A Healing Contemplation for Students of Problematic Teachers. Berzin. Part 2

This is the second installment of our blog posts referencing Dr Alexander Berzin’s  Wise Teacher, Wise Student: Tibetan Approaches to a Healthy Relationship. Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2010.  Part one on historical and cultural factors affecting the student teacher relationship in Tibetan Buddhism can be found HERE.

The chapter on Dealing with Problematic Teachers includes a contemplation that could be used in centres to help students balance the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ and focus on the good for the purposes of their spiritual practice, while also acknowledging the ‘bad’.  I think this could help a lot of students to heal.

Though he calls it ‘sutra-level’ guru meditation and it’s from the Gelupka school of Tibetan Buddhism, do not make the assumption that that means it’s not relevant for Rigpa students. It’s extremely relevant.

The contemplation is for all students of problematic teachers, not just those who felt emotionally, physically or sexually abused. This debacle has hurt us all in one way or another.

“For thorough healing, spiritually wounded disciples need eventually to be able to view their mentors’ faults and mistakes clearheadedly, free of naivety, anger, or recrimination. … Guru-meditation does not ask us to deny the accurate conventional appearances of what our mentors’ faults or mistakes may be. … Such an understanding allows us to see how our mentors’ faults and mistakes have arisen dependently on an enormous number of complex factors.”

 

The topic headings are:

The sections in bold can be used as a contemplation for general students. The last two sections are most relevant to those who have felt the full force of a teachers abusive behaviour and are having trouble seeing the positive aspects of the teacher.

  • Applying Sutra-Level Guru-Meditation to a Faulty or Abusive Teacher
  • Reviewing a Teacher’s Faults and mistakes
  • Creating a Protected Mental Space for Addressing Spiritual Wounds

  • Examining the Appearances That the Mind Creates

  • The Analogy with Contextual Therapy for Victims of Abuse

  • Teachers Involved in Controversy

  • Overcoming Emotional Blocks in Appreciating Kindness

  • Overcoming Emotional Blocks in Showing Respect

A surgical procedure

Berzin likens this proces of reviewing a teacher’s faults to a surgical procedure, and points out that this can’t be done until the student has recovered from the initial trauma – be it the trauma of being abused or the shock of discovering your teacher has behaved badly:

Before discerning and focusing on the good qualities and kindness of their mentors, disciples need to bring to conscious awareness the teachers’ shortcomings and work on their view of them. The process resembles a surgical procedure. Cleaning an infected wound requires cutting it open, even though lancing the abscess and exposing the infection temporarily increases the pain. In the case of a festering spiritual wound, the hidden infection may be denial or suppressed rage. To purge the infection requires reopening the wound and bringing to the surface what festers beneath, even though the procedure temporarily may bring more emotional pain. The operation must wait, of course, until the injured person has sufficiently recovered from the initial trauma and has regained the emotional strength to attack the problem.

Read the full chapter here: https://studybuddhism.com/en/advanced-studies/lam-rim/student-teacher-relationship/the-dynamics-of-a-healthy-student-teacher-relationship/dealing-with-problematic-teachers

The next post in this series will be looking at the queston, ‘Is the Guru a Buddha?’


Be sure to check out the What Now? Reference Material page for 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.

More personal and private support for current and previous students of Rigpa can be found in the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite. Please use the email address you use on Facebook.

 

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Is it true or is it just a rumour?

We have discovered that some rumours have been presented as fact in some Rigpa centres. We don’t know where the misinformation came from or if it is just a case of misunderstanding, but we feel that it is in everyone’s interest to stick with facts rather than hearsay and rumour, so here are some clarifications to hopefully circumvent some of the misinformation that has been circulating.

