How Did It Happen?

Understanding and Healing Abuse in Buddhist Communities

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?

Since the July 14 letter was published, over a year ago, we’ve spent many hours asking how this all happened. I’ve heard an extraordinary range of views. They include:

  • Sogyal Rinpoche created a cult to meet his own needs for financial gain and sensual pleasure.
  • SR is a narcissist, with a grandiose sense of his own abilities:  arrogant, self-centered, manipulative, and demanding.
  • SR is using methods that were accepted and appropriate in Tibet but are not appropriate in the West.
  • SR carries a weight of responsibility for many students and a world-wide organizational structure; this may have led to distortions and poor decisions.
  • SR’s appetites tempted him to risk all his wonderful work.
  • Teachers in Tibet could rely on community-based supports and social structures that are missing in the West.
  • The situation appears one way to people who believe in the effects of karma over lifetimes, and appears very differently to those who focus primarily on this current life.
  • Sogyal Rinpoche is a Khampa; he is stubborn; of course he ignores people who offer warnings or advice.
  • SR is stubbornly determined to carry out his teachers’ wishes as he understands them. That’s why we now have a traditional Tibetan temple at Lerab Ling, a worldwide network of Rigpa students, and a digital library of teachings from many masters.
  • Because of his unusual background SR is able to teach dharma in a way that reaches Western students on a deep level.
  • SR has introduced thousands of people to the nature of mind and his ability to do this shows his work has the blessing of the lineage.
  • SR and his teachings have benefitted thousands of students emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually.
  • SR uses unconventional methods to train certain students, as has happened with other Tibetan lamas and within other great world religions.
  • Buddhas and bodhisattvas are using this situation to clarify and purify dharma transmission as the dharma comes to the West.
  • Buddhas and bodhisattvas are blessing every person who connects to this situation.

There are many more views – I whittled this list down to a manageable size – but this gives us a sense of the wide range of perceptions.

I’ve been a student of Sogyal Rinpoche’s since 1987. I helped organize the 1992 book tour, and was one of the founders of the Washington DC Sangha. However, my personal experience with Sogyal Rinpoche is all “public,” as a member of an assembly. For me the July 14 letter came as a surprise, a shock. Now, as I talk with people who report different versions of reality, I don’t know what to think. When you turn a kaleidoscope, each motion creates a new picture. Each time I speak with a different person, I’m left with a different picture.

Consider the Swiss Cheese Model

We might learn something from high-risk industries. Airlines, nuclear power plants and similar complex organizations have spent quite a bit of time looking at accidents, how they happen and how to prevent them. Often they find a combination of relatively minor factors can lead to a major accident. Most often, it’s due to a combination of circumstances, not a single cause.

These industries sometimes think in terms of the “Swiss cheese model” of errors. The idea is that in any complex organization, many potential mistakes could happen, but there are also built-in safeguards. Someone makes an error, but usually the next person in the process catches the error.

Occasionally, a series of errors builds upon itself, one layer upon the next. Picture several slices of Swiss cheese, one on top of the other. Occasionally, several holes all just line up with each other. That’s what it’s like when several small issues combine to produce a major accident.

For example, in the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident, feedwater pumps stopped sending water to steam generators that take heat away from the reactor core. A pilot-operated relief valve opened and then became stuck, still open. Meanwhile, instruments in the control room said the valve was closed. Unable to tell whether the core was covered with cooling water, the staff mistakenly cut back on the flow of water into the reactor core. The core overheated and there was a partial meltdown and release of radiation. Several relatively minor issues all “lined up” to create a major problem.

I find the “Swiss cheese model” helpful when thinking about the varying experiences people have had within the Rigpa organization. In her October 2017 How Did It Happen essay, “Why Buddhist Communities Need to Understand Trauma,” Sandra Pawula describes various factors that make someone more vulnerable to trauma or stress. For example, there may be a history of childhood abuse, or stressful family dynamics or recent major trauma, and that leads to reduced ability to cope with new stress.

In addition to trauma, we could also think about personal traits that make someone especially vulnerable or resilient in a stressful situation. Some people have a strong sense of their own limits, and effortlessly decide on an appropriate course of action. Others are particularly sensitive to persuasion, and may take actions they later regret. Some Rigpa students benefit from nonjudgmental support from other students; others are isolated, without a supportive face-to-face network.

When I ask myself how it can be that some people have experienced harm from their interactions with Sogyal Rinpoche and Rigpa, while many others have experienced long-lasting benefit, one useful tool is to think about four or five different circumstances that combined to produce harm. Each person’s story is unique. Hopefully our future organizational culture will be more aware of potential vulnerabilities, and take appropriate additional steps to support students.

How Did It Happen? – The Patient Almost Died

I earn my living as a freelance writer, specializing in healthcare. Because of this, I’m familiar with recent work at many hospitals to improve communications and reduce preventable accidents. Let me tell you about a teenage boy who almost died, due to a series of errors.

Pablo Garcia has a rare genetic disease which leads to frequent infections. In 2013 he was admitted to the Children’s Hospital at UCSF Medical Center for a routine procedure, and given standard medications. A few hours later he began feeling numb and confused – then he had a grand mal seizure and stopped breathing. Fortunately the Code Blue team arrived in time to get him breathing again.

One of the medications Garcia took that evening was Septra, a common antibiotic. He was supposed to take one pill; instead he took 38 ½ of them – the largest dose ever recorded. In the end, he spent several days in intensive care, but experienced no lasting harm.

UCSF is often listed as one of the top hospitals in the United States. They recently installed a computerized system designed to prevent common medication errors. How could this sophisticated system dispense a 39-times overdose?

It turns out the overdose was due to a series of small errors. The physician who ordered the antibiotic thought she was ordering one pill, but due to a confusing computer screen ordered a much larger dose. She got an alert questioning the order – but physicians get dozens of alerts every day, and there wasn’t any special graphic to emphasize the seriousness of the problem. The bedside nurse hesitated before giving the medication, but in the end went ahead, feeling confident in the computer-coded process.

The bedside nurse did consider double-checking first with another nurse on the floor, but in the end she didn’t. Robert Wachter, MD, who interviewed all the participants, suggests this story points to “a failure of organizational culture.” In organizations that put safety first, he says, every person involved is empowered and encouraged to halt the process whenever they feel that something is not quite right.

For me, one of the remarkable things about this story is that all the people involved – the physician, the pharmacist, the bedside nurse – were willing to talk frankly about how the error happened, to look at all the contributing factors. Even more remarkably, the hospital Director of Risk Management and its CEO agreed to share the story with the general public. Wachter writes about the overdose, and what the hospital learned from this experience, in his book, “The Digital Doctor.” You can find the overdose section posted online at

I’ve been a Rigpa student for more than 30 years. I know people who are totally devoted to Sogyal Rinpoche; I know people who’ve left Rigpa and are seeking other teachers. We are all coping with this situation. Even though we now have so many different viewpoints, I feel we are still parts of one whole.

I wish we could sit down together and explore how this situation came about: all the possible factors, all the possible explanations. That doesn’t seem likely right now, but perhaps circumstances will shift over time. The people at this hospital set us a good example! Perhaps in the future we may be able to listen to each other, look at all the different circumstances and decisions that led to these problems, and find better ways to prevent them in the future.

A Personal View

During the past couple of weeks I’ve watched several short videos of Sogyal Rinpoche teaching. He has such enthusiasm for the dharma, such devotion to his teachers, such concern that his students get the point! Watching these videos, I can’t believe that Sogyal Rinpoche has ever intended harm for his students, not even for a quarter of a second.

For me, Sogyal Rinpoche is a great master. Mostly, my view is based on my own experience, and the way I’ve changed as his student. I used to be very emotional, worried, exaggerating potential problems. Now, my mind has changed. Often there’s a quality of calm clarity within my mind alongside everyday thoughts.

Based on the usual measures such as sitting posture and accomplishing mantras I’m not a particularly good practitioner. Still, I’ve been listening with an open heart and trying to practice dharma for a long time, and something has rubbed off on me. The habitual chatter within my mind has shifted to a different key.

At the same time, over the past year I’ve heard enough to be convinced that unintended harm has happened to some Rigpa students. I sit here with two incompatible facts in my mind; I can’t bring them together into a single reality. “Sogyal Rinpoche is a great master.” “Some Rigpa students have been harmed.”

I experience devotion for lineage masters such as Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Jigme Lingpa and Sogyal Rinpoche. Now my devotion is tinged with doubt, like a teaspoon of red wine mixed into a glass of water. The flavor of this doubt is exactly, “how could this have happened? Rinpoche is a great master and has the best intentions – how could this have happened?”

Sogyal Rinpoche is my tsawe lama. Am I supposed to suppress those thoughts? Or paste a big poster over them, saying “see your teacher as the Buddha”? I don’t think so. Longchenpa says, “Do not alter, do not alter, do not alter this mind of yours.” That’s what I’ll try to do. I’ll live with confusion until it transforms into whatever comes next.

I pray that those who’ve been harmed will heal completely, and continue to find ways to benefit beings, through the dharma or through another path. I hope I will find ways to contribute to their healing.

