It was a nice surprise to find this letter from Dagpo Rinpoche in my inbox this morning. His reply is traditional, but also kind in my opinion. His concern is clearly for the suffering of students as they struggle with this situation. When viewing his advice about anger and using the Dharma to help heal from this, it might be good to remember that this is also the approach that Tibetans have taken (and continue to take) to years of torture and imprisonment from Chinese communists. Some attribute their lack of PTSD to these practices. And Aaron Beck, founder of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy also advises that anger can be counter-productive to mental health.
At any rate, hearing something other than silence is very good!
Here’s the letter:
Dear Friends of Rigpa centers,
Regarding Sogyal Rinpoche, last year I heard some news of the situation but your recent letter in Tibetan clarified the matter. I fmd the entire state of affairs is very regrettable and I am very sorry about the predicament in which you now fmd yourselves.
It seems to me that what matters now is the way you cope with it. You have all studied the Buddha’s teachings and know the importance of overcoming anger and resentment , whatever the circumstances. As you have benefitted from Sogyal Rinpoche’ s kindness in receiving the Dharma from him, I believe it would be good to try and deal with the bad feelings that you have toward him. I don’t know whether you will be able to maintain your past teacher-student relationship with him. If you think that is not possible, the next best would be to try and keep your feelings for him neutral, free of anger and resentment.
To prevent this kind of situation from recurring, perhaps it would be advisable to let it be known as much as possible what the Buddha taught regarding the process of establishing a spiritual teacher-student relationship, the importance beforehand of maintaining a period of mutual observation. etc.
Regarding Sogyal Rinpoche’s conduct, I have nothing to add over and above what His Holiness the Dalai Lama has clearly stated on several occasions , and I am in full agreement with what he has said.
It is my sincere hope that your present troubles may soon end, that you may find peace and harmony within and among yourselves, and that you may at least have a cordial relationship with Sogyal Rinpoche from whom you have received many teachings. I pray that it may be so.
Venerable Dagpo Rinpoche
26 thoughts on “Dagpo Rinpoche Replies to Our Letter”
I’m glad he responded, but it sounds to me like he is saying as little as possible, he doesn’t want to say anything critical about Soggy, and he is more concerned about people not resenting him than he is about what S. actually did to the students. To me, it is just more b.s. and same-old, same old. He also starts off the letter with a version of, “I am sorry you feel that way” rather than I am sorry that Sogyal harmed you.” He makes no acknowledgement of any real harm that Sogyal caused. (But why should I be surprised? I don’t think one can expect any more from these guys.) When he says he agrees with the Dalai Lama’s statements, he doesn’t really elaborate on exactly WHAT he agrees with. That Sogyal was disgraced? To me, this letter is just too vague and really seems to be just an attempt to advise people not to be angry at Soggy baby, lol!
Also, Tibetans DO suffer from PTSD. They just don’t have a name for these psych conditions in their culture. It is a mistake to think Tibetans don’t suffer from “low self esteem” or “PTSD” or other such problems, just because they don’t have labels or cultural references for these things.
I think we have to be aware of cultural restraints whenblooking at reponses. First he actually replied, second he shows great concerns for the student and gives dharma advice for their well being, which is what a dharma teacher should do. By saying he agrees with His Holiness he avoids having to be specific which satisfies cultural restraints, but makes his feelings on the matter of anusive behaviour by lamas clear because HHDL laid out his position ckeqrly in 1993.
regarding low-selfesteem, according to different discussions and observations, I think it’s rather save to say low selfesteem is not a problem among Tibetans in exile. Don’t know however, how it is in occupied and oppressed Tibet.
Regarding trauma, there are Tibetans who have indeed other approaches that can prevent trauma or PTSD – a friend of mine wrote her university diploma on that, later she made her PhD (though not sure at the moment if the PhD work covered this topic too).
However, it would be naive to think that Tibetans in general don’t experience trauma or PTSD. I’ve witnessed myself a tortured nun at a Tibet support event in Berlin with her as a special guest singing. She was obviously deeply traumatised and nobody seems to have noted this nor did anybody take care of her. When she came on the stage and when she left it. I was quite upset about this ignorance at that time.
