Eighteen months after the revelations that Sogyal Lakar/Rinpoche was abusing students rocked Rigpa student’s world, I once again ask, What now? Where do we go from here?
What now is a great question, and one I think we should ask often because it has an openness to the unknown to it, and the future is unknown. Anything we plan or expect is just a projection.
When I see on the news stories of people killed in car accidents, by a falling tree, or being caught in a rip and washed out to sea, it reminds me that I could be dead this time tomorrow, and that reminds me that I have no time to waste in my life if I’m to die without regrets, to die having lived a worthwhile life. And so I must live that worthwhile life now in this very moment.
What makes your life worthwhile?
For me it is a life focused on meditation and contemplation undertaken in a quiet household. In meditation I can help heal the world with light, sound and visualisation. In contemplation I listen to teachings and read books that remind me of the important things in life: love, compassion and wisdom. And I try to live my life in peace and clarity using the wisdom and compassion I foster on my cushion.
During the last 6 months of 2017, my spiritual practice was moderating the What Now Facebook group and writing blogs posts for this blog, I had no time for sitting on a cushion, and no time for earning a living during that time, but supporting others is one of those things that makes a worthwhile life. This last year I have managed to earn a small income, and I’ve returned to a formal meditation practice with an enthusiasm I haven’t had for years.
A spiritual path after Rigpa
I have to thank Mingyur Rinpoche and Tergar for my renewed enthusiasm for meditation. Their Mahamudra course came at just the right time, a month or so after the letter by the eight revealing the abuses came out. And Tergar opened their hearts to any Rigpa student who had studied ngondro. Many of us ex Rigpa students ended up there, but I doubt that any of us have taken Mingyur Rinpoche as their teacher in the same way we took Sogyal; we won’t give up our discernment in the way we did for Sogyal, and that’s a very healthy thing. But the course was excellent and introduced us to Clarifying the Natural State by Dakpo Tashi Namgyal, a Mahamudra meditation manual with clear instructions on detailed enquires into the mind that we never got in Rigpa. My present practice is following those vipashyana instructions. The commentary on that text, Crystal Clear by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche is also excellent.
So there is a spiritual path after Rigpa and other sanghas where abuse has occurred. For some it will be no path, for some it will be a different kind of path, for others a different form of Buddhism, and for some it will still be Tibetan Buddhism, probably because they have a deep appreciation for the teachings, likely especially Dzogchen and Mahamudra, even if they no longer trust the religion or the teachers.
I don’t consider myself a Tibetan Buddhist anymore, and that leaves me free of the entanglement of the cultural and feudalistic baggage carried by the religion, but not being part of the religion doesn’t stop me listening to teachers and practicing according to their instructions.
I mean, here’s a quote from the book I mentioned above:
“With the various types of thoughts, from the very moment they appear, they are mothing other than the aware emptiness of unidentifiable mind.” P33 Clarifying the Natural State by Dakpo Tashi Namgyal
Isn’t that beautiful, profound, and incredibly helpful for developing a healthy relationship to our thoughts and emotions? I think so, and it’s in Tibetan Buddhism where we find such teachings. Because of that, many of us will still want to take teachings from Tibetan Buddhist teachers and that is a risky business, because we’ve learned over the last eighteen months that it’s not just Sogyal who behaves badly; there are many other Buddhist teachers and spiritual teachers from all religions who abuse students.
Choosing a teacher
So what do we do if we want these teachings? We have to choose our teachers wisely and cautiously. No matter what style of spiritual path we choose, a teacher of some kind will probably be involved, and the same requirements are necessary whether it’s a Tibetan Buddhist lama or some new age guru.
