it required that I sacrifice critical discernment and moral integrity in order to continue with SL as my teacher. I wish I could say I left because I was wise and strong enough to know better– but I left because I fell apart mentally. And that’s another quality of cults– by diminishing people’s critical discernment and moral integrity, their mental health is diminished as well. Then control becomes easy.

        Cults harm on many levels. I used to say that Rigpa was not a cult because of the outside teachers they invited in. However, I was wrong. I didn’t fully understand the power of the Tibetan cultural norm of blind respect between lamas. The result of that was that visiting lamas increased SL’s power instead of undermining it.

        And @windhorse, you are making assumptions that all is well in Tibetan Buddhist Vajrayana in the West and it’s not. These problems are bigger than Rigpa and shouldn’t be made smaller with the idea that they are limited to Rigpa and to inner circle.

        And Sangye makes a really good point. We from the outside do not have a clue on how extensive the harm went. This makes it a stench, a poison that will effect every effort Rigpa makes to move forward. The Buddha was very clear on the steps that need to be taken in order for crimes on the karmic level to be cleared. Regret/remorse is the first step and has to be deep and heartfelt. In Rigpa’s case, that would have to be shown from those who enabled as well as SL himself. Their posturing right now is pathetic, a horrible, dark comedy.

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        1. ‘The Buddha was very clear on the steps that need to be taken in order for crimes on the karmic level to be cleared. Regret/remorse is the first step and has to be deep and heartfelt. In Rigpa’s case, that would have to be shown from those who enabled as well as SL himself. Their posturing right now is pathetic, a horrible, dark comedy.’

          thankyou Joanne, that is very clearly written & so very true —-

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      2. @ windhorse. I don’t think that’s true either. I was such a person and I recognise now that I was in a cult. I and everyone else was brainwashed into seeing someone publically humuliating people, and generally behaving as a bully, as someone showing the greatest kindness. We didn’t all see the assaults and sexual coercion or the degree of the emotional abuse, but we all saw his bullying at retreats, and we were taught to ignore our common sense, the input of our own senses, and not listen to our own feelings. We squashed our feelings and discernment in the name of ‘letting go of the risings’ and ended up compromising our own ethics; the degree to which we did that only varied in terms of degree, and many of us now feel ashamed of how we betrayed our ethical values, not to mention that we taught others to do the same. In no other situation would I have watched that kind of bullying and let it go without a complaint or reaction.

        And read this post again to see how unhealthy the organisation still is to the ordinary student’s ability to see clearly. This use of language is gaslighting them into believing what Rigpa wants them to believe. It includes a blatant attempt to make people think there has been an apology when there hasn’t – not a categorical public apology and certainly not to the people most affected.

        And then there are the teachings. No, they are not so perfect, not so harmless. Why? Because certain aspects of the teachings – pure perception, devotion, samaya, obedience – were used in a distorted way to justify abuse, and unless these beliefs are redefined in a more healthy way by the senior instructors – the most devoted to Sogyal and those who teach the rest of the instructors – the senior instructors will be teaching these things just as Sogyal taught them, a version that justifies abuse.

        Even Rigpa’s basic meditation instructions, I have now come to realise, teach you to repress your thoughts and emotions – so you wouldn’t pay attention to the ones that rise when you watch a bully at work. Rigpa meditation teaches you to become an unfeeling zombie with no discernment. No. It is not healthy for anyone at any level of the organisation.

        And as for there being no vajrayana without a guru. Yes, but what is the nature of the guru that is so central to the vajrayana? Not the physical lama, not anything or anyone outside of yourself, but your own nature of mind, the true nature of reality. That’s the real lama; that’s the essential point in the vajrayana ‘system of practice’, and that has nothing to do with a bully on a throne teaching you. His or her role is only to help you to recognise that true nature, once you have that recognition, you no longer need the physical lama. But how many of us actually trusted ourselves enough to work with our true nature once we recognised it instead of continually looking to Sogyal as the source of our enlightenement. And which did he actually foster with his endless intreaties that we must come to LL for the next lot of extraordinary teachings? A committment to our own true nature, the ultimate lama, or a committment to a flawed man parading as a mahasiddha? That wasn’t just the inner circle, that was for everyone.

