The cycle of news on the Sogyal Rinpoche controversy sometimes feels relentless — a new article or statement every few days and a seemingly never-ending stream of social media posts.
It can feel tempting to quickly read each piece and move on to the next without taking time to study the main advices and let them fully sink in. When I go too quickly, I’m left with a confusing canvas of different points of view that seem incompatible at first glance.
I feel the Dalai Lama gave important advice for the Rigpa sangha on August 1st in Ladakh. In the spirit of open discussion, initiated by Rigpa, I’d like to take a deeper look at his remarks. I’m especially interested in the implications of the Dalai Lama’s message and how his guidance might be reconciled with later statements from Mingyur Rinpoche and Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche on ethics and the student-guru relationship.
The Dalai Lama’s Advice in a Nutshell
Why is the Dalai Lama’s recent advice so important for the Rigpa sangha?
The Dalai Lama has spoken before about misconduct on the part of Buddhist teachers and how to address it. In the past, since his comments were general, there was room for saying, “He’s not talking about Sogyal Rinpoche.”
However, in this guidance, he specifically mentioned Sogyal Rinpoche and the allegations against him.
In brief, the Dalai Lama made four points:
- The root of the problem may lie in the outdated influence of feudalism in some Buddhist communities. He insists this must change.
- When a teacher engages in harmful behaviors that do not reflect the basic Buddhist values of non-violence and compassion, it needs to be made clear these are the actions of one individual. The teacher needs to take responsibility for them. Otherwise, people get a bad impression of Buddhism.
- The Buddha encouraged his followers to question and examine the teachings. Thus, it’s wrong to think you must do everything a teacher says without examining whether his instructions are in accord with the dharma, in particular the principles of non-harming and compassion. If they’re not, the student should respectfully refuse to comply.
- The Dalai Lama also pointed out that he has made the same points in relation to unethical behavior in the student-teacher relationship more than twenty years ago.
I’ve noticed that some people in the Rigpa community still don’t believe he truly means what he’s said several times now about misconduct. They assert the Dalai Lama needs to make such statements in public to be “politically correct.” They also question whether his advice is pertinent to Vajrayana practitioners or students who practice in other schools of Buddhism, outside of the Gelugpa tradition.
For example, even now, about four weeks after his statement was issued, I haven’t heard anyone ask how feudalism might have influenced the Rigpa organization.
So I would like to look at the Dalai Lama’s message, piece-by-piece, and explain how I understand it, what it might imply, and how it may shed light on possible problems in Rigpa and other Buddhist communities. His comments are included below as quotes. If you feel I’m hearing or interpreting anything incorrectly, please let me know in the comment section at the end of this post.
Feudalism in Buddhist Organizations
The Dalia Lama begins by addressing the separation of the temporal and the spiritual in governance.
I am Tibetan. Six million Tibetans believe me and trust me. In political matters, I am already retired since 2011. Completely retired. Not only myself retired, but also the almost four century-old tradition of Dalai Lama Institution, automatically being head of both temporal and spirituality. Now that I formally, proudly, voluntarily, happily ceased. In future the Dalai lama institution will remain [but] no longer with any political responsibility.
The Dalai Lama stresses that he “formally, proudly, voluntarily, happily” gave up the position of political power bestowed upon the institution of Dalai Lama under the feudal system of Tibet.
I feel that some of these lama institutions is [under] some sort of influence of feudal system. That is outdated and must end. The feudal influence. Then eventually lama institution creates lama politics [DL laughs heartily]. That is very bad
Monasteries and dharma centers in Tibet operated under feudal principles. Lamas who grew up in this system may still teach and run their centers under this outmoded influence.
What are some of the main features of a feudalistic system?
- Physical beating was a common form of punishment in monasteries, the primary place of education in Tibet.
In contrast, corporal punishment in schools has been outlawed in many Western countries. It was outlawed by the British Parliament in 1986 and is illegal in 31 out of 50 states in the U.S.
Critics of corporal punishment say it can cause long-lasting trauma in addition to the physical injuries sustained, which can be severe.
- In feudal systems, men treat women as objects of pleasure and expect sex on demand. It was customary for hosts to offer young women to important guests for their enjoyment. In Tibet, many considered it a blessing for a woman to have sex with a lama.
In the West, coerced and non-consensual sexual relations constitute sexual assault.
