Scandals have rocked Western Buddhist communities for decades, yet they continue to occur with surprising regularity despite attempts to establish safeguards. With each new revelation, shock waves of trauma travel through the affected sangha, leaving no one untouched. Whether you choose to defend a spiritual teacher or align with allegations against him, the pain endured often feels intolerable.
Our aim with “How Did It Happen?” is to provide an open atmosphere in which to explore the conditions that lead to abuse or the perception of abuse in Buddhist communities and how both individuals and communities can heal. It is especially dedicated to processing and healing in relation to the allegations of abuse that have recently been made in the Rigpa community. We seek to listen to and understand all perspectives in hope of mending schisms in Rigpa, finding a way forward, providing insights for other Buddhist sanghas faced with allegations of abuse, and contributing to the healthy evolution of Buddhism in the West.
Whatever you read here, we encourage you to examine it closely, reflect deeply, and keep an open heart. Even Buddhist masters cannot concur on what constitutes misbehavior on the part of a teacher. So while it may be impossible to fully heal schisms or decide upon a single view, we hope this can be a space for compassionate listening that brings us closer rather than tearing us further apart.
How Did It Happen? is not meant as a sensationalist, tell-all blog, although you may encounter explicit details from time-to-time. There is no intention to destroy any particular teacher and we have no desire for Sogyal Rinpoche to stop teaching. Neither are we encouraging students to leave Rigpa, only to reflect and see what’s right for them. Even in the light of criticism, we feel it’s important to remember a teacher’s positive contributions.
The authors of this blog have have been long-time students of Sogyal Rinpoche. They believe if the mistakes are understood and the lessons properly learned, this shattering event can become a catalyst for positive change, enabling teachers and communities to better accomplish their mission of bringing the wisdom and compassion of their spiritual tradition to the world. Increased awareness can ensure communities are a place where the Dharma can be practiced in a healthy way with integrity and where abuse ceases to take place.
Bernie studied with Sogyal Rinpoche for almost 30 years, regularly attending retreats with him in the US and France, including a Three-Month Retreat (1992) and the Three-Year retreat at Lerab Ling (2006-2009). He worked full time for Rigpa U.S. from 1992 – 2006 and part-time from 2010 – 2016 as an online course instructor.
During this time, he served as the U. S. Director of Study and Practice and the Director of the Rigpa Online Learning Program for many years. As an Instructor he traveled to offer programs to Rigpa sanghas all across the country. As an Instructor Training Facilitator, he also offered training to Rigpa instructors in the U.S. Bernie has also been Sogyal Rinpocheʻs personal assistant and driver on many occasions during his visits to the U.S.
Sandra has studied with Sogyal Rinpoche for over 30 years, regularly attending retreats with him in the U. S. and France, including the Three-Month Retreat 1992 and the Three-Year Retreat 2006-2009. She worked full-time as the Rigpa U. S. National Director for 13 years and part-time as an online instructor for the Rigpa Distance Learning Program from 2010 -2017.
Sandra’s background also includes working as an Executive Director for a Battered women’s shelter and rape crisis line, Fundraising Consultant, and Freelance Copywriter.
Now, Sandra writes about personal and spiritual development on her popular blog, Always Well Within, which she founded in 2010, publishes a monthly e-letter called “Wild Arisings,” and offers a self-paced course on mindfulness and stress reduction.
Sandra loves spending time in nature, tai chi, permaculture, meditating, writing, and soaking in the nearby lava-heated warm pond. Her time on the farm is primarily spent pulling weeds, harvesting exotic fruit like r0llinia, jackfruit, and papaya, and avoiding the wild pigs. She has a special interest in stress reduction and healing trauma, both developmental trauma and shock trauma.