How Did It Happen?

Understanding and Healing Abuse in Buddhist Communities

The Heart of Samaya Is Harmony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Is Samaya?

Sogyal Rinpoche used to explain samaya as a sacred bond between student and teacher.  He said the most important aspect in caring for this bond is to maintain a positive heart connection between the teacher and student and also between the students.

In the midst of these abuse allegations, this may feel challenging for many of us.  But we believe it’s possible, whatever our personal position, to do our best to keep a tender and open heart, listen with the intention to hear and understand others, and be mindful not to speak and act out of anger. The letters, newsletters, and statements sent to us from Rigpa and Sogyal Rinpoche since the controversy began consistently encourage this kind of attitude.

To achieve this, maybe for now, we need to put aside our remarks about the impurity of anyone else’s samaya, especially considering the radically different views on samaya expressed by Buddhist teachers in response to this controversy.

In heated discussions over the last few days, we’ve heard breakage of samaya described by some Rigpa students as “turning against the teacher.” A significant number of people seem to interpret Khenpo Namdrol’s discourse and Orgyen Tobgyal’s message to mean that any critical statement about the teacher or request for inappropriate behavior to be addressed constitutes a breakage of samaya.

Can you see how this interpretation of samaya might prompt students to split into opposing camps and attack one another?

These statements may also be perceived as commands to be silent. But silence can be detrimental.  Secrecy has contributed to creating the conditions for abuse to occur in many Buddhist communities.

When it comes to samaya in the context of abuse, you’ll find widely different advice even among Buddhist teachers.

For one, Sogyal Rinpoche himself seems to see it differently. The day after the letter was published, Sogyal Rinpoche was asked whether one of the letter writers could attend a meeting for committed students. Sogyal Rinpoche said this person has always been good-hearted and will, of course, continue to be part of the Dzogchen mandala.

Mingyur Rinpoche wrote in Lion’s Roar:

But if there is a long-standing pattern of ethical violations, or if the abuse is extreme, or if the teacher is unwilling to take responsibility, it is appropriate to bring the behavior out into the open. In these circumstances, it is not a breach of samaya to bring painful information to light. Naming destructive behaviors is a necessary step to protect those who are being harmed or who are in danger of being harmed in the future, and to safeguard the health of the community.

The Dalai Lama has spoken four times now in response to the current controversy, stating clearly that the behaviors outlined in the letter are inappropriate and need to be addressed.  He said such behavior should be shared publicly.

With this range of interpretations, isn’t it the case that everyone can accuse someone else of breaking samaya?

From one perspective, anyone who has received empowerments from the Dalai Lama who says he’s wrong to speak about ethical standards and interfere with the Nyingma tradition would be breaking samaya with him. From another perspective, anyone who agrees with the Dalai Lama’s concerns about unethical behavior in Rigpa and speaks up about it would be breaking samaya with Sogyal Rinpoche. And so on.

Can Open Discussion and Samaya Co-Exist?

There are many different perspectives in this controversy. Some of us may have concluded that the allegations are unfounded.  But both Rigpa and Sogyal Rinpoche say they take the allegations seriously and that they invite open discussion.

Sogyal Rinpoche wrote on July 19th:

I need to hear and acknowledge the experiences that some of my students have spoken of, and over the last few days I have been reflecting very deeply on what course I need to take, how to address these issues.

The Rigpa press release from July 21st 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. We respect Sogyal Rinpoche’s decision to step back and to enter a period of retreat and reflection, and find it wise. During this time we will seek external professional and spiritual advice and look into whatever steps might be necessary. We have already initiated open discussion within our community about the letter and the issues it raises. We intend to bring clarity to this situation as soon as possible.

And…

The responsibility to navigate the way through these challenging times now lies with us—the Rigpa Sangha. Please participate as best you can, so that collectively we can bring peace, healing and resolution to our community and to all those affected. Let us be spacious and non-judgmental so that we can truly listen to each other with our whole being, and with compassion and understanding.