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        1. @Moonfire: you wrote: “Not the physical lama, not anything or anyone outside of yourself, but your own nature of mind, the true nature of reality. That’s the real lama; that’s the essential point in the vajrayana ‘system of practice’, and that has nothing to do with a bully on a throne teaching you. His or her role is only to help you to recognise that true nature,…” I do not know much about tibetan buddhism, but this statement sounds very different from all that I’ve read here in the blog and also elsewhere. (I like it much, btw.) Would you mind to point me to a source of it?

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  7. @thewindhorse,

    No one is saying that everyone in Rigpa is brainwashed. The inner circle is where most of the weird stuff happened, but does that make it okay? The whole thing should be shut down, imo. Let the Rigpa people go elsewhere for Dharma teachings. it’s not like Rigpa is the *only* source of Dharma out there. In fact, with Rigpa gone, there are probably better options.

    “For the average consumer of services out there Rigpa was and is not more cult like or dangerous than, for example mainstream Catholicism.”

    So that makes it okay? let’s all just continue to prop up corrupt religious institutions even when we discover that they are hiding abusive, illegal activities at the higher levels. Yeah, right. It’s just fine that the abuse continues, as long as most people don’t see it, eh?

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    1. They have to make up their mind. If they want to continue with Sogyal as the center of everything they have to shrink it down to the existing committed core student group minus all the “outreach to spread buddhism to the wider society, advertising for new members” activities that has been characterising Rigpa for a long time. Then the students (like for example the Dzogchen and Ngondro mandala students who have definitively committed to SR) can more or less, depending on personal choice and conviction, ignore the revelations and carry on on their path as if nothing, or not much had happened.

      If Rigpa wants to stay this publicly active group more distance to SR in spirit and in the use of materials that are presented at events for newer people is absolutely necessary.

      Can Rigpa handle both demands in a suitably seperate way, that satisfies the in my opinion legitimate demands of the group of old students that want to continue with SR as their teacher and center of their path AND an overhauled Rigpa that becomes a general vehicle of certain Nyingma lineages, that has SR as the founder but no longer as the main source of the teachings, I’m not so sure.

      I wonder if they even discuss this problem at the vision board.

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    2. So you want to disband the Catholic church because of misdeeds going on there?

      There is no longer abuse going on at Rigpa, with the one perpetrator and his prey-bubble no longer present there.

      So what is “the whole thing”? The existing committed students of SR have every right to have an organisation where they can practice their chosen religious path.
      And there would be absolutely nothing wrong with keeping the existing organisation with it’s resources as a no longer SR, wider Nyingma organisation under new leadership.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. @thewindhorse,

        I don’t know how many individual Catholic communities are cult-like or should be shut down. If there is abuse going on in a local church then I think that particular church should be shut down, not necessarily the whole religion. (The Catholic church has so much negative publicity that they are losing followers anyway.) It’s time that Tibetan Buddhism comes under the same scrutiny. I’m not saying the whole religion should be banned either, but when a particular church group breaks the law then that group should be shut down and they no longer deserve “church” status.

        When you talk about the Vajrayana rules, you remind me of DKR. There is no talking to someone who preaches the fundamentalist “Vajra” party line, so I am not going to bother.

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      2. @thewinhorse,

        When I say “a particular church group” I mean groups like Rigpa. It wasn’t just “one” person who was abusive, and now he’s gone, so everything is just fine now. Too many people were involved and their new “spiritual advisors” are no better than Sogyal, so if Rigpa continued it would be business as usual. They would be trading in one abusive “guru” for another.

        Rigpa as an organization broke the law by shielding a criminal and supporting abusive cult-like behavior in general, so they lost the legal right to call themselves a “church” and should be shut down. Any other cult would be shut down once their abuses come to light, and no one even discusses the possibility of a small group of followers still continuing to study with the cult leader who is convicted of crimes, etc. My question is, why isn’t Sogyal in jail? He didn’t just have consensual sexual relationships. He committed assault. He doesn’t belong anywhere PERIOD, other than in jail, or in the prison hospital (if he is that sick).

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        1. I’m not saying everything is fine now. I’m saying there is no imminent danger of further abuse going on on any Rigpa events or locations. That in my opinion is the most important goal here, stopping these things from happening.

          What I would expect is honest statements by the 3 main people that have now stepped down of why they have for so long either thought that sexually exploiting young girls, regularly beating close students and paying mistresses cushy salaries was a legitimate dharma activitiy or why when they were aware that this isn’t the case they covered it up.

          Confession is the first step to healing. I want an honest explanation of what was going on in these people’s heads.