Each time the dharma comes to a new country, it adapts to a new culture. We are living through that process now. It will take time. It will take clear thinking from all viewpoints, working together and listening to each other. For me, the dharma is a treasure that will benefit people in any culture. I trust that going forward we will clarify what should be adopted and what should be abandoned, as the dharma comes to the West.

Written by Elaine Zabocki


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  1. Thank you for your contribution to the discussion, Elaine. It takes courage to share our viewpoint, when the atmosphere can sometimes be volatile. One of our purposes in starting this blog was to encourage discussion. So I admire that you’ve stepped forward.

  2. Terry

    I know from my own experience and from so much that I read about this kind of situation that it is quite possible for the teacher/priest/movie director/incestuous parent, etc., to do many good things and be much beloved, and still have a secret life that a few will be exposed to and suffer from. It happens all of the time.

  3. Sel

    Thanks for opening up room for discussion Sandra, and thanks for the courage Elaine to start… I’m one of the people who have left, after 25 years in Rigpa. And as hard as I find it to believe that there was abuse, as I’ve mainly seen SR’s kind and wise side, for me there is no denying it anymore. I’ve heard too much. And unfortunately, I can’t blame it on a combination of mistakes, as in the hospital story. For example, how SR treated (at least some of) his women/girlfriends, there is just no excuse for it. There is just no way how I can turn this around so that it wasn’t him just satisfying his needs/desires without regard for the other person. It is a paradox, as I also cannot deny his wisdom and his love for and deep appreciation of the teachings. But there you have it: apparently both sides can co-exist in one person.

    • Dear Sel,

      It’s can be difficult to come to the conclusion that there was abuse if you have only seen SR’s wise side and haven’t witnessed the abuse. I appreciate the courage it’s taken for you to accept the reality of what has occurred in Rigpa. SR has been warned many times over the years about the harmful effects of his behavior, but he continued never the less. Therefore, it must be intentional although he may be living in a delusion that he’s benefiting people. Yes, both sides can and do exist in one person.

      • Steve Jacobs

        Sandra, you are hitting on the most important point in all of this, I think, when you say “it must be intentional although he may be living in a delusion that he’s benefiting people.”

        I believe that SR could not conquer his gluttonous clinging to wealth, power and sexual gratification, and thus his intention was not specifically to harm anyone—his intention was to satisfy his cravings and the consequences be damned. He was (is?) convinced of his own greatness, and is thus convinced on a subtle level that his actions automatically create benefit. Regardless of the immediate appearance of harm, he is convinced, either consciously or subconsciously, that anyone coming into contact with his greatness will benefit, despite how it may appear to them or others observing that he is causing harm. From my perspective, this it the *most* harmful aspect of what has transpired, and why Rigpa and SR will never regain the reputation that they once enjoyed absent a full admission of guilt without equivocation.

        As I search my own mind and heart, teasing out insights as to what was going on inside me, I continue to be amazed at just how much I was suppressing what was ultimately going to be proven out as warranted skepticism as to SR’s actual “greatness.” I was sickened by his behavior toward students from the beginning, but was indoctrinated into the “they asked to be trained,” “crazy wisdom,” and “training them” talking points and *forced* myself to believe them and even transmit them to others as an instructor. I was part of the cover up, all the while harboring disgust and never *truly* believing that SR was “great.”

        There were many sweet moments of inspiration and true learning that I experienced both from his words and from works of true greatness that he pointed me to, so I’m not trying to say that the sweets he fed me were of no benefit. I just question whether his success in handing out sweets was enough to constitute greatness. I now see and believe that they were prepared in a tainted kitchen and handed to me by greasy fingers, but there is still sweetness there. It’s a balance I’m finally starting to make peace with, but the kitchen and the dirty hands need to be fully cleansed to make it really safe for consumption.

        As for his so-called ability to evoke brief experiences of the nature of mind in people, including myself, I would encourage people to examine just how much of that “introduction” was accomplished by him, and how much of it was accomplished by what they brought with them to the party. When we open our hearts enough to become unconditionally receptive to the truth of the ultimate lama that is none other than our own true nature (the ultimate point of guru yoga), then nature of mind experiences can arise of their own accord. The opening itself evokes the experience, if we can release our grasping long enough to see it. Very little is needed as a catalyst when we bring that kind of receptiveness to the table. When we enter a retreat with our minds positioned in that way, SR could walk into the room and let out a giant fart and people would coo over what an inspiring introduction it was in their sickening “feedback.” I believe he understood this dynamic and took full advantage of it to position himself in a very high seat. He used to say, many years ago when I first started attending retreats, “I am neither learned nor realized” but he was very able to repeat the words of his masters. He stopped saying that as time went by and he began to believe all the cooing feedback about how great he was, morphing into a more and more corrupt entity at the center of a corrupt cover up.

        Does he know dharma? Of course he does. Is he great? Of that I am less convinced. Did he intend to harm anyone? No, I don’t think he did, but he did intend to take advantage of their weakness and devotion to him, without regard for how it was actually affecting them, to build a tainted empire, and that, perhaps is even more damaging than anything else. And it also, perhaps, answers the question of whether or not he has any claim to greatness.

        As Mingyur Rinpoche pointed out in his response to this situation:

        “Actions that are rooted in compassion and wisdom—even when they appear odd, eccentric, or even wrathful—do not instill fear or anxiety. They bring about a flowering of compassion and wisdom in the student. In other words, the results of genuine “crazy wisdom” are always positive and visible. When a teacher uses an extreme approach that is rooted in compassion, the result is spiritual growth, not trauma. Trauma is a sure sign that the “crazy wisdom” behaviour was missing the wisdom to see what would truly benefit the student, the compassion that puts the student’s interest first, or both.”

        • Elaine Z

          Steve, it’s so good to hear from you.

          You say “I continue to be amazed at just how much I was suppressing….[my] warranted skepticism.”

          I see many people read the July 14 letter and it instantly confirmed things they were already feeling. I strongly support anyone who had that reaction and gave themselves permission to leave Rigpa.

          I had a different reaction. You say, “I would encourage people to examine just how much of that “introduction” was accomplished by him.” A few minutes ago I posted a description of how I became SR’s student, and of my general method of practice. You’ll see that my own experience was and is that SR introduced me to a level of human experience that previously I wasn’t aware of, and I am very grateful to him.

          Over the first couple of years after I became a Rigpa student, I noticed some of the things that other people find disturbing. I noticed one time he was scolding someone and the tears streamed down her face. I went up to her afterwards and asked her was she okay, and she said with a big smile, “oh yes Rinpoche, and I understand each other perfectly.” The July 14 letter objects to SR’s extravagance. I recall vividly one time at Clear Lake when SR had admired an expensive rug, and his assistants bought it for him. He said very forcefully that we need to remember that we are using donors’ money and spend it carefully and well. He didn’t want people buying expensive things as a sign of devotion.

          So after several experiences like that, I just took for granted that when Rinpoche was working with someone, it was something they had asked for and found beneficial. Now I need to ask myself what was I missing? How have things changed since those early years? I know there are many people who have experienced remarkable healing interactions with SR, but obviously there are also people who found themselves in a situation they didn’t like and didn’t know how to leave. I criticize myself for not being aware of this – and I certainly expect to be an ally to such people in the future.

          Your comment about “cooing feedback” refers to something I’ve noticed over many years.
          I don’t know who first created the pattern of sending SR glowing positive feedback, and not sending him feedback from people who had serious questions and concerns. My hunch is that some of the people closest to him wanted to give him extremely positive feedback, to encourage him to give further teachings. In my opinion it would have been healthier to bring him concerns from people who were having difficulties or had criticism – and to have SR be aware and deal with those concerns.

          • Steve Jacobs


            I do hope you are well these days. Sorry for delay responding. The email notification from this group was lost in the shuffle.

            In all honesty, your original post here, and this response, seem to belie a lack of complete information. I have seen you post elsewhere, and in those forums reside a wealth of first-hand, first person information that may help fill out the picture for you. It may answer your question of “…I need to ask myself what was I missing?” Answer: “A lot.”

            You and I come from similar places in that neither of us were close enough to SR to witness personally any of the violence, debauchery, and depravity that others clearly experienced. Not hearsay, not rumor, not “allegations,” but first person testimony of experiences similar to and much more graphic than those reported in the letter of July 14. The difference between us now is that I consciously sought out the truth, starting the moment I heard (before the letter came out) that a nun had been punched in the presence of an assembly of 1,000 people. A fuller, more accurate picture of the qualifications of SR the “teacher,” the reality of SR the man, and Rigpa the organization at large then came into very sharp focus. This was not happenstance and misunderstanding on the part of a few unfortunate, weak souls. It was not the holes in Swiss cheese randomly lining up to create a life-threatening situation purely by chance. It was a pattern of intentional exploitation by the man, and carefully orchestrated obfuscation of his abuse by an organization numb to the implications of his behavior.