In our opinion, it would be prudent to leave our judgments about who is a samaya breaker, according to any particular set of standards, until the end of the independent investigation. In the meantime, I believe that the best way to support Sogyal Rinpoche’s health and long life is to strive for as much harmony in the Rigpa community as possible.

Cultivating Harmony

Sogyal Rinpoche wrote on July 19:

It is extremely important now that we strengthen and build upon the deep spirit of friendship, openness, and genuine care that already exists in our Sangha. I encourage you all to reach out to one another, and look after one another, to listen to each other, and care for one another in the loving, compassionate and open spirit of the Buddha’s teachings.

Here are some additional ways we, as a community and Rigpa as an organization, could express the spirit of this message.

First and foremost, recognizing how divisive it is to the sangha as a whole, we could all refrain from labeling anyone as a samaya breaker.  As Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche has said, only a fully enlightened Buddha can know for certain who is a samaya breaker.

Now that Rigpa is an independent entity, no longer under the spiritual direction of Sogyal Rinpoche, the organization could publically take a middle path, which would model and very likely increase harmony in the community.

Recently Rigpa U.S. shared Orgyen Tobgyal’s message in their weekly newsletter without sharing differing views on samaya from other teachers. A similar focus is happening in online discussion groups. Doing so gives the impression that Rigpa endorses the statement and sees it as its own official response to the eight letter writers and anyone else who raises questions about abuse or financial improprieties.  This can instill fear, inflame negative emotions, and further divide the sangha.

We believe a less divisive message will be more effective in creating harmony and avoiding further damage to the heart connection students feel with Sogyal Rinpoche and each other.

Other communities who have faced abuse scandals have been able to bring the different sides together with the help of neutral facilitators.  Maybe this is especially needed right now?

Hopefully, the investigation that Rigpa promised to initiate over two months ago will start soon. This would also contribute to restoring trust in the wider community.

It would also be immensely helpful for Sogyal Rinpoche to speak about his reflections on the allegations rather than keeping silence. Maintaining silence can come across as responding in the same way abuse allegations have been handled in the past.

An approach of not responding because of fear of legal ramifications may backfire. If you come across as not hearing their concerns, people may feel the need to prove the validity of what they say through the legal system.

Those who criticize Rigpa could do so with a positive vision for its continuation as a respected Dharma organization. They could also take into account that many students feel they have been guided well by Sogyal Rinpoche and want him to continue to teach and direct them.

They could commit to watching their anger and not letting it get out of control. After all, we’re all just human beings. Most of our sangha friends have not been in positions of responsibility, have not been aware of harm, and have not directly harmed anyone even though we all need to all look at how we may have contributed to the situation.

If the discussion on samaya is not handled appropriately, it will bring exactly the opposite it was meant to accomplish:  instead of harmonizing, it will divide.  In fact, the last two weeks have shown this to be true.

Understandably, tempers have flared. We look to the Rigpa leadership to visibly encourage greater calmness, harmony, and wisdom in the community.

Note: A post with reflections very similar to this article was not approved in “Transformations,” a private Facebook group of 600 committed students. The reason given by moderator: “It’s not the appropriate time to be raising questions and doubts. Best for everyone to focus on practicing for Rinpoche.”

What are your thoughts?  How can we related to each other in the spirit of friendship, openness, and genuine care despite vastly different perspectives on the situation at hand?  We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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54 Comments

  1. Janet Tew

    First, I agree with your call for harmony in the sangha. It is the best antidote to the suffering we are all undergoing at this time.

    Many people may be unaware that Transformation is Boon’s own personal page and therefore each post must be approved by him & reflect his own viewpoint.

    • Bernie Schreck

      I heartily agree with you that harmony is the best antidote. And yes I am aware this is Boon’s group. I know he has good intentions. We just seem to have a difference in opinion in what will promote more harmony in the community overall. Each of us can reflect and do what feels right in our heart.

  2. Nicole HOREAU

    I am so sad and moved by your kind hearted comments on harmony, just as I was moved by Rinpoche’s photograph yesterday.I’m afraid some people have not heard Rinpoche ‘s heartfelt advice:”Be strong as a community, support each other, be friends, live in harmony, communicate deeply”etc.I’m sorry to say they are not ready to restore harmony.
    I hope Rinpoche will live long enough to have time to acknowledge the harm he has done and ask for forgiveness so that he can go in peace.And I also hope he will live long enough for the investigation to be led to its end and the situation to be clear before he goes.It’s a crucial point and the only way out.There is no time to lose.With all my love.Nicole

    • Bernie Schreck

      Thanks Nicole, I also hope for a positive resolution and restoration of harmony!

  3. Mary Finnigan

    The threat of hellfire and damnation from non-human realms, the emotional blackmail on the subject of samaya and the recent whitewash communication from the Ven Tsewang are all pointing in one direction — don’t let the Sogyal bandwagon de-rail. Khenchen Namdrol, Orgyen Topgyal and Tsewang are relics from a bygone Tibetan age. ..and they have misread the current mood in the west. Their crude propaganda has backfired on them . Their exhortations have been received with derision and/or gales of laughter by common sense Buddhists — and that’s quite a lot of people. Most of us are aware that these “lamas” can see their power leaking away — and most importantly to them, the cash flow that goes with it. On the subject of samaya I quote from Behind The Thangkas
    “There are two taboos in Buddhist organisations – both of which have merit and both of which can be used as manipulative tools. One of them is an injunction against gossip – useful when trying to establish a calm mental state, but also useful to prevent the circulation of critical comment. The second is samaya – the indestructible bond of loyalty that is one of the key tenets of Tibetan Buddhism. It supports the relationship between teacher and neophyte – but it can be deployed unscrupulously as a threat – break your samaya and attract dire consequences to yourself and your loved ones.”
    This was written in 2011. For me recent events seem like chickens coming home to roost.

    • Bernie Schreck

      What comes to my mind with this is that fear and threat are the opposite of love!

  4. French observer

    About the idea of the continuation of Rigpa as a respected Dharma organization:
    Don’t forget that the memberships of Rigpa Lerab Ling and Rigpa France in l’Union Bouddhiste de France have been suspended the 3d of August 2017.

    • Bernie Schreck

      Hi French observer, good point. I am aware of this and I agree that the integrity of Rigpa as a dharma organization needs to be restored . We are hoping that Rigpa will make the necessary changes to be seen again as a respected dharma organization.

  5. Mary Finnigan

    The present Rigpa administration and inner circle enabled and covered up Sogyal’s abusive behaviour for decades. Rigpa is one of the most ineptly managed global organisations extant in the world today. How can anyone with two brain cells expect it to survive as a “respected” dharma institution with the likes of Patrick Gaffney and Dominique Side still in charge?

    • Those are important concerns, Mary. I hope they will be addressed in the independent investigation, which was to be arranged by mid-October. Indeed, we should strongly request that they be considered.

      These aren’t the only people who manage the organization, however. Rigpa has accomplished a great deal. It offers an excellent progressive study and practice program. It organizes multiple retreats and courses in many countries each year. It invites spiritual teachers – Tibetan and Western – from all traditions to teach at its centers. I can’t say it’s perfectly managed, but it’s far from inept.

      Anyone who has faith in PG and DS is not necessarily “stupid.” They probably don’t have the whole picture.

      • Solenodon

        “Anyone who has faith in PG and DS is not necessarily “stupid.” They probably don’t have the whole picture.”

        It is, with the average conspiracy theory monger. That’s the argument you always get if you disagree with a conspiracy theorist or propagandist.

  6. Maria

    Thank you Bernie and Sandra for this balanced call for unity and peace – the only way to move forward successfully I think. It is a shame that it wasn’t able to be posted on the Transformation page because I know a lot of people on that page would appreciate this attitude as well.

    May the fear and uncertainty subside and the heart of compassion and forgiveness for all arise allowing resolution and healing in the sangha. We can all do our part and demonstrate where our practice stands, holding the view which encompasses all, practicing non judgemental awareness as much as we can allowing us to help and support anyone we are in contact with to heal and take the steps they need to move (or not) in whichever direction is best for them at this time. We can fuel harmony or dissonance by our thoughts and our actions. I know what I would rather be doing.

    • Bernie Schreck

      Hi Maria, I join you in your call for compassion and forgiveness, non-judgemental awareness and harmony! Like the Buddha said, “we are what we think!” <3

  7. Choedak

    Revenge and vengeance are that something Buddha has never been taught as solution but tolerance and compassion. 

    Even if you are victim and even if you are innocent still you have responsibility to hold Buddha’s teaching and not discourage one who wants join buddhism, this will affect flourish of its teaching.

    If you felt wrong or u reasonable please follow your heart and seek other path or master. Specially tantric practice it is kept secret so please stop slaughtering sacred tantric practice in naked social network.

    • Bernie Schreck

      Hi Choedak, thanks for sharing your point of view. If I understand correctly you are saying this post is motivated by revenge and vengeance. I would like to point out that
      I am not criticizing the teachings or speaking badly about the Dharma but pointing out inappropriate behavior with the motivation to prevent future harm. True, sadly some will be discouraged when they hear about this, but I think it would be more appropriate for you to write to Sogyal Rinpoche and ask him to stop behavior that is inappropriate and harmful, rather than telling those who, as advised by the Dalai Lama, speak up and ask for these behaviors to stop. I believe seeing that harmful behaviors are addressed will actually encourage others to trust the teachings more. I think you are writing to the wrong people. The root of the problem is the person who is harming others. He is turning people away from the dharma.

      • Choedak

        Thanks for your kind reply, I still choose not share inside out everything. My concern is those student who felt wronged might loss faith in Buddhism. Cuz in my life I have seen many ups and down but main thing is still holding the unshakable Buddha Dharma in heart and develop once mind even deeper understanding of suffering that occurs in everyday, as practitioner of course we will face countless obstacles and that is how life of the Buddha’s story taught.

        And by the way, what happens if we could able to share in facebook those photos of the Milarepa’s back full of wounds that is bleeding and still carrying sharp rocks to build his Master’s son house, over that Merpa is beating and scolding him mercilessly even his wife cant bear it. Probably, Merpa might end up jail and Mila would never achieve his realization.

        • Mary Finnigan

          That was the 13th century. I think we’ve moved on a bit since then.

          • Choedak

            Yes, exactly we moved on too far.

            Lastly, i will pray and hope that those student will meet their karmic bound Teacher and find ultimate spiritual path. Dont worry about Sogyal Rinpoche’s right doing or wrong doing because as Buddhist we belief that this is account under law of karma. He will definitely face it whether good or bad. Most important is whether you can forgive him as practitioner??

            Meantime, we better not to accuse or hatred like people who dont even have basics understand of Buddha’s teaching.
            Personal Victory and other’s defeat,
            Self purifying and staining others; these are not what we do.

          • Solenodon

            Has nothing to do with century.

            If hells exist, then they existed in the 13th century as well as today.

            And the buddhist doctrin includes the teaching of the six realms, which include hells and hungry ghost realms. If you deny the existence of hells and that there are behaviours that will get you there, then you are no longer following buddhism.

            And then we can take all the teachings in the sutras and tantras as to what will cause birth in those lower realms.

            If you are unable to accept these teachings as a working template for your spiritual path, you are free to choose a different religion.

            As to if threatening followers with fire and brimstone preaching to “modify their behaviour” is suitable in a specific situation or not is totally a different question.

            If you believe a vajra hell does not exist, you should not be introduced to tantric buddhism. Just like you should not convert to catholicism if you find the story of the virgin Mary and papal infailability more than a bit suspicious

        • Choedak,

          According to Mingyur Rinpoche extreme teachings methods like the ones used by Marpa with Milarepa are the rare exception not the rule, they are only used as a last resort, and never cause trauma. That’s not an example that can be used to justify abuse in modern dharma organizations. Of course, no one want to discourage people from practicing Buddhism. But the cause for that needs to be place on a teacher who violates Buddhist ethics.

        • Catlover

          Using a medieval folk tale legend, (which may have been exaggerated, or maybe actual abuse was being whitewashed even at the time), to justify worldly abuse from modern teachers is not very helpful, imo. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the story of Milarepa is absolutely factual and not an exaggerated folk tale. The huge difference between what Marpa did and what Sogyal did show in the actual RESULTS. Also, it was a different time and culture. But aside from the fact that these methods are just not considered proper (or even legal) in modern culture, the difference is that Milarepa turned out enlightened and Sogyal’s abused students just need therapy. Even if Sogyal meant well, the fact that he used the wrong methods, which did not benefit his students, show that he has some serious lack of good judgement regarding which methods to apply for whom and when it is appropriate, etc. A truly enlightened being can see, (using their psychic abilities), exactly what methods will benefit beings. If Sogyal is not realized enough to be able to see that stuff, he shouldn’t be using those methods to begin with. There is no excuse for abuse period and I am sick of Milarepa being used to justify abusive behavior, which has nothing to do with enlightenment, and everything to do with ego and ordinary beings losing their tempers.

          • Catlover

            Just a clarification.

            I’m not saying Marpa and Milarepa were ordinary beings. (Who really knows?) According to legend, they were both supposed to have been very enlightened and advanced, and Milarepa had advanced qualities even before he became fully enlightened. What I am saying is that it is not helpful to use this legend of two very special, exceptional beings as an excuse for justifying egotistical behavior from beings who are NOT at the level of Marpa/Milarepa.

  8. Mary Finnigan

    Also from BTT in 2011:
    Marie Lefevre had a salaried job with Rigpa Paris, working for 8 to 12 hours a day. She witnessed a number of circumstances and events which aroused grave doubts and caused her to leave.
    “I noticed that people are brainwashed and that Rigpa is run more like a business mafia than a spiritual organisation. They are obsessed with appearances — Sogyal urges his people to buy expensive clothes and products and to look smart. Money given by devout students is used to buy luxuries for Sogyal – and people who have outlived their usefulness are discarded in a very cruel manner.”

  9. French observer

    Choedak, don’t you think that Milarepa was in a kind of special situation? Not that many students have killed 35 people using black magic.

    And look at the way Milarepa has treated his own students… Bottom line, stop using those few specific cases to justify generalized misdeeds from a lama. This is sickening and a lack of respect for our tradition.

  10. Choedak

    Well French observer, Milarepa’s whole story shows how much commitment and endurance that practitioner need, it is not about giving up or turning back.

    Well, sorry for the most pple who are in here as my comment might not be something you want to read thus i will stop here with your compassion on my ignorance.

    • French observer

      Choedak, we certainly all have in common basic ignorance. Reading your posts, I could feel you had the right motivation.
      I certainly regret not to have been able to convey the message in the most proper way. Still, I wish that it may help you on your path.

    • Catlover

      The story of Milarepa is an old teaching tale, which is used as an example of a student enduring extreme hardship and dedication. It is interesting to listen to and contemplate, but it’s not helpful to imagine that we are all at Milarepa’s level or that all lamas are at Marpa’s level. The excuse for abuse could only be justified if the two beings in question WERE actually at that level. Most of Sogyals’ students are certainly not at that level, and I doubt Sogyal is, so people should just stop pretending that this is some kind of mystical Vajrayana “teaching” that people are just too “dumb” to understand. This is a case of a lama out of control and forgetting how to conduct himself in a culture that has less tolerance for abusive behavior than the culture he came from.

  11. Eckart Dissen

    This will be my last message. I find the discussion in this forum too much out of balance. Too much of concern for the so called sangha, and too less concern for the harmed people. The whole concept of Samaya is used to justify the silence and to oppress people that are hurt.
    It lacks compassion with the victims, it is not helpfull, neither reaching out.
    True Buddhism unworthy. Yak.
    From the desk of the Foundation for Meeting with Tibetan Culture.

    • I understand Eckart. We are definitely here for people who feel harmed. We have no intention to justify silence and to oppress people that are hurt. We wrote this post to point out that the concept of samaya may be being used, wittingly or unwittingly, to instill silence, fear, and doubt. Thanks for sharing your perspective. I wish you well.

    • Solenodon

      Then let’s bring on people who have first hand abusive experience with SR, not some hearsay by people who say that they have witnesses yadda-yadda-yadda.

      So far none of the victims has stated his or her case to me, and unless it comes from a victim directly and sounds thoroughly credible I refuse to take things as fact that strangers are writing over mail servers or websites..

      • Catlover

        Solenodon

        Erm….eight people got together and wrote a letter of protest. They had personal, first hand experience. They have known and worked with Sogyal for years. Not only that, but people have been talking about Sogyal’s abuse for years and years. What more evidence is needed to prove that there is actual abuse going on? Do you need everything to be said to you directly before you will take the cold, hard evidence and see reality?

        • Solenodon

          Rigpa has seen literally THOUSANDS of people. 8 have complained. I know more people who have been in these types of situations with SR and don’t report being violently abused.

          In 20 years the only harsh behaviour I have seen was verbal and the people receiving it had in some way f–ed up some real existing work organising events or running the organisation.
          And I have in 20 years never met a person in Rigpa who would have complained about being beaten by him.

          It’s interesting by the way that there are a lot of complain-worthy things going on within the organisation, but those are not even getting a mention in that pamphlet.

          • Catover

            Solenodon

            Even in a dictatorship, only a small percentage of people complain out loud, so what’s your point? Are you saying that because fewer people complained that their complaints weren’t valid? Also, just because no one complained to YOU about being beaten, that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. You say you saw a lot of valid complain-worthy things going on, yet you dismiss what other people say? What has got to happen before you think people should start saying something?

            Your comments are all over the place, and it’s hard to tell whose side you’re on, or what you’re trying to say. My sense is that you think it’s silly to complain, and that they shouldn’t because one shouldn’t expect a Vajrayana teacher to be a decent person, as long as he/she is “qualified” to give an empowerment. I think when someone is teaching spirituality, the MINIMUM requirement is to at least be a decent person, who treats people fairly and doesn’t take advantage of them. I don’t think that’s too much to ask from a teacher and if it is, then I want nothing to do with them.

            • Solenodon

              It just means that I don’t pass judgement on something where I don’t have the means to directly verify the accusations and don’t personally know anyone who could is not something I will do.

              In our judicial system we have the fundamental policy of “innocent until proven” guilty.

              A crowd shouting something and a handful of people that spread accusations could mean anything from a valid complaint to a pure smear campaign.

              And we all know how easy it is these days to rally a stoning mob over the internet and how conspiracy theories are born and spread. Tons of people believe that there is proof that babies can get autism from vaccination. This “proof” just doesn’t exist. It’s made up.

              So, no, I don’t randomly believe stuff random people spread over the internet or other mass media just because there is a loud crowd. Too much fake news out there.

              Rigpa isn’t a dictatorship. There was never a censoring of opinion. I know that because I stated uncomfortable opinions often enough, even quit my membership because I didn’t agree with management decisions. Nobody had a problem with it.

          • Adamo

            What would you complain about ?

  12. French observer

    Choedak, we certainly all have in common basic ignorance. Reading your posts, I could feel you were motivated by compassion.
    I certainly regret not to have been able to convey the message in the most proper way. Still, I wish that it may help you on your path.

  13. Rae Hatherton

    Presenting all sides and personally participating in the conversations with the sangha are vital pieces to resolution in my humble estimation. Thank you Bernie for this well presented piece on the different avenues, approaches and points of view being presented regarding samaya and the opportunity for reflection they offer. Contemplation is in order for me on an ongoing basis. The whole situation has deepened my relationship with Rinpoche, the dharma, myself and the sangha.

    • Rae,

      We agree, it’s important to present all views in a relatively balanced way so people can begin to hear each other. This is not meant to diminish the experience of those who feel harmed, but to create a space where they can be heard. I’m inspired that you are taking the challenges onto the path.

  14. Gold Star

    The real question is: Are you still willing to follow Sogyal Rinpoche as your primary Dharma teacher…even if he doesn’t issue a formal apology for his “abusive” actions???

  15. Leslie Rollins

    Thank you, Bernie and Sandra, for this good hearted, common sense article. I’ve been reactive, upset, worried about my samaya. Your input came at the right time. You have done a service. May we all have inner fortitude.

    • You’re welcome, Leslie. We completely understand. We’re glad you’re feeling some relief. We don’t doubt that everyone has good intentions, but sometimes they may not be aware of how much these ideas can trigger fear and worry. So they need to be communicated with great sensitivity, especially at this time. Much love to you, Leslie.

  16. Henry

    First and foremost the words of Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche are absolutely scandalous to insinuate that the cancerous tumors where cause by disciples breaking their samaya …It is plain stupid ….have you not notice the extremely large stomach of Sogyal …being there for a very long time ….when he came to stay in the home of one of my friend he was eating beef twice a day …every day …he was a big red meat eater …vegan have 25 to 50% less cancer in that part of the body …red meat mix with alcohol …plus lots of sugar ….naturally he will get cancer …it as nothing to do with breaking the samaya …more with breaking the very basic rules of a healthy nutrition…he is a hypocrite now talking about his taking shelter in the Buddha and sangha ….where was his heart and mind when he was demanding sex from the ladies in his inner circle …Theses are just more words to keep brainwashing the blind followers of Rigpa .

    • Solenodon

      Yeah, it’s definitely the diet that was risky here.

      Red meat, when digested produces some chemicals that will make you more prone to those kinds of cancers. Lack of exercise increases the cancer risk too.

      And probably he didn’t do regular coloscopy screenings. As a high risk individual, you definitely should. We are no longer living as Tibetan nomads. This can be prevented by other means than prayers.

  17. Catlover

    @Solenodon,

    Since it looks like you won’t let me reply to your last comment, I will insert it here.

    I didn’t say Rigpa was (necessarily) a dictatorship, but I said EVEN in a dictatorship, most people don’t speak out, so I didn’t see what point you were making. Just because most of the Rigpa people don’t say anything, that doesn’t mean nothing is going on. Most of them wouldn’t be in the inner circle anyway, so most of them wouldn’t even have access to that kind of info. or witness him behind the scenes. it sounds like you wouldn’t know either. DO you have personal,access to him personally, or are you just someone who likes to go to Rigpa for teachings, but you have no personal relationship with Sogyal?

    When many, many people are speaking out about the same person, I think it’s safe to assume they are guilty, even if it isn’t proven in a court of law. He can’t be put into jail (yet) unless there is a trial, but that doesn’t mean rational people can’t see there is something wrong and avoid him. It is not just a “handful” of people on the internet gossiping about someone they don’t know. The people who have been speaking out about abuse from Sogyal are people who have known him personally for years. There wouldn’t be so MANY people speaking out if there wasn’t something real going on. The old saying “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” would apply here. There is too much smoke for there to be no fire. You just want to be in denial about Sogyal because I guess you like him and you just don’t want to believe he could ever be abusive. The truth will come out eventually, and he may or may not get into actual legal trouble, but his abuses will be too obvious even for people like you to ignore.

    • Catlover

      At this point, I don’t see what more people need in order to be able to see that something is going on that doesn’t look pretty. The letter, the lawsuits, the years and years of complaints and reports from people who KNOW him personally are enough. The law is there to protect people from being prosecuted until proven guilty, but that doesn’t mean that no one can see or observe that someone is guilty.

    • Solenodon

      “When many, many people are speaking out about the same person, I think it’s safe to assume they are guilty”

      Nope, could totally be a witch hunt instigated by a few malicious individuals who instigate a lynch mob.

      So you fall prey to the “if we repeat it long and loudly enough and rally a crowd, something will eventually stick” tactic that is so modern these days?

      • Catlover

        Solenodon,

        If it was just a “lynch mob” crowd, the Dalai Lama and other reputable teachers would not speak out against Sogyal’s abuse. They obviously know what is going on and they wouldn’t ever comment on just gossip. Face up to it, Sogyal is an abuser and all insiders to Tibetan Buddhism have known about him and his behavior for literally decades. it’s amazing that there are still people who actually *don’t* know about him by now. Since you refuse to face the truth of the situation, I will no longer try to respond to your comments defending him. You can believe what you wish and be in denial if you want to.

        • Mary Finnigan

          Hear hear. Good to see someone else telling it like it has been for 30+ years.

  18. Kiki Le Fleur

    Many people did not see the Holocaust. Heresay was denied. Those with political interests did not intervene. Even today there are Holocaust deniers. This is a horriblely excessive example but it does show that the logic of “I didn’t see it, so it must not have happened” has a flaw. As one who experienced sexual abuse from a recognized Rinpoche from anotherTibetan Sangha, I experienced on a much smaller scale the process of denial and justification: where Sangha members never warmed me ( students who already saw his abuses of power); when I directly questioned my teacher, he explained his behavior was part of guru yoga and the fastest way to purification and merit- by totally giving yourself to the Lama. When I dissociated from the Organization, I was accused of jeopardizing the Rinpoche’s health- and by extension the Sanghas, and that I would experience kalpas of hell realms. I have never healed from that. No one had ever made public this teacher’s behaviors though they were, I later discovered, the norm. If you ever wonder why students who’ve been harmed rarely speak out, it’s a complex situation that cannot be reduced to “no one complained., therefore it never happened. “ Only when the sangha itself begins to practice the compassion for their sisters and brothers does Buddhism flourish. Anger is a legitimate response, and spiritually bypassing it prevents recovery by both the wounded and those who witnessed it who now experience vicarious trauma. I pray that skillfulmeans and the dharma as thee the Buddha origininallly taught will come to the fore at this time. There is not true Buddhism- only applications and interpretations of the words and practices that originated from the Awakened One. I pray and wish for healing for all. I am still on the journey to regain trust in any spiritual authority and i’ve had to go through this process alone, leaving behind all that i gave my heart to. there are others like me. These stories are hidden in the layers of rhetic and advice and arguments. Pray for us too. We are too vulnerable to come forward when the mentality of blaming the victim is endemic to these exposures of teacher abuse.

    • Catlover

      @ Kiki Le Fleur,

      Thanks for sharing your story. Would you feel comfortable naming the Rinpoche who abused you? It might be good to know who these predators are.

      • Kiki Le Fleur

        If there’s one take home from all that’s currently going on, it’s that its unsafe for those of us abused to publicly come forth- in fact, it is re-traumatizing, especially when the Sangha and Buddhists practitioners at large blame the victim and continue to rationalize and exonerate the teacher’s behavior. So while I appreciate your desire to know who the predators are in Buddhism, I think a more productive question to ask is “What can I, within my community, do to support those who have been through what you have, Kiki?” Please don’t put the burden of this work on those of us have been harmed; we will only get hit in the crossfire of this ongoing ordeal and suffer more.

      • Kiki Le Fleur

        Of course I’m not comfortable naming the Rinpoche. My last line of the post said explicitly:

        ***** “We are too vulnerable to come forward when the mentality of blaming the victim is endemic to these exposures of teacher abuse. “******

        I hope your awareness on this issue can be more finely tuned.

    • Thank you, Kiki. I’m so sorry for all that you endured. I wish you complete healing. I completely understand why people don’t come forward in these situations. Thanks for offering illumination to those who may not have been able to see why and how it is so difficult to do so. I pray for your healing and healing for all that have been abused.

      • Kiki Le Fleur

        Thank you Sandra. Your understanding and prayers are deeply appreciated.

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