- In most forms of feudalism, rulers had complete authority. The ruler decided what is best for everyone. There were no systems of accountability. Rulers could do whatever they wanted. Rulers typically had a small, loyal aristocratic court around them, which made it easy for them to become isolated, influenced by people with agendas or “yes-sayers”.
In the modern world, leaders are not given such broad power and are held accountable for their actions.
- People in high positions had numerous servants and felt entitled to have every whim indulged. Servants didn’t have a right to say no or even leave in the feudal system.
In the West, treating people this way is considered a form of oppression.
What are some of the elements, in addition to those mentioned above, that make a feudalistic approach inappropriate for modern times?
- Involuntary participation
- Pressure to comply
- Suppression of criticism
- A non-egalitarian model
- Sexual abuse of women
The Western world cherishes values like personal freedom, freedom of expression, human rights, self-responsibility, governance by elected officials, and legal protection from physical harm. Of course, Western governance has it’s faults and failings too, but it attempts to protect human rights, a concern of utmost importance to the Tibetan cause.
What does Dalai Lama mean when he says the feudal system leads to politics?
The emphasis on reputation, power, money, and politics influences the spiritual in negative and inappropriate ways like the misuse of funds, attempted assassinations (in Tibet), and sectarianism.
This look at feudal systems brings up some interesting questions for Buddhist students to consider:
- Is your Buddhist community influenced by the feudal system?
- Is the Vajrayana shaped by the feudal system?
- What about the student-master relationship, in which the student pledges to do whatever the master says?
- When devotion is intermixed with feudal principles, does it discourage critical questioning and open discussion?
- Does a feudalistic approach get in the way of engaging with the dharma in a healthy way?
- Does a feudalistic system provide an environment that allows abusive behaviors to take place and continue?
I wonder if the influence of the feudal system might explain some of Sogyal Rinpoche’s behavior. For example, he has been accused of a lavish lifestyle, including an excessive indulgence in sense pleasures. He, however, says he has no selfish intent.
Could this be a way of practicing Vajrayana that is influenced by fedualism? For example, in sadhana practices, you become the deity. In some sadhanas, you prostrate to yourself and make immense offerings, including food, drink, and sensual pleasures to yourself as the deity.
Seen from this perspective, Sogyal Rinpoche may see offering sense pleasures to himself, in ways similar to the customs of feudal systems or receiving them from others, not as selfish but as an offering to the Buddha or deity that he embodies in his role as a teacher. He may see these offerings not as gifts to himself as a person, but to the wisdom lineage that manifests through him in this world.
This might explain why Sogyal Rinpoche asserts he has no selfish intentions. But the Dalai Lama clearly says the customs of the feudal system are not appropriate for this time. They won’t be understood or tolerated by Western society.
Sogyal Rinpoche himself has also spoken about the need for cultural adaption to occur. He believes, however, that this will happen naturally as more Westerners practice the authentic tradition and should not be rushed.
I’m not a scholar so I can’t say which aspects of feudal systems might be culturally adopted features that can be changed or intrinsic parts of the Buddhist tradition that must remain. But this is an important question to consider, given His Holiness’s insistence that the influence of feudalism on Buddhist organizations must end.
Ethics and the Student-Teacher Relationship
In the past three decades, many Buddhist teachers have fallen into disgrace because their behaviors conflicted with Buddhist ethics.
[If a] lama individual disgrace, it does not matter. But very bad impression about monastery and monk is very bad.
The Dalai Lama has expressed his concern about how such misconduct reflects upon Buddhism.
To understand ethics in the student-teacher relationship, we must begin by understanding how ethics works in Buddhism. In his recent article on Buddhist ethics, Mingyur Rinpoche started by saying,
These days, the one time people do ask me about ethics is when scandals or controversies happen in Buddhist communities. Despite the clear importance of nonviolence and compassion in the Buddhist tradition, many students are not sure how to deal with these situations. I can see why they get confused. There are many different Buddhist lineages and schools, and it is hard to keep track of all their different teachings, practices, and ethical frameworks.
Along the same lines, when Buddha was asked to summarize his teaching, he said,
Commit not a single unwholesome action,
Cultivate a wealth of virtue,
To tame this mind of ours,
This is the teaching of all the buddhas.
