Sangha Connecton Letter Feb 2018
“A Bodhisattva is someone whose process of awakening comes about through the process of serving others yet knows that this world is dynamic and unresolvable.
Resting in this paradox is bodhicitta or awakened mind”
Elizabeth Mattis Namgyal
[Personal greeting not included]
We hear your feedback – both the encouraging and the critical
Thanks to everyone who sends messages to the International Holding Group. The encouraging messages include appreciation for those who are working to transform the organisation and to care for the sangha, and relief about the news of the Vision Board and advisory Lamas.
At the same time, we are receiving criticisms that challenge the whole organization, including the leaders and managers, to look closely at our blindspots.
Some feel that the pace of organisational change is too slow; that there is a culture of ‘covering up’; that Rigpa isn’t demonstrating that it hears and acts on criticism; that the independent investigation is being conducted by a legal firm and is too narrow in scope; some are troubled by the composition of the Vision Board which they said looks like the old way of doing things. Some have written to say that Rigpa does not show enough empathy and compassion towards those who come forward with stories of hurt.
We, the leaders and managers of Rigpa, are learning from this feedback. To care for our community we need to communicate with greater clarity and more frequently. It’s so important that everyone understands our heartfelt commitment to care for past and present Rigpa sangha.
The boards and the national teams feel deeply sorry for any hurt experienced by past or present members of the Rigpa sangha. The allegations of the 8 students and anyone who speaks up with criticisms or stories of hurt or wrongdoing will be respected and heard – not marginalised or suppressed. We take full responsibility for ensuring that Rigpa provides a welcoming, open and safe environment for all. These are our heartfelt commitments to our community.
National Retreats are greatly appreciated
Recent German, US, Spanish and Australian national retreats were held by Rigpa teachers and senior instructors with confidence and verve. As anticipated, the number of participants was lower than in previous years without Rinpoche teaching – about half the usual numbers. The retreats were focused on compassion and lojong teachings. There were sessions tailored to reflect the requests of students including open space forums and sessions with Rigpa management and leadership.
For those who attended, the retreats felt historic and empowering and were greatly appreciated. Speaking personally, I was moved to see how stable, loving and respectful the sangha was at the Australian retreat. Despite all the change and uncertainty, something special seems to happen when we come together in this way. There was such an atmosphere of joy as we shared, received teachings and practised together.
Rinpoche sent a recorded teaching to each of the national retreats. In the Australian retreat his message was prompted by a moving letter from one of the retreatants who is in the midst of chemotherapy for a serious cancer. The message included a Guru Rinpoche healing practice for those suffering from illness. Rinpoche also acknowledged the hurt and upset in the sangha and once again offered his apology. This message will be shared at the upcoming AEP sangha gatherings.
How is Rinpoche’s health?
Rinpoche recently posted about his health on his Facebook page. For the time being he is following advice not to receive chemotherapy and follow Ayeurvedic and Tibetan medicine treatment. He is slowly recovering but needs complete rest. The text and photo are attached for those who don’t use social media.
Membership of Rigpa mandalas
Worldwide the sangha remains strong at its core (as has been evident in our recent national retreats) but many people are affected by the controversy and have canceled their membership for this year. Some still wish to maintain a connection with Rigpa and their sangha friends and have requested to attend sangha gatherings and continue to receive news. National teams are taking care to keep things flexible for those who are undecided about whether to renew membership or request to stay connected.
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s visit to Rigpa Centres
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche will be giving public teachings in Berlin, Lerab Ling, Paris and London centres. In Berlin, Lerab Ling and London he will also meet with the Rigpa sangha. Interestingly, the media has been invited to attend the public talk and a press conference with Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche in Lerab Ling.
All the city centre teachings sold out very quickly, although there is still space at Lerab Ling for anyone who wishes to join this event.
The full, unedited public teachings will be publicly available soon after his teachings via both Rigpa and Siddhartha’s Intent YouTube channels. The sangha-only meetings will also be shared with the sangha. There will be more news about how this will happen soon.