            You’ve said of people who “found themselves in a situation that they didn’t like” that: “I criticize myself for not being aware of this – and I certainly expect to be an ally to such people in the future.” I applaud your sensitivity to this, but really, how can you possibly be an ally from a position of downplaying their experiences and equivocating about the source of their suffering? This is an honest question–not an attempt to berate you. These people didn’t just “find themselves in a situation they didn’t like,” they were horribly abused–mentally, physically, and sexually–and gaslighted to the point of such complete cognitive dissonance that the only way that they could survive it was to denigrate their own ability to understand, sinking further into an abyss of self-deception. If you don’t have full information (the truth) about what was really happening in private versus the persona that was being cultivated publicly, I don’t see how you can be an ally to someone in that position.

            Perhaps if you seek out full information, as many have (and the opening continues, as more people that have feared revealing themselves tell their stories), you may begin to see why I added the quote from Mingyur Rinpoche at the close of my previous comment. It is critical to acknowledge what real crazy wisdom behavior is and what it is not, because so much of SR’s behavior has been rationalized and glossed over using the (in my view, false) cover of that label. The idea of SR as a crazy wisdom master is laughable to me, especially when his behavior is scrutinized under the criteria that Mingyur Rinpoche (and for that matter, HHDL) describes. One cannot simultaneously be an ally to victims and a believer in SR as a crazy wisdom master. I know which side I come down on, but getting but getting the full story was necessary for me to arrive there. The information is there, you just have to be interested enough in the facts to go and find it.

            • Elaine Zablocki

              Dear Steve,

              Now I owe you an apology for my delay in responding. I was traveling, and since I returned home I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about your post and similar comments.

              You say “how could you possibly be an ally from a position of downplaying their experiences and equivocating about the source of their suffering. This is an honest question – not an attempt to berate you.”

              I take it as an honest question, and I hope my relationship with you and with Nancy, our lives intertwined over so many years, is strong enough for me to give you an honest answer and hope we will continue to stay in touch with each other, even if right now we have different views.

              Yes, I need to learn more about the stories of abuse and harm – I need to search more thoroughly for information. I need to learn more about how people are traumatized and the processes by which they can heal from trauma. I need to listen with an open heart, with full attention, to people whose experience has been different from my own.

              At the same time I need to respect my own experience. I became Sogyal Rinpoche’s student after the first East Coast retreat in 1987. During his teachings I went, “this guy knows something I don’t know, and I want to study with him.” During more than 30 years, until the July 14 letter, I experienced an hour or two of doubt, on one or two occasions. (Now, of course, I experience a slight flavor of doubt all the time!) For me Sogyal Rinpoche has been a wonderful teacher.

              Does that mean I should ignore people who’ve been harmed? Of course not. I am groping to find a way that acknowledges my relationship to SR, and also acknowledges that people have been harmed, that SR has made mistakes, that we, Rigpa students, need to create new patterns going forward.

              Quite often, people say things like “I understand, it’s hard to leave the organization because all your friends are there.” “We were all conditioned to see him as a great master.” Tahlia refers to “the psychological manipulation we were all subjected to.” Nancy describes “unacknowledged fear that has been conditioned into us regarding taking on leave of the lama.”

              In my particular situation, those things don’t apply. I became Sogyal Rinpoche’s student on the basis of my own experience, not because anyone talked me into it. I have quite a few friends in varying social networks. I’m willing to do things that may or may not fit the standard descriptions of approved behavior – I’m praying that discerning wisdom may manifest within my mind and heart. I’m praying, “these things I’m doing now – if there is any positive karma, may it benefit all sentient beings. If there is any negative karma, may it all come to me.” Praying in this way, I don’t have any fear about “taking leave of the lama” if in fact that’s the right thing to do.

              But, the two best things in my life are becoming Sogyal Rinpoche’s student, and the birth of my son. I feel the same kind of loyalty in both situations.

              You perceive “a pattern of intentional exploitation by the man, and carefully orchestrated obfuscation of his abuse by an organization numb to the implications of his behavior.” I don’t perceive that.

              Some people believe that SR is a manipulator, a narcissist, an evil person and always has been. Is that a fair description? Those people at least have a consistent view – that SR is evil, Rigpa is evil, and the only thing a decent person can do is shake the dust of evilness off their feet.

              What’s confusing to me is that some of the people who’ve left Rigpa also acknowledge the benefits of studying with Sogyal Rinpoche. It seems to me we need an explanation. If SR was so wonderful in 1987, how did he become so evil in 2017? Did he take on too many students, was he overstressed? I ask myself whether SR may be suffering from an illness, something Sandra Pawula suggests in one of her essays. I ask myself whether SR may be deliberately testing his students.

              In any case I have to acknowledge how much I owe him. I do not support abuse of Rigpa students in any way. But in my life, Sogyal Rinpoche has been a great master, someone who introduced me to the teachings and to many other teachers. I can’t unhappen my life.

              I think I can be an ally to those who have been harmed, and continue to be a student of Sogyal Rinpoche. I think it’s valuable to have someone like me within the Rigpa organization, advocating for better communications with those who have left, advocating for more honesty about the ways people have been harmed. I was at Lerab Ling in July, and my impression is that many people within Rigpa are thinking about these issues in a heartfelt way, even though they are not ready to make public statements.

              I have no idea how long I’ll continue to be a Rigpa student because it depends on many different factors. The future is unpredictable. If I discover that I can benefit sentient beings more by leaving Rigpa, I will do so. Right now I am Sogyal Rinpoche’s student, and I sincerely hope to be an ally to those who have been harmed.

          • Nancy Jacobs

            What he said. Steve, especially your comment of August 21st.
            Really, Steve, you expressed this so brilliantly, and I concur.
            There is much to say on this subject which I cannot go into now, or here. Perhaps I’ll find a way. But i just wanted to emphasize this truth that no matter your intention, you cannot be an ally to people unless you take the time to really listen. Especially to the ones who were closer and spent more time with the man behind the display. Don’t forget that these are people who invested so much more of their precious time, energy and complete unequivocal trust than you or I ever did. There are degrees, but remember those degrees.
            Sogyal often expressed that one should be careful about ‘getting too close to the fire’. This expression is often invoked by people who think of themselves as being just close enough to be warmed and not burned. It is valuable to question that ‘fire’ and what it is made of.. This is a complex question. We can say that fire’s purpose is to burn away our ego. But what does it really burn? And what does it consume to maintain itself? In early Buddhism it is said that to attain enlightenment is like extinguishing a flame. Could that flame itself be this ego, this dak dzin, self-grasping? Because we are also taught that it is that self-grasping that harms. Its intention is irrelevant. Fire simply burns. Interesting the two fire analogies, the first from the original Buddhist canon. The second, from….where? Better to throw the cooling waters of empathy, insight, kindness and compassion on them and put them out.
            “My religion is kindness” says HHDL.
            But we have been taught also that the ‘kindness of the lama’ can be anything he does to us. When we absorb that without thinking we can lose the sense of what harms us, and believe, as some do, as I have tried to convince myself and partially (externally) succeeded, that the burning is for my own good. That ‘we understand each other’.
            But the damage is still done. In the name of spirituality. Is that good? Is that right? Do these words still have meaning when we have been taught to accept anything? And when we are on the periphery, and it happens to others and not us….?
            A wise mutual friend once asked a few of us, after ‘Mimi’’s story became public (and I was first hearing small bits of it), “how far would he have to go, for you to still follow him”. A wise question. The answer i suppose is different for each of us. But wise also to step out of our own little worlds into the wider world, and consider what contribution it makes to society at large to think in ways that shift our ethical compass.
            An important point to be made which is often missed until you do it, is that you cannot divest yourself from conditioned ways of thinking unless you take a break from those sources of conditioning. And it is difficult, because it has been happening slowly over many years, decades for some of us. We barely saw it. We in fact encouraged it in ourselves. Try holding those two truths.
            We have invested a lifetime of spiritual searching into this specific path, represented by one man. Regardless of the teachers he brought to Lerab Ling, or what else we read, that is still the truth of it for so many of us. And he forced that issue. Elaine, you know that. But there is much else you do not know.
            Either you choose to remain in your own perspective — which may seem safer, i get that, there is just so much investment, and an unacknowledged fear that has also been conditioned into us regarding taking our leave of the lama, the organization, the whole package — or you dig in and take the time to see from the other views in your ‘kaleidoscope’.
            I have seen from your view, as you express it. I lived it. But I also lived other things you did not see. And it’s on me that I did not express it, or even understand my own responses. My own cooperation with the conditioning. My own rearranging of my perceptions to fit the mould I was given as truth. My own tamping down of my inner voice, to the point where it was screaming to be heard. In ignoring it, something numbed in me. I do not know if I will ever get that back.
            The sincere seeking voice which led me on my spiritual search from the age of eight — i Am attempting to return to that, but it is a slow process which can be excruciatingly painful because it involves uncovering so much. But this voice, this struggle, led me to a hard-won experience of introduction to that place beyond thought, which is the very essence of mind, which resonated love. Two weeks before I met Sogyal. I was ripe, and I handed that new-born baby to him. I was trusting, because I could not think otherwise. This is why I referred you to the Ken Wilber video. Please watch it.
            This is where I will stop for now. It’s been a difficult day in a difficult process of memory, acknowledgement, and extreme humbling. I can say more to you directly, perhaps, if you will hear me, but I have to say that it would be very difficult if you don’t.