At another occasion, at a dialogue session between a psychiatrist and Tibetan Rinpoche the former stressed, that trauma also exists among Tibetans which the Rinpoche rather denied. However, the Rinpoche himself had traumatic experiences as a child but didn’t show any signs of trauma. He also helped with excellent advice a friend of mine who is traumatised based on his own dealings with an event (a person direct shot in the head in front of him when he was a child). For certain Tibetan practitioners I assume trauma and PTSD can be prevented dependent on view and practice but it would be naive to conclude this is true for all Tibetans.
However, with respect to low self esteem, that this is not a cultural problem among Tibetans – as a generalisation – seems to be true (at least regarding male persons).
In general it seems, Tibetans don’t tend to stress or acknowledge sufferings, they seem rather to stress how to deal with it, how to overcome it, not making “a big fuss” about sufferings or expressing much acknowledgement of it. This seems to be a key difference to Western individualised approaches of stressing suffering and happiness. I don’t think that is is any political tactic or damage control as some might assume but rather a genuine cultural difference which might be worth to think about more deeply.
Sorry for the typos etc in my comment. I wrote it on mobile phone on a train.
“In general it seems, Tibetans don’t tend to stress or acknowledge sufferings, they seem rather to stress how to deal with it, how to overcome it, not making “a big fuss” about sufferings or expressing much acknowledgement of it.”
You’re absolutely right about this and I agree. Tibetans, (and Asians in general), and many other people(s) around the world, DO deal with their problems in this way. I also think that it is healthy to focus on the positive instead of dwelling on how terrible everything is, and Westerners can learn from a lot from that. However, I think Tibetans also take it too far and go to the other extreme, imo. You can also take “never complaining” to unhealthy levels, which is common in Tibetan culture (and even in Western Dharma sanghas).
Hiding feelings, sweeping them under the rug, never complaining, or not making a “big fuss” about problems doesn’t make them go away, nor does it mean they aren’t there, (especially for women who are looked on as inferior in many of these cultures). They do suffer from an inbuilt “low self esteem” that is so deep rooted that they don’t even realize it. For example, according to a survey that was taken a few years ago in Bhutan (which is very similar to Tibetan culture), a large percentage of women believe that if they burn the dinner they deserve to be beaten by their husbands. If that’s not “low self esteem” I don’t know what is! Any woman who thinks she “deserves” to be beaten (especially for something so trivial) has very low self esteem indeed, whether they have any label for it or not, lol! I am sure that young boys who are raised in a monastic setting, who are routinely beaten and disciplined and taught to blame themselves for any misfortune, have a similar attitude and grow up to think in a similar way.
There is an assumption that if people don’t talk about their low self esteem, or trauma, that it doesn’t exist for them. In fact, when Westerners start studying Eastern philosophy, they start thinking and dealing with issues in the exact same manner as Asians, so the “self blame” attitude has more to do with philosophy and culture rather than some inherent “difference” in the brains of Tibetans/Asians vs. Westerners. When things go wrong, people who study Eastern philosophy start blaming themselves. A certain amount of introspection and taking ownership of what one has done wrong is a healthy attitude to have, and we can learn from that in Western culture, BUT I think one can also take it to the other extreme. This is why you don’t hear a lot of people coming forward to speak out against various forms of abuse, either in Asia, or in Western sanghas. They are “shamed” into silence and tend to blame themselves for it. This is why you don’t hear Tibetans complaining much either.
I think there should be a healthy balance between never complaining and complaining too much. I think (many, not all) Western people complain too much, (although it didn’t used to be that way in Western culture either). Also, many Asian people (and people who study Eastern philosophy in the West), say too little about many serious problems, such as abuse. There really should be a “middle way” between these two extremes. Whining all the time isn’t healthy, but keeping things repressed and bottled up isn’t healthy either.
“This seems to be a key difference to Western individualised approaches of stressing suffering and happiness. I don’t think that is is any political tactic or damage control as some might assume but rather a genuine cultural difference which might be worth to think about more deeply.”