This encapsulates the essence of Buddhist ethics as well: Non-violence, compassion, and pure perception. These three aspects need to come together in the practice of Vajrayana and Dzogchen. Read Mingyur Rinpoche’s article for more details on ethics.
Ideally, the 10 Unwholesome Actions and the 10 Wholesome Actions guide a Buddhist practitoner’s behavior. In following these guidelines, however, one should not become moralistic or fall into extremes.
When we look more deeply, we see the first seven Unwholesome Actions are provisional, but they can only be disregarded in exceptional cases. Ultimately, it’s the intention that determines whether an action is positive or negative, but this needs to be understood correctly — not as an excuse for abusive behavior, for example.
On rare occasions, the Buddha’s actions, in previously lives, went against conventional ethics, but his intention was positive and he was moved by intense compassion. The story of Captain Compassionate Heart who killed Black Spearman serves as one famous example. (The Words of My Perfect Teacher, p 125).
Students of the Vajrayana cite examples of masters who have acted in provocative ways, without concern for political correctness or ordinary conventions of ethical behavior, in order to help students cut through delusion.
For example, Tilopa hit Naropa with his sandal until he fainted. When he regained consciousness he was enlightened. Through this unorthodox action, Tilopa was able to help Naropa attain realization and later benefit thousands of practitioners by carrying on Naropa’s lineage.
On another occasion, Tilopa asked Naropa to jump off a tower. The Words of My Perfect Teacher describes the incident like this:
One day, Tilopa took Naropa to the top of a nine-storey tower and asked: ‘Is there anyone who can leap from the top of this building to obey his master?’ Naropa thought to himself, ‘There is nobody else here, so he must mean me.’ He jumped from the top of the building and his body crashed to the ground, causing him tremendous pain and suffering. Tilopa came down to him and asked: ‘Are you in pain?’ ‘Itʻs not just the pain,’ groaned Naropa, I am not much more than a corpse …’ But Tilopa blessed him, and his body was completely healed.
Some Rigpa students say people who have complained about harm do so because they have failed to understand unconventional methods as a personal teaching for them, similar to the examples above.
However, Mingyur Rinpoche clearly says that extreme teaching styles should not cause trauma, and should be used rarely, as a last resort.
It is also worth noting that these extreme teaching styles we see in Vajrayana history took place in the context of a very mature spiritual bond between teacher and student. They were not all that common. …
Not only are these extreme teaching methods used only with very mature students and in the context of a relationship of stable trust and devotion, they are also a last resort. There are said to be four kinds of enlightened activity: peaceful, magnetizing, enriching, and wrathful. Wrathful activity is only used for those who are not receptive to more subtle approaches. So again, this style is not a norm, but something that is only employed in certain circumstances. …
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.
A teacher may sometimes use unusual means, but they come with a risk. If you choose to use extreme teachings methods, you may put yourself in peril. If something goes wrong, your peers may not back you up. You or your students cannot say this behavior is permitted by Buddhist standards.
If this kind of unconventional teaching goes wrong and harm occurs, I hear the Dalai Lama saying the individual teacher needs to take responsibility. What might that mean? Acknowledge the problem, make amends, and help those who feel harmed get the help they need to process and heal the experience. This will garner respect even though a mistake was been made.
We must [have] more intention. You should not say, ‘This is my guru. What guru says I must follow.’ That is totally wrong. Buddha himself mentioned my teaching you must examine. Similarly [if] one particular lama says something, you examine whether this goes well according to Buddhaʻs teaching or according the circumstances of society. Then you must follow. If the lama says something, if you investigate and [conclude it is] not proper, then you should not follow the lamaʻs teaching.
Buddha was egalitarian. He encouraged his students to test and examine every aspect of the teaching before adopting it, like a goldsmith would test the purity of gold before purchasing it. To follow blindly is wrong, according to the Dalai Lama. He encourages students to take personal responsibility, understand the basic principles of non-harming and compassion, and embody them in their words and actions.
The Dalai Lamas says the practice of Vajrayana needs to include the principles of non-harming and compassion from the previous vehicles.
Mingyur Rinpoche supports this view. He says,
In Tibetan Buddhism we practice the three yanas together, and that includes the practice of ethics.
When a student practices like this, integrating the three yanas, to think “I must do everything my guru says” is wrong. Instead a student should examine what the teacher requests and check that it’s in accord with the dharma. If it’s not, the student should question it and refuse to comply. And, it’s permissible to leave a teacher if your questions and warnings go unheeded and harmful behavior continues.