 

A few facts you should be aware of:

  • No single person wrote the email that exposed the abusive behaviour. It was a group effort made by all 8 students and worked on together over a period of time.One of the Eight said, “The eight of us spent many, many, days and hours carefully writing, suggesting edits, rewriting, discussing, rewriting, editing again, over and over and over until we felt it was done. It was a painful, exhausting process. The “response” we received from Sogyal Lakar was anticlimactic… we received an email that to my eyes appeared to have been carefully crafted by a lawyer, admitting to no wrong doing while vaguely “apologizing” for any “misunderstanding” that might have occurred. (Gary)Another said: “the letter was the result of many hours of collaborative effort and consensus. We worked diligently to make sure all our voices were heard, respected and included. We constantly checked our motivation and intent to be certain that we were on firm ground from an ethical point of view. This included not reporting anything that was not experienced personally and first hand.”  (Michael)
  • The Eight students did not scheme to discredit or overthrow SL and Rigpa. Their letter was sent only to SL himself, the Rigpa Dzogchen Mandala Students, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and some other lamas such as Mingyur Rinpoche and Dzongzar Kyentse Rinpoche. Had they wished to discredit or overthrow SL and Rigpa they would have sent the email to a mainstream newspaper, instead they purposefully kept it within the sangha, and carefully wrote only about things they had seen or experienced themselves. Later, someone unknown to them leaked the letter to a Buddhist magazine without their permission.
  • Any action or words of an individual who may be part of the group, does not represent the group as a whole.
  • Sogyal Rinpoche/Lakar (SL) has not written individually to the Eight signers of the letter that exposed the abusive behaviour. On the 18th July, he sent an email addressed to all of them that, though it was emailed to each of them, was not an individual response. They all received the same email. He has not contacted any of them since.
  • No apology has been made by either SR or Rigpa, only an acknowledgement “that there are feelings of hurt”.
  • Rigpa management have not contacted any of the Eight either individually or as a group. The only conversation occurred when one member of the Eight contacted one senior student in Lerab Ling to clarify his status after being refused entry to a Dzogchen Mandala study group.
  • The seven of the Eight are not moderators of the What Now? group and blog. One of them is a moderator of the Facebook group only.
  • The What Now? moderators have a policy of only permitting first-hand accounts of behaviour in Rigpa or accounts given to them directly by the person who experienced the behaviour. We wish to avoid hearsay, gossip and rampant negativity.
  • The What Now? moderators also do not wish to ‘bring down’, ‘overthrow’ or ‘destroy’ Sogyal Rinpoche or Rigpa. We aim to educate students and help them process the situation, and we seek full transparency and positive change.
  • It is not a Chinese plot. The attestations are true accounts of what people have actually experienced; they are backed up by many other similar complaints over the years, and many others who have since shared their testimonies in the What Now? Facebook Group or privately to one or other of the moderators.
    One moderator counted 25 first hand accounts that she alone had received, and another student mentioned hearing many complaints in her time in Rigpa.

If in doubt as to the motivation of the Eight, re-read the original letter

Anyone who questions the intentions of the Eight should first ask themselves what could they possibly stand to gain from this and then re-read the original letter in which they state: “We write to you following the advice of the Dalai Lama, in which he has said that students of Tibetan Buddhist lamas are obliged to communicate their concerns about their teacher:

‘If one presents the teachings clearly, others benefit. But if someone is supposed to propagate the Dharma and their behavior is harmful, it is our responsibility to criticize this with a good motivation. This is constructive criticism, and you do not need to feel uncomfortable doing it. In “The Twenty Verses on the Bodhisattvas’ Vows,” it says that there is no fault in whatever action you engage in with pure motivation. Buddhist teachers who abuse sex, power, money, alcohol, or drugs, and who, when faced with legitimate complaints from their own students, do not correct their behavior, should be criticized openly and by name. This may embarrass them and cause them to regret and stop their abusive behavior. Exposing the negative allows space for the positive side to increase. When publicizing such misconduct, it should be made clear that such teachers have disregarded the Buddha’s advice. However, when making public the ethical misconduct of a Buddhist teacher, it is only fair to mention their good qualities as well.’ The Dalai Lama, Dharamsala, India March 1993”

Then they go on to say that “A number of us have raised with you privately, our concerns about your behavior in recent years, but you have not changed.”

In line with His Holiness’s advice, the What Now? blog aims to walk the middle way of honouring the good SL has done, while being clear that ethical misconduct has occurred.

 

How do the authors of the letter feel about the situation now?