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche feels that his primary purpose in coming to Rigpa centres this time is to clarify misunderstandings about the Vajrayana teachings and especially in connection with the guru-disciple relationship. He feels that Rigpa is a very important vehicle for the Vajrayana and Dzogchen traditions and he is deeply concerned for our well-being and continuity. His wish is that Rigpa may become known as a sangha that encourages critical thinking and a platform where people can discuss the Buddhadharma very openly. Questions were invited for both the public teachings and sangha meetings, which were sent in their entirety, unedited, to Rinpoche. He himself will make the selection of which ones to answer.
Lerab Ling Legal Action
(re: email 16 January)
Lerab Ling and some members of its community are taking legal action after a series of articles in a regional newspaper published untrue statements which portrayed Lerab Ling as a cult, and described the members of the community in a highly negative way. More than seven hundred sangha members from around the world wrote testimonials of support which will be used in the legal case to restore our reputation and demonstrate how Lerab Ling is not a cult. Lerab Ling is deeply grateful to all those who made the effort to write letters of support at such a short notice.
Some students wrote to say they are uncomfortable about the legal action. The decision was made because from a French legal point of view, if repeated false information is not corrected within a certain time frame, it implies that it is the truth. In France cults are judged very severely. The impact of the articles in our region have already been significant. Many members of our community live in nearby towns and villages, we have children who go to school and some of us work in the health sector or in professions that are built on trust. This repeated defamation of Lerab Ling in the press has given rise to feelings of considerable insecurity and anxiety. It also affects Lerab Ling’s enterprise relationships – for example, after many years of welcoming thousands of visitors to make a connection with Buddhism, the local tourist groups have become reluctant to work with us.
Lerab Ling has always had a policy of not responding to such false allegations but felt that this time it needed to publicly stand up for itself.
Investigation / Code of Conduct / Grievance Procedures
Rigpa’s draft Code of Conduct is making good progress and is currently being translated. It will be sent to the worldwide sangha by the end of February for your feedback.
Summary of recent communications
Several important messages were sent to the Rigpa membership in late December and early January. There was a lot of detailed information to digest over the Christmas and New Year period but we felt it was important to get the news out as soon as it was ready – particularly as there had already been delays.
–Announcement of the independent inquiry
(re: email 22 December 2017)
The main questions from students were:
Was it necessary for Rigpa to commission an investigation?
It’s understandable that some students feel dismayed about the investigation but others feel strongly that it is necessary in order to have a foundation for moving forward.
The severity of the allegations meant that the Rigpa boards and management teams needed to put in place a robust process of inquiry into the facts. This decision was backed up by professional advice. We engaged a firm with an excellent reputation and experience specifically with this kind of investigation and hoped the letter writers would see this action as a mark of our respect for them.
Can the investigation be truly independent if the firm conducting it is paid by Rigpa?
The letter of engagement shows how far Rigpa went to ensure the investigator had complete freedom and impartiality. The investigators agreed to proceed on the basis that Rigpa is not allowed to influence or bias the investigators in any way. The investigator is asked to make recommendations based on her findings and specifically includes the permission to make findings or recommendations that may not be beneficial to Rigpa’s position.
Is the inquiry limited only to the 8 who signed the letter and only to the UK?
The investigator has the freedom to interview people beyond the signatories of the letter, including other witnesses or members of Rigpa, at her discretion. Rigpa has no influence over who they interview. The inquiry is not limited to people in or from the UK or USA.
Will there be opportunities for people who are not interviewed to make statements and be heard – including people who wish to make positive testimonies?
The USA sangha have been invited to participate in a healing process facilitated by An Olive Branch. The process includes a ‘listening post’ as an avenue for all the letter writers and all past/present sangha members to share their stories. Other countries are also considering how to engage in a similar process.