  4. Erika

    Well written, Elaine.A great Teacher does not necessarily have to be perfect as long as he has no intention to harm.But students have been harmed and there is a need to recognise this and deal with it.Transparency and honesty are required.Denying all accusations and commuting the ‘whistleblowers’ to vajra hell does not help.The view of ‘us’ and ‘them’ does not help.Gratefulness for Teachings received, forgiveness for each other and compassion come to mind when I think of rigpa sangha.” If you see your Teacher as the Buddha, you will receive the blessings of the Buddha”, no matter what…

    • Erika,

      The lack of transparency and honesty in Rigpa is a big problem. Although there are attempts to communicate more often with the sangha, I’m don’t feel that the issues of transparency and honesty have been fully addressed. The denials just feed the delusion that there’s nothing wrong. I do hope that something clear comes out of the investigation and the Olive Branch report in the US, so there can be greater transparency and honesty about what has occurred in Rigpa.

    • Elaine Z

      Erika wrote:
      Students have been harmed and there is a need to recognize this and deal with it. Transparency and honesty are required. Denying all accusations and commuting the ‘whistleblowers’ to vajra hell does not help.

      I completely agree.

      Two lamas have been quoted online with negative comments about the whistleblowers as “samaya breakers.” In my conversations with other people who are within Rigpa, no one has expressed that view to me. There are probably some who have that opinion, but I haven’t met them.

      Personally I’m interested in communicating with people who are within Rigpa, and equally with those who have left, so that should make it clear where I stand personally.

      • Elaine,

        Thanks for saying this. I think it’s so important to remember that many people in Rigpa do not hold these kinds of extreme views. Although it can be heart-wrenching to hear these statements from the ones that do, many others are struggling in a state of conflict and confusion and not wanting to judge those who have made complaints or left.

        • Elaine Z

          I visited Lerab Ling in July 2018, for Khandro Rinpoche’s teachings, and the ngondro retreat. (I did the segment on Vajrasattva practice.)

          The atmosphere was very different from the 2017 Dzogchen retreat,which I also attended. At that retreat the July 14 letter had just been released, and everyone was trying to cope/absorb/respond to the information. The schedule included time for “open-space groups” which offered room for all viewpoints, and everything said was held in strict confidence. Many people participated in those groups.

          In 2018 the atmosphere was much more focused on the teachings. The Ngondro retreat sessions focused on learning the practice in detail, and there weren’t any open-space groups.

          At the same time, I had several conversations where just in passing people said things that let me know that they were mulling over what has happened. Coming to terms with it.

          These people are not ready to make public statements, but like me, their understanding now is different from a year ago.

          These days the Rigpa organization encourages and supports people with a wide variety of viewpoints, which is a big change from two years ago.

  5. Elaine,

    I appreciate what you’re saying in essence: we need to be open to hearing each others’ views to create more understanding and to find ways to move forward.

    At the same time, this seems to imply that all views are valid. Is that the case? Where do you draw the line between a helpful view and a harmful view?

    Let’s take Jonestown as an example. I’m not saying that Rigpa is like Jonestown, although I do think Rigpa has some of the characteristics of a high-demand group. But I’m using Jones town here primarily as way to express a point. People in Jonestown must have deeply believed in their leader and all that he told to be able to take the step and drink the “kool aid,” which was laced with cyanide and prescription drugs. More than 900 people died in that group, most from this form of suicide. Was their belief valid?

    I’m also wondering how you know that the harm created by SR’s behaviors were “unintentional.” He has been warmed many times of the harmful effects of his behavior, even before the lawsuit. The lawsuit could have been avoided altogether if he had taken these warnings to heart. If he believes that his behavior is “beneficial” does that make the harm unintentional or does it make him delusional because there is so much clear evidence to the contrary?

    On another note, I appreciate how you’ve gained so much from your time in Rigpa. From what you say here, you seem to see SR as the reason for your changes. And there’s no doubt that he taught the teachings in a way that you could hear and assimilate them.

    But what about all that YOU did to change? What about all the other factors that might have come into play to support your change? You might find it interesting to read this article from Matthew Remski called “Maybe It Wasn’t the Shambhala Teachings That Change Your Life: A Note on False Attribution.”
    Just switch “Shambhala” for “Rigpa.”

    Thanks again for contributing to the discussion. I appreciate your openness and how you continue to grapple with and try to best understand the situation at hand.

    • Elaine Z

      Dear Sandra,

      You raise two different points, and I’m going to respond to them separately.

      No, I certainly don’t think that all views are valid.

      One thing to consider is that every one of us notices evidence that supports our own view while we tend to discount or ignore evidence that doesn’t. Have you read Michael Lewis, “The Undoing Project?” It’s about two scientists who discovered the tricks our minds play on us. It would be so great if kids could start learning about this in the fifth grade!

      Sorry, I digress.

      I suspect we could find well-intentioned intelligent people throughout the spectrum of views I listed, and also find ignorant sloppy people throughout the whole spectrum. While I don’t know much about the Jonestown story, I think they made a real mistake in choosing to follow Jim Jones.

      Sandra wrote:
      “I’m also wondering how you know that the harm created by SR’s behaviors were unintentional.”

      I definitely don’t know. I find the whole situation confusing, bewildering, like a jigsaw puzzle I can’t solve, or like one of those images that looks like a vase one moment and two people the next moment.

      I wrote “watching these videos, I can’t believe that Sogyal Rinpoche has ever intended harm for his students, not even for a quarter of a second,” – that’s a statement about my emotional reaction watching SR teaching when he is inspired.

      As you ask your question, you give me two options: either Sogyal Rinpoche intended to harm his students, or he else was delusional because he mistakenly believed that his harmful actions would benefit them. The problem for me is that I see several other options, which I think I included in my list of viewpoints. Was SR overstressed because he took on too many students? Did he lack supports that would have been present in traditional Tibetan society? I could list more.

      I didn’t list the possibility that SR may have suffered physical damage after a coma – when was it, 2005 — but I know you wrote about this at one point in an essay on HDIH.

      From the point of view of people who have been harmed, Sogyal Rinpoche’s intentions don’t matter. People need to be protected from harm in the future. The Rigpa organization needs to be much clearer about potential sources of harm and build-in safeguards. I’d like to see Rigpa be much more active in reaching out towards those who have been harmed and finding ways to support their healing.

      But for myself, I’m dealing with additional questions. Should I continue with the dharma practices I’ve been doing for 30 years, or should I change, and if so change to what? Should I continue as a member of Rigpa, or should I seek out some other dharma organization? For me personally to answer those questions, SR’s intentions do matter.

      • Dear Elaine,

        Yes, that’s a good point, we tend to see what will support our view. No doubt about that. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that one view might be more valid or accurate than another. I don’t think we’ll ever come to agreement about one view of this situation, regardless of what the investigation says. There will always be people who see CTR as enlightened no matter what. So I think that will be the case in Rigpa as well, there will always be a kaleidoscope of viewpoints.

        You said: “As you ask your question, you give me two options: either Sogyal Rinpoche intended to harm his students, or he else was delusional because he mistakenly believed that his harmful actions would benefit them.”

        You’re right, many different factors may be in play. All the things you’ve listed in this response could be contributing conditions. I personally believe that SR believes he’s benefitting people, as is stated again and again in the formal Rigpa statements. That’s why I draw the conclusion that there must be some level of delusion involved because all evidence, as far as I can see, points to the contrary. Of course, I’ve heard more accounts than the average person and have seen some of SR’s behaviors for myself.

        “Should I continue with the dharma practices I’ve been doing for 30 years, or should I change, and if so change to what? Should I continue as a member of Rigpa, or should I seek out some other dharma organization? For me personally to answer those questions, SR’s intentions do matter.”

        My heart is with you on this, Elaine. I feel in a similar place. Everything I’ve relied on spiritually has fallen apart. What do I do next? Can I trust any spiritual teacher? Should I listen to my heart instead? I still feel very aligned with many of the teachings in Buddhism and so some of the practices, but I’m not able to do them all, and I’m not sure I’m ready to follow another teacher and don’t know if I ever will be. I wish you the best finding your way. I certainly don’t know how you can find a genuine answer to the question of SR’s intention. He and Rigpa will always say it was honorable. So I suppose you will have to decide for yourself whether to believe that or not.

    • Elaine Z

      I find this article by Remski very difficult to understand. Usually when you come across an unfamiliar term, you can guess part of the meaning from the context. When he talks about “essentialism” I don’t have a clue. These comments are part of a conversation that is totally unfamiliar to me. I did look up the term “high-demand organization” so that gives me one pointer to what he’s talking about.

      The main point I “get” after reading this is that there are social benefits from joining an organization like Shambala (which he’s writing about) and Rigpa. I’ve been aware of this since the days when I called a group of 20 people once a month to invite the then each to practice – and that was the start of the Washington DC Sangha.

      Our society is very atomized, and one reason people join groups like Rigpa (or any religious group, really) is to be part of the community, to make friends, to accept an offer social support.
      Looking at Rigpa in general, I would say that sometimes this works out and sometimes it doesn’t … for all the reasons that sometimes you make long-lasting friendships and sometimes things don’t work out.

      For myself, looking back at the 1990s when I lived on the East Coast, Rigpa was a source of really important friendships for me that I still treasure. After I moved to the West Coast, not so much.

