How Did It Happen?

Understanding and Healing Abuse in Buddhist Communities

Category: Community Issues

Kaleidoscope of Viewpoints

Different ways we see a teachers who is allegedly abusive

A guest post by Elaine Zablocki

As dharma students, we’ve learned that a single object arises from many causes and conditions. When we look at a wooden table, we may consider the harvested tree, stored and dried, cut to size, assembled by someone using an array of tools and fasteners. We see a chain of people stretching back centuries who perfected “table.” When we look at a tree we see a constant flow of related processes:  leaves taking in carbon dioxide, putting out oxygen. Water flowing up from the ground, sunlight on leaves producing sugar, leaves dropping to create soft forest soil that holds water and feeds the tree.

Could we look at the situation in Rigpa from a similarly expansive viewpoint, observing many interactive processes that led to the present moment?

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Wild Wild Country: How Spiritual Communities Can Go Wrong

Rajneesh (Osho) Wild Wild Country

Wild Wild Country, the just released limited series on Netflix, documents the rise and fall of the thousands-strong 80’s Rajneesh (Osho) community near Antelope, Oregon.

Rajneeshees purchased 64,000 acres of land near the town of Antelope, and subsequently built and legally incorporated a massive city and agricultural endeavor in the wilderness. Their Utopian ideal, in which people could  live, laugh, love, and be free, aligned perfectly with the free-love movement already happening in the West.  As such, Rajneesh and his philosophy magnetized thousands of smart, hardworking people.

Rajneeshpuram, as the city was called, wasn’t an experiment in spiritual austerity.  The city housed any number of Western indulgences including a gambling venue, a disco, clothing stores, and eateries.  Nudity and open sexually were the norm. Almost ten thousand more Rajneeshees streamed through the town of Antelope to reach Rajneeshpuram during its annual global festival.

The conservative, god-fearing residents of nearby Antelope, previously a sleepy town of around 100 people, were initially startled, confused, and bemused by the red-clad devotees. But as their quiet lives were increasingly disrupted, and the commune’s intentions for further growth became clear, they felt something had to be done.

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Shambhala Leaders Acknowledge Sexual Harm

Sunrise

In the recently released Project Sunshine Final Report, second-generation Shambhala student Andrea M. Winn, MEd, MCS shares the results of her one year exploration into sexualized violence within her Buddhist community. She also offers recommendations for organizational change, and suggests ways individual and collective healing can occur.

She describes the vision of Project Sunshine in this way:

This one-year vision was to gather a powerful group of concerned citizens to protect the integrity of the Shambhala lineage. We will do this through influencing the Shambhala community to acknowledge and repair past abuse of women and children in the community, and integrate new values that honour tenderness, vulnerability and other strengths typically associated with the feminine.

On the prevalence of sexual harm in the Shambhala community, Winn says:

I have been part of many conversations over the past year with women who have been abused in the Shambhala community. The stories of abuse are nothing short of horrific. Quite simply, the violence that has happened and the lack of response from the Shambhala organization has resulted in a profound corruption in the heart of our community over the lifespan of this community – since the early 1970’s.

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A Chance to Be Heard: An Invitation to Current & Former Rigpa US Students

An Olive Branch

Have you received the following letter from An Olive Branch?  Can you help pass it along to any current or former members of Rigpa US who may not have received it? I’ll share the full letter in this post.

An Olive Branch is a Zen-based organization that has been hired to offer processes of healing and reconciliation for current AND former members of the Rigpa U. S. sangha.

Some people object, saying that reconciliation cannot occur unless there’s acknowledgement of harm and an apology on the part of Sogyal Rinpoche and the leadership of Rigpa.  In many ways I agree.

But even without an apology, healing can occur.  An Olive Branch offers current and former members of the Rigpa US a chance to be personally heard in private without judgement via their Listening Post.  Feeling heard is one of the most powerful ways healing can take place or at least begin.