–Announcement of the Vision Board and advisory Lamas
(re: email 3 January 2018 with letter from Sogyal Rinpoche and document from Philip Philippou)
The members of the Vision Board will meet formally for the first time in the second half of March. Over the coming year we will have opportunities to meet and hear from them in person.
Letter to the sangha from the Rigpa International Investigation & Reconciliation Committee 22nd December 2017
We are writing to you with an important update. You will remember that in August Rigpa pledged to set up an independent investigation by a neutral third party into the allegations made against Sogyal Rinpoche.
Our heartfelt concern is for the wellbeing of our Rigpa community as a whole, including the authors of the letter of allegations sent to Sogyal Rinpoche last July, and to ensure that the love, friendship and other positive qualities we share do not diminish. In this sense, we are all still very much connected to each other. Over the last few months, it has become clear that we need to work together to understand how, over the years, we got to where we are, and then what we need to do to rebuild and heal our relationships with everyone who has been affected.
To this end, we are offering the eight letter writers the opportunity for a compassionate forum to share their observations and experiences in an unbiased and confidential interview. We have chosen a UK law firm, Lewis Silkin, to conduct these interviews. This firm is highly regarded in Europe, and known to some degree in the US, for working with harassment complaints. Our reason for engaging them is to assist us in reaching out to the aggrieved so that they may be heard and their story recorded in a safe and confidential manner. Lewis Silkin will act as a neutral, third-party investigator conducting fact-finding interviews. This is not a legalistic process; they are not building a case to delegitimize or deny the complaints.
Why investigate, you might ask?
We need to gain a full understanding of what has happened and who was involved or aware of it. It is essential for that to be done in a methodical and structured way by someone with no vested interest in the outcome. Additionally, we understand that it is our duty as Board members to investigate the allegations made against Sogyal Rinpoche in the July 14th letter, according to the laws in our respective countries. While no criminal charges have been made, it is essential that we follow through with engaging a neutral third-party who can listen objectively to the description of the events as described in the letter.
The scope of the investigation is international and will include all eight complainants. However, the Boards of Rigpa UK and Rigpa USA will serve as clients and have formed an ‘investigation and reconciliation committee’ to liaise with Lewis Silkin. No other Rigpa organizations, including Rigpa International, will be directly involved in overseeing the progress of the investigation. The outcome and recommendations of the report will be shared, in a manner to be determined, with the Boards of all Rigpa organizations worldwide.
In addition, the Rigpa US Board has concurrently engaged An Olive Branch, a Zen-based reconciliation organisation, to help support the US and Rigpa Sanghas in all countries with healing and reconciliation. We consider this to be a crucially important part of the process we need to go through together as sangha. We will provide a more detailed report on the work with An Olive Branch and continue to update you in the Sangha Connection newsletter.
If you have any questions about the investigation, please contact us at [email address]
We hope that through this process, and the clarity and healing that it may bring, we can move forward together in a positive spirit, and as a united Sangha.
with warmest wishes,
A Letter from Sogyal Rinpoche to the Sangha
July 20, 2017
I’m writing to you as a dear member of our Sangha, and therefore someone who has a special place in my heart. As you probably know, recently a number of people have been speaking out very critically about my behaviour as a Buddhist teacher. Some who have been my students, and whom I love, have expressed feelings of hurt and distrust from their experience of following me as a teacher. I understand, too, that this news has given rise to a certain amount of pain and confusion within our community. I cannot begin to express to you just how much all of this saddens and distresses me.
I have spent my whole life trying my best to serve the Buddhadharma, to bring these teachings to the West, and not a day goes by when I am not thinking about the welfare of my students, holding them in my heart, and feeling concern and responsibility for their spiritual path. It’s clear now, though, that a number of people do feel very disappointed and hurt, and are looking for answers and changes. Please know that I take this very seriously and I will not ignore it. I am clear in my own mind that I have never, ever, acted towards anyone with a motive of selfish gain or harmful intent. This is unthinkable for me.