      In any case, I’m currently experiencing how impermanent these social relationships are. One good friend has left the local Sangha and is studying with Mingyur Rinpoche – we still meet for coffee. I am trying to maintain contact with some of the older people in Rigpa USA who aren’t able to attend retreat anymore due to age and health issues. They deserve lots of support from younger Rigpa members which under the current circumstances may not happen.

      I was able to go to Lerab Ling last summer and this summer, but I’m 76 and at some point
      traveling over the ocean will no longer be possible. For me, at this time the most important way the Rigpa organization impacts my life is the flow of online teachings, online gatherings for study and practice, which are important to me. Partly because the practices are familiar!!
      I recognize that other Buddhist groups where I live follow practices that in essence are the same – right now I expect to continue being part of the Rigpa organization.

    • Elaine Z

      Sandra writes, “from what you say here you seem to see SR as the reason for your changes…. But what about all that YOU did to change? What about all the other factors that might have come into play to support your change?”

      I do see SR as the initial spark for very important changes in my life. I’m going to take a little space to write about this, even though I’m shy about being public about something so personal – but I think I’m not the only Rigpa student who looks at SR in this way.

      When you say “all the other factors that might have come into play to support your change” I’m not sure what you have in mind. In one of Bernie’s HDIH essays he describes various tools he’s used to work on trauma from his past. I respect that this works for some people – but I haven’t done that sort of thing. The last time I had any sort of psychological counseling was probably 1981.

      In 1987 I attended the first East Coast retreat, and that’s when I became Sogyal Rinpoche’s student. Before I went, David Sternbach, who was hosting SR and organizing events, said “these Tibetan teachers don’t only teach with words. Sometimes they convey an atmosphere.” This was news to me. I had been thoroughly trained to focus on, absorb and reproduce patterns of words – after all, it’s how I earn my living.

      At this retreat something happened that’s difficult to describe in words. I was introduced to a different aspect of the mind, a way of being I previously wasn’t aware of. It wasn’t communicated in words. It was a personal connection. By the end of the weekend, I was real clear that “this guy knows something I don’t know, and I’m going to study with him.” I reorganized my life so I could attend a 10-day West Coast retreat a couple of months later.

      Much much later, maybe six months later, it dawned on me that I had become a Buddhist.

      In the summer of 1990 I attended teachings at Prapoutel. In spring, 1990, I had an opportunity to live in Boudnath for four weeks. Together with other Rigpa students, we received lunchtime teachings from HHDK every day for – perhaps it was 10 days? – with translation later from Matthieu Ricard. There’s a place in Boudnath where Jigme Lingpa began to receive the teachings later embodied in the Longchen Nyingtik Ngondro. Each time I walked past that place I prayed silently, may I be of use to the lineage!

      At this time Rigpa practice was quite informal. We did guru yoga, but it was a very short guru yoga. Since 1990 I’ve been doing an essential version of guru yoga in which I invoke SR, HHDK, and the Nyingma lineage. I know some of the people reading this think that devotion is a big mistake – something imposed on Rigpa students. For me, devotion flows naturally from my heart. Devotion for me is a connection with, and gratitude for, wisdom and compassion.

      Here’s the way I look at it. At the sambhogakaya level of reality, there are Buddhas and bodhisattvas who want to bless our minds. It’s their nature to do so. They do it the way water flows downhill. So I invite them to bless my mind. My favorite prayer is “please bless my mind when I’m not looking. May wisdom and compassion drip into my mind – may I be blessed with the wisdom to do useful things for sentient beings, a fair chunk of the time.”

      For this to work, you need to be the sort of person who wants to benefit sentient beings, who wants to become enlightened in order to benefit sentient beings. I assume that most, maybe all of the people reading this already feel that way? So you just say to the Buddhas, “okay you guys, I’m on the team. Send me some help and I will act upon it the best I can. Not perfectly, obviously, but I’ll do my best.” And you do this in a sort of casual way – not make a big deal out of it, but you train your mind so that over time this becomes part of your everyday mental chatter.

      My experience is that if you pray like this for 30 years you look back and say well well well, my mind is not quite the same as it used to be 30 years ago.

      Now if you asked me about my practice this week, I would probably put myself down – I didn’t spend enough time, I didn’t focus well, I got tugged into other projects. But over time, this stuff really works. It’s like gardening: time is your partner. You plant seeds and have confidence that they will come up – you don’t dig them up every day to see whether they are sprouting.

      Anyway that’s my version of reality. I often use the prayer “Buddhas and bodhisattvas help me now” because that has become my familiar shorthand for this whole view of how things happen. The words are not the point. The openness is the point. Allowing that level of reality to visit your mind. When I hear a Christian talking about how they are opening their heart, allowing love to flow into their heart – my perception is that they’re working on something very similar to what I’m doing. The words of the Creed are not the point. Opening our hearts and requesting blessings – that works for me.

      So when you asked me what did I do, that language is a bit unfamiliar for me. My version of reality, is I just got myself out of the way. I just signed on to the team and said okay you guys, certainly I want to help sentient beings, please send me a bit of help from my friends. My experience is, this works.

  6. hi Elaine — You write: “I sit here with two incompatible facts in my mind; I can’t bring them together into a single reality. ‘Sogyal Rinpoche is a great master.’ ‘Some Rigpa students have been harmed.’ I’m struck by the contrast between the active voice in the first sentence and the passive voice in the second. I think the two “incompatible facts” would be stated more accurately if you said: Sogyal Rinpoche is a great master. Sogyal Rinpoche harmed some of his students.,

    • Thank you for raising this point, Murray.

    • Sel

      Good point! More people do this, I felt something was weird in how they phrased it but couldn’t put my finger on it… Even Dzongsar K.R. put it like that I think: ‘People have been hurt’. It’s subtle but it says a lot.
      Ps. the other way of making it right would be to put it both in the passive form: “There have been great teachings. Some Rigpa students have been harmed” 😉

    • Elaine Z

      That’s a fair question, and a difficult one for me to answer. I’ve taken quite a long time to think about it. If I say “Sogyal Rinpoche harmed some of his students” to my ears that’s saying “he did it on purpose.” “He wanted to harm them.” “He wanted to meet his own needs and didn’t care how it affected his students.”

      I don’t believe those things. I say “something has gone wrong here, we need to look at it more closely, we need to take steps so this doesn’t happen again, we need to understand what happened.” At this point I don’t feel that I understand what happened. I’m looking at bits of information that contradict each other.

      One thing I can say to you, and to the other folks who share your opinion: a year ago, when we were looking at the July 14 letter, I was talking about “the allegations in the letter.”

      Now I’m saying “some people have been harmed and we need to look at this.” So even if your viewpoint is different from mine, I hope you approve of the fact that I’m engaged and trying to make sense of this…. and my views are changing over time.

  7. Sangye

    I find that post offensive to be included here. I thought I was reading Sandra and Get this cognitive dissonance belief versus evidence. It is so wordy in irrelevant examples. Sogyals sex abuse is not a series of mistakes. It is his extensive purposeful abuse and his teaching program is deceptive, suppressive and an offense to pure Dharma teachers. He publicly denigrated and subjegated people and privately took them for all he could get. I’m disgusted this is written here … apologists should address what people are really saying.

    • Dear Sangye,

      I’m sorry it wasn’t clear enough that this is a guest post. I’ve added Elaine as an author so her names appears above the photo now so hopefully it will be clear to others who read the post.

      I don’t agree with all the opinions or metaphors in this post. But, I think it can be helpful to air these views though so they can be discussed because many people in Rigpa have similar views.

  8. Moonfire

    We are all deluded, some of us are just more deluded than others. Sogyal has some excellent qualities and abilities, yes, but he is deluded if he thinks that his behaviour was beneficial – and I agree with you that he does genuinely think it was. That shows how caught in his delusion he is. And those who have been abused and see it as beneficial to them are caught in a mass delusion fostered by a belief system that gives power to someone in a position due to their birth, not their qualifications.

    At the very least as a teacher he failed to examine whether his methods were actually working. He failed to check if those he hit regularly and diminished with his thoughtless words were actually getting more enlightened. This is like a doctor ignoring the signs of overdose in a patient. Had he actually cared enough to look, he would have seen that some were crumbling under his onslaught, and not in a good way, while many others left. Not intending harm does not mean that one can’t actually cause harm, but his beliefs say otherwise. Were we not taught that it is the motivation that makes an action good or bad? But that isn’t actually true, is it? This situation is proof of that.

    Seeing his failures as a teacher and a human being does not negate the benefit he brought to people like you and me, but for his own sake he needs to actually take responsibility and come to see that despite his motivation he has caused harm to a significant number of people. His ‘apologies’ that I have heard or heard about have all been that he is sorry people have ‘felt’ harmed or sorry for the harm people have ‘felt’ he caused. No acceptance that he actually caused that harm. The harm may have been unintended (though it’s hard for me to fathom how regular hitting and punching can be seen as beneficial, but then I wasn’t abused as a child.)

    Those who handle the trauma of a terrorist attack, for example, better than others still experienced the same traumatic event. The terrorists are still to blame, despite all the causes and conditions that made them think it was a good idea to bomb innocent people, they did the dead. And despite all the factors that allowed Sogyal to behave the way he does, it is still him actually delivering the abuse. When you set yourself up as a God, the buck stops with you.