Of course, it’s best to avoid potential problems in the student-teacher relationship by examining the teacher first. Matthieu Ricard wrote,
The Dalai Lama constantly advises his hearers, both Eastern and Western, to reflect deeply before studying with a master, in order to avoid bitter regrets should matters turn out badly.
Ricard provides more advice on how to examine the teacher in his statement about the letter of complaint.
Is Vajrayana Threatened with Extinction?
Within the framework given by the Dalai Lama’s advice, some committed Vajrayana students fear the full authentic practice of Vajrayana cannot happen.
Maybe they have a point.
In his Facebook post, Guru and Student in the Vajrayana (August 14), which he asked to be read in full, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche said a true Vajrayana student needs to fully trust his guru and do everything he or she says if the relationship has been entered into consciously and properly.
But he also pointed out the difference between a public Buddhist teacher and a Vajrayana teacher. And he emphasized that Vajrayana was practiced in absolute secrecy in India. Only when it came to Tibet, was Vajrayana practiced more openly.
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s advice may not seem compatible at first glance with the advices given by the Dalai Lama and Mingyur Rinpoche. But maybe there’s a way for these advices to co-exist if the Vajrayana, as described by DKR, is practiced secretly with a select group of students, who enter consciously and are sufficiently prepared for this path, rather than openly with students who may not be able to understand or process the experiences that might occur.
If students are sufficiently prepared and have positive experiences of growth and learning in the context of Vajrayana, complaints of abuse will cease.
Secrecy can be problematic because it can allow for abuse to happen. To be clear, returning to a more traditional framework for Vajrayana does not mean suppressing complaints or ignoring actual abuse as a solution.
Does the Dalai Lama’s Advice Apply To All?
Even Dalai Lamaʻs teaching, if you find some contradiction, you should not follow my teaching.
According to Mathieu Ricard, the Dalai Lama gives us advice but not commands:
Among Tibetan masters, H.H. the XIVth Dalai Lama is clearly the object of unanimous respect. The teachings and advice that he gives may well be the source of profound inspiration but they are never regarded as commands.
The Dalai Lama said clearly you don’t need to follow his advice if something he says is not in accord with the teachings. You are free to follow your own understanding if you feel his recommendation go against the Vajrayana teachings.
As far as Gelugpa is concerned, Lama Tsonghkapa clearly mentioned [Tibetan Translator]: If a lama teaches something that is against the dharma it should not be followed and opposed [DL strongly repeats the word “dok” twice which is translated as ‘opposed’ but literally means to turn away]. If a lama teaches something that is in accord with the dharma it should be followed, if it is in discord with the Dharma, it should not be followed. [Translator end].
The Dalai Lama supported his view with a quote from the Gelugpa tradition.
Some Rigpa students say his views represent only the the Gelugpa tradition, and the use of extreme teaching methods is seen differently in other schools. Others say the Dalai Lama needs to present this perspective to be politically correct as the leading public representative of Tibetan Buddhism. And still others say he’s a monk so his ethical standards are different than those of yogis and householders.
Let’s remember, however, that His Holiness has studied and taught the Dzogchen teachings himself. He treasures Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche as one of his gurus and has received Dzogchen empowerments and teachings from him. His Holiness has given Dzogchen teachings on a number of occasions, several times at the request of Sogyal Rinpoche.
The Dzogchen teachings the Dalai Lama’s given in the West have been gathered in Dzogchen, The Heart Essence of the Great Perfection, edited by Rigpa’s senior teacher, Patrick Gaffney, with a forward by Sogyal Rinpoche.
All this illustrates that His Holiness is highly familiar with Dzogchen and has a deep connection with holders of the Dzogchen lineage.
It seems clear to me that the Dalai Lama’s advice is based on common sense and basic human and spiritual values and not the perspective of the Gelugpa school alone.
Mathieu Ricard remarked,
… the Dalai Lama has no personal agenda in the interests of protecting the image of Buddhism. He often declares that he has nothing to hide and that he is open—without the slightest restriction—to any kind of formal enquiry concerning his own life and actions.
The Dalai Lama Confirms His Views on Misconduct
The Dalai Lama’s current remarks confirm that he firmly stands by what he said on misconduct at the Western Buddhist Teachers Conference in 1993 — 24 years ago.
