As of 16th Nov 2018, few ethnic Tibetan Lamas have spoken out about the abuse in Rigpa or other Tibetan Buddhist communities. We are aware of cultural reasons for their reticence, but even so, we feel that students need to know where lamas stand on this issue so they can fully evaluate potential teachers, so we have listed here a summary of the responses of those who have commented and links to the sources. We have also included Western teachers, and it can be noted that few of them have spoken publically about abuse either.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama
His Holiness the Dalia Lama has always supported students speaking out about abuse in Buddhism. He even said that lamas who break the law should be sent to prison. Links to his various comments can be found on the blog’s Reference Material page but a brief summary of HHDL’s position can be read here: https://www.lionsroar.com/dalai-lama-denounce-ethical-misconduct-by-buddhist-teachers/ and here: http://howdidithappen.org/dalai-lama-sogyal-rinpoche-abuse-allegations/
To get a full picture of His Holiness’s position on the issue of unethical behaviour by lamas, Click here to read a transcript from his meeting with Western Dharma teachers in Dharamsala in 1993.
Minguyr Rinpoche wrote an article for Lions Roar Magazine on Aug 9th 2017 about unethical behaviour in lamas. https://www.lionsroar.com/treat-everyone-as-the-buddha Though it does not mention Sogyal by name, he wrote it in response to the request of the 8 letter writers for him to make a statement. His is the most comprehensive statement for clarifying what is a healthy interpretation of the teachings on pure perception, guru devotion and samaya.
Tsoknyi Rinpoche allowed us to publish a statement from him in which he says he agrees with his brother Mingyur Rinpoche. Full statement here: https://whatnow727.wordpress.com/2017/12/28/tsoknyi-rinpoche-responds/
Namgay Dawa Rimpoche
On his Facebook page in reply to a question from a student. “I can only speak for myself when I say to those who have taken refuge with me or to those who hold me in their high regard , If you see me cause injury to others , mental or physical it becomes your sacred duty to protect yourself and your Varja brothers and sisters. Don’t let anyone suppress your free will to reason . Don’t be afraid to question me if you feel my actions and speech are not in accord with the Dharma.”
In a podcast he spoke about what abusive teachers got wrong, saying that they have a nihilistic understanding of emptiness: https://bobthurman.com/demon-ghost-cave-bad-gurus-abuses-of-power/#
This later podcast (Dec 2nd 2018) is really helpful for working out how to relate to a lama after you discover that they were abusive. https://bobthurman.com/abuse-in-buddhism/
Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo & Lama Tsultrim Allione
Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo & Lama Tsultrim Allione discuss the allegations of sexual abuse by Shambhala head Sakyong Mipham and make it clear that such abuses of power are not acceptable. July 1, 2018: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=elzlih71RH0
Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo
A clear statement from Tenzin Palmo on pure perception, guru devotion and samaya in relationship to the issue abuse was published on What Now? on Nov 21st 2018. Among other things, she says, “Spiritual teachers cannot use the Dharma as an excuse for licentious or abusive behaviour.” Click here to read it all.
Tibetan psychologist Lobsang Rapgay spoke about what goes wrong in the student-teacher relationship that enables it to turn abusive:
The FPMT ethics policy is the clearest we’ve seen and is signed by all FPMT teachers:
Erik Pema Kunsang
Though he doesn’t mention the situation in Rigpa specifically, this article is highly relevant as it talks about the real meaning of root guru.
Talked about cultural issues related to sexual abuse by lamas: https://youtu.be/S8DfH6BYZ3w
Venerable Thubten Chodron
In August 2017, Thubten Chodron, abbess of Sravasti Abbey and student of Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa, gave a series of talks in response to the attestations of abuse in Rigpa. It’s clear from her talks that she understands exactly what students are going through in processing the reveations and the misunderstandings Westerners tend to have on certain aspects of the teachings.
When things fall apart. https://youtu.be/WxucVpOV2FY
How could it happen: https://youtu.be/njY9kwgOXpA
Confusion in Tantra: https://youtu.be/b88r4NdHZVU
What it means to see the teacher as a Buddha: https://youtu.be/H9UVSw-OnDU
Rigpa’s Spiritual Advisors
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
In response to the request for a statement on the contents of the letter by the 8, Dzongsar Khyentse wrote a 10,000 word Facebook post which basically said that the problem lay with the students because we didn’t understand Vajrayana and weren’t taught correctly. https://www.facebook.com/djkhyentse/posts/2007833325908805 .