At the same time, I need to hear and acknowledge the experiences that some of my students have spoken of, and over the last few days I have been reflecting very deeply on what course I need to take, how to address these issues.
Already, I am seeking advice from masters who have a genuine care and concern for Rigpa, such as Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche and Mingyur Rinpoche and others, about what we should do. And I will honour their guidance.
As I have mentioned to you before, according to astrological predictions, this year and the next two years are a period when obstacles can arise for my health and for my life in general. This was confirmed to me a number of years ago by Kyabjé Trulshik Rinpoche, and then again later by Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche. I have decided therefore to follow their advice and to enter into retreat as soon as possible. This is something I have been yearning to do for many years and I feel now is the right moment to do this. While I am on retreat, I intend to reflect deeply about myself, about how best to support students, and about the future of Rigpa.
At the moment, I am focusing deeply on the Lojong teachings—training the mind in compassion—and one verse in particular that guides me, and is continually on my mind, is:
“In all my actions may I examine my mind,
And whenever a negative thought or emotion arises,
Since it endangers myself and others,
I will firmly face and avert it.”
I am constantly watching my own mind, with mindfulness and awareness, so as to be truly compassionate in all my words and actions. So the teachings of Dzogchen and Lojong are very much the focus of my own reflection and practice right now. In some ways, you could say that my retreat has already begun.
My being on retreat like this will open the opportunity for other teachers to take a more prominent part in guiding and advising the Rigpa Sangha, and I will request them to do so. Simultaneously, it will also be the right time for me to hand over the work of Rigpa to my trusted students and to take a full step back.
If you just think about all the many extraordinary teachings I have given over the years, there is an incredible wealth of Dharma. In some ways, there is not much more teaching that you need—there is enough for one whole lifetime, at least! So let’s focus on putting these teachings into action, through reflection and practice.
Yet I will of course still be there for you all, sharing teachings and guidance from my retreat, and meeting with you whenever the time is right. I will plan this out therefore please don’t for one moment think that you will be left alone or abandoned!
In a way, going into retreat now will be a real preparation for my own death. After all, you need to realize: life is impermanent. We all have to die one day. And we never know when. As one great master once put it, ‘Teaching the Dharma and helping people is wonderful, but remember: you have to die.’ Every one of us will need to face ourselves when we die; therefore we really need to be prepared.
I am so grateful to you all, for your dedication, and especially for the love and support that you are showing to each other in this challenging time. It is extremely important now that we strengthen and build upon the deep spirit of friendship, openness, and genuine care that already exists in our Sangha.
I encourage you all to reach out to one another, and look after one another, to listen to each other, and care for one another in the loving, compassionate and open spirit of the Buddha’s teachings.
I know that many of you are wrestling with uncomfortable questions and doubts, right now. At the same time, please don’t forget all of the good things and the bigger picture of our work. I know many of you have directly experienced the incredible blessings of the teachings, and the transformations they can bring, and that many of you feel love and gratitude towards me.
Don’t ever forget the most important thing of all: these incredible teachings that we have shared together, and especially the priceless teachings of Dzogpachenpo. We have lived through such extraordinary moments together, where we all experienced the very deepest aspect of our bodhichitta, our buddha nature, the ultimate nature of mind. How can we not remember? We need to keep these teachings constantly in our minds and to hold them, so they will last long, long into the future. They can not die.
I will also pray and practice for healing and understanding to prevail and, in the spirit of the great Kadampa masters of the past, take the suffering upon myself and give happiness and love to others. From the bottom of my heart, I encourage all of you to never ever give up on the teachings or on each other, but to focus single-mindedly on practising the genuine and unfailing Dharma, fuelled by the vast motivation of bodhichitta, held within the profound and spacious view of non-duality and guided by the blessings of all the masters of our lineage.
These are the immediate thoughts I felt a strong urge to share with you right now. I will reflect further and have more to say soon.
