Dzongsar Khyentse wrote a letter that went to the Rigpa sangha and that I think needs some attention given to it because people tend to think – just as they did with Sogyal – that because he appears wise when teaching dharma that he is always wise. This is simply not true. A series of ill-conceived, inappropriate and arrogant Facebook posts prove that. (Sorry, Dzongsar, but you posted them, not me. I’m just telling it like it is.)
‘Buddhadharma actively encourages its followers to apply critical thinking to everything it teaches’ DZK says in this letter, and this is exactly where we as students have fallen down. We have left our critical thinking behind in the service of devotion. We have swallowed everything our lamas tell us as truth. Why? Because they teach us that we must not criticise them, and so we do not criticise what they say for fear of hell. And yet, what they say is exactly what we must apply our critical thinking to if we are to avoid what happened in Rigpa from happening again. Hence this post.
I honour DZK for being one of the few lamas willing to actually talk about the abuse in Rigpa, and he has been helpful in some respects, but sometimes he does more damage than good with his words, and I don’t think he realises, or cares, how he falls into the manipulative kinds of tactics used by leaders of destructive cults.
He complains in the letter that he ‘can’t help but feel frustrated’ when he hears that ‘Buddhadharma is being labelled a “cult”.’ I have not heard anyone call Buddhadharma a cult, but people have called Rigpa and even DZK’s sangha a cult—and with good reason since this stating a specific allegation (Rigpa is a cult) as a general one (Buddhadharma is a cult) so it’s clearly absurd and so can be easily disregarded in its entirety is an example of cult leader tactics to manipulate their followers into not examining something they don’t want examined.
I wrote a blog post (in 2 parts) showing how Vajrayana is NOT a cult, UNLESS the lama steps over the line into cult territory, and that’s a line that all lamas need to be aware of if they are to avoid doing more harm than good to their students. I have never called Buddhism or Vajrayana a cult. But I do draw attention to the cult tactics used in Rigpa. How else can we avoid such tactics in future?
Listening, hearing, and deep examination
He says of the Rigpa sangha: ‘It would be silly to dwell on the difficulties. Instead, we must look at what we can learn from this situation, correct the misunderstandings and errors, and make Rigpa even better.” I totally agree, and that’s why it’s vital that those who ‘criticise’ are listened to and heard, because we have a role in helping Rigpa to look very deeply at the causes of their problems, something which must be done before they can be corrected. Is DZK willing to look deeply at how his cherished beliefs were misused to enable the abuse? Is he willing to learn about cult dynamics so he can avoid them? They are not inherent in vajrayana as I state clearly in the blog post mentioned above.
Don’t forget the importance of critical thinking
You can read DZK’s full letter to the Rigpa sangha by clicking here but when you read it, note that the contents may manipulate you into wanting to return to Rigpa. It’s basically heaping praise on those who have stayed with Rigpa, and most of the letter is perfectly reasonable and makes valid points, which is why you have to be careful not to also think that the last paragraph is perfectly reasonable. It isn’t. It’s misinformed and divisive, and is using cult tactics to set those inside the group against those outside the group. Don’t fall for it! It’s designed to make you think that those who have stayed are better, wiser, more enlightened etc than those who have left, and that the only possible path to spiritual development is in Rigpa. This is cult tactics 101.
‘There have been, are, and always will be people whose sense of personal dissatisfaction leads them to oppose, slander and, I dare say, even thirst for Rigpa’s ultimate destruction. Instead of wishing such people ill, we must always remember that we are followers of the Buddha. We must therefore feel compassion for all those who stand against us and try to understand the cause of their pain – especially if they were once our Dharma brothers and sisters. Try to embrace them with compassion and pure perception. And rest assured, if their pursuit of the Dharma is genuine, sooner or later they will see the truth and find a path back.’
There are some who do want to see Sogyal in prison and who do want Rigpa’s destruction, but possibly only because Sogyal has not admitted that he behaved wrongly and because Rigpa management has not denounced his behaviour, but I personally know of only a few such people, whereas I know hundreds of people who have left, who see Sogyal and those still stuck in a belief system that enabled abuse, not with ill-will but with compassion and understanding, and who would love to see Rigpa truly reform—not just make some half-hearted attempts that don’t get to the crux of the matter.
Raising up, not bringing down
Our complaints are not designed to bring Rigpa down, but to raise Rigpa student’s awareness of what Rigpa management still has to change. To lump everyone who has left into the extreme category is ignorant and divisive and typical of the black and white thinking attributed to cults, words designed to make members think that only the cult has the answers they seek and that anyone who leaves cuts themselves off from their only chance at spiritual progress. Don’t fall for it. It’s not true. There are many other sanghas and teachers to choose from who study and practice genuine dharma.