    I am not blaming him for the whole situation, and I see the complex causes and conditions that led to him being able to deliver such abuse, but in the end, he still actually delivered it.

    I’m not talking about blame here, but responsibility. Sogyal has not shown any ability to respond appropriately (response-ability) to the suffering he has caused, and his devotees are the same. And so behind the scenes he does not model the wisdom and compassion we were taught to expect from a master, instead he pretended it was crazy wisdom. A convenient excuse for not moderating his behaviour, and making no attempt to actually understanding the needs of the people he worked with or to evaluate the effectiveness of his actions.

    I’m afraid that we need to step totally outside the delusion before we can see it clearly. For so long as we are still held by the beliefs that supported the abuse, so long as we still take Rigpa representatives at face value and believe everything they say, we can never see clearly because our perception is distorted by those beliefs and by manipulative words.

    So yes, sit with the confusion, but don’t use that as an excuse for non action. In order to fully understand and assimilate this experience in a healthy way, we have to examine key religious beliefs in the light of the abuse and ask whether or not they are healthy for us to continue to hold onto. What we choose to believe is of vital importance, and choice is the important word here. Do we choose what we believe? Do we examine it before accepting it? Or are we brainwashed into accepting whatever we are told, like that beating is for our own good?

    I’m afraid I swallowed everything without examination because we weren’t supposed to criticize the lama, but even with understanding that instruction’s place in the concept of pure perception, in reality it is a damaging belief for anyone to hold because it limits one’s ability to discern harm, so much so that in Rigpa we saw harm as kindness. That is a major distortion of our perception in harmful way.

    That is the kind of mass delusion that is going on here, and it can be compared with the kind of mass delusion apparent in cults like Jonestown. For those caught in this delusion, if Sogyal commanded his most devoted students to kill themselves, i have no doubt that some would do it in the niave belief that whatever he instructs them to do is for their benefit. It’s all so very sad.

    • Moonfire, I so agree with everything you’ve said here. Thank you for caring so much that you took the time to elucidate all these points.

    • Elaine Z

      Dear Moonfire,

      You say many interesting and important things. Let me start with your comments about belief. You say, “as long as we still take Rigpa representatives at face value and believe everything they say we can never see clearly because our perception is distorted by those beliefs and by manipulative words.” You say “I’m afraid I swallowed everything without examination.”

      My experience was different. My understanding is that the outer lama reflects our own inner lama. My experience, when listening to Rigpa representatives or to Sogyal Rinpoche, or to all the other suggestions that arrive in the course of daily living, is to check everything against my own intuition. Particularly when it comes to questions of what should I do next, what should I focus on next, I feel I have to make those choices for myself.

      I used to wonder what I would do if Rinpoche announced we’re all moving to Halifax. I’d say to myself, “I’ll cope with that if and when it happens. I’ll check what Rinpoche says against my own inner wisdom, my own inner sense of what I should be doing.”

      In his enthusiasm, Rinpoche often said oh you should do this practice, and then suggested we should all do that practice, and if you took everything seriously you would have ended up practicing 20 hours a day. I recall one year there was a skit the end of the retreat, pointing out it was impossible to do everything he said we should do – and how much people laughed at that skit!! So, in general I took many things with a grain of salt.

      My understanding of Buddhism is that each of us has to figure out what works for us. Make friends with our own minds. I remember one moment in 1993, just after the Manjushri empowerment, when I realized there was a constant flow of minor judgmental thoughts about other people present in my mind – and until then, I hadn’t even noticed it! It was like discovering a layer of dust on the mirror of my mind and saying well, isn’t that interesting. My understanding of Dharma is you discover there’s a layer of dust on your mind. Over time you become more aware of it, gradually it diminishes, and then you know what? You discover there’s another layer of dust beyond that, even more subtle … so then you work on that.

      The people who lead courses and make announcements are doing the best they can, and of course they make mistakes. If you recognize that you used to swallow things uncritically, and now you’re spitting those things out, I think that’s great!!!!

  9. Ani Pema

    I took many retreats with SR in Australia early on . I was grateful for his
    teachings, but very put off by his personal behavior, berating his students
    when he walked into the room. And obviously seducing a group of young
    women he had seated in front of him. I understand a lot about tantric masters requiring the energy of a female to maintain their health, but I have seen
    other teachers do it in a way that is not abuse of the woman. I spoke to some of the women, some said their sexuality was purified from the contact, others felt exploited. I walked away from Rigpa because when I looked at SRs behavior as an example, I did not want to be like that. Simple.

    • Ani Pema,

      I appreciate your clarity. Not everyone felt exploited by sexual contact with SR, but many have. That needs to be addressed with honesty and transparency. I’m glad you were able to move on.

  10. Sangye

    I believe that Sogyal is delusional … but not in everything he does. He doesn’t really care if harm comes to others … and to that point he doesn’t have to really rationalize it for himself. He only makes a story that he had only good intentions – he is putting on a show. If watching him convinces you how enthusiastic for the dharma – that may be – but he doesn’t actually care what the dharma says unless it suits giving him power, sex and money. That is not the message of the dharma.
    It is inconceivable to a normal, healthy minded, good natured person that such a person as an NDP (Narcissistic Personality DIsorder) can think that way — its too alien to our minds. That is how they take advantage and Sogyal is the most dangerous and deceptive, manipulative type … the covert narcissist. So many magnetic and wonderful (in appearance) types of people have suckered good, intelligent, talented people into a cult relationship. He is entitled (i am a king, give me what a king gets), he is selfish where all the compassion, love and joy is reserved for him and he openly gets it at the cost of others. If others don’t like it they get accused of not rejoicing in his gifts and good things he gets. Then he tells you he doesn’t really want anything or need it – but as soon as he doesn’t get his ultra-high demand things he is enraged, violent, screaming and calling people ass-holes, losers and idiots. If you watched a video of that how would you be writing. I got pulled into his world and saw it as part of being groomed as his slave/servant.
    I went out there to tell people of the world and yet they just say “some people have different views” – that is lame.

    • Sangye,

      I’m sorry for all the suffering you’ve gone through, and I appreciate all you are doing to bring transparency to what has occurred in Rigpa. It’s important for us to know that there isn’t one single personality type that gets drawn into cult dynamics. Even the most intelligent person can be drawn in through the psychological manipulation and cultural mores that support the rule of a charismatic, authoritarian leader in a high demand group.

  11. Elaine Z.

    To Everyone:
    Thank you so much for these interesting comments and important questions. I will read the article you suggest, and I will do my best to answer questions with appropriate attention. However, at this moment I am preparing for painters who are coming to paint the outside of my house at 8:00 am tomorrow. All I can say right now is, many thanks!!

  12. Erika

    Moonfire and Sangye, I hear you and your comments are important to me.Especially the idea that good intention or motivation does not necessarily justify harming people.This is not what I heard and studied in India or anywhere concerning the Buddha’s Teachings.Its a double edged sword and I have to think about it .
    “Wild, wild country ” the movie about Osho was very interesting in the way of how easy it is for good and intelligent people to be mislead by a ‘charismatic’ leader.To me the danger is in following one Teacher to the exclusion of all others as it makes it more difficult to see clearly.In the early days I went to one of Sogyal Rinpoche’s Teachers and told him about ‘enlightenment through sex with him ‘ and he said it was inadmissible, in fact he used a stronger word.So I refrained and stayed away or was kicked out .In any case I came back and left several times.One of my main Teachers told me it is important to maintain gratitude to all of anyone whoever taught me anything .In this way my practice now is to be grateful to any and all of my Teachers for the teachings received but also for the challenges and bad times.Is it possible to ever disconnect completely ?Do I have to discontinue some or all of the practices received? For now I choose only Vajrasattva and sangcho on a daily basis.Sorry for so many words, better to just sit .

    • Erika,

      I think this point is so important to understand: “…how easy it is for good and intelligent people to be mislead by a ‘charismatic’ leader.” There isn’t one personality type that gets drawn into high demand groups like Rigpa. It can happen to almost anyone. I’m glad you were able to hear this other teacher’s advice and to move away from a harmful situation. I’m inspired you’re able to practice gratitude, given difficulty and challenges in this situation.

  13. RH

    Maybe the real problem is that we don’t want to recognize that cruelty can exist in a spiritual teacher.

    Because this isn’t a case of a series of passive faults, in a complex system.
    It’s a case of ordinary human cruelty and sadism, hidden behind extraordinary teachings.

    People can have extraordinary experiences when practicing dharma.
    This means the teachings are extraordinary. It does not mean the teacher is.

    In Rigpa, folks are taught to have infinite gratitude to the physical teacher (who is kinder than Buddha!), just because he had access to, and shared, teachings passed on. Think about that.

    • RH, I think you’ve put your finger on the crux of the issue, it can be very difficult to accept that our teacher has engaged in harmful behaviors. I think this can often be due to the kind of disorganized attachment that is encouraged in high demand groups, a term I’ve become familiar with reading Matthew Remake’s writing.