With love & blessings,
A Letter to the 8 Students from Sogyal Rinpoche
July 18, 2017
Dear Mark, Sangye, Damchö, Matteo, Joanne, Graham, Michael and Gary,
I have received your letter and have read it through very carefully, several times, and I am deeply saddened and shocked by what you say.
The first thing I want to say to you all is that it was never, ever, my intention to hurt you or any other person, and if this is how it appears, then I am deeply shocked. At the same time, I acknowledge that there are feelings of hurt, and therefore I have to take this fully on board.
I have only ever tried to serve the Dharma and to teach students to the best of my ability and I can sincerely say that I have never, not for one moment, had any intention other than a genuine wish to benefit others. My conscience is clear on this. But I have to see that hurt has arisen and my intentions and actions have been perceived in another way. You cannot imagine the distress this causes me. Therefore, from the bottom of my heart, I humbly ask your forgiveness.
Since reading your letter I have been thrown into deep reflection and I’m firmly resolved that if this is the way that my actions are perceived, then I do need to take real action.
My main concern is not for myself alone, but for the Rigpa Sangha, and the Buddha Dharma, as a whole. As many masters have said, Rigpa is a very important vehicle for the Vajrayana and I don’t want to see our Sangha, or the greater vision of our work, which has been the collective effort of many great masters and many students, be harmed or affected in any way. If I am the problem, that can be solved. There’s no need to bring everything down. I implore you to keep this bigger picture in mind.
I need to reflect very deeply on these points and indeed the very future of Rigpa. Already, I am seeking advice from the masters who have a genuine care and concern for Rigpa, such as Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, about what we should do. And I will honour their guidance.
Furthermore, I will gather some of my ablest students and ask them to tell me very frankly and openly what they think needs to change in order to prevent this kind of misunderstanding in the future.
Finally, it is my firm intention to honour the advice of my masters and to enter retreat as soon as possible. I feel it is the right time to do this now. During my retreat, I will reflect very deeply on how I can best serve my students in the future. I think the time has come for other teachers to help guide and oversee the Sangha more, and for my own students to hold the work of Rigpa. I also feel it is really time to bring in a greater spirit of openness, listening and heartfelt care within the Sangha.
I would be happy to meet you one day if it might help in any way. I will truly listen and talk to you.
I would like to assure you that I will keep only love and compassion for you in my heart. I will always think of you as part of our mandala. I truly mean that. I will try to emulate the great Kadampa masters of the past and see you as my teachers, from whom I can and will learn.
I write to you in all humility,
A Letter to the sangha from The Rigpa International Holding Group
July 31, 2017
Reaching out to each other.
Dear _____________________ ,
The last few weeks have been emotional for us all as we dealt with our own feelings about the letter written to Rinpoche by a small group of his students, and his poignant response before he entered into retreat. Many people are wanting to reach out to each other and wishing for greater clarity about the future. Rigpa will evolve but our primary purpose remains the same — to study, practice and bring the compassion and wisdom of the Buddhist teachings and our lineage to the world — this is where our heart has always been. One thing that is very clear is that there is no place for abuse in our community and we are conscious of our responsibility to provide a safe and supportive environment for all students.
We want to personally reassure you that for several months already, we have been working on how to change, and even though the results might not yet be visible, these actions are just the start and all of us will need a little patience with this open process. We will communicate more soon, but in the meantime we are particularly working on how to take better care of each other and will be asking all of you for advice on how we can do this together. As Rinpoche said in his letter, he has stepped back and is in a period of retreat and reflection. Rigpa is also taking professional and spiritual advice about how to address the issues raised in the letter as the issues raised deserve our careful attention.
One immediate action is to open a dialogue within the Rigpa community because we need and want to hear from everyone. An email address has been created where sangha can write whatever is on their mind and any suggested changes they would like to see: firstname.lastname@example.org
With best wishes from Vinciane Rycroft, Sophie Smiles, Alex Peters, Eric Jeanteur, Gill Kainey, Catherine Paul on behalf of the International Holding Group, National Teams and main holders in Lerab Ling