“Personally, I am both astounded and saddened at the frantic efforts by so many to discredit our efforts to bring light to the dark underbelly of Rigpa’s inner circle. Our original intent was to effect positive change in order to save Rigpa, but to date, the official response seems to be obfuscation and the maintaining of the status quo. The “unofficial” response has been an outpouring of personal stories from many, many members and former members of instances of wrong-doing and abusive behavior by the Rigpa hierarchy and Sogyal Lakar.” (Gary)

 

Another (Michael) said: I find it sad that not one person from an official position has ever contacted me to ask me about the letter or any support I may need as I am still a Rigpa member. I feel that there is a conscious effort not to clarify or investigate so as to keep things cloudy and gray. Most of this innuendo can be cleared up in seconds.”

 

Another angle on motivation and intention

In a recent post on her Facebook timeline about an article by Martha Beck on freeing your heart, one of the moderators of the What Now? Facebook group said, “This article really resonated with me. This is why I do what I do; I follow my heart. And I know the sense of clarity of which Martha speaks. The desire to make people aware of the full picture in the Rigpa debacle comes directly from my heart.”

In the article Martha Beck says, “Our hearts are imprisoned for just one reason: The only language they can speak is truth. Unlike the mind, which can be persuaded to accept the most bizarre ideas (“Look, it’s the Hale-Bopp comet! Time to kill yourself!), your heart tells it like it is, without bothering to be tactful or socially appropriate. Free hearts rock boats, break rules, do things that disrupt the system—whether that system is a dysfunctional family, a bloated bureaucracy, or the whole wide world.”

“A heart is imprisoned not by being broken but by being silenced.”

Read the article here: http://marthabeck.com/2011/09/set-it-free/


BE SURE TO CHECK OUT THE WHAT NOW? REFERENCES PAGE for 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.

More personal and private support for current and previous students of Rigpa can be found in THE WHAT NOW? FACEBOOK GROUP. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite. Please use the email address you use on Facebook.

 

 

 

 

 

The History of Allegations of Abuse in Rigpa.

Today we’re directing you to another blog about the issue of abuse in Rigpa. The How Did it Happen blog has posted a timeline of all the allegations of abuse over the years. When the historical context is taken into account, we can see that this letter by the Eight is not just an isolated incident.

If you’re not already aware of how long the allegations have been going on, pop over to the blog and take a look. Though nothing has been ‘proved’ in a court of law, there is certainly enough people who have spoken out about this that the situation should no longer be ignored. It needs to be fully dealt with once and for all.

Is Sogyal Rinpoche’s departure from Rigpa and the letter from the Rigpa Holding Group outlining their new initiatives  (essentially an investigation, more openess and a code of ethics) a resolution for the problem of his behavior or is something else needed?

http://howdidithappen.org/history-abuse-allegations-rigpa/


Be sure to check out the What Now? References page for 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.

More personal and private support for current and previous students of Rigpa can be found in the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite. Please use the email address you use on Facebook.

 

Dr. Alexander Berzin on Issues in Relating to a Spiritual Teacher: Part 1.

The importance of understanding

Many factors come together to create a situation where abusive behaviour can occur and can continue to occur and be covered up for forty years. In a Tibetan Buddhist community, cultural differences in student expectations and understanding of the student teacher relationship is a big factor, as is how the community understands some core Vajrayana concepts. In the next few posts I want to share information from Dr Alexander Berzin that might deepen our readers’ understanding of these factors.

I believe that only by understanding the situation fully can we find the way out of this mess of distortion that will likely do more to destroy Buddhism in the West than anything else. After all, abuse is illegal in the West, so how can any organistion who believes that behaviour recognised as abuse by the majority of the Western population is acceptable possibly survive long term? Even if they have removed the abuser from their role in the organisation, for so long as the misunderstandings that led to the situation are propagated, the same thing can happen again elsewhere.

Introducing Dr Berzin

In order to gain this understanding, I turn to Dr. Alexander Berzin (1944 – present), a Buddhist translator, teacher, scholar and practitioner with more than 50 years of Buddhist experience. After receiving his Ph.D. at Harvard, Dr. Berzin spent 29 years in India training under the guidance of some of the greatest Tibetan masters of our times. There he served as occasional interpreter for H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama and His tutors.