Many years ago in Dharmsala at a Western teachers conference some Western Buddhist teachers mentioned [that] some Zen masters and Tibetan Masters create a very bad impression among people. Then I told them these people [do] not follow Buddhaʻs advice, Buddhaʻs teaching. We cannot do. The only thing is make public, through newspaper. through radio. Make public. Those people [may] not care about Buddhaʻs teaching but they may care [about] their face. I told them at that conference. I think 15 years ago.
(Please note that this particular reference to Zen and Tibetan masters relates to incidents of sexual misconduct and alcohol abuse raised in a question by one participant at the conference. I find it interesting that it stands out in the Dalai Lama’s mind 24 years later.)
This confirmation is significant because it’s been said by some that his previous statements were used in ways he did not endorse and do not apply to Rigpa and Sogyal Rinpoche.
Perhaps, it would be illuminating for all of us to watch the eight videos from The Western Buddhist Teacher’s conference, which are available at the Meridian Trust website. If you watch them, you’ll experience for yourself what the Dalai actually said and how he emphasizes particular points very strongly.
Mingyur Rinpoche agrees with the perspective of the Dalai Lama,
…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 ‘s 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.
Both Dalai Lama and Mingyur suggested to first raise concerns about inappropriate behavior privately. But if harmful behavior continues they said to make it public.
The Dalai Lama emphasizes that the students need to speak up because there is no oversight body in Buddhism. Matthieu Ricard explains,
No authoritative body goes to check whether a given monastery actually implements his advice. In any case, there exist nowadays thousands of Buddhist centers throughout the world and they are all independent of each other. Only the people who live in such centers, or frequent them on a regular basis, are in a position to say when behavior contrary to Buddhist principles occurs. The only guiding lights in this domain are the teachings themselves. These indicate clearly the qualities of a spiritual master who is worthy to be followed and stigmatize false teachers, who are not worthy.
Lastly, His Holiness says,
Now recently Sogyal Rinpoche, my very good friend, he [is] disgraced. So some of his own students now made their criticism public.
With these words, it’s clear the Dalai Lama’s words are meant for Sogyal Rinpoche and Rigpa.
The Dalai Lama’s statement offers a strong message, which may be uncomfortable for Rigpa students to hear. Even so, I feel certain his message was given with good intentions.
Sogyal Rinpoche has always considered His Holiness as an example of enlightenment, a Buddha in flesh. He sees him as one of his teachers and has offered his work to serve his vision for the world. He’s requested His Holiness to teach and guide his students on many occasions. Sogyal Rinpoche’s reverence for the Dalai Lama makes it even more important to consider his advice seriously.
Some have raised questions about Sogyal Rinpoche’s authenticity as a teacher. But, the Dalai Lama does not question Rinpoche’s authenticity in his statement. He simply addresses harmful behavior.
In his letter to the Rigpa sangha, dated July 19th, Sogyal Rinpoche says,
Already, I am seeking advice from masters who have a genuine care and concern for Rigpa, such as Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche and Mingyur Rinpoche and others, about what we should do. And I will honour their guidance.
I would like to respectfully ask Sogyal Rinpoche to share his understanding of these advices with us and explain his point of view in relation to them. If he were to do so, I would hope he would also address the kinds of questions and concerns I’ve raised in this piece.
What did you hear the Dalai Lama say in his statement? What especially stood out for you. Please leave your thoughts in the comments.
- Advice from H. H. the Dalai Lama
- Guru and Student in the Vajrayana by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche
- Treat Everyone As a Buddha Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
- A Point of View by Matthieu Ricard
- Club Nondualité by Erik Pema Kunsang
- Where Teachers Are Allowed to Still Spank Students
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May I make the suggestion that you read ‘The making of the modern Tibet’ by A. Tom Grunfeld.
It explains alot.
p.s – I mean it, go and read it!
A. Tom Grunfeld is quite controversial. http://www.reversespins.com/acme.html
Bernie, thank you for this second thoughtful and sensitively written post. I watched the video where HH Dalai Lama said the very things you quoted. His words, intonation and body language were consistent with what you’ve reported. I heard him call out SL as having disgraced himself and having behaved badly with his students. I’ve been thinking about my own role in the happenings at Rigpa retreats and in the culture of Rigpa and keep coming back to spiritual materialism as a motivation for enlightenment. I wonder if you might be interested to start a discussion on spiritual materialism as it was defined by Chogyam Trungpa many years ago. My experience of Vajrayana is that for Westerners there may be a perfect storm of a desire for enlightenment at any cost, spiritual materialism and naïveté about Tibetan Buddhist culture. Your thoughts?