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          1. @thewindhorse,

            “Confession is the first step to healing. I want an honest explanation of what was going on in these people’s heads.”

            You’ll never get an “honest” answer from Sogyal or any of his cronies.

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      3. @thewindhorse,

        I’m not saying everyone at Rigpa broke the law, by the way. Also, I’m not blaming the victims. What I am saying is that when any other cult is discovered to be a cult, they are always shut down and the victimes are set free. Why does Rigpa deserve special status just because it has a “Tibetan Buddhist” label?

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    3. Actually, that’s exactly what I’m saying. We were all brainswashed. All of us, and the brainwashing is still going on – it’s there in every communication. There is no doubt in my mind about that now.

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      1. @Moonfire,

        I was mostly referring to people who are new, or people who might attend classes to see other visiting guest teachers who probably didn’t have exposure to the cult-like atmosphere or the abuses, etc. But I could be wrong. maybe even at the “lower” levels, people saw the signs, (if they were looking). I agree that there is a subtle indoctrination, even at the “lower” levels, and I agree that it’s not healthy. I also think it’s possible that some people could have attended classes there and not happened to see or notice anything.

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  8. All we know is that Sogyal Rinpoche has ‘retired’ and gone into retreat. There is nothing at all to stop him visiting Rigpa in the future as the retired Spiritual Director and carry on as before. In one of his letters following the 2017 letter from eight senior students he said,

    “Yet I will of course still be there for you all, sharing teachings and guidance from my
    retreat, and meeting with you whenever the time is right. I will plan this out therefore
    please don’t for one moment think that you will be left alone or abandoned!” (July 2017)

    We know, as late as August this year, Sogyal Rinpoche was sending teachings to the Rigpa retreat in Lerab Ling to be broadcast to all the attendees.

    No one in Rigpa has pledged to implement the first recommendation in the Lewis Sillkin Report which is,

    “Sogyal Lakar should not take part in any future event organised by Rigpa or otherwise have contact with its students.”

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  9. @Tell the truth,

    The Lewis Sillkin Report means nothing. It’s just a piece of paper that it just there to “look good” to outsiders. Sogyal never gave a meaningful apology, and neither did his cronies.

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      1. Excellent article, thanks for posting link.
        Everything that can be done to prevent Sogyal’s, Rigpa’s and complicit Lama’s sweeping this back under the rug must be done! Carpe Diem!

        Liked by 1 person

  10. I’d like to make a few observations in response to comments left here.
    As Tahlia knows, I’m personally not so keen to get embroiled in the “Is Rigpa a cult?” discussion. It’s clear that some people did have an experience of a cult environment, and some of the more casual users did not. I think it’s more useful to ask, “Was it and is it behaving in a cult-like way?”
    It’s important not to kid ourselves about what participating in cult-like behaviour consists of. If you went to one of Sogyal’s teachings, only to hear him berate, insult and humiliate individuals, alleging this was some form of teaching, and your response was to laugh along with the insults, accept his explanation, or maybe grumble about it but never raise your voice and nonetheless pay to hear more, then you participated in cult-like behaviour.
    In August 2016, Sogyal brutally punched the nun Ani Chokyi in front of a packed temple of around 1000 people. Nobody moved to protect her. Nobody raised their voice against Sogyal. As one of the witnesses in the report said “I sat in abject denial of what my eyes were seeing; the whole room did … we were conditioned to belonging for so long that there was not a peep of protest. Even more disturbing is that over the course of the next two days we were excoriated [by Sogyal and Witness P] for even thinking something had happened … we were a brainwashed group, myself included”. People accepted the telling-off, meekly, in order to have Sogyal back, teaching them again.
    It was a deeply disturbing mass cult event. Everybody in the temple participated. And you know there are hundreds, if not thousands, of other Rigpa students who could have been the ones there and the outcome would have been the same. Thousands of students had been trained into accepting the totally unacceptable. Patrick Gaffney delivered the reprimand and people buckled under rather than telling him where to shove it. People renewed their subscriptions, instead of cancelling them. People gave their donations at the end of the retreat.
    The same thinking that left Ani Chokyi vulnerable left a great number of others defenceless against abuse. Thousands of Rigpa students passively or actively participated in that state of affairs. I don’t say this to criticise anybody, just to stress that we shouldn’t minimise the extent of cult-like activity, nor how deeply embedded it remains in the current leadership, none of who have yet stated that they think their teacher, Sogyal Rinpoche, ever did anything wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. @ Joe Green
      Your comment made me think about how I personally would have reacted in this situation. And it made me shrink a little bit to see, that even though I wasn’t present at this particular retreat, I know that in other simular situation I reacted quite simular as how you discribed it. That even when I felt or saw that something wasn’t o.k. I didn’t follow up on it and soon forgot about it.