I think it’s important to understand the difference in motivations between why victims are silent and why perpetrators are silent. Victims tend to blame themselves because they are taught to think that way, and this is the result of cultural programing, both in Western sanghas, and in Eastern societies. (That was the focus of my last post.) Imo, they really have very low self esteem because they don’t value themselves enough to stand up for their basic human rights, or to demand basic respect. The perpetrators and their enablers are just protecting their collective reputation, which is more important to them than individual human rights. In so-called Dharma culture, whether in the West, or in the East, the reputation of the collective is more important than the individual. That’s why the lamas (and their close associates) don’t speak out when one of their own is misbehaving. They are protecting the collective reputation of Tibetan Buddhism and their collective reputation as spiritual leaders. When victims don’t speak out, it’s because they have been programed to think that it is wrong to talk “bad” about anybody, especially a teacher. They also blame themselves, just like the women in Bhutan who blame themselves for getting beaten if they burn the dinner.
@Tenpel and Catlover, there is a book I have been reading, “Crazy Like Us:The Globalization of the American Psyche” that addresses this idea we have that other cultures will respond to trauma in the same ways that we do– and how that idea itself has been a self-fulfilling prophecy, (e.g. Western diagnoses are now becoming prevalent in other cultures, when previously they were barely existent). They give the story of the tsunami in Sri Lanka and how a massive influx of Western psychologists came to the country immediately after and effectively imported PTSD. Instead of understanding properly the systems (such as collectivism and Buddhism) that helped people avoid becoming traumatized, they came with assumptions that everyone would become traumatized. This caused a lot of confusion.
Here a quote from the intro to this book: “Over the past thirty years, we Americans have been industriously exporting our ideas about mental illness. Our definitions and treatments have become the international standards. Although this has often been done with the best of intentions, we’ve failed to foresee the full impact of these efforts. It turns out that how a people in a culture think about mental illness– how they categorize and prioritize the symptoms, attempt to heal them and set expectations for this course and outcome– influences the diseases themselves. In teaching the rest of the world to think like us, we have been, for better and worse, homogenizing the way the world goes mad.”
So this could be one explanation for the confusion about whether Tibetans have or have not suffered from PTSD. Maybe they didn’t originally, but this is changing as Western ideas become part of their reality.
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Catlover, I think you respond to most everything with your pre-conception of what lamas are thinking and what their motivations are. You have already concluded that “all” lamas are the same, they all think alike etc. It seems to me that as soon as you start talking about “all lamas”, then you leave no room for nuances and differences. Your thinking becomes black and white.
For example, Dakpo Rinpche is a Gelug lama, 86 years old, who has lived fifty years in France. One could conclude, as you have done, that he is cautious in his language because he wants to “protect the collective reputation of Tibetan Buddhism and their collective reputation as spiritual leaders.” Or equally, (and I believe more probably), one could conclude that he does not want to exacerbate Gelug-Nyingma tensions nor does he want to speak harshly about any human being. So he speaks cautiously. However, he doesn’t blame the victim, nor does he condemn those who spoke out, nor does he support Sogyal’s actions (which he calls regrettable), nor does he in any way infer that these are Vajrayana behaviors. And finally, he supports the Dalai Lama’s position– which is not just to say that Sogyal is disgraced (as you have inferred), but to say that students need to arrest lamas who misbehave, that they can and should speak out, that a revolution is needed, that seeing the lama as a perfect Buddha is a dangerous practice etc. etc.
I don’t want to get into a discussion about psychology and whether or not other cultures react to things the same as we do, etc. It’s just too complicated and I prefer to keep things simple. I think all humans are similar the world over. It is cultural upbringing and religions that shape people’s ideas and the way they think. These things can and do CHANGE when new ideas are imported. It’s true that the West has “imported” various psych ideas (and religions) into other cultures (for better or worse) and some of these ideas and influences have changed the way people think and respond in various ways. But don’t forget that it also goes the other way too. Other cultures are importing their ideas and ways of thinking into the West as well, so it isn’t just one-sided. It will be interesting to see how it all works out in the end.