I and others like me do not ‘stand against’ Rigpa. My aim has only ever been to assist Rigpa to do the right thing and to genuinely change for the better. The fact that Rigpa management consistently makes poor choices is the only reason I write anything that may seem ‘against’ them. But actually all I’m doing is trying to help them to see the depth of change required. Why? For the sake of the future of genuine dharma.
Slander or truth?
And slander? Is it slander when you all you’re doing is revealing the truth? No. It’s not. I do not write about things that have no basis in truth.
The majority of those who speak publically about the issue of abuse in Tibetan Buddhism do it only for the sake of dharma, to raise awareness of the issue so organisations and individuals will be motivated to deal with the issues fully and intelligently. They speak out because they cannot bear to see the Buddha’s intention that his teachings help beings lessen their suffering be so misused as to cause harm, and until the actual harm (not the feelings of harm) has been admitted to, taken responsibility for, and apologised for, genuine deep change cannot occur, and those who point it out will have to keep pointing it out until they are heard.
Sogyal, Rigpa and their critics are interdependent. Our voices arise only in dependence on some action on which something needs to be said to provide a larger perspective to help students and their teachers understand what exactly is going on—like this letter.
And ‘if their pursuit of the dharma is genuine’? Those I am regularly in contact with who have left Rigpa are the most genuine dharma practitioners I’ve ever met. Why? Because they are highly ethical and compassionate people, they know what is dharma and what is not, and they will not stay with a corrupt lama and an organisation who misuses the teachings for their own gain, because that is not authentic dharma. They know that to advance on the path, you have to do more than claim to study and practice authentic dharma, you must live it authentically.
I have seen students completely shattered by their experience in Rigpa, but still they follow the Buddhadharma in one form or another, many even remain in Tibetan Buddhism just with a different teacher or no specific teacher. To assume that because they have left Rigpa they are not genuine dharma practitioners is quite simply mistaken, especially when the very reason many left is that they are committed to living a life that is authentically dharmic. The depth of wisdom and compassion, and the genuine desire to live a dharmic life that I constantly see in the ex-Rigpa sangha is a constant inspiration to me. These people deserve to be honoured for their courage, honesty, integrity and diligence in living by the dharma, not denounced as slanderers, and their suffering passed off as ‘personal dissatisfaction’.
Don’t be Fooled
To heap praise on those who remain in Rigpa while demonising those who have left is neither wise nor helpful. If Rigpa is to truly change, and I still hope they can, management must learn how they have used, and are still using, cult tactics and give them up. Unfortunately, DZK is only reinforcing some of those tactics here. A great deal of education is required on this matter, as well as honest examination of the real motivations behind our communications.
‘These [kinds of] letters are expecting people to go quietly back to sleep,’ Sangye said in a recent Facebook post on this letter. ‘They are layering ignorance upon the wounds, and it doesn’t heal; it doesn’t help. Of course they are trying to protect their income stream, the number of students in their lineage and the powerful land holdings and bootlickers to maintain them. … It may be full of half-truths or say nice things, but it masks an approval of Vajrayana lamas who abuse.’
Let’s not be fooled into returning to an organisation that has not denounced their lama’s abusive behaviour, and who has chosen spiritual advisors who blame the abuse survivors for their ‘feelings’ of abuse because they ‘don’t understanding vajrayana’ or were ‘possessed by demons’.
DZK asks Rigpa members to ‘feel compassion for all those who stand against us and try to understand the cause of their pain.’ But labelling those who have left as ‘those who stand against us’ shows a lack of understanding of the true situation; it’s lumping us all together under one extremist view so we can be more easily dismissed and ignored.
To try to understand we must do more than listen; we must also hear what people are communicating, and acknowledge their pain. Only then can there be any chance of true compassion. Listen to Sangye:
‘People who are traumatized – it replays over and over. They get worse, not better, and if they are stuck in a circumstance where the person keeps re-traumatizing, they even get beyond PTSD. They get CPTSD [complex post-traumatic stress disorder] as they start to be scared of more and more things. It never really goes away – their life, their precious human birth is made less precious by the abuser.’
And yet DZK, in minimising this kind of suffering as ‘personal dissatisfaction’, shows a lack of the very compassion, he is asking from in students.
I’ll let Sangye have the last word:
‘Love and kindness is about listening, believing the weak, supporting those who are alone. Not further isolating them and shaming them because they couldn’t bring joy to a narcissist. Seriously, it’s so embarrassing for you that you can’t get this. That you can’t even watch HHDL spell it out and understand basic obvious compassion and kindness.’