In early 2018, he gave a series of talks in Rigpa centres in Europe which basically reaffirmed the stance he’d taken in his Facebook post and gave no ground on the idea that once you’ve taken a teacher as your vajra master, you should not criticise him or her, should keep your relationship secret, see everything he or her does as enlightened action and obey his or her instructions even if you don’t agree with them – in other words, he upheld Rigpa’s interpretation of the beliefs that enabled the abuse, interpretations that make it extremely easy for a Vajrayana community to become a destructive cult as outlined in this blog post: https://whatnow727.wordpress.com/2018/02/06/is-vajrayana-buddhism-a-cult-religion-part-2/
In a similar fashion, Khenpo Namdrol in this teaching at Lerab Ling in 2017 after the letter came out blamed the 8 letter writers for the problem, saying that they must be possessed by demons. https://youtu.be/X4PDyeXYNaY
Orgyen Tobgyal told one of the letter writers that he was wrong to speak out and that he would go to hell. In the Paris Rigpa centre in 2018, he said about spiritual teachers, “Such great beings, whether it corresponds to western ideas or not, if they kill someone, it’s fine.” And, “Beating hard increases wisdom.” Click here to see notes on the full talk.
Responses to our email to teachers teaching at Rigpa centres in 2018
In late 2017, we sent an email signed by over 20 Rigpa students to teachers listed as teaching in Rigpa centres in 2018. In this Letter to Rigpa Teachers_ we asked that they break the silence and address the beliefs in Rigpa that allowed the abuse to flourish and be covered up for decades.
The teachers we emailed are listed here along with their replies, or lack of reply:
“I do agree fully with what Mingyur Rinpoche wrote and the importance of ethics in dharma by teachers and students, including the need for teachers to practice ethical behavior. What he said is very important:
. . . the violation of ethical norms needs to be addressed. If physical or sexual abuse has occurred, or there is financial impropriety or other breaches of ethics, it is in the best interest of the students, the community, and ultimately the teacher, to address the issues. Above all, if someone is being harmed, the safety of the victim comes first. This is not a Buddhist principle. This is a basic human value and should never be violated.
Full statement published here: https://whatnow727.wordpress.com/2017/12/28/tsoknyi-rinpoche-responds/
Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche
Her secretary replied saying that Jetsun Khandro had been concerned with the recent events and she wanted us to know that she held the Rigpa Sangha members in her heart and prayers. She also said that Rinpoche hoped to address some of the issues when teaching at Rigpa with the aim of provding some support to the Rigpa community, and Rinpoche encouraged students to remain steady in their practice of Dharma and support each other on the path.
We have no record of what she actually said when she taught at Lerab Ling, as it wasn’t made public.
Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche
Thanked us for reaching out to him, and said that he had been holding the Rigpa sangha in his prayers.
Ringu Tulku Rinpoche
Responses to our email request to ethnic Tibetan lamas
In early November 2018, we sent an email signed by over 100 students and ex-students of Tibetan Buddhism to as many ethnic lamas as we could find email addresses for requesting them to make a statement for this blog. We included a Tibetan translation of the letter by the 8 once-close students of Sogyal Lakar and the Lewis Silken report confirming the abuse, and sent the email in Tibetan.
We asked them to: “Please read the translated letter and send us your statement in reply to this question: Do you think the behaviour of Sogyal Lakar/Rinpoche as described in the 2017 letter by 8 close students and confirmed by the Lewis Silkin Report is ever an acceptable way for Tibetan Buddhist teachers to behave towards their students?”
Click here to read the full email to the lamas.
We also sent an email to His Holiness the Dalai Lama telling him that we had sent the email to all these lamas and asking him to “Please share these concerns, along with the attached letter to the lamas and the Tibetan translation of the letter by the eight formerly close students of Sogyal Rinpoche, with Tibetan Buddhist leaders during the upcoming meeting in November. If leaders could come forward with a joint statement addressing these issues, this would help enormously.”
We received a reply from His Holiness’s secretary the next day saying: Thank you for your email letter on behalf of “concerned students of Tibetan Buddhism”. We have forwarded to the Kalon, Department of Religions and Culture of CTA as he will bring its contents during the forthcoming meeting of heads of Tibetan Buddhist traditions at Dharamsala at the end of this month.”
The names of the lamas we emailed are below. We will post any response we receive from them – nothing indicates no reply as of 16th November 2018:
Replied 19th Nov 2018. Gave kind advice for students and said that he agrees with HHDL. Full response here.
Replied 21st Nov. 2018, stating that the abusive behaviour outlined in the letter by eight Rigpa students was not acceptable to him. Full response here.
Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche
Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche
Khenchen Namdrol Rinpoche
Khenchen Pema Sherab Rinpoche
Lama Gyume Rinpoche
Ratna Vajra Rinpoche
Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche
Tulku Thondup Rinpoche
HH Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje
HH Sakya Trizin
Tulku Pema Wangyal Rinpoche
Tulku Dakpa Rinpoche
Khenchen Pema Sherab
Garje Khamtrul Rinpoche
Choje Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche
Ringu Tulku Rinpoche
HH Gyalwang Drukpa
Bardor Tulku Rinpoche
Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche:
Tai Situ Rinpoche
Dungsey Gyetrul Rinpoche
Dolpu Tulku Rinpoche
His Eminence Khochhen Rinpoche
Lama Zopa Rinpoche
HH Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje