How Did It Happen?

Understanding and Healing Abuse in Buddhist Communities

How the Student-Teacher Relationship Can Become Abusive

Walking Toward the Light

With his amazing gift for communicating the Buddhist teachings in a clear and accessible way, Sogyal Rinpoche has become one of the most well known and sought after spiritual teachers in the world today. His book, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, published in 1992, has touched hundreds of thousands of people, and remains popular even now, more than 25 years later.

Rinpoche’s unique, experiential way of teaching, which often gives people a profound personal experience of the awakened state, has attracted thousands of devoted students, who regularly attend retreats and support his work at centers around the globe.

As a student for more than 25 years myself, I’m deeply grateful for all I’ve received from Sogyal Rinpoche – amazing teachings that clearly explain the Buddhist path, the chance to meet many holy beings, and personal glimpses of awakening that showed me the possibility of enlightenment.

Given Sogyal Rinpoche’s remarkable contributions and the benefits that so many people feel, I can understand why many Rigpa students cannot comprehend how others have felt harmed by personal interactions with him.

Please know, I’m not trying to detract from Sogyal Rinpoche’s greatness, but without taking an honest look at how the experience of abuse has happened in our community, it will be difficult to prevent such incidents in the future.

In this spirit, I’d like to share from my own personal experience to show how student-teacher interactions, even those that may have been meant as helpful, can be experienced as harmful.

I am not criticizing the teachings, only shedding light on how certain ways of teaching may have detrimental side effects. Although I’ve had many positive experiences too, overall the way Sogyal Rinpoche personally worked with me did not create a healthy container in which healing and spiritual growth could take place.

The periodic complaints we’ve heard over the last 30 years indicate a number of other people have felt harmed as well. Others have left Rigpa because they couldn’t reconcile aggressive behavior on the part of the teacher that they felt conflicted with their personal sense of values. We may never know how many others have remained silent out shame, fear, or isolation.

What Is Abuse?

Presuming we all want to understand how things have gone awry, whether we believe it’s a misunderstanding or actual abuse, let’s start out with the basics, by asking, “What is abuse?”

Mentalhelp.net explains:

Abuse occurs when people mistreat or misuse other people, showing no concern for their integrity or innate worth as individuals, and in a manner that degrades their well-being. Abusers frequently are interested in controlling their victims. They use abusive behaviors to manipulate their victims into submission or compliance with their will.

In response, Buddhists might say: “But isn’t our integrity and sense of innate worth related to our ego, which we need to give up on the spiritual path?”

Some students believe, based on traditional stories they’ve read or teachings they’ve received, that the role of a Vajrayana teacher is to help you let go of your ego. If you’re a real spiritual practitioner, you’re supposed to surrender to his or her attempts to do so with eagerness.

But, does a teacher need to disregard a person’s integrity, worth as an individual, or his well-being to reach this goal of destroying the ego? I don’t think so. I’ve seen teachers help students let go of ego without using abusive methods.

As Mingyur Rinpoche says,

Thus we must distinguish teachers who are eccentric or provocative—but ultimately compassionate and skillful—from those who are actually harming students and causing trauma. These are two very different things, and it is important that we do not lump them together. There are plenty of teachers who push and provoke students to help them learn about their minds, but that is not abuse. Physical, sexual, and psychological abuse are not teaching tools.

The Tibetan word for ego, “dak dzin,” means clinging to a false sense of self. The way I understand this, we need to give up clinging to a false sense of self. Although the self appears so solid, we must realize it is impermanent, interdependent, and not inherently real.

However, humans need a healthy sense of self to function in this world. Abuse can damage a person’s nervous system, impair their emotional and cognitive functioning, and cause anxiety, depression, and disassociation from emotions and experiences — making them worse off rather than healthier, emotionally and spiritually.

At some point on your spiritual path, a strong push may be appropriate and necessary. But many people believe you need to have a healthy ego before you can give it up. If you haven’t integrated a good understanding of this false sense of self, attempts to force you to let it go may be experienced as abuse, damage you, and solidify your ego even further.  Mingyur Rinpoche says,

The most important thing to know about these unusual teaching styles is that they are meant to benefit the student. If they are not rooted in compassion and wisdom, they are not genuine. Actions that are rooted in compassion and wisdom—even when they appear odd, eccentric, or even wrathful—do not instill fear or anxiety.

What is Trauma?

Abuse can cause trauma. Wikipedia explains trauma succinctly like this:

Psychological trauma is a type of damage to the mind that occurs as a result of a severely distressing event. Trauma is often the result of an overwhelming amount of stress that exceeds one’s ability to cope, or integrate the emotions involved with that experience. A traumatic event involves one’s experience, or repeating events of being overwhelmed that can be precipitated in weeks, years, or even decades as the person struggles to cope with the immediate circumstances, eventually leading to serious, long-term negative consequences.

However, trauma differs between individuals, according to their subjective experiences. People react to similar events differently. In other words, not all people who experience a potentially traumatic event will actually become psychologically traumatized.

This discrepancy in risk rate can be attributed to protective factors some individuals may have that enable them to cope with trauma. Some examples are mild exposure to stress early in life, resilience characteristics, and active seeking of help.”

People who have experienced prior traumas are more likely to experience future upsetting events as traumatic.

Those who feel more resilient to distress might dismiss those who report trauma because similar experiences did not effect them in the same way, a phenomenon we see occurring in Rigpa. On the other hand, some people have been hit or slapped by Sogayl Rinpoche and found the experience beneficial, but they still don’t condone unrestrained behavior that can lead to trauma.

Dismissiveness can lead to more pain and hurt for the trauma victim. To be disbelieved or made to believe you’re at fault when you feel harmed can be as painful as the traumatic experience itself.

Dismissive reactions like this have happened in Rigpa. For example, when a sangha member expresses concern about reports of harm, they’re sometimes told these people have serious psychological problems. And that Rigpa cannot be held responsible for the harm they experienced, because they couldn’t possibly have known about their fragility.

This explanation might have seemed credible in the past, when an isolated individual made a complaint.

However, the recent allegations made by a group of eight long-time students as well as other complaints that have surfaced since then, point to a widespread pattern of harmful behavior that has taken place over a period of 30 years. The idea that all these people, who we know as well functioning individuals, have unusually deep psychological problems no longer seems believable.

People well within the normal human range of cognitive and emotional functioning clearly seem to be negatively affected by some of Sogyal Rinpoche’s behaviors.

In its press release from July 19th Rigpa said: “We would like to state clearly that there is no place for abuse in our community and we are conscious of our responsibility to provide a safe, welcoming and supportive environment for our members and the public.”