There is plenty of guidance on this in The words of My Perfect Teacher by Patrul Rinpoche, but as he says “nowadays it is difficult to find a teacher who has every one of the qualities described in the precious tantras,” so I suggest that we choose only those teachers who have made a clear public statement against abuse, one that does not blame the students in any way, who honour the role of discernment in the Tibetan Buddhist path, who show respect for their students, and who have otherwise shown that they are worthy of their role as a spiritual teacher. We have to check their behaviour and not be fooled by fancy hats and titles, prestigious lineages and charisma, or by many devoted students—blind and emotional devotion is a cult warning sign; intelligent appreciation is not. The high level lamas are the aristocrats of Tibetan culture, the most entitled, with the kind of power held by a feudal lord, and they’re brought up with the expectation that they will live just as the masters before them lived, and so they are the very ones of which we need to be most suspicious.
“Sexual misconduct is very common within the circles of high level lamas.” (Dr Nida Chenagtsang from Karmamudra: The Yoga of Bliss)
But there are some teachers in Tibetan Buddhism that don’t abuse their students. Our task as students is to find the reliable teachers and expose those who do abuse their power. The What the Lamas Say page will help you with that.
We also need to check anything a lama says about politics or society and see whether he or she is indicating an attitude that is in accord with the dharma. Are they showing love and compassion for all, or are they seeing with an us-against-them attitude? Arrogance is a huge red flag—it’s the opposite of humble. And if a lama’s disciples are not seeing that that lama is not speaking in accord with the dharma, then stay far away from that sangha, because if they’re not using their discernment, it’s a cult, not a healthy spiritual community.
Watch carefully how they treat their students during a teaching, and at any hint of unkindness or arrogance, leave. The only way the corruption will leave, or at least lessen, in Tibetan Buddhism—apart from legal action against the abusers—is if we give our money only to teachers who teach, practice and embody a healthy interpretation of the teachings. Organisations cannot survive without student’s money, so the corrupt will die out, or at least diminish. So be careful where you spend your money.
Of course, we don’t need to have just one teacher. We can have many. You Tube is full of free teachings from many teachers, and in vajrayana practice we use a symbol representing all the great teachers, not just one. If Guru Rinpoche has bad connotations for you, then try the ah symbol used by Namkhai Norbu.
I ask “What now” again now because this blog is winding down. I’m done with Rigpa. They’re a lost cause. This blog’s focus on Sogyal’s abuse and Rigpa management’s cultish manipulations of students limits the scope of it, and my interest is moving towards the wider issues of following a spiritual path—or forging our own—and back to my own spiritual practice and writing. I shall be in retreat from Dec 26th to Jan 21st.
There might be a different blog to take over from this one in the new year, but I’ll let you know. If we get another reply to our letter to the lamas, we’ll post it, of course, but other than that, we’ll wait and see what arises from my retreat.
Thanks to all of you who have engaged in conversations here over the last eighteen months; I hope you all have a happy holiday season.
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26 thoughts on “What Now?”
Dear Tahlia: All of this is very well said, completely spot-on. For me, the best lesson was contained in a line somebody quoted a while back, that we shouldn’t let others’ corruption interfere with our own spiritual development. Thank you for moderating this blog. I think it helped a lot of people.
I would just add here that the Wickwire-Holme law firm’s report on the behavior of the “Sakyong” Mipham Rinpoche is due to be delivered sometime in January. If its findings aren’t made public, hopefully someone will leak it.
Thanks for this blog, and I’m sorry to see it end.
I’d sincerely like to ask you something because you brought it up in your blog. (Otherwise it wouldn’t be any of my business.) I just wonder, how is it possible to NOT consider yourself a Tibetan Buddhist, yet embark on deep spiritual retreats and practice Mahamudra and Dzogchen? Yet you said you are no longer are Tibetan Buddhist? (I am confused.)
Mingyur Rinpoche seems to be a whole lot better than Sogyal, so I wish you better luck with him. Wherever your path takes you, good luck on your spiritual journey.
Thanks for all you’ve done with this blog, Thalia. Though a lot of times I did not agree with what people expessed here there equally were a lot of times where I did agree with what was said and altogether this blog has been important to me in my own process of coming to terms with 25 years of my life spent full on with Rigpa/Sogyal. It still is a slow and painfully lonley process but this blog has been a tether, it has provided me with many perspectives which is what we need, isn’t it, to be able to look at ourselves and each other from different angles,, to find our voice and have our stories heard so we can eventually move on in peace. All the very best wishes to everyone.
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@Left Lodeve, there are still the two Facebook groups– “What Now” and “Beyond the Temple”– where people are still engaging with each other in the ways that you describe. They will remain, at least for the time being because they are active, if you are interested in joining.
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Are these groups just for ex-Rigpa members, or are they open to people who weren’t part of Rigpa? (I wasn’t part of Rigpa.)
@Catlover, the Facebook group What Now is just for ex-Rigpa– however, the Facebook group “Beyond the Temple” is for anyone who has been affected by abusive/damaging situations in Buddhist groups. This second group is focused not on what has happened and how bad things are, but on ways that people can move on– planting seeds of hope. So it’s a positive space, a healing space. The only requirement in that group is to be respectful and supportive of others, no matter what their choices or orientations. We share things that inspire us, Buddhist or not Buddhist, and also share our struggles, griefs and joys. It’s a very nice group. You could give it a try if you have a Facebook account– and because no one knows your name, you could start fresh! (or not as you choose).
I for one am really really ready to move past the negative side. It can be a heavy load. Though I will always want to keep an eye on ways that I can help expose and prevent abuses, and help survivors, I also think it’s important to focus on healing as well.
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I bow to Tahlia out of gratitude for her commitment and her sharing of her talents.
I agree its time to proceed now on the path since for those able to listen everything is said and for those not willing or not able to listen further posts want change anything.
From my side would I like to add that I will keep on following the path of the Buddha but I leave back 99% of what could called tibetan buddhism.
It occured as a disease or sickness that I seem to be allergic against tibetan lamas, tibetan tales, tibetan dharmapolitics and especially against all those western followers who understand mad devotedness as signs of realisation, to break that down to one sentence.
So again thanks to all those commited to bring light into darkness, the 8 letter people, Tenpel, Rob and many others.
My best wishes to all.
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Hi Dinosaurierin, you liked my post. I am curious to know what exactly you like.
I realized thats some of the Rigpadevotees just want people stop to communicate about undharmic structures so they can keep going without obstacles.
I would not give up to put light on what is misunderstanding “emptiness” as a free ticket for abuse of all kind.
Just to make this point clear to those devotees.
‘”Religion is not to be found in temples”, he said. “Religion is to be found in people’s hearts. If people are really practising religion properly, if they have religion in their hearts, conflict can be avoided. But when you keep religion in the temple and not in your heart, that is when conflict begins. One day, perhaps we will have to begin destroying temples in order to save religion.”‘
(Source: The Fourteenth Dalai Lama, interviewed by Nancy Duncan, ‘Tibet’s Dalai Lama Remains Powerful Force during Exile’, ‘Tibetan Review’ 7 (1) January 1972 p. 14-15.)
To me personally, Rigpa is a testament to the hubris and nemesis of Western Buddhists who thought they knew better and spent their lives helping a Tibetan dropout and fortune seeker build a temple for the personality cult he founded.
Thank you, Tahlia, for your help in making this transparent to all but blind believers.
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@ Rob Hogendoorn “To me personally Rigpa [Organization] a testament to the hubris and nemesis of Western Buddhists who thought they knew better …making this transparent to all but blind believers.”
Thanks, Rob. For me, the above is a bit too much of a simplification.
My sense is that the Rigpa Organization put serious effort into responding. It may not be enough, but it isn’t nothing or hopeless, either.
Initially, they reached out to past students through Olive Branch and have pledged to open dialogue with anyone who has been hurt.
from their website…
We are moving forward together on six areas…
— Clarifying and embodying Rigpa’s Vision
— Communicating the relationship between Rigpa and Sogyal Rinpoche
— Pledging to a safe environment in Rigpa
— Taking responsibility for healing and past hurts
— Deepening our culture of listening, non-judgement and good communication
— Strengthening our governance, transparency and financial practices
We are completing and learning from the An Olive Branch process, and our reflections.
