Understanding and Healing Abuse in Buddhist Communities

Tag: Tibetan Buddhism

Fallout: An Important New Book on Abuse in Rigpa (and other Significant News)

What’s it like to wake up and suddenly discoverer your beloved spiritual teacher has been a serial abuser for decades?  

In her lucid and courageous memoir, Fallout, Recovering from Abuse in Tibetan Buddhism, Tahlia Newland reveals how she herself grappled with with this incredulous news over a period of months and years. Newland also shares many moving and insightful stories from the community of people — called “What Now?”— that emerged to support one another, and especially survivors, during this heart-shattering time.

But Fallout is much more than a memoir.

In addition to its very human stories, Fallout provides an overview of the events that took place once the abuse had been revealed by 8 dedicated, long-term students of Sogyal Rinpoche, and a brilliant analysis of how deeply caring, idealistic people can get caught up in an intricate web of deception. The material on the dynamics of abuse and high-demand organizations has been thoroughly researched so you’ll come away with a greater understanding of why people stayed and how profoundly they were damaged, both abuse survivors and those who suffered secondary trauma or discouragement and disillusionment.  

Newland also explores, in detail, the kinds of spiritual ideas that can be misused by a spiritual teacher and his closest students to ensure obedience, enable abuse, and justify violence as kindness.

Fallout is written in a matter-of-fact way, without an emotional charge, personal agenda, or vendetta.  That’s not to say you won’t be disturbed, and rightly so, by some of the material in the book.

A powerful, cautionary tale, I highly recommend Fallout to anyone who has been impacted by abuse in a spiritual organization, or simply wants to understand what to look for and avoid before they dedicate themselves to a spiritual teacher and community. 

Fallout, Recovering from Abuse in Tibetan Buddhist is available in Paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.com and other Amazon sites and at the Book Depository where they provide free delivery worldwide. Visit TahliaNewland.com to get Media Kit.

Take a look at the table of comments to see what you’ll be invited to ponder when you read Fallout:

  1. The Shock of Discovery
  2. A Plan for Telling the Truth
  3. Initial Thoughts
  4. Support from the Dalai Lama
  5. Talking with Dharma Friends
  6. Waiting for the Letter
  7. The Letter
  8. The Blog Discussions Begin
  9. Feedback and Suggestions
  10. Sogyal’s Response
  11. Responses from Lamas and Others
  12. The What Now? Group
  13. Sogyal’s Retirement
  14. The D.A.R.V.O Response
  15. Personal Attacks
  16. Cognitive Dissonance
  17. Beliefs and Perceptions
  18. Why They Stayed
  19. Further Revelations
  20. A Toxic Culture
  21. Sexual Abuse
  22. To Stay or Not?
  23. Practice Repercussions
  24. Recognizing Trauma
  25. Gaslighting and Institutional Betrayal
  26. Spiritual Bypassing
  27. Further Psychological Perspectives
  28. Abuse by Other Lamas
  29. The Code of Conduct
  30. Shut Up and Kicked Out
  31. Dharma Protectors
  32. The Independent Investigation
  33. Recovering from Trauma
  34. Did Sogyal Apologize?
  35. The Process of Cult Recovery
  36. Evaluating Sogyal’s Teachings
  37. Finding Closure
  38. A Misuse of Buddhist Beliefs
  39. Unhealthy Guru-Student Relationships
  40. Absolute and Conventional Truth
  41. Seeing the Guru as a Buddha
  42. Samaya and Not Criticizing
  43. ‘Crazy Wisdom’ or Just Crazy
  44. Obedience Without Question
  45. Devotion Without Discernment
  46. Karma
  47. A Common Sense View
  48. Choosing a Teacher
  49. Cult Warning Signs
  50. Support Truth Tellers
  51. An Unfinished Story

Reading Fallout helped me take the next step on my own path of healing from the abuse that occurred in Rigpa. I hope you’ll find it helpful too.