Taking this expressed commitment to heart, I would like to offer my perspective on what needs to change in the Rigpa organization to create a healthy environment that no longer allows abusive experiences.

Working with Trauma On The Path

Almost all of us have traumas that need to be faced and resolved, and they can be addressed on the spiritual path in a positive way.

Dr. Reginald “Reggie” Ray, the co-founder and Spiritual Director of the Dharma Ocean Foundation explains trauma and the Vajrayana path in this way:

The Vajrayana: In our journey to the complete embodiment of spiritual realization, there are obviously going to be many impediments and blockages getting in the way. The most difficult of these ‘obscurations’ and ‘obstacles’ are what we term today ‘traumas.’ These are unconscious emotional assumptions and beliefs about the nature of ourselves, other people, and the world. These unconscious attitudes and beliefs were laid down through our entire life, beginning at least from birth, and they skew our perception of everything.

Because they are unconscious, generally it is very difficult to see them and address them. We are talking here not only about the major incapacitating traumas that may be active in us, but also about the hundreds and perhaps thousands of insults to our person that were so painful that we could not fully process the experiences when they occurred. In the Vajrayana, we turn directly to work with these obstructing, traumatic patterns, bringing them to consciousness through the practice and learning to fully inhabit the painful experiences, thus resolving them.

Teachers need to be aware that most students — indeed the majority of people in the West — carry trauma (developmental trauma and or shock trauma/PTSD) that needs to be worked with skillfully and responsibly. Given the numerous reports of harm in Buddhist organizations over the last 30 years, to say afterwards, “I didn’t know this person had traumas,” is no longer a valid excuse.

My Experience Working with Trauma

I’m not a professional or expert in this area, but I have worked intensively with my own traumas over the last five years. The first two years, I worked in a general way, learning to be more present in the moment, inhabit my body, and reconnect with suppressed emotions, unconscious beliefs, and negative cognitions. After two years, strong emotions began to arise. I realized I needed help to effectively process them

So I started intensive work with a highly experienced EMDR therapist. EMDR stands for “eye movement desensitization and reprocessing,” a technique for accessing and processing traumatic memories and other adverse life experiences. My work and progress over the last three years is documented in great detail.

A year after I began EMDR, I also started deep inner work with a spiritual group that integrates spiritual practice with insights and therapeutic approaches from modern psychology. This gave me another opportunity to look at the history of my life and the events that shaped me as a person.

I haven’t completed my trauma work, but I now know the specific traumas I brought to my spiritual path, and these traumatic memories have less impact on my emotional states and behaviors. I also have effective tools to consciously address them, when they do arise.

Maybe you feel you don’t have traumas, and that might be true. But I would encourage you to keep an open mind. I have done trauma work in groups and have seen quite a few people who felt the same way, but who later realized their traumatic patterns had been deeply repressed and were hidden in their unconscious.

What I describe here applies to my situation. We’re all different and what helped me to heal may not help someone else. But I believe sharing my experience may help you understand why people might feel abused in the student-teacher relationship.

I realize Sogyal Rinpoche is not responsible for the traumas and pain that I brought with me to the spiritual path. Looking back now, I can clearly see how my interactions with him often touched on deeply painful, unresolved experiences from earlier in my life, maybe even karma that I brought into this life and onto my spiritual path.

Sogyal Rinpoche possesses an uncanny ability to see a student’s unresolved blockages and obscurations. He’s like a mirror reflecting your issues and making you face them. Many in our community recognize this talent as a precious gift. They feel adamantly that Sogyal Rinpoche should be able to continue to work directly with students as he sees fit.

Based on the insights I’ve gained through my inner work, I can confirm that Rinpoche had a good sense of my issues. However, his approach did not work for me, but instead compounded the pre-existing trauma.

I’m sure he had good intentions and wanted to show me my problems. However, being humiliated, screamed at, and physically beaten on occassion led me to disassociate from my emotions and further repress them. My inability to process the experiences prevented growth and learning. On the contrary, I felt harmed because his personal way of teaching had a negative effect on my physical, emotional and cognitive health. I experienced physical burn out, an overloaded nervous system, repressed emotions, and difficulty being present with myself.

From the teachings I received, I understood this strong personal training was needed to progress on the spiritual path. This belief overrode my instinctive wish to remove myself from harm.

When I look back on some of my painful experiences, I see two aspects: the immediate pain that occurred in response to the teacher’s actions and the hidden pain from earlier unprocessed emotions.

Intellectually, you may be able to understand your interaction with the teacher as just sounds and physical sensations and your reaction as just transitory thoughts and emotions, but this doesn’t help you unless you can fully experience it in the totality of your being.

When there’s an inability to face painful interactions with the teacher, an internal protection mechanism can kick in that represses your feelings and makes you disassociate from them. You may even feel okay in the moment and for a long time thereafter. But these unprocessed experiences are like un-defused bombs. They can explode as abuse accusations many years later, as has happened in Rigpa over the last 25 years.

Without understanding these psychological dynamics, other students may question that validity of complaints since it took years for them to come out.

When the unprocessed pain finally surfaces, it can be hard to understand all the contributing factors. Until I was able to see how my earlier traumas contributed to my painful experience, I only had the teacher to blame. This may explain why some of the descriptions of events contained in the complaints of abuse portray Sogyal Rinpoche like a monster.

Even though the description of events may sometimes seem exaggerated to others who were present, we need to acknowledge the student’s experience of pain. The anger and outrage is understandable and may even be necessary and healthy to express, on the short run, for someone who feels seriously injured.

Potentially Harmful Teaching Styles

I’d like to look at some aspects of how Sogyal Rinpoche teaches and point out things that may be experienced as abusive, not by everyone, but by a significant number of people.

Sogyal Rinpoche’s teaching style tends to be authoritarian. He employs strong methods, that many feel go against the principle of non-harming. These include:

Physical Beating

He seems to believe physical beating, by a spiritual teacher, can be a good thing. Sometimes, he does it in a funny, harmless looking way that can be seen as provocative to the ego. But many times, usually behind the scenes, it is violent. At least one student has been beaten to the point of unconsciousness. I was once beaten so hard on the head, for a little mistake, that I was dazed, possibly with a mild concussion. It left a deep imprint of fear.

When students have questioned this in the past, Rinpoche would sometimes say things like, “Hitting is better than hugging,” or “To be hit by the lama is a blessing.”

Or he would tell a story of his master, Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö. Once, as a child, Jamayang Khyentse overslept. His tutor came and grabbed him by his little finger and dragged him out of bed. As a result, his little finger stayed crooked for the rest of his life. Sogyal Rinpoche says that whenever he looked at his little finger Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö felt gratitude for the kindness of his tutor.

Verbal Abuse

Once I got a phone call from Rinpoche at two in the morning. He screamed at me so loud that not just myself, but even my wife, who was a few feet away, felt terrified and began shaking. And I wasn’t on a speaker phone.

I still have traumatic reactions when the phone rings during the night. These days the calls usually come from telemarketers who don’t check my time zone. I can laugh about it now, but my body and nervous system still initially react in a terrified way.

Humiliation

Sogyal Rinpoche uses public criticism as another method of personal teaching. He would criticize people in great length when they failed to do something he asked them to do, or did not do it exactly the way he wanted them to do it. He will tell people how stupid they are in front of hundreds of people.

When people expressed concern about the humiliation, he would say, “It’s a hair cut, not a skin cut.” I know people who were brought close to a nervous breakdown by his constant criticism.

Fear

When Rinpoche was present, at least for some of us, an atmosphere of fear pervaded the retreat or center. People worried about making mistakes and triggering Sogyal Rinpoche’s wrath.

The fear could ripple out in negative ways through the whole community. Fear of mistakes sometimes caused students close to Rinpoche to pressure volunteer managers or act harshly towards them. The volunteer managers in turn sometimes passed the pressure and stress onto volunteers.

When students remarked on the atmosphere of fear, Sogyal Rinpoche brushed it aside and said it’s good to be afraid of the lama. A student who was managing a center once asked Sogyal Rinpoche, “Why are you so tough on people?” He was not pleased, didn’t say a word, and wrote down one word on a piece of paper: “Bardos!” I took this to mean that his harsh behavior was intended to to prepare us for terrifying experiences in the after-life states (bardos).

His fear-inducing behavior was presented as an opportunity to develop fearlessness. That may work if you can really face and understand your fear. I didn’t have that understanding and thus experiences like this only caused me to withdraw and shut down.

Visiting lamas would sometimes notice the tension too. One lama said he noticed a lot of fear in the students. Of course this got reported back to Sogyal Rinpoche. He mentioned the criticism in a teaching, and he made a joke about the lama. As usual, a good part of the audience laughed.

The Dark Side of Humor

Sogyal Rinpoche possesses an amazing sense of humor, which sometimes came out in these personal teachings situations too. He would make light of the experience and so most of his students would follow suit.

But humor can have a dark side. It can be hurtful, dismissive, and discount another individual. It can be used to deflect criticism and discourage questions.

I can recall many times when people were made fun of after asking questions in a teaching. Sometimes they mistook a meditation experience for a deep realization of enlightenment. Or they said something critical of the teacher or the tradition. Or they tried to communicate some insights from Western psychology. When Sogyal Rinpoche made fun of them, most of the audience laughed along.  But I often winced, putting myself in the shoes of the person who asked the question and wondering how it felt to be discounted.

Power

You get the idea very quickly that Sogyal Rinpoche is in charge, and if you criticize him, you’ll be publicly derided. When this kind of interaction happens in front of a large audience who support it with laughter, it gives the teacher even more power. Sogyal Rinpoche may believe his actions are beneficial and help his students let go of their ego. But people who feel harmed see these actions as an abuse of power.

The word abuse is defined as “using (something) to bad effect or for a bad purpose; misuse.” In this case, it can be seen as the misuse of influence and power. Sogyal Rinpoche has said he feels inspired when he expresses anger. Women have reported that he used his power and influence to seduce them. This has sometimes been justified by the belief that tertöns (Sogyal Rinpoche is said to be the reincarnation of a tertön, a hidden treasure revealer) need consorts in order to uncover the teachings they’re meant to reveal.

When people would criticize his harsh behavior, he would express displeasure and even threaten to stop teaching. This type of reaction gives the impression you must surrender your personal judgments and even your personal integrity as an offering to receive the teachings.

If you condone this type of behavior or simply look away, you may be switching off your personal integrity. It definitely affected me like that. It made me disconnect from my heart and then I compensated in my mind. Compassion became a mental event, not a feeling experience. This kind of numbness allowed me to discount the complaints of abuse I heard over the years, instead of responding in a naturally compassionate way.

The Best Teacher Points Out Your Hidden Faults

Rinpoche often quoted this maxim from Atisha, “The best spiritual friend is the one who attacks your hidden faults.” When he works with individual students, he looks for the slightest mistake.

He would even guide students in a lengthy investigation into a minor error: Why did you make the mistake? What was the exact instant you didn’t listen to the instructions, hear him correctly, or forgot something?

During these examinations, I was able to see the factors that contributed to my mistake: For example, a lack of awareness, being overwhelmed, or making assumptions. I could see I was not present, lacking energy, not clear in my mind, or not listening to my intuition.

But I never got to know the causes that gave rise to these symptoms. While the investigation process may have given me some clues, I didn’t have the understanding to see the real hidden faults or the inner blockages. I didn’t have the right tools to heal or dissolve them.

A Negative View of Western Psychology

Since then, I’ve found insights and methods from Western psychology crucial to recognizing my blockages and traumas.

To be honest, I resisted the psychological perspective and felt prejudiced against it for decades because Sogyal Rinpoche often gave mixed messages about therapy. At times, he said therapy can be very good, and he wanted to create a Buddhist therapy.

On the other hand, he often dismissed therapy in his humorous way, making fun of how processing your childhood can be endless. I got the idea that just following the path I’d been given would resolve all my problems. Psychology was not necessary and might in fact be a waste of valuable time.

One of the main problems I see in this abuse controversy is a lack of knowledge of Western culture and a disregard of insights from Western psychology.

Spiritual ByPassing

In my opinion, you cannot progress on the spiritual path without a grasp of the deep and often unconscious dynamics of destructive emotions and beliefs. Jungian psychologists who have studied Eastern religions have noted that emotions are approached differently in the East, which might account for some of the problems we see in Western Dharma organizations led by Asian teachers.

Sogyal Rinpoche often teaches on working with emotions. He encourages students to connect with the spaciousness, peace, and clarity of their innermost being, which he says allows conflicting emotions and blockages to naturally subside. This can be a powerful approach. To get a sense of this read this excerpt from his teaching, “Natural Great Peace.”

But this approach did not help me resolve conflicting emotions because I had too many repressed feelings and an abundance of unconscious material. Once one has dealt with their emotional blockages, Sogyal Rinpoche’s direct approach can work well. But some people use spiritual practices like these to avoid dealing with difficult emotions, unresolved childhood wounds, and developmental gaps. This is called “spiritual bypassing,” a term coined by psychologist John Welwood in 1984. Eventually, however, spiritual bypassing implodes.

Why Do We Stay In Harmful Situations?

Why do Westerners stay in an unhealthy teacher-student relationship for so long?

Our eagerness for enlightenment can blind us, and naive ideas, like we can get it by simply doing what another person says, can cloud our minds. Because of these factors, we try so hard to do whatever the teacher asks of us. In the process, our mind gets conditioned in ways that disable our innate self-protection mechanisms.

The person who harms you also becomes your main source of spiritual nurturance. You experience so much love in the teaching. You hear the teacher say: “I truly love you! I will never abandon you! I never judge you! I always see the good in you.” Deep emotional bonds can keep you in harmful situations.  In psychology, this is called “Stockholm Syndrome.” Even people who have been taken hostage by violent criminals can develop an emotional bond with their captors.

You also get used to the abusiveness slowly. It starts with slight, humorous taps with the back scratcher or sexual jokes.

As a community, we may not realize that by tacitly condoning this type of behavior, we have all contributed to allowing abusive experiences to occur. We may have minimized the experience of harm by responding with humor instead of compassion and framing the behavior as a legitimate way to challenge and provoke the ego.

All these factors, and others I haven’t mentioned, can contribute to making an unhealthy environment, in which some people will end up feeling harmed and abused. Others will burn out from stress.

I’ve seen and heard of many committed students who burned out due to stress (and perhaps unidentified trauma) and developed illnesses like chronic fatigue. Others may not have felt abused, but had nervous breakdowns. How many times have you heard about cases like this in Rigpa yourself?

There Are Less Harmful Ways To Teach

Abusive ways of teaching are usually not necessary, and in fact are dangerous if they induce or exacerbate trauma. Not all Vajrayana teachers use extreme teaching methods. According to Mingyur Rinpoche, they are used rarely, only in exceptional cases, and only as a last resort. He says, when used, they never cause trauma.

There are effective ways to work with and heal trauma and deep obscurations on the spiritual path that do not cause harm.

Over the last five years, I have done deep inner work that involved looking at my traumas, repressed emotions, and unconscious negative beliefs. I have faced painful memories voluntarily. I had the choice to stop at any time. I was educated about unhealthy emotional dynamics. This helped me to understand what I experienced. Support was available to help me deal constructively with whatever came up. The process of confronting difficult patterns did not leave me feeling abused, but instead became a positive experience of learning and growth.

As a result, I feel more deeply connected with my heart, and my capacity to experience joy has radically expanded. Unprocessed material became conscious and workable. Although I still have memories of these difficult experiences, they no longer color my thoughts, words, and actions so strongly.

Unprocessed Experiences in the Community

I can only speak from my personal experience. Everyone needs to reflect on this topic and come to their own conclusion.

However, I would not be surprised if the tough environment and provocative ways of teachings may have left many people with unprocessed experiences or reinforced unconscious patterns they had already brought to their spiritual path.

I was only able to see these harmful effects after many years and after I made quite an effort to explore this area on my own. So I would not be surprised if there are many other practitioners who have traveled quite far on their spiritual path without touching on deep blockages because they remained unconscious. Some may not even be able to see their shadow elements right now. It might take years for this unconscious material to surface.

Preventing Abuse

You may not have significant emotional issues yourself, but I hope reading about and reflecting on this topic may help you understand why and how other students have experienced abuse.

I feel the insights I’ve shared can also contribute to prevention. If measures are taken to ensure that students have a better understanding of their traumas, learning tools to process their difficult experiences, and better systems of support, there will be less likelihood of harm.

Suggestions for Teachers

Many Buddhist teachers understand the Western psyche and have adapted their teaching style accordingly, but not all. Here are a few points that might be helpful for teachers to keep in mind when teaching and working with Westerners.

  • Western students can be serious and eager when it comes to the spiritual path, but also naive about enlightenment.
  • They often want the highest teachings, but they may not have purified their emotional patterns sufficiently to be ready for them.
  • Some will do whatever you say and endure things that are harmful to them.
  • They may say “yes” to sex, when they would like to say “no.”
  • Despite their enthusiasm, they may still have a limited emotional capacity and break down at some point.
  • If that happens, they may feel a tremendous amount of pain and anger. Some or most of it will likely come your way.
  • There are other ways to work with deep emotional patterns that are less risky than extreme teaching methods.

Concluding Thoughts

Some of the causes that contribute to abuse in student-teacher relationships include the influence of the feudal system, a disregard for the principle of non-harming, and a lack of support after painful experiences take place. The Dalai Lama spoke about these concerns on August 1st in Ladakh and I explored some of them in detail in What Did the Dalai Lama Really Say?

My intention has been to share the insights I’ve gained through processing my own experience of abuse in Rigpa. I also have many positive memories of Sogyal Rinpoche’s kindness. I’m deeply grateful for all the teachings I’ve received from him. If I had had a better understanding of the traumas and baggage that I brought to my spiritual path when I started in Rigpa, my experience may have been very different. But maybe this is exactly what I needed to go through to arrive where I am now, in a much healthier place.

I hope reading and reflecting upon what I’ve shared will help you come to your own personal conclusion about whether these teaching methods work for you. I hope it will inspire you to investigate your own personal dynamics and whether you may have unprocessed experiences that may be holding you back on your path.

What have been your experiences with the behaviors in Rigpa that some people find abusive?  How do you think we can come to a workable understanding in the community?  We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.  Our commenting guidelines encourage open, but civilized discussion.

If you found this article helpful, please share it on Facebook.  Thank you!

Recommended Resources

  • Buddhist Practice on Western Ground: Reconciling Eastern Ideals and Western Psychology by Harvey B. Aronson
  • “The Precious One” by Mick Brown, 1995 article from Telegraph Magazine.  This well-rounded article looks at accusations of abuse from all angles and gives good insight into the experience of woman who have made allegations of abuse against Sogyal Rinpoche.
  • Trauma resources linked to on our resource page.

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39 Comments

  1. Jasmine

    I want to thank you for your insightful words and open, compassionate sharing about your experiences and how you have used it all to further growth on the path. It seems a wobbly path as I uncover how to be fully human while taking the Vajrayana methods to heart.

    • Bernie Schreck

      Hi Jasmine, you are most welcome. I like how you describe how life is a wobbly path as we uncover how to be fully human. 🙂

  2. futerko

    After 25 years you still have a Western/Cartesian idea of yourself as “a (healthy) container” – how can you then claim that you have received “amazing teachings that clearly explain the Buddhist path”?

    I have listened to Sogyal Rinpoche’s talks, and his emphasis is clearly on happiness for the individual – in terms of Buddhism, this is known as spiritual materialism, and it shows very clearly in your writing that you have not even taken the most basic fundamental steps towards giving up “clinging to a false sense of self” – you have confused the pop psychology image of “ego” with the actual meaning and found no structural alternative to subject-object relationships.

    With this insight, one may understand better the aims of western psychology and the true meaning of the term “integration” – Freud wrote almost exclusively about how trauma is the very experience which gives rise to this false sense of self in the first place – without trauma we would lack any individuation – again here your misunderstanding leads to believe that integrity and integration have something to do with wholeness of the self – again this is consistent with Sogyal’s concept of happiness for the individual…

    This really is not Buddhism, I suggest you start again from the beginning.

    • Bernie Schreck

      Hi futerko,

      I appreciate you sharing your perspective and bringing up interesting questions about the understanding of ego and the body in Western Cartesian system and Buddhism.

      I believe that what I am sharing might help people understand how students have been harmed and prevent it in future. If you disagree with my perspective and find what I write not helpful, no problem.

      Considering that you question my understanding of Buddhism and its philosophy and also psychology let me just come back to the main point, which is that I am concerned about the human suffering and harm that a number of students have reported which is related to Sogyal Rinpoche’s behavior and ways of teaching.

      And let me refer to teachers like the Dalai Lama and Mingyur Rinpoche who I understand to clearly say that when experiences with a teacher are traumatic and harmful something is going wrong. What is your perspective on that?

      Again thanks for reading and sharing your perspective.

      P.S.: I’ll be off line for the next ten days doing a silent Vipassana retreat so I won’t be able to reply until after that.

  3. Mary Finnigan

    I cannot get my head round the double standards unpacked here. On one hand you extol Sogyal’s talents as a teacher, his kindness and his capacity for non verbal communication. On the other you mention behaviour like screaming at you on the phone in the middle of the night — which suggests severe mental illness to me. And you mention someone being beaten unconscious. In the UK this is known as Grievous Bodily Harm. They bang you up for 10 years if found guilty of GBH. One question that keeps coming up during the discussions triggered by the 8 signatory letter is if/when one or more of Sogyal’s victims is going to shop him to the cops? Criminal charges and conviction would be the most effective way to deal with him.

    • futerko

      “He’s like a mirror reflecting your issues and making you face them.”
      Clearly certain emotions are present in the relationship, who is perceived to carry them is less relevant than who is being forced to take responsibility for them – the answer seems to consistently be, never Sogyal, the only adult/parent in the relationship is the student, who is forced into this position by bullying and coercion.

      “My intention has been to share the insights I’ve gained through processing my own experience of abuse in Rigpa.”
      The narrative structure is consistent here – first a description of the emotions present, then a rationalisation attempting to “process” the experience which re-represses the emotional structure of the relationship by dressing it with good intentions – Sogyal is acting like a spoilt child for my own good, to encourage me to become the good parent in the relationship, it’s an unorthodox teaching method that might be a bit hit-and-miss, but he is blameless – he is quite literally placed in the position of the innocent child, and the cycle just repeats ad infinitum.

    • Bernie Schreck

      Hi Mary, thanks for your comment. I completely understand your perspective. Others have pointed this out to me previously. I agree that abusive methods are not appropriate and I see that for many he has been a very effective teacher.

  4. Lucia

    Hi Bernie, interesting piece!

    You wrote that a Buddhist might say: “But isn’t our integrity and sense of innate worth related to our ego, which we need to give up on the spiritual path?”

    I think there’s a crux there. The ‘integrity and sense of innate worth’ is actually not related to ego. Rather, it’s related to understanding and knowing that we have Buddha nature.

    Recognizing your innate true nature, your unchanging goodness and finding a confident refuge in this, is what enables you to let go of the false identity of ego. It allows you not to be dependent on any outer support or confirmation of your worth.

    Ego nature is very insecure, needy at times, proud, hurt, shaken. It gets taken for a ride by whomever we encounter all the time, and creates so many ‘inner truths’. For ego, all these stories are real and truth.

    But in actuality, a lot of our suffering is actually created by our very holding on to it. We drag our personal resume with us all the time, rehashing and deepening our own painful stories.

    What the teachings point out, however, is that in reality, we can be free. “It’s not the appearances that bind us, but our grasping mind. Therefore, abandon grasping.”

    To be clear, I’m pretty sure I myself would get wound up in my own stories just as much if I was worked with that directly! When you’re in the midst of fear and anxiety it is almost impossible to let your stories go, because our survival instincts then actually tighten our familiar grasping tendencies.

    You need to feel safe and secure enough to be able to relax, before you can even consider letting go on what cuts so close to home. And even then, it’s very, very. very difficult. That is where I personally think the support and space to allow you to work with such highly powered emotions failed. And also where our Western issues of traumas, etc were not sufficiently taken in account enough. I agree on that!

    But yet, to go in the other direction, the story-telling and solidifying of Western psychology, is not the solution. Why do we actually have so many traumas in the West? Is life more hostile to us here, what happens to us more traumatic? It is not, maybe quite the opposite. I feel that the difference lies in the way n which we in the West learned to relate to and validate our experiences.

    We or me hold on and repeat our stories all the time, and are encouraged to do so. I recognized so much in this article: https://tricycle.org/trikedaily/gratitude-for-my-torturers/
    We are continuously invited to identify and explain ourselves in accordance to our stories. Which can be very helpful in understanding. But what is missing in Western psychology is the next step: having recognized and understood it, letting it go.

    Because it’s not you. Or rather: It doesn’t HAVE to be you. Just imagine that one morning you wake up with total amnesia. Would your life still be equally disfigured and triggered by all the injustices and unkindnesses that happened to you, if you have no memory of it? It might be a bit freeing, isn’t it? That is what I feel the Buddha tells us: You don’t have to wait until you wake up with amnesia, you can practice letting go of it right now!

    And yes, that sounds insane: Because it did happen, I was hurt! That person was wrong! This should never have happened and must never happen again!

    It is all true. But if you look, you can see how hanging on to these stories is actually what is hurting you now, each time you remember and recall it. You are, like Pema said “eating the rat poison yourself expecting the rat to die.” Whoever or whatever hurt you is not even aware of whether you are still angry or not, they are not hearing your inner arguments, they may not even remember. You are the only one impacted, not your enemy. But once you recognize that, you can actually become free. And after you have truly let go, you can not only still take action, but actually be more skillful about it.

    So this is where I think we need to be careful of fixing. Yes, Buddhism can be much enriched by Western psychology. Yes, Buddhism must adjust to the needs and traps of the Western minds.

    But at the end of the day, if you’ve seen the truth of the Dharma, one way or another, you will have to let go of any and all of your stories. No matter how unfair it is or how justified they are. You simply can’t try to fix it all, because this is samsara, confusion, dualistic grasping mind. It will never end until you put an end to it. You will have to let go if you want to be free. And the faster you do, the better it is for you.

    And to mention injustice: What better justice would there be than letting the one who hurt you actually become the very cause of your awakening? There is no better revenge than that! It’s not becoming a doormat, it’s the ultimate empowerment! You’re being the boss, not the victim.

    So, these are just my thoughts. I assume that this is what Rinpoche tried to do. Bring up the very most painful points, so you can see and drop those. I think it’s safe to say it didn’t work like that in many cases. It became the opposite. Probably because this whole ‘actually trusting your unchanging goodness and Buddha nature’ is something very foreign to us. So much more foreign actually than all the ‘Tibetan stuff’.

    Unfortunately we can’t ‘just drop’ easily. Because we can’t ‘just trust’, as we deeply distrust and even hate ourselves. This I feel is the true crux that needs to be addressed and adjusted for. This trust would be the ultimate prerequisite prior to begin any direct teaching. Trust: Not just in the teacher and the teachings, but in your true self. That’s the crux.

    And maybe the conclusion has to be that this style of crazy wisdom needs to be abandoned, I don’t know. But I do feel strongly that we must be very careful not to loose the main point of Buddhism.

    • I completely understand your perspective about “letting go” of the story, Lucia. Because, as you say, whatever happens to us the only way to heal completely is to work with our own mind and to let go of the “story” as we’re able to. Problems come about though when people, in part because of the spiritual idea that they should be able to let go of their story, disassociate from their emotions and experiences instead.

      We need to be intelligent in how we integrate Western psychology into spiritual approaches. I’ve seen it done successfully without sacrificing the ultimate goal of letting go of one’s story.

      When someone shares what happened to them in this space, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are holding onto their story. Letting go of the story, to me, means letting go of the conflicting emotions surrounding the experience, it doesn’t mean forgetting what happened. The Dalai Lama will not stop talking about what the Chinese have done in Tibet, for example. I think Bernie has done this remarkably well. This is the reason he can share his experience in a relatively balanced way so that it might benefit others who face a similar struggle.

      • Lucia

        Hi Sandra, I was not judging Bernie’s personal process. I was responding to the statement “But isn’t our integrity and sense of innate worth related to our ego, which we need to give up on the spiritual path?” by pointing out or integrity and innate worth is not a function of our ego, but of our true nature. So it should not need to be destroyed at all. It should become stronger, weightier. Our ego’s sense of worth is like a feather. Our true sense of worth eventually should become unmoving, independent of whatever occurs. To think that our integrity and sense of innate worth must be destroyed is more an expression of self-hatred or disgust than Dharma as far as I am concerned. If anything, it needs to become unwavering.

    • Bernie Schreck

      Hi Lucia,

      thanks for your thoughtful comments and the many questions you bring up.

      I fully agree with you that after recognizing and understandning your ego the next step is to let go of it and Psychology may not have the best tools for that. This is where spiritual teachings can help you to trust in your fundamental goodness and innate wisdom and let go.

      Consciously we may believe that we are fundamentally good, but unconsciously we may not due to negative believes. Sogyal Rinpoche has been speaking about this so much. He would say “Why don’t you get it that you have Buddha nature? I am telling you all the time!” I have realized that the reason I was not able to get this message fully with my heart and mind was because of negative believes and inauthentic strategies of coping with life that I created during my life. So again Western Psychology can help with understanding your ego better and has effective methods to remove these obscurations.

      It sounds like you feel that I am hanging on to my story and that this is hurting me. It is interesting that I am coming across this way to you. I don’t experience that. I am sharing my experience because it healthy for me to share it and I feel it can be helpful for people who have had traumatic experiences to understand and process what they experienced and for anyone who is interested to understand how abuse is happening and how to prevent abuse in the future. Makes sense?

      P.S.: I’ll be off line for the next ten days doing a silent Vipassana retreat so I won’t be able to reply until after that.

      • Lucia

        Hi Bernie Schreck, No, you misunderstood me there. I’m not judging you or whether you are hanging on to a story or not at all, I’m just responding to that statement in your reflection. For all its benefits, Western psychology and our environment actually entice and encourage us to find and hold on to our stories, and identify completely with them. I’ve seen that a lot. I’ve also been pushed to have ‘appropriate emotions’ myself… that’s why I had to laugh hearing the story about the friendly therapist being so concerned that there was not the appropriate amount of anger and resentment. Western psychology too is not a neutral ground. And the attachment to explanatory stories in psychology can keep you stuck in them, as if it’s a law of nature. But it isn’t. Spiritual bypassing is one side of the story, but solidifying your pain in ‘I am like this because of that and that’ is another danger. Bringing in the Buddhist understanding of how you can work with mind and perceptions can be very empowering here. You’re not helpless, not hopeless. No matter what happened to you, you can transform what has happened or has been done to you into liberation. There is an incredible freedom in directly working with your mind, regardless. Even when you’re all tied up in the nasty stuff, mind can always be transformed. You’re not doomed. But maybe I did not say it clear enough? I’ll take a fresh look at it tomorrow!

        • Thanks for clarifying, Lucia. Bernie is in retreat for 10 days so he won’t be able to respond until then. But I’m sure he’ll appreciate your response. I so agree with you, we are not hopeless or doomed, at least not most of us. Some people might have difficult karma that could be hard to transform in this life, but most of us are workable.

          • Lucia

            I am so sorry that I was not more clear and I for any pain I caused Bernie. I apologize! At times all our emotions are so raw and words so easily off target. What is clear in my head is not so clear in writing… I deeply respect his patience and openness and willingness to look even deeper, and I hope his retreat may really replenish him.

            • Not to worry, dear Lucia. You are a beautiful person with a good heart. You made some important points in your post. I just wanted to clarify that one point, and I know Bernie didn’t take it too personally! Much love to you.

        • Bernie Schreck

          Hi Lucia, thanks for clarifying.

          I fully agree that your concerns are valid and we can get stuck and hold onto our stories. I can see how that can happens but my experience of Western Psychology is completely different from yours.