      But other than you I don’t think this is a particular issue only of cults. I see it more as a widespread human behaviour of unconsciousness, lack of awareness and civil courage. And that is not restricted to cults.

      How else would you explain that there are millions of Trump-supporters or extreme-right-voters or millions of people still consuming meat and dairy – dispite of the atrocities towards animals connected with the “production” of meat and dairy, which we by now all know of?
      People that mostly think that everything is o.k. the way it is: the wars, the expoitation of other countries, the destruction of the environment, social injustice, mass incarceration, the priority of economics over human needs, a health-industry, that is only interested in profit, gmo-agriculture, etc.

      I think we are all being conditioned from cradle to grave without being aware of it. And the existence of cults is just one of the symptoms of this conditioning.
      And maybe recognizing that you have fallen into a cult can help you to wake up and question things, you took for granted, a little bit quicker than you would have otherwise by asking yourself the question: “If I can have been cheated about that, what else am I being cheated about?”

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      1. @ Lola

        What you’re saying is very important as extending this out as you’ve done, into every aspect of life is essential because we are “conditioned from cradle to grave without being aware of it,” so anything that helps us becoming more aware of this is good.

        People will say this is cynical but that’s just a way of criticizing pragmatism that they find unsettling.

        Your last phrase: ““If I can have been cheated about that, what else am I being cheated about?” reminds me of a similar but harsher British saying that when you’re listening to a politician speak you should always ask yourself: “Why is this lying bastard lying to me?”

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  11. @Jo Green,

    I totally agree with the points in most of your post. We certainly shouldn’t minimize abusive actions or cult-like behavior in any group.

    I would like to add that I think Rigpa actually does fit the “cult” definition, even though people on the outer orbits generally may not experience it that way. I would say the same would apply to just about any cult on the outside. For newcomers, outsiders and fringe members, it may not seem like a cult to them, but once they get to the higher levels it becomes a cult. Just because fringe members don’t see any cult activities in a cult, that doesn’t mean it’s not a cult. Cults know that convincing people to be submissive and subscribe to whatever b.s. they are peddling is a gradual process and in order to snare intelligent people, it really takes some work. Fringe members wouldn’t even realize they are being very slowly recruited because if cults were that obvious, no one would want to join in the first place. Small cults may be isolated, small groups who live out in the middle of nowhere, but bigger cults have to operate in the functional world, where they actively recruit more and more members, so they have to at least seem appealing in order to lure people in.

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    1. Good point Catlover – for large cult organisations such as Rigpa, Shambhala or Siddharthas Intent, they are ‘hiding in plain sight’ as it were….

      It is a gradual process of indoctrination and to then extract oneself and to be able to critically analyse the core teachings and behaviours to where one can see it was ‘brainwashing’ as Moonfire says, is likewise a gradual process. I – and I’m sure many others – can testify to that and can identify stages of denial and acceptance along the way so that the place we are in now with it all is one we never would have allowed or believed to be possible even 6 months ago!

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  12. No one sets out to join a cult. All cults look beneficial to the potential inductee, and all do provide some benefit to them, that’s why people in a cult don’t know that they’re in a cult until they start to see something wrong and until they actually discover what elements make a cult and examine their community in light of that knowledge. Without the knowledge of what a cult actually is, including what methods are used to coerce, gaslight and control, a person is never going to see that they’re in a cult, even if the rest of society knows it.

    Only when I began to read literature on what makes a cult, did I have any idea of what a cult actually was, and only when I found Rigpa’s response to this situation lacking in basic compassion did I examine their behaviour in terms of what makes a cult, and then, gradually, I came to realise just how much of a cult they actually are. Every communication now makes me see it more and more clearly. And that’s for me as an ordinary student who was never personally abused emotionally, physically or sexually. I was, however, spiritually abused.

    The most helpful thing for me in the fall out of the revelations of Sogyal’s abuse (apart from the WN Facebook support group) has been the literature on recovering from a cult. It all applies, and it applies to all levels of students because we were all told the same things over and over, and much of what we were told was used to justify the abuse. That is not a healthy situation for anyone.