Rigpa will soon reach out formally on a one-to-one basis to those who have expressed their hurt.
As one of those who spoke to The Olive Branch, this seems like a pretty good list of ongoing steps. I feel heartened by their efforts and hope we can continue dialogue with them and among ourselves.
Meanwhile, senior students seek Sogyal’s reinstatement, and the likes of Dzongsar Khyentse, Khenchen Namdrol, and Orgyen Tobgyal guide Rigpa’s Vision Board.
At the same time, the Charity Commission is probing The Rigpa Fellowship’s finances, an investigation that may wel feed into an international cascade of fiscal audits and retrospective tax collections—both from the recipients and donors, especially when the tax exempt status of Rigpa entities is revoked with retroactive effect.
These fiscal audits may well be run parallel to legal procedures triggered by the criminal and civil liability of Sogyal and Rigpa’s administrators.
After all, as Karen Baxter noted, “Rigpa’s leadership should consider (taking further advice as necessary) the extent to which it is obliged to report any of the matters set out in this report to law enforcement authorities or relevant regulators in each applicable jurisdiction.”
These reports may well concern others than Sogyal as well, in particular Rigpa figureheads who acted as his accessories: has this determination been made already?
Being a practical person, I’m interested in the factual details of Rigpa’s actual implementation of Karen Baxter’s recommendations one through to twelve, and the details of Rigpa’s response to her question:
“Before moving to implement the recommendations below, my view is that the leadership of Rigpa should consider first the overall effect of these findings on its mission and work as an organisation. In the United Kingdom, for example, the trustees would need to consider whether the findings of the report, the resources required to act on the recommendations and the degree to which the work and profile of Rigpa has in the past been closely associated with the persona of Sogyal Lakar, make it possible for the organisation to move past these events and operate sustainably and successfully in the future.”
The harsh reality is that it’s not self-evident that Rigpa has a future at all. For all I know, it may be declared a criminal organization in more than one jurisdiction.
Besides, I’d say that Rigpa is willing to put anything on paper right now: it’s internal discourse is utterly meaningless, particularly if it is ‘guided’ by the aforementioned trio.
So, to focus on ‘learning from the An Olive Branch process’ strikes me as being both self-absorbed and premature.
Thanks for your post.
“I’m interested in the factual details of Rigpa’s actual implementation…”
“So, to focus on ‘learning from the An Olive Branch process’ strikes me as being both self-absorbed and premature.”
Anytime anyone takes out time to listen, really listen, then I feel progress has been made.
Listening seems the opposite of a self-absorbed activity and my sense is that if the Rigpa Organization had been listening all along, then this situation might not have occured. Look at the letter from the 8, isn’t it a testimony to not being heard? Any positive change in this aspect of relationship is worth encouraging and noting.
So when the Rigpa Organization says they are going to “deepen their culture of listening”, I’m encouraged. If they can’t live up to their pledge, it still seems like a step forward just by acknowledging the power of listening.
If the Rigpa Organization is disbanded due to legal proceedings, then I don’t think much will have changed, but if you and I can listen to each other, then it seems something might really move forward in positive in unexpected ways.
@ Richard: It all depends on the understanding of what ‘listening’ amounts to, of course.
So far, I’ve seen Sogyal and Rigpa representatives merely declare that they’re sorry that survivors’ ‘feel’ hurt or traumatized. They prevaricate on purpose, and thereby tacitly reserve the right to declare Sogyal a fully enlightened Buddha, incapable of harming anyone by definition.
These people listened without hearing, or heard without listening. Their strategy may well have been intentional, inspired by lawyers, so as to prevent frank admissions that may be construed as guilty pleas in a criminal or civil court of law. Either way, more than anything, these people are focussed on themselves.