          For example I was just doing a 10 day Vipassana retreat and found that thoughts and emotions are much less overwhelming now that I have a better understanding where they are coming from.

          There are actually two issues. One is students learning to process their traumas and conflicting emotions. The other is understanding how ways of teaching that were accepted in Tibet are harmful in our setting.

          By the way I did not take your comments as hurtful so no need to apologize! 🙂

      • Solenodon

        You have to fully acknowledge your story before you can let it go. So a phase where you chew it, digest it, even ruminate on it for a while until you can come to terms with it is perfectly adequate and healthy.

        Because you can not realize the emptiness nature of something you try to suppress or disregard. And acting as if it’s not there doesn’t help either.

        And by the way, if an emotional response is truely trauma induced, PTSD rewires your brain and your stress hormone responses. Your neurological reaction to outer stimuli are changed compared to a non PTSD control group.
        Good luck, futerko, telling that, oh, it’s just silly clinging to old stuff, why don’t you “simply” let it go, when certain stimuli related to previous trauma just bypass any choice of mental reaction and send you into a freeze or dissociation or panic attack mode within 0.007 seconds and it takes you DAYS to shake off that state.

        • futerko

          @Solenodon – nowhere have I said, “it’s just silly clinging to old stuff, why don’t you “simply” let it go”…

          In any therapeutic relationship, the issues are there for both parties to work through. The opposite of working through is acting out – throwing tantrums and shouting accusations – this is the truth of Sogyal’s “method”. He is the one constantly being triggered while his students are left to deal with it on their own.

          Both in successful psychoanalyses, the Vajrayana path of transformation, and the Dzogchen path of self-liberation, this involves taking a perspective which is much broader than simply “my story” – in Sogyal’s case, one can clearly see the influence of this behaviour which he himself was subject to, and which is being played out here…

          – because Sogyal himself has not dealt with it, those around him find themselves having to find a way to deal with it – the drama being played out is much bigger than any one person’s story and yet in the current situation it is these individuals who are being placed in the position to take responsibility for this narrative.

          • Solenodon

            I don’t know SR personally despite having spent about 20 years in or at the fringes of Rigpa.

            I would not attempt to try to judge what is or is not going on in his mind, that drove him to do what he did. It’s all just assumptions, and I am usually a reasonably good interpreter of people’s mental messes just by watching them.

            In SR’s case, I refrain from an opinion.

            If I had to make a guess I would say, cultural conditioning (feudal leadership style he has grown up with, machismo), disability to interpret the typical western cultural hangups, plus overestimating his own ability as a teacher/reckless use and spreading of vajrayana.

            I can say nothing about the quality of his motivation. There is this saying, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It’s probably a mix of hedonistic urges, genuine wish to do good and some ignorance what those people truly need to improve.

            People don’t need a truly bad motivation to do harm, ignorance is totally enough to harm people.

            • futerko

              I pretty much agree with your impressions of Sogyal as an individual.
              I would only add that, to place this in context, consider what happens when an individual such as you have described is the head of a large and powerful institution.

    • futerko

      @Lucia

      Your first post made sense to me until the point where you write, “I assume that this is what Rinpoche tried to do. Bring up the very most painful points, so you can see and drop those. I think it’s safe to say it didn’t work like that in many cases. It became the opposite…”

      It would seem that we have to “assume” because of an utter lack of acknowledgement from the side of Sogyal and Rigpa. What actually is occurring here is denial and ignorance, despite the number of Rigpa students who have brought these issues to consciousness, one side of the relationship – that of the “guru” would appear to be utterly failing to achieve any growth or movement…

      one of the obvious consequences of dependent origination is that all relationships are two-way, and yet the some of most obvious instances of one-sided blaming are found in the official Rigpa press releases…

      if the triggering of past trauma is intended to be therapeutic, surely the therapist does not simply drop the patient at the instant these emotions arise?

      • Lucia

        Hi Futerko, I did use ‘assume’ because I really don’t know what Rinpoche was thinking nor what the situation was. I’m still at odds to reconcile his teachings that gave me the confidence to finally overcome my traumas own with what has been happening and with some of the responses I’ve seen from my fellow sangha members. I fully agree with you that there must have been a incredible neglect of care to help support people to work through their triggered past trauma. My words are not so clear today, but I am honestly horrified by it. It turned into the very opposite. No liberation but traumatization.

  5. French observer

    Bernie,

    I salute your courage to expose your experience on the public place. If you have been beaten several times I think you should go to the police to deposit a testimony. Then you will definitively not belong anymore to the category of the victims… You have some rights, one is to be respected.

    If you know the identity of the student beaten to the point of unconsciousness, you should try to convince him to go also to the police. This is just a testimony, but it’s an effective way to stop all of this violence. I would like to see how Sogyal Rinpoche behaves once at the police station.

    The foundation of buddhism is non-violence, so what was going on? We should not tolerate violence whatever the situation. This is not acceptable and against the most basic human rights.

    • Bernie Schreck

      Hi French observer, thanks for your speaking up so clearly for the principle of non-harming that is the foundation of Buddhism. I agree with you that maybe the authorities will need to get involved for change to happen. I think those who have written the letter and all of those speaking up on these issues now are hoping that these problems will now be addressed in a satisfactory way and that the authorities do not need to get involved. I personally feel no need to do this but it is very clear to me that if complaints of abuse continue sooner or later Sogyal Rinpoche and possible people in responsibility at Rigpa will find themselves at a police station.

  6. Nicole HOREAU

    Thank you, Bernie, for such an honest statement.You are very kind with SR.I wonder whether the methods you mention: verbal abuse, physical beating, humiliation, etc.are teaching methods or insane behaviour, taking it into account that he also resorted to such actions as rape, lying, asking for huge sums of money in cash, etc, which, definitely, were not teaching methods.
    As for me, I was humiliated twice, in Lerab Ling. Once, I arrived at 11 am, everybody was in the Temple, an attendant came out, very embarrassed, he asked: “SR wants to know why you are late”I answered I was late because I had been sick.The attendant reported to SR and came out again:”SR says’if she is sick, let her stay home'”Then, I was allowed into the Temple, ordered to stand close to him and open my eyes.This was supposed to be an introduction to the nature of mind!I was terrified and although I was shivering with cold, I had to sit in a draught for the rest of the session, during which I really considered leaving.I was terribly miserable, I spoke to a friend, a long term student of SR.She said:”What a blessing you had!”
    The second time, I was also feeling sick and cold, I was crouching on a cushion, in a far corner of the Temple.There was almost nobody.SR unexpectedly appeared on the stage and said”Who is that, at the back, is it a person or a statue? Take off that hood!”He mistook me for a statue because I was wearing a white outfit.He reacted like an insane person who wants to destroy the object of their fear. I know that, for Tibetans, wearing a hat or a hood isn’t done.But that was not the reason, I felt like he saw me as a threat.
    The aim was definitely not to help me reach enlightenment. And I’m not enlightened !
    In conclusion, are these teaching methods, Bernie? I have doubts.