As for the issues of low self esteem and PTSD, I think these things are universal human problems that go beyond just cultural differences and beliefs. People the world over respond in similar ways to oppression and abuse, even if they have different ways of coping with it, or different ideas about whether people even have the right to defend themselves, or even acknowledge their feelings, etc. In the West, we put a name to things like “low self esteem” and “PTSD” and make a whole study of it, etc. In other cultures, it isn’t even a concept and never has been. I don’t know when psychology started to become a profession, but I think it probably started in the 1800s/early 1900s (with Freud) and others. Before that, NO CULTURE in the world had ANY psych labels for anything. People just were how they were. I personally think that a lot of the psych stuff is b.s. and I’m not saying the whole world should be engulfed in it. What I am saying as some of the issues that people deal with which are discussed in psychology are valid, like reactions to abuse for example, which were not even studied before psychology became popular. It doesn’t surprise me that Tibetans have no reference for any of these things. It was not a part of their culture at all. However, that still doesn’t mean they don’t react in very human ways to the same things that Westerners react to. Expose Westerners to the same philosophy as Tibetans and they start acting like Tibetans too. That shows that ideas and beliefs have a lot to do with shaping people’s behavior.
Just to clarify because some parts of my post might sound confusing.
People have similar ways of *feeling* INSIDE about things. They feel trauma and stress in response to abuse. So in that way, people are the same the world over. I simply don’t believe that Tibetans don’t have these same feelings. They are human after all.
I agree that people have very DIFFERENT ways of RESPONDING and outwardly acting in RESPONSE to abuse and trauma. However, as you yourself have pointed out, if you expose people in other cultures to Western ideas, people start behaving more like Westerners. My point was to also say that when Westerners are exposed to Eastern ways of thinking and believing, then they start behaving like Asians/Tibetans. However, the underlying feelings (whether repressed or expressed) are universally the same.
The point is about trauma – the same experience that can cause long term trauma for one person, can leave someone else without trauma, because of how their culture, or training even, teaches them to process it.
This doesn’t change if the experience being criminal or not (which often ultimately revolves around consent, but not necessarily).
It seems you’re really missing the point by saying all humans are similar. They’re simply not.
Yes, RH, I totally agree. PTSD is caused by the feeling that some law of safety, some law of the universe has been violated and there is no longer safety. And that will very much be influenced by the cultural expectations a person starts off with about how the universe should behave and what constitutes safety and what safety tools the person possesses such as community etc.
In this way, some Buddhist cultures may be more open to an expectation of suffering and not be as shocked when suffering occurs. And collective cultures will have more resources of safety than individualistic cultures. It is totally interdependent.
And also, @Catlover, your assumption that Western psychology is the first time anyone gave any thought to mental health is simply wrong. Almost 3000 years ago, ancient Indian thinkers were formulating complex systems of mental health that are still totally relevant today. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, considered the most effective Western mental health intervention today, is like a kindergarten version of those systems.
They may have had mental health systems in the past, but they didn’t have psych labels and the complex mental health system they have today. I’m not saying what we have today is necessarily the best thing for everybody, but there was never anything like it before, that’s for sure!
I don’t see why PTSD necessarily has to do with some “law of the universe” safety being violated. PTSD is a reaction from experiencing something traumatic and feeling unsafe in the present. Sometimes it also involves a person being afraid it will happen again. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they had expectations about how they thought the universe should operate. I think you’re making assumptions, like you say I’m doing. You probably never went through PTSD, judging from the way you’re talking about it, but I had a parent who did, so I know something about it. (But I would rather not discuss personal family issues here.)
People in general are very similar the world over. But of course you have individuals within any culture. Some people can take more than others, so naturally their reactions are going to be different. But that holds true in any culture. You’re always going to have people who have a higher tolerance for pain, for example. Also, some individuals may handle stressful situations better than others. there can be all kinds of reasons for this, including philosophy, and many other factors, including inherited disposition and personality traits. But for people to say there is some magic fix-all philosophy that can “fix” people’s problems and avoid any trauma is dangerous in my opinion. That’s just more Utopian” thinking. If Buddhism was really a “fix-all” for all the problems, then Buddhist societies would have always been perfect. I’m not saying that there aren’t good things in Buddhism that can help people, but it sure isn’t a “fix-all” for serious problems and it can’t take away everyone’s trauma, after experiencing serious abuse or oppression, no matter how much in denial some people may be.