  14. Richard Bredsteen

    Dear Elaine,
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts about your relationship with S.R. and Rigpa.
    I am happy for you! A new paint job on your house! That’s real progress in a world gone somewhat mad!
    My daily practice does sustain me, and nourish me, and inspire me. The practice and teachings remain true for me although the form may be changing/evolving. One may be a bit more skeptical, and questioning of a teacher’s motives moving forward. This is called maturity I guess. Devotion will remain a beautiful feeling/understanding in my life.
    I believe the Dharma is much needed in the west, the fundamental goodness of the human nature/spirit is a precious jewel. No one can really take that away. And this realization often ripens for us through tremendous suffering. And Rigpa/Sangha is suffering! Nevertheless we have skilful means, many teachings and teachers in this life. We carry on, and never give up!
    I believe new teachers will continue to rise to the occasion and dedicate their lives to teaching and practicing the Dharma. The tradition will survive this obstacle many are experiencing in Rigpa
    No one can possess the truth totally, or abuse the truth for their personal gain and self gratification. The mystery of life continues to give us pause for reflection and creativity. It is a labor of love I/we seek.
    May we all progress and heal, celebrate and work for a better world. I hope Rigpa will grow up and through these difficulties. And if she must die (so to speak), may a quick rebirth be evident soon, and inspire future generations to practice compassion and seek enlightenment.
    Always, Richard B.
    Ps: Reunion/ongoing healing/process? Eugene is a great destination in my humble opinion. Or, Gimli, Canada? Meditation is essential for all withdrawal from addictions!

  15. Yes, you can disconnect completely, and it is healthy and necessary to do so if you have been traumatised from your experience, or for those who were not directly abused, once you see how you were manipulated and how sangha members are still being manipulated by those who still think Sogyal did no harm or acted out of genuine compassion. Once you recognise that Sogyal is not a genuine master and that Rigpa is a cult, you need to disconnect completely so you can move on with your life. You can do that with gratitude for what you learned – including gratitude that you finally woke up to the fact that it is a very unhealthy organisation led (from behind the scenes now, but still undoubtably being protected and kow towed to by those in charge) by a man who is as His Holiness said, “A disgrace.” A disgrace to the great tradition he was supposed to represent.

    There is no samaya with such a person because it was all based on a lie. For those who want to remain in the religion, there are teachers worthy of listening to. Sogyal is not one of them.

    • Elaine Z

      Several people have made the point that Sogyal Rinpoche must be deluded.

      Moonfire, you say this very strongly; “once you see that Sogyal is not a genuine master and that Rigpa is a cult you need to disconnect completely so you can move on with your life.”

      I see that this is an appropriate decision for anyone who feels that SR is not a genuine master, or that they’ve been forced to accept beliefs they don’t really feel. Many people are leaving Rigpa, often seeking out other teachers and I support them in their choices.

      At the same time, for someone like myself, who hasn’t been manipulated into inappropriate beliefs, and who does experience SR as a genuine master – I don’t see how someone like me at this time can say “I now must drop Rigpa completely because other people believe it is a cult.”

      I expect Rigpa to be a very different organization going forward. The Rigpa curriculum will have to a much greater emphasis on meditation and compassion practice. I don’t know exactly how or whether people will decide to go on to Vajrayana, but clearly there’s going to be much more emphasis on people making an informed choice and knowing what they are moving into.

      I don’t believe the sort of behaviors that have happened in the past are going to happen in the future. And it’s not so much because of the new Code of Conduct – it’s more like, having put your hand on a hot stove once, and being seriously burned, no one is can let that happen again. I expect to continue being a member of Rigpa for the foreseeable future, and if other members feel they are being coerced I will personally take responsibility for intervening.

      The best reason for me to talk about this, and put these ideas out for you to think about is, there are many people in the same situation that I’m in. I want to take actions to support the people who have left – but at this time, I don’t expect to leave myself. The future is unpredictable but this is where I am right now

    • Michael

      HHDL didn’t say ‘a disgrace’, he said ‘Sogyal Rinpoche, my very good friend, but he disgraced’. He said SR is disgraced, not a disgrace.

  16. I just wanted to add that if Sogyal is as deluded as I think he is, he probably believes that he’s a great vidydhara and that anything he does spontaneously will bring benefit. It’s not true, but he believes it, and so do his devotees, but the reality is that despite his ability to introduce people to a pleasant state of mind (which could be just a trance state or could be the nature of mind depending on the person), he is someone unable to moderate their impulses and doesn’t try because he thinks that he doesn’t need to moderate them because he’s special. He presumably thinks he’s beyond being able to harm. But he is not showing the attributes of an enlightened being, only the attributes of someone with a personality disorder. A court does not acquit someone of harming others due to them having a personality disorder, nor due to them thinking they are beyond harming.

    It’s a distorted view of the teaching that a Buddha literally cannot harm someone, that whatever they do brings benefit, but that only works if you are actually a Buddha, and the harm and benefit in that case is still clearly harm or benefit to any observer. He also believes he is a genuine crazy wisdom master, and that becomes an excuse for misbehaviour in this situation, and he and his devotees miss the point that crazy wisdom is crazy because it’s unpredictable and specific for a particular student, whereas Sogyal treated many the same way. He is quote predictable, and displays the attributes of a narcissist not a Buddha. So though he thinks he is bringing benefit, he simply isn’t and if he really was enlightened, he would see that, simply by caring enough about his students to look. Genuine CW masters healed the broken bones if those who jump off a cliff at their command, but S didn’t even check to make sure they had a bandaid.

    Aiming to bring benefit is not the same as actually bringing benefit. Having a positive aim does not excuse or justify behaviour that harms. Hitting someone once with the intention to bring benefit and it failing to bring benefit, you could consider an error of judgment, but not learning from that error of judgement and continuing to assault people cannot be seen as an error. It becomes systematic abuse. And no matter how the person affected handles it, it is still abuse because it still harms even if the victim does not recognize it at the time. It took the 8 and others years to recognize that no matter how well the handled it at the time, no matter how they tried to see it as benefit and gain benefit from it, they had, in fact, been traumatized, not benefitted by S’s actions. For their mental health and spiritual progress they needed to come to that realization and step outside of the mass delusion that is Rigpa. (We should call it Ma-rigpa)

    Anyone with true wisdom would recognize that the person is suffering and that despite their intention they have caused harm. To suggest it is an error or that some simply can’t handle the intensity is missing all these points, and indicates someone caught in the same delusion as S.

    For so long as you try to view all this using the same belief system that fostered the abuse, you will likely retraumatise those who were abused (which is why Sangye finds this so upsetting) and probably come to the same conclusions that allowed people to think that harming people was actually helping them. To see how it really is, you have to step outside of the psychological manipulation we were all subjected to.

  17. Guy DURAND

    From the very first moments I joined the Rigpa sangha and Sogyal (1996) I felt confronted with two seemingly incompatible facts, much like Elaine when she says “I can’t bring them together into a single reality. “Sogyal Rinpoche is a great master.” “Some Rigpa students have been harmed.”

    At the time I was coming from Zen, and I took it as a koan. Koans cannot be resolved by logics. The koan said: “Sogyal is an exceptional master on the one hand, and a wretch on the other”.

    Then came the time when I happened to live privately with him during the Japan tour in 2004. Doubts turned into certitudes. And two years later, during the three-year retreat, it was confirmed : Sogyal is just a wretch, spiritually and privately.

    But at the same time, thanks to the circumstances, I and a number of French Rigpa students were able to join a true and authentic dzogchen master.

    Much love to all

    • Adamo

      ” join a true and authentic dzogchen master.”

      Just to clarify: This master is Sogyal or is someone els meant ?

  18. Elaine Z

    Richard said:
    “I believe new teachers will continue to rise to the occasion and dedicate their lives to teaching and practicing the Dharma.”

    I find myself hoping, praying, that new teachers will arise and speak to the situation in Rigpa and in other Buddhist organizations. It seems that Tibetan Buddhism needs some judicious pruning as it comes to the West. The Dharma has moved from one country to another many times, and in each country it has adapted to that culture.

    For me, Vajrasattva practice is an intricate treasure, and I’m honored to learn it and be able to practice it. I’m thankful to the people who invented it.

    At the same time I hope some authoritative teacher will clarify traditional Tibetan teachings that in my eyes don’t seem to be appropriate in our current situation. You’re supposed to shun people who have different viewpoints – I can imagine how that might make sense if there’s a village of Buddhists and a village of Tirthikas, and they don’t speak to each other. But now when I’m looking at people whose lives have been intertwined with mine for the past 30 years – I think we need to take another look at how wisdom and compassion apply to the situation we are in now.

  19. Petra

    But the vajrayana teachings advise, test the teacher thoroughly before getting involved. You simply have no chance to do that if you only ever see the “public face” of that teacher.
    I mean, even for the public eye there were signs. Particularly before the installation of the monastic order the parade of young, slim girls with BIG cleavages and VERY short skirts of the inner circle at the events (I vividly remember this happening in Kirchheim year after year, until the servant positions were partly taken over by monastics) and felt vaguely uneasy watching this.

    That at parties, he never used the occasion to socialize with “normal” sangha members to talk to them, interact with them like a normal person. The whole thing always reminded me of some feudal nobleman’s court where the lord makes clear class distinctions in his interactions with the followers.