Keep in mind also that the remaining Rigpa members have yet to catch up with insights into abuse and violence that are commonplace everywhere. They’re lagging lightyears behind the Roman-Catholic church, for instance—and that’s saying something: https://edition.cnn.com/2018/12/28/world/catholic-church-2018/index.html
The outside world has no obligation at all to cultivate patience while Rigpa figureheads struggle to adapt—or struggle to feign to adapt—to the ‘new’ realities they’re confronted with.
Best wishes to all.
“It all depends on the understanding of what ‘listening’ amounts to, of course.”
Yes, really listening seems to change the listener.
There is little I argue with in your post. There are also numerous possible responses to the situation you lay out.
The Rigpa Organization used bureaucracy to create a culture of only listening to the teacher, or seeing all communications in terms of the teacher or teachings in such a way that it reduced listening and communication to the channels of the hierarchy. Other conduits were excluded as noise.
Since I see the lack of listening as being so much a part of what happened in the Rigpa Organization I’ve tried to encourage more face to face communication here and have been somewhat surprised at the lack of takers. This medium doesn’t encourage much depth of discussion for such an important aspect of our lives together. We seem to want to keep that distance for some reason.
So, my point of view has been if we wanted to change the key error in the Rigpa Organization, we could do so right here without relying on the Rigpa Organization to make any changes at all. This doesn’t exclude efforts to get them to change, but adds another element and also makes us less dependent on them to create change. If we can’t attempt to make that shift ourselves, then when I see the Rigpa Organization saying they will give it a try, it seems like something. As you said, it depends on what that listening amounts to, but I’m trying to be open to hear how it goes.
I’m not sure who the ‘we’ are that you’re talking about. I, for one, don’t believe that Rigpa will be saved or ‘changed’ anymore than Scientology, for instance. Personality cults don’t reform, they wither and die, even if it takes a long time. Meanwhile, they’ll say anything to keep the faithful that remain on board.
Abuse is endemic to such communities, pre-programmed in their very being. Study the history of Shambhala (formerly known as Vajradhatu) since the early 1970s in-depth, and you’ll see what I mean.
As far as I can see, many (former) Rigpa members have yet to grasp and accept a simple truth: Sogyal’s personality cult was good for nothing. Like any other personality cult, it’s been a complete waste of precious time, attention, energy, and money. Hundreds have wasted the best years of their life within Rigpa—lives that could have been used in pursuit of much worthier, less egotistic objectives.
The litmus test is Rigpa’s response to Karen Baxter’s question: “Rigpa’s leadership should consider (taking further advice as necessary) the extent to which it is obliged to report any of the matters set out in this report to law enforcement authorities or relevant regulators in each applicable jurisdiction.”
Meanwhile, Rigpa’s remaining members saying “they will give it a try” or that they will “deepen their culture of listening”, sound as business as usual to me.
Lost all faiths of the path due to this ongoing revelation, why could not SL control his emotion (he calls past as just ‘energy-in-motion’) confuses hell of myself, as he was held as be a highest but crazy Lama; why not one of his teacher Dalai Lama (supposed to be like omniscience) control him as he supposed all no-ing. Why neither cud see what would occur specialise in this open media everywhere society.
The whole dharma now needs healing as the beliefs once hold are exposed und many appears as logically flawed that even doubts originator of this whole path.
All religions are in essence try be good but power abuse shows nun were beyond what teach us.
No patronise response necessary from any of you.
The magic has gone!
Now, after Tahlia has announced she will let this blog die out, one (who has been lurking here for a couple of monthes) considers in which way my reading has been enlightening about what the victims really have experienced (in possibly even more dimensions than revealed in legal papers/statements) and also about what are the ways for dealing with it, just what the title of this blog says: “what now”. I’m not a victim in such a definition, not even a member of something like Rigpa, Shambala, (Richard-Baker)-Zen-center, and held distance to the tibetan buddhism because I always instinctively felt uncomfortable with that spiritual dwelling. So what could be my role, here in my hometown, where a Rigpa center exists (but I know only one Rigpa-member which but had left (in dismay) already before the great Sogyal-scandal) , and where I was in friendship with some of the Baker-followers here: how could I do the so-to-say “my-part” in offering help for victims : listening? talking? But I think, here in this town, far enough from the South of France, there is likely not such people – and also: having no personal insight in such Guru-framed structures does also mean that’s likely not my deal.
But the other problem, the shatter of the trust, is one, that all involved buddhist should concern. In recent online-comments or papers I found a growing tendency to even *improve* a learning-effect in letting-go of trust, letting-go the impulse of trust – but “trust” is a very important ingredience not only for the growth in spiritual matters like buddhist environments, but even for human communication and the most basic organization of common sense, of knowledge and of personal as well as social moral.
So did I, especially in the last -say:two- weeks, find constructive appeals how to keep that human “trust-potential” intact? Or did I find here more “let all the buddhist ideas go”, let all the spiritual community go – it is all fake etc. Even in the current volume of the “Buddhismus aktuell” (Title “Wohin”- “Where to”) of the german buddhist organization DBU the base-drum-sound was: we(!) have followed a foul romance… and for me it came out that all this western buddhism has been a drunken ride in the moonshine. Fortunately, I feel not alone with my concern here about the danger of promoting to let-go the ability to trust, the application of trust, and the hard work to set foundations to be trustworthy to others: just today I found an interview with some long established cosmologist Martin Rees (in spektrum.de) about concerns about a handful of basic current problems, and one in those about the new information flood and the role of the “trust” in it. Well this was just some accidental finding, but there is much more about this even outside of spiritual communities and structures…. A reference, surely more relevant to buddhists might be the discourse MN95 of the Buddha with the young brahmin Bharadvajo which culminated in the expression of the need of the ability to trust to really step into the path, making the trusted teachings the ladder on which I climb up.
So, what I was also interested to find, was something constructive how to *keep* of the trust-ability in this mindset of broken promises (and that “samaya-salads” made by an obvious charlatan-teacher). And what for? Well, I’m feeling (perhaps I’m wrong…) that some exchange about this and how to keep this worthy would be useful/helpful/appropriate to do here in my hometown with buddhists in such organizations. Before that blog here completely dies – perhaps one or more comment(or contact me privately).
Additionally: thank you very much for your blog Tahlia, and to all a “very luck new year 2019”!
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Thanks, Rob for sharing the letter from DKR. He seems to bring up a lot of interesting points that could make fertile ground for dialogue within and without dharma groups. It could be great if we could have a talk via skype or hangouts one day. I’d like to hear more of what you are sensing along with your voice and face.
On a related note, I’m not sure why the sex contract has drawn so much negative attention, it seems some US universities have been suggesting the same approach for a while. I think there are also a few websites built around getting sexual consent, too.
Richard New, ” On a related note, I’m not sure why the sex contract has drawn so much negative attention”, you’re kidding right? Dzongsar’s infamous ‘sex contract’ was a crude parody that mocked the need of women, or anyone in an intimate relationship, for consensual activities in the bedroom.
It is probably the most vile ‘offering’ from a Tibetan lama to have ever been made public – his disciples asked for it to be removed as some of them have children who were exposed to his fb page.
Thanks for your post.
Over 800 US universities have moved toward a legal definition of sexual consent.
This was passed into law by Jerry Brown, governor of California, “Consent is now “an affirmative, unambiguous, and conscious decision by each participant to engage in mutually agreed-upon sexual activity.” The consent has to be “ongoing” throughout any sexual encounter.” This law is pretty much what Dzongsar Khyentse was parodying as did Saturday Night Live.
There is a lot of controversy about moving toward a legal, i.e. contractual definition of consent, but it gets the conversation going about what it means to agree to a sexual encounter.
Dzongsar was mocking the need for any such contract – and doing so in an entirely distasteful and sexist manner – that’s why he copped so much flak.
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