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  13. Reply to a comment on Facebook
    Thank you for your comments on my blog post, which I read with interest. My motivation for writing the post was that a lot of victims of Sogyal’s abuse (and others) were incredibly upset and sickened by the tone of the newsletter Rigpa put out. I wanted to examine what had caused that and also cheer those people up. Yes, I do believe that there is a comic side to even the most difficult situations life can throw up and some dark laughs are better than sadness. I know that it did have that restorative effect for some readers.
    I appreciate you would like everybody to be happy and to get along and there are things you and others can do to facilitate that. However, I feel that in your reply you have fallen into the ways that Rigpa have trained you so well in. All of the really awful, vile, traumatic and life-changing abuse that Sogyal perpetrated on a significant number of people – and from which, as far as I can tell, few have recovered – you sum up as “it wasn’t all good”. Whereas, before that, you bring far more focus, clarity and word count to reiterating for the umpteenth time all the good that Sogyal did. You may perceive this as balanced, but I don’t, and I doubt those people for whom “it wasn’t all good” would do either. You probably don’t even realise that you are falling into a trained pattern of behaviour in responding like this, but I have seen it so many times now from so many directions that it is something that is as clearly recognisable as it is strange.
    You seem to perceive what I wrote as being aggressive or negative because I criticise what merits criticism. That’s not how I see it. What I wrote is about three important positives: respect, support and protection. Respect and support for the victims of Soyal’s abuse – because Rigpa is offering neither – and protection not only of them, but of others who could still be vulnerable to a profoundly unhealthy culture.
    Part of respecting the victims involves ensuring that they are properly compensated for these traumas, in exactly the same way it would happen had they been employees in a company. Once Rigpa has used its financial assets to properly compensate them, then I regard it as entirely the business of whoever is left to do what they want with whatever resources are left. But only if they do actually acknowledge Sogyal’s wrongdoing, otherwise it would be best for the organisation to cease to exist, in order to protect the public. Shambhala has recently provided a good example of what happens when an organisation carries on without ever facing up to and rooting out sick elements in its organisational culture.
    In the post I absolutely acknowledge the human frailties of the leadership of Rigpa and address their fears directly. I also acknowledge the positive things Catherine has done. If you want to know why there is anger and hostility and how it could be ended, it’s very simple: Sogyal apologises – a simple, real apology in which he recognises he did harm, with no attempt to justify his behaviour. Now, I don’t think that’s likely, so a very good alternative would be for Rigpa to make a public statement in which they state that what Sogyal did was wrong, inexcusable and unacceptable, that the leadership failed in their duty to keep students safe and that they will do everything in their power to make reparations with those harmed.
    There is something that past and present members of Rigpa could do to make that more likely – and I would encourage you to be the first. Write something on your Facebook group page, personal page, or wherever you communicate with other Rigpa people, along these lines:

    “I believe that the current situation in Rigpa was caused by Sogyal Rinpoche seriously mistreating a significant number of people over a period of decades. This was completely wrong. It was also wrong of the Rigpa leadership to encourage criticism of victims of abuse and others who spoke up, and it was wrong of them to take measures to suppress information about that abuse. Healing cannot occur unless Sogyal and the Rigpa leadership clearly publicly acknowledge this wrongdoing and for that reason I would urge them to do so. If you agree, please share this message.”

    Just that. Nothing about all the good things you think Sogyal did. You’ve already said that. To let those words sit would be an act of respect, love and compassion to the victims, which they absolutely deserve. Rigpa students can find another place to go far more easily than those who have been harmed can achieve healing.
    But if someone as good-hearted as yourself feels unable to do that, then that would indicate that so much damage has been done by Sogyal that I fear the future of all of this could get very ugly indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. @ Jo Green

      Your article is excellent ( trenchant and funny with even a Blackadder quote) and so is this comment. I really enjoy and appreciate your writing.

      What you’re saying is true and really needs to be said, but it will elicit all kinds of responses from people who are at different stages of reacting to what’s happened and who have a view that’s still heavily coloured by distress, but that changes so please don’t be discouraged from writing.

      Like

  14. Just a note to say that I removed from Jo’s comment the name of the person who made the comment that Jo was replying to, and so I also removed the comments that rightly said that the person’s name should not have been included in the comment here.

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