    And the serial sexual exploitation of young girls, that’s not many small hangups adding up to one big, dramatic accident, that’s clearly ONE thing that a man either does or doesn’t do. There aren’t “many factors”, there is exactly two factors, the appetites of the person in power and available victims, which in a buddhist group will always exist.

  20. Hi Elaine,

    Thanks for your post, I appreciate the title very much and I’m glad to see folks here engaging with you in such a kind way.

    If the content is removed from the list of views and the object of this list is left, we end up with the following.

    Sogyal Rinpoche
    SR is
    SR carries
    SR’s appetites
    Teachers in Tibet could
    Sogyal Rinpoche is
    SR and his teachings
    SR uses
    Buddhas and bodhisattvas

    There seems to be little change in our focus before “it” happened and after “it” happened. Might there be some clues in that focus for exploring “how did it happen?”

    Might we seriously consider seeking, encouraging and activate alternative approaches that don’t focus primarily on the teacher?

    There’s a scene in Robert Altman’s film, “The Player” where Tim Robbins’ character says, “Can we talk about something other than Hollywood all the time, we’re educated people?”

    When the times were pro-Rinpoche this suggestion was met with skepticism, now it seems to be often met with anger.

    Might someone (in good faith) write why they think this approach might be the case (even now) what they feel the effects of this orientation might be and whether or not it might be interesting to experiment with other orientations.

    We were all there, too, not just Sogyal Rinpoche.

    It seems this post has helped folks feel more freedom to express contrary viewpoints (from the current status quo) and I hope these and other different viewpoints continue to be encouraged and heard. The differences and the details matter.

    Thanks for posting it Elaine, and thanks for encouraging a wider range of views, Sandra.



  21. Rick New

    “I wish we could sit down together and explore how this situation came about: all the possible factors, all the possible explanations. ”

    I have the same wish, Elaine. Done in the right setting, this could be very powerful.


  22. Rick New

    “I’m looking at people whose lives have been intertwined with mine for the past 30 years – I think we need to take another look at how wisdom and compassion apply to the situation we are in now.” — Elaine

  23. Rick New

    “I went out there to tell people of the world and yet they just say “some people have different views” – that is lame.” Sangye

    I agree Sangye, it would be lame if one view cancelled out the other, if one view discounted what you are saying and telling people about. I think by listening to one another, the impact of what you are saying can be felt even more strongly.

  24. Rick New

    Hi Sandra,

    I made a post a couple of days ago that had a link in it. Can you take a look on the posts that need moderation?



  25. Elaine Z

    Since the beginning of August I’ve been posting here about my reactions to the turmoil and confusion within Rigpa. Since the Lewis Silkin report was released I’ve been reading it and rereading it, trying to come to terms with this new information.

    Here’s my current version of reality:

    When you boil water, it sits there for quite a while with minimal changes. A few bubbles, and a few more bubbles. Then it reaches 212 degrees and changes into something completely different. It’s at a rolling boil and the water tumbles over itself. It’s in a different state of being.

    During this past year, as I learned one new fact and another new fact about possible abuses of power within Rigpa, I was like that pot of water simmering along. I heard stories about people who had been injured and hoped they were just a few rare stories where something had unexpectedly gone wrong.

    After reading the Lewis Silkin report I find myself in a new state of mind, a different state of being. Instead of a few rare problems, for some of the people working most closely with Rinpoche, being a Rigpa student has led to long-term harm.

    The report is based on evidence from 22 witnesses, including face-to-face interviews in six locations. Lead investigator Karen Baxter writes, “I received corroborated evidence from several witnesses that people in the inner circle were beaten on a daily basis…. It is also clear to me that, on the balance of probabilities, even if Sogyal’s violence towards his students was intended to help them on the path to enlightenment, the physical abuse caused real harm.”

    Baxter notes that SR has a number of consensual sexual partners. In addition, she writes, “it is alleged that Sogyal used his position to coerce, intimidate and manipulate young women into giving him sexual favors. There is a significant weight of first-hand evidence which leads me to uphold this allegation.”

    If we had lots of time, I could go through the report and point out paragraphs I don’t agree with, places where someone objects to training that strikes me as reasonable, places where I disagree with Baxter’s evaluation. But there’s no point doing that sort of analysis, because the big picture is so clear. These are patterns that affected many people, repeated over decades.

    Sogyal Rinpoche says he has always intends the best for his students and I believe him. In a letter to Baxter he said, “I believe it is common in many traditional cultures and disciplines – such as education, art and sport – that the teacher encourages the student to go beyond his or her limits…. It is in this spirit that at times I have tried to train my own students, especially when I see great potential in them.”

    However there has been some miscalculation, some lack of communication, some failure of oversight. There are many students who’ve deliberately chosen to work closely with SR and have benefited from his training. Unfortunately, there are also a significant number of people who’ve been harmed. The Lewis Silkin report describes one person left with chronic fatigue and post-traumatic stress disorder, and another who had hallucinations and suicidal thoughts, and still suffers from chronic insomnia and anxiety.

    For me the most important, most shocking information in the Lewis Silkin report is that over the years three different trustees (each of them a member of a national Rigpa governing board) went to Rigpa’s leaders with detailed evidence of sexual and/or physical abuse, and yet nothing changed. Oh, if only needed changes had been made at that time!

    The Rigpa organization has been the result of united efforts by hundreds of people, most of them volunteers: transcribing tapes, organizing events, leading basic meditation practice, putting together the annual calendar, and so much more. Now all of this effort is called into question because warnings were ignored.

    I am still Sogyal Rinpoche’s student. I have learned so much from him – this is who I am. But for me to continue as a Rigpa member we need to make real changes. I’m hoping others feel the same way.

    Recently Pema Chödrön wrote a letter to the Shambala community about its need for culture change around patterns of sexual abuse and abuse of power. She wrote, “as many people have written to me, now is our chance to work with this painful history, and with the people who have been harmed, in a way that truly manifests enlightened society – that truly honors the basic goodness of all concerned.”

    She describes her recent conversation with a person who’d been harmed. She writes, “I tell this story to point out the power of speaking openly with each other and apologizing whenever possible for any harm we’ve caused (intentionally or not)….it showed me the importance of not going on the defensive but really listening and trying to stand in the other person’s shoes. I guess that’s the main point – a willingness to think of others before ourselves and to communicate with each other in ways that bring us closer together rather than further polarize us. We won’t always get it right, but I say let’s have the courage to try.” (The link to the complete letter is here

    Our ngondro prayer says “towards the lifestyle and activity of the lama, may wrong view not arise for even an instant.” On the one hand, my heart is full of gratitude to Sogyal Rinpoche. How much he has taught me! How different my life would be if I hadn’t met him!

    On the other hand, the behaviors described in the Lewis Silkin report cannot possibly be appropriate for a dharma group in the 21st century. I don’t understand, I may never understand how these things could have happened. But the path ahead of us is clear. It seems to me we express our devotion for the dharma, the lineage, and for what we have learned from Sogyal Rinpoche, by working in a wholehearted, serious way to repair what has gone wrong. That means putting the recommendations of the Lewis Silkin report into action as soon as possible.

    Over its 2500-year history the cultural practices associated with dharma have changed many times as it moves into new countries. Now, as the dharma comes to the West, we have an opportunity to clarify how dharma will manifest in this century, in this environment. We should tackle this with the same enthusiasm we have for practicing Tendrel Nyesel or chanting the Vajra Guru Mantra. Dealing with this situation is part of our practice.

    Here in the United States we have a retreat scheduled in less than two months. As a member of the Rigpa Sangha I have a responsibility towards those who have been harmed, and I want to find ways to express my sorrow for what has happened, ways to help them regain health and stability. At this point I don’t know the most appropriate ways to do this. If other Rigpa members feel the same way, let’s do some brainstorming via email before the retreat.

    • Marion

      Elaine Z, you say you are still Sogyal Rinpoche’s student. You say we should put the recommendations of the Lewis Silkin report into action as soon as possible. The first recommendation in the Lewis Silkin report is, ‘Sogyal Lakar should not take part in any future event organised by Rigpa or otherwise have contact with its students.’ Are you intending to remain a student of Sogyal Rinpoche, but have no further contact with him?

      • Elaine Zablocki

        Yes, I am. Obviously, this isn’t what I expected… but here we are.

        I think at this moment, being SR’s student means doing my best to put the teachings into practice. Remembering what he, and all the other teachers he introduced us to, have taught us. Manifesting patience, equanimity, generosity, in all circumstances. That’s what I aspire to.

        • Marion

          You have my respect, Elaine. I think that is quite tough. If the teacher dies, then there is no choice, but to have that happen while he is alive is not the way it should end up. From what I have seen SR did this to himself, with the help of a few of his senior students. The Lewis Silkin report and the letter that started this off don’t leave any doubt that he harmed some of his students, but a lot of others are being harmed in the fall out following all the revelations since July last year.

          • E. Zablocki

            Many thanks for your reply, I only saw it today!! Yes, this is a very difficult situation and many people have been harmed. I am trying to find the best way to bring as much good as possible out of this situation.

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