    • Hi Nicole,

      Bernie is in retreat for 10-days and won’t be able to respond until then. You have a good question. What do you think for yourself?

      • Nicole HOREAU

        Hi Sandra!Thank you for answering. can’t answer the question about teaching methods.I only have doubts because SR’s behaviour shows that he is not reliable.
        He may also lie.A very good example: Last year, there was a brand new electric Mercedes, a SR Mercedes.SR said, in public, that the Mercedes was on rental, they couldn’t afford to buy it.The chauffeur, who is a wonderful man, managed to hire it.Unfortunately, in August, the Mercedes was hidden on a small car park, behind the studios.Neither SR nor the chauffeur were in LL.Nobody used the car, I watched it for 13 days. If you have a rental car you don’t use, what do you do? Do you keep paying?Funny, isn’t it?It’s a detail, but it shows SR is not reliable. What about his teaching methods?Are they teaching methods or a harmful behaviour?
        Lots of love.All my best wishes to Bernie for his retreat.He deserves so much!

        • Nicole,

          It’s not easy to sort out, is it? I think sometimes “white lies” occur with the idea of being “skillful.” Personally, I think sometimes the teaching methods are strong, but they are indeed teaching methods. Other times, I believe they are harmful behavior. I don’t think it’s always one way or the other, and that’s why it’s so confusing to people, especially if they have not seen the more extreme behaviors that usually go on behind closed doors.

  7. Nicole HOREAU

    Dear Bernie.I think you would love “Fully being”, the last video by Tsoknyi Rinpoche.He gave a short talk about it yesterday in Lerab Ling while attending to Khenpo Namdrol’s teachings.The video is on Catherine Paul’s Facebook .

    • Thank you of this suggestions, Nicole. Bernie is on a silent 10-day retreat, just started today. I’ll find the link and be sure he sees it when he comes out of his retreat. Much love to you.

    • Bernie Schreck

      Hi Nicole, thanks for the suggestion. I’ll check it out! I am sorry to hear about your painful experiences. Maybe these teachings methods iused to work in Tibet, maybe they still work for some people today, but clearly not for you and me and many others.

  8. Bernd Zander

    Dear Bernie Schreck,

    I would like to say a big „thank you“ to Sandra Pawula and you for creating this blog and sharing your thoughts in this insightful, analycal and balanced way. I am living in Germany and for myself a studend of Sogyal Rinpoche and member of RIGPA since 2002.

    Especially this article I regard as extremely helpful and would like to recommend it to all RIGPA students. This is mainly because it brings together as many different important aspects as possible together in one single article, which is written in a very accesible way. I appreciate very much that you mention the brilliance of Rinpoche´s teachings as well as the different aspects of suffering, that can be caused by abusive teachers. I regard it as very important that you differentiate between different characters of students, when it comes to the question, why some individuals are suffering while others don´t.

    For me it would be not a mistake, if not all readers share your conclusions partly or in ful. The main value of your work lies in the chance it provides for readers and especially RIGPA students to get a broader picture, so everyone can come to her or his own assessment based on facts.

    • I’m glad you found the article helpful, Zand. Bernie is away on a 10-day retreat, but I’m sure he will appreciate reading your comment when he returns. I can’t say we’re entirely impartial, but we do try to present information in a balanced, non-inflammatory way with the hope that more people will be open to reading different perspectives so they can come to a reasoned conclusion that isn’t based on blind devotion. Thank you.

  9. Bernd Zander

    There is one particular passage in your article, on which I would like to know more about. You write:

    „Jungian psychologists who have studied Eastern religions have noted that emotions are approached differently in the East, which might account for some of the problems we see in Western Dharma organizations led by Asian teachers.“

    I think it would be helpful if you could explain further, what you (or C.G. Jung) mean by that.

    • Dear Bernd,

      Let’s see if Bernie can do that when he returns from his 10-day meditation retreat. I will let him know. Thanks for the suggestion.

    • Bernie Schreck

      Hi Bernd, I am glad that what I wrote was helpful. Jungian Psychology really helped me understand Western Culture. If youa re interested I would suggest you read some of the books by Robert A Johnsons (start with He, then She, then We) or Boundaries of the Soul by June Singer. There may be even better books in German.

  10. Ilka

    Hi Bernie, Thanks for sharing!

    I grew up in an abusing environment. I learned early on how to distance myself from my emotions, distrust my own sense of “good-or-not-good-for-me”. I worked hard over many years (25-30years) to undo the harm I had experienced and establish a healthy sense of self regard. I had always trouble in being present with my emotions. Meeting Rinpoche changed that. He saw me and the hurt I constantly inflicted on myself. For once in my life someone saw compassionately my deepest inner hurt without condemnation, without trying to take advantage.
    That was not an easy experience, I was shaken and scared. I was not used to being treated kind and I had to face a truth about myself, a truth I didn’t like. Suddenly “me” was something else altogether.

    I brought my childhood trauma to my first 10 days Retreat, without knowing that I still functioned under that trauma-spell. Rinpoche blew my ordinary mind away. I suddenly stood in an open space and a clear awareness of my hurt.
    So what do you do with such an experience when you are not a longtime practitioner? Do you close up? Because you can not stand the fear until it subsides?
    I did not have the skillful means I have today. I would never have gotten the necessary Lojong-Teachings when I had not sought out advice. But to get that advice took months. Meanwhile the old negative habits crowded in again. It might have been easier if one experienced practitioner would have gotten in contact with me (since I was completely new) during the retreat and would have taken up the responsibility to call me a couple of weeks later.

    Hope this is helpful and my heartfelt appreciation of this blog.
    Ilka

    • Bernie Schreck

      HI Ilka, thanks for sharing your experience.

      I agree that it would be very good if older students would follow up with those coming to their first retreat. Or more realistically that newer students would know that there is support available and how to access it. I think if you have overwhelming experiences due to trauma and abuse a good spiritual minded psychologist may be most helpful.

      One of the conclusions I have come to myself that a better understanding of my history and traumas would have prepared me better to process and benefit from some of the experiences I had.

      It sounds like you are able to turn your experiences into healing and growth so I wish you that this continues well.

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