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Latest News: Investigation and New Rigpa Vision Board

Rigpa Investigation and Vision Board

On December 21, 2017, the Rigpa International Holding Group announced the beginning of an independent investigation by a neutral third party into the allegations of abuse made against Sogyal Rinpoche. The independent investigation will be conducted by the law firm Lewis Silkin, which was hired recently by the Old Vic Theater in London to investigate the allegations of inappropriate behavior by Kevin Spacey during his 11-year run as artistic director.

Although it has taken a very long time to get this investigation started, more than five months, I would like acknowledge the positive, reasonable and encouraging tone of the announcement which stated:

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.

In addition, the Rigpa US Board has concurrently engaged An Olive Branch, a Zen-based reconciliation organization, to help support the US sangha, both current and past members, with healing and reconciliation.  Read the full letter to current and former members of the Rigpa sangha from An Oliver Branch.  You may want to participate in the Listening Post or the healing and reconciliation process.

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Where Are We At? The Complaints, The Cost, and the Future of Vajrayana

Prayer FlagsWhere are things at with the complaints against Sogyal Rinpoche?

It has been more than three months since eight long-time students sent a letter to Sogyal Rinpoche alleging abuse. I thought it would be good to take a step back and look at what the letter has achieved so far and how the issues are becoming clearer.

Let’s remember what the grievances are about: inappropriate and harmful behaviors that have caused injuries and have tainted the appreciation of Dharma for the concerned students.

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The Heart of Samaya Is Harmony

BellsWe’re so saddened to hear about Sogyal Rinpoche’s colon cancer and wish him a swift and complete recovery.

The unexpected news about Rinpoche’s health and recent remarks made by two traditional teachers concerning samaya have understandably sparked intense emotions among many in the Rigpa sangha.

At the end of his recent teachings in Lerab Ling, the Rigpa International Retreat Center in France, Khenpo Namdrol strongly admonished the eight students who wrote a letter alleging abuse by Sogyal Rinpoche.  Among other things, he said they’d been taken over by non-human entities.

Then Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche expressed his concern for Sogyal Rinpoche’s health and warned the Rigpa sangha about the harmful effects of breaking samaya in this September 28th message shared on Facebook:

Presently I am in Asia with Sogyal Rinpoche, to support him. The situation with his health is very serious. He has been diagnosed with cancer and had to have an operation to remove the tumours. Now his doctors are advising a course of chemotherapy as a follow up.

What I want to say to all Rigpa students is this—please do not break any more of your samayas. If a student breaks his/her samaya, it has a very harmful effect on the master’s life. I urge all of you therefore to practice the Narak Kong Shak and Heart of Vajrasattva confession prayers as much as possible. I am very concerned for Sogyal Rinpoche’s health and future. I hope you will all listen to what I say.

In light of these messages, we would like to share some reflections on how we might better keep samaya. We hope to contribute to a more positive atmosphere within the sangha by doing so.

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How Can the Rigpa Community Process the Controversy?

How can the rigpa community address the controversyAs a result of the allegations of abuse made against Sogyal Rinpoche by eight long-time students on July 14, 2017, many individuals within the Rigpa community have engaged in deep reflection and heart-felt discussion.

As you can imagine, students have expressed a wide range of emotional responses to the crisis, ranging from feeling their teacher has been unfairly taken away from them, to anger about the alleged harm, to a loss of trust in the teacher and the teachings.

To begin, let’s look at some of the responses.

My Faith Has Been Strengthened

For some, facing this controversy has strengthened their faith.

Sogyal Rinpoche has undeniably changed their life for the better. They believe Dharma is taught and practiced authentically in Rigpa.  They feel complete confidence in Rinpoche as an authentic medium of the blessings of the lineage. The description of Rigpa as a ‘rotten exploitative organization’ does not fit their personal experience at all. They feel a strong inner conviction that Sogyal Rinpoche is their guru and they’re on the right path.

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