No, there definitely isn’t a one-size-fits-all.
Because everyone is different, what could be helpful for one, can do serious harm to another.
And of course, there are things which are universally traumatic.
I cannot say that ALL lamas have the same motives, but I think the ones who are high up show their true motives by the way they ACT and the way they are so buddy-buddy with each other. Actions speak louder than words and actions show their true intentions when the actions contradict their words.
As for Dakpo Rinpche, his response was vague and unsatisfying to me, and I don’t feel he addressed the issues in a direct manner at all. But then, I never would have expected him to, since most of them don’t and they never will. It will be interesting to see how the others respond, if at all. He seemed to mostly be concerned about people being mad at Sogyal, rather than about what Sogyal actually did to harm others.
Some thoughts on PTSD
The human brain has existed in exactly its present form for at least around 100,000 years, the cranial capacity has been identical for 300,000 years, it’s anatomically identical in all humans, so apart from a normal range of individual variation and it being expressed (or supressed) differently according to culture, there’s no physiological basis for trauma to be experienced differently.
It might be reassuring to think that PTSD is a modern invention, exported to other cultures or that those cultures were somehow previously protected by religious or social beliefs but with all due respect( not least of all to those who suffer from it) that’s wishful thinking……..and this is why:
The first recorded examples of PTSD start around 3000 years ago with the Assyrians who believed it to be the work of vengeful spirits slain in battle. The next known mention is Greek, Herodotus mentions that (2400 years ago) during the battle of Marathon a soldier was struck blind for life after seeing his comrade slaughtered next to him, ‘ by a phantom bearded Persian giant’ he was physically unharmed but remained blind for life. This spontaneous reaction is a common feature of PTSD. Elsewhere Greek literature describes other symptoms such as hypervigilance, sudden extreme anger and violence off the battlefield and so on, all described in their cultural context but identical to modern symptoms.
In fact this can be found throughout history from Roman Times to the middle ages, but perhaps the most detailed historical description of PTSD is from 400 years ago, it’s from Shakespeare: a wife questions a soldier about his strange disturbed behaviour and nightmares since returning from war : He appears to be reliving the fighting in his sleep ( extracts)
Tell me, sweet lord, what is ‘t that takes from thee
Thy stomach, pleasure, and thy golden sleep?
Why dost thou bend thine eyes upon the earth,
And start so often when thou sit’st alone?
Why hast thou lost the fresh blood in thy cheeks
And given my treasures and my rights of thee
To thick-eyed musing and curst melancholy?
In thy faint slumbers I by thee have watched,
And heard thee murmur tales of iron wars,
And thou hast talk’d
Of sallies and retires, of trenches, tents,
Of palisadoes, frontiers, parapets,
Of basilisks, of cannon, culverin,
Of prisoners’ ransom and of soldiers slain,
And all the currents of a heady fight.
Thy spirit within thee hath been so at war
And thus hath so bestirred thee in thy sleep,
That beads of sweat have stood upon thy brow
Like bubbles in a late-disturbèd stream;
And in thy face strange motions have appeared,
Such as we see when men restrain their breath
So not a modern invention at all but a common human reaction to trauma throughout human history.
My own experience of varying degrees of this kind of behaviour being: a grandfather, (WW1) both my parents, and a Jewish Holocaust survivor. ( WW2) My wife’s grandfather,(WW1) both her parents, (WW1 and the Algerian War) several of her friends’ Jewish parents (WW2) …….and a Tibetan practitioner who had ( barely) survived the Cultural Revolution.
I can guarantee that none of them ever even heard the term ‘PTSD.’
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I totally agree with you here. I was basically trying to say the same thing, only not so eloquently as you did, lol!
Also, I agree they never heard the term “PTSD” lol! That’s what I mean though. I’m not saying PTSD didn’t ever exist before. I’m saying that people didn’t have labels for those things before, or concepts and theories about it before in the same way they do today. Psych terms and modern psych therapy are a new invention, but not the underlying conditions that they are talking about. The fancy words, labels, theories and gobbledygook that is part of modern psych talk is what’s new! 😀
@Pete and @Catlover, PTSD is a term created by the American Psychiatric Association and first defined in the Diagnostic Statistic Manual (DSM)– of which we are now in the fifth edition. Each edition creates variations on the previous editions, adding diagnoses and varying the list of criteria for each diagnosis. It’s a work in progress, it’s uniquely American, so how you could possibly say it “existed” in Greek times is baffling.
I spent two years in the ER diagnosing people so that they would qualify for health services so I have some idea of how this works– PTSD is a human construct used to communicate a set of symptoms. While it might be that some of those people who lived thousands of years ago showed signs of some of those symptoms–or even most of those symptoms– it is simply not possible to diagnose anyone based on historical data.
And your description of the human brain being this absolute, universal entity that responds to stimuli with no influence from culture is scientifically false and defies common sense.
PTSD is a label created by the psychiatric association to DESCRIBE a set of general symptoms that have been around forever. That you don’t realize people have always suffered from it is puzzling, since you claim that you worked in the field. If you have worked in the field then you should know that PTSD is something that has always existed, even if it didn’t have a NAME before. One does not need to be an expert to draw the conclusion that PTSD is a human condition that has been described for millennia. Why should it take a rocket scientist to figure that out? Even if some people have it worse than others, or deal with it differently, that still doesn’t change the fact that it exists all over the world.
Also, I never said that people were not influenced by culture and beliefs. Quite the contrary. If you actually READ my posts, you would see that I said that people ARE definitely influenced by their culture and beliefs. Go back and read my posts again because it’s clear you did not read them the first time, or you wouldn’t say that I am discounting how culture influences people.
However, despite the fact that people ARE influenced by their culture, upbringing, religion, etc., it’s ALSO true that people have universal traits, needs, and responses to things, and this is undeniable. Why can’t BOTH be true? Why does it have to be one or the other in your book? Some of the things you write truly defy logic, especially coming from someone who claims to be a professional in the field.
Also, how can you diagnose people if you don’t even believe in the conditions you are diagnosing and you think they don’t even exist?
The only thing that can help is a full acknowledgement made by SL and rigpa staff that people were harmed. This letter is a polite response, but paves the way for Sl and rigpa staff to stay quiet.
Nothing is said about Sl and rigpa staff have to move.
@Jan, I don’t see the letter as “polite”, it just isn’t harsh. I see it as kind and full of concern for the difficult situation students are in. It fully acknowledges that the behaviors were wrong. It makes no excuse for the behaviors, nor does it blame the victims, but expresses regret for the “predicament” students now find themselves in. By agreeing with the Dalai Lama, he is supporting students for speaking out and advising strong actions such as criminal justice etc.
I think it’s important to keep in mind that our letter to the lamas simply asked them to break the silence and give an opinion on the behaviors and the situation. He did that. We are not asking lamas to get embroiled in Rigpa’s business, not asking them to confront Rigpa or SL, not asking them to speak out harshly against either Rigpa or SL. This is for information, not for a campaign.
I personally appreciate Dagpo Rinpoche’s quick and careful response– as we hear a roaring silence from all the rest.
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We didn’t ask them to comment on S and Rigpa specifically, rather about about lama abuse in general. We did this because we are aware of the taboo in their culture against publically saying bad things about anyone. This is the general kind of response we can expect from anyone who does respond because it is culturally appropriate for a Tibetan.
My response is that this letter is one of support and care. I would prefer a distinction was made between anger that is naturally going to arise in this situation and acting angry or fuelling anger. trying not to feel angry doesn’t work for me. But overall it came across to me as kind.
Yes, that is an important distinction to make and one that is not always made. Anger is natural, it’s acting out of anger, or holding onto our anger that causes problems.
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