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He is the founder and author of the Berzin Archives and studybuddhism.com and author of many books including Relating to a Spiritual Teacher: Building a Healthy Relationship. Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2000; Second reprint, Wise Teacher, Wise Student: Tibetan Approaches to a Healthy Relationship. Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2010. It is this book that provides the basis of the next few blog posts. Find out more about him here. https://studybuddhism.com/en/dr-alexander-berzin/who-is-alexander-berzin 

book

This book provides an in depth look at the student teacher relationship from the perspective of all the different schools of Tibetan Buddhism. It is the best source I have found so far in that the author understands both the Western perspective and has a deep understanding of Tibetan Buddhism. He is aware of the pitfalls Western students fall into and gives clarifications so that we can avoid these pitfalls and common misunderstandings.

The whole book is free on his website. It starts on this page https://studybuddhism.com/en/advanced-studies/lam-rim/student-teacher-relationship/factors-affecting-a-relation-with-a-spiritual-teacher and if you go to the bottom of the page it shows links to the next parts of the book.  Or you can purchase a Kindle copy HERE It’s also available in paperback.

In these posts I will share some main points on the different chapters and direct you to the relevant chapter, but if you want to read the whole thing, I think it would be most beneficial.

Is there something wrong with the religion or is it how we understand it that is wron?

If you are feeling that there is something seriously wrong with the whole Tibetan Buddhist system, this series of posts may reassure you that the religion is not the problem here, rather it is cultural and psychological differences, a misunderstanding of the religion, and a hijacking of it in the service of one individual.

If you are one of those who are determined to prevent this happening again in any Buddhist organisation, you will find Berzin’s words provide a vital understanding of the dynamics at play

The Factors Affecting a Relation with a Spiritual Teacher

He starts with a look at The Factors Affecting a Relation with a Spiritual Teacher. Click the link to read the full chapter.

In this chapter, he covers the following points:

  • The modern Western situation for studying with a spiritual teacher is completely different from the traditional Asian one;
  • Dangers are exacerbated, in the case of the Tibetan tradition, by texts on “guru-devotion.” The audience for such texts was committed monks and nuns with vows, needing review in preparation for tantric empowerment. The instructions were never intended for beginners at a Dharma center.
  • He introduces a nontraditional scheme (that is not included in the book) for analyzing and problem-solving the issue, suggested by and expanded from the work of the Hungarian psychiatrist Dr. Ivan Boszermenyi-Nagy, one of the founders of family therapy and contextual therapy. Here he looks at the aims and expectations of the relationship for each party, the roles and level of committment they take, and the psychological factors affecting the relationship.

    This would be an excellent model for Rigpa to use when looking into any issue a student has with a teacher.

    Then he asks: “Do they student and teacher together form:

    • A good or bad team
    • A team in which both bring out the best abilities in each other or which hinders each other’s abilities
    • A team which wastes each other’s time because of different expectations
    • A team in which a hierarchic structure is maintained and in which the student feels exploited, controlled and thus inferior (reinforcing low self-esteem), and the teacher feels him or herself to be the authority and superior – note that what one side feels may not correspond to what the other feels
    • A team in which one or both feel inspired or drained.”

    Cultural and historical perspectives and the Rise of Confusion

    The second chapter, The Rise of Confusion in the Student-Teacher Relationship, Berzin explores cultural differences and historical aspects that contribute to confusion about the student- teacher relationship.
    This brilliant run down of cultural and historical factors helped me to understand why abuse could happen in a Tibetan Buddhist context. It also shows that the issues go far beyond what can be fixed with a code of conduct. We will have to be much bolder than that if we are to turn this debacle into something that will benefit rather than destroy the dharma.

    Berzin concludes:

    “The recurring misconduct has led some Dharma practitioners to become indifferent. No longer believing in anyone, many find their spiritual practice has weakened and become ineffective. Resolution of the problems and a healing of wounds are desperately needed so that sincere seekers may get on with the work of spiritual development. The student-teacher relationship as understood and developed in the West needs re-examination and perhaps revision.”


  • Be sure to check out the What Now? References page for 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.

    More personal and private support for current and previous students of Rigpa can be found in the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite. Please use the email address you use on Facebook.