Fallout, Recovering from Abuse in Tibetan Buddhist is available in Paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.com and other Amazon sites and at the Book Depository where they provide free delivery worldwide. Visit TahliaNewland.com to get Media Kit.

More Significant News

In case you haven’t heard, several other significant events related to abuse in Rigpa took place during the past month.

  • The Charity Commission for England and Wales announced that Patrick Gaffney has been disqualified from being a Trustee of any charity for a period of eight years because he had knowledge of instances and allegations of improper acts and sexual and physical abuse against students at the charity but failed to take appropriate action in response to this information.
  • Lerab Ling lost its defamation case against attorney Jean-Baptiste CESBRON and Midi Libre. The judge ordered the 133 plaintiffs to pay him 50 GBP each and Lerab Ling to pay 5,000 GBP.
  • In an article called This Is Abuse, Tricylce Magazine published in full two powerful speeches on abuse in Rigpa given by former nun and Sogyal Rinpoche’s personal attendant, Damcho Dyson and dedicated, long-term student Tahlia Newland at The Sakyadhita International Association of Buddhist Women. As a result of these and other accounts of abuse shared at its recent conference, the association has established the Alliance of Buddhist Ethics.
  • The Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission has finalised its investigation into Rigpa in Australia. The investigator has indicated they are now satisfied Rigpa has complied with the requirements set out in the compliance agreement they signed. The ACNC will not be taking any further action at this time and the investigation is finalised.

Checking Out

This will likely be my last blog post on How Did It Happen.

With the abundance of public information now available on the abuse that has happened in Rigpa, this blog has served an important purpose, but is no longer necessary. The How Did It Happen blog will remain public for the time being so anyone can access and read the material here.

If you want to stay abreast of new developments and be part of a community with a shared history of spiritual abuse who are supporting each other as they move forward, I recommend following the Beyond the Temple blog.

I will always feel immense gratitude towards Sogyal Rinpoche for all the incredible teachings I’ve received from him, and the many other amazing spiritual masters he invited to teach at Rigpa Centers around the world and at Lerab Ling. Despite all that’s happened, my dedication to the truth of the teachings hasn’t lessened in the least. It’s only taking on a new form…or perhaps less form.

Wishing you all the very best on your spiritual journey.

Comments are now turned off on the blog because we are no longer able to respond to them or deal with the high volume of spam on the blog. However, we encourage discussion of this or other posts with your friends, in your Buddhist communities and in your Facebook Groups. Thanks for understanding, Sandra


Shambhala Leaders Acknowledge Sexual Harm


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

She describes the vision of Project Sunshine in this way:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö’s Dream of Sogyal Lakar

Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro's DreamRecently published, The Life and Times of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö recounts many dreams and visions of this exceptional 19th-20th century Tibetan Buddhist master, including this one concerning Sogyal Lakar (Sogyal Rinpoche), who he watched over as a child.

One night, I dreamt that at dusk I went to meet someone thought to be the divine prince of Derge, Ngawang Jampal Rinchen.  He was said to live in a grass hut with a very small door that stood inside an ordinary house in a hamlet at the foot of the mountain.  He looked youthful, had a small topknot of dark matted hair, was clothed in green leaves, and sat gazing at the floor as I expressed my joy and devotion.  The prince, who wore a red woolen robe, put a similar one around my shoulders, stood up, and went outside.  I went with him, removed the robe, and offered it to him, having cut off a piece, saying I wanted it as an object of devotion.  Then I stood naked before him.  It was completely dark, and I couldn’t seen the whole vision properly, but I sense there was a row of people and that he was beating them—Lakar Sogyal, for example.  The prince was quite mad!  He then lay on his back, naked, and said the boy might go crazy and cause internal strife.  After many such dreams, I woke up.

I fell asleep once more and at first dreamt the same dream again.

How Can the Rigpa Community Process the Controversy?

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

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

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

My Faith Has Been Strengthened

For some, facing this controversy has strengthened their faith.

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

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