Thanks for replying, Bernie! I look forward to the discussion when the time is right. Much love to you and Sandra.
But Trungpa was as bad as Sogyal. There’s no reason to assume his concept of “spiritual materialism” to be helpful.
Dear Bernie, Thank you for your excellent comment on What HHDL really said.Have you read Tenpel’s comment on “traumpatic bonding” in What Now.You might be interedted.To a certain extent, tenpel’s comment answers your question:How did it happen?
Thanks for this suggestion, Nicole. We’ll be writing about trauma in upcoming posts. We agree, traumatic bonding is one factor that may have come into play for some people.
Tenpel takes the example of the nun.It’s very clear.
Thank you, Nicole. I want to read Temple’s comment too. I’ll look for it!
I’ve just sent the comment to you.New comment on What Now?
tenpel commented on Feedback and Constructive Suggestions from a Group of Concerned Students.
in response to tenpel:
Thank you for your understanding. With respect to the retreat card, what will be his entourage and the service he gets when going into retreat? Will he have playmates, cigars, top food, DVD etc or will he do seriously a meditation retreat? When I remember correctly close observers / close students described that he doesn’t … Continue reading Feedback and Constructive Suggestions from a Group of Concerned Students
I want to add two corrections of things I got wrongly and also spread wrongly:
1) SL does have a regular meditation practice
2) The nun, Ani Ch., indeed said one year later that the hitting by SL was a blessing and only light and it helped her. The witness, however, commented that this is rewriting history. The nun also told that afterwards Sogyal Lakar hugged her warmly.
With respect to the latter, know the workings of these extremes of behaviour from my own abusive teacher with her nuns – women, who in general had a weak ego and couldn’t say No! easily. You can find these dynamics of humilating/violence and then giving love in the relationships between torturer and his victims (there is a nice description about these dynamics in 1984 by Orwell) too.
The abuser or perpetrator first puts the victim by means of bullying or physical violence or torture totally down until the person feels like the shit of this world and totally helpless. Then he comes like the god in heaven or the saviour Jesus Christ full of love and radiance to give you his hand and love, to raise you from the darkness and pain (he himself has thrown you in) to bring you to the light.
It’s a totally manipulative power trip: the lord gave it, the lord takes it. The victim starts to love the perpetrator or torturer because he experience salvation from the pain and from the feeling of being a totally worthless piece of shit only be him – the great saviour (the perpetrator), not recognizing who put him in pain beforehand.
In that context it might help to understand why witness and victim tell so different stories by analysing the dynamics between the torturer and the tortured or the abuser and the abused.
I heard there is a term or understanding of this under the name “traumatic bonding” or so.
Another point: Sangye has explained the lack of critical thinking.This goes together with “collective hysteria” in Lerab Ling.Retreatants are enthralled, magnetized, spellbound, completely in love with him.It’s even more than denial.
If you criticize anything, you are a black sheep on the black list.They try to identify the black sheep , etc.Are you interested?
Lastly: this also happens because SR practices hypnosis.I’m sorry to say that when he says:”Open your eyes, I want to see your eyes, nobody is allowed to lie on a mattress in the Manjushri shrineroom because I want to see all your eyes” this is hypnosis.No other lama practices hypnosis as far as I know. I hope I’m not shocking you.
I’ve seen a number of masters introduce the nature of mind in this same way. I’ve never felt hypnotized when I was present and Sogyal Rinpoche introduced the nature of mind. In this regard, I don’t believe he’s doing anything outside of the tradition. It can be very uplifting to receive the introduction from any master. People naturally feel deeply moved. As one person described it, it’s like a bridge from the ordinary experience of the student to a more enlightened experience. That doesn’t mean people are hypnotized, but some people may let go of their critical thinking mind seeking for this experience again.
Thank you, Sandra.I didn’t know that other masters introduce the nature of mind in the same way.Love.Nicole
I’ve just sent Tenpel’s comment to Sandra.
There are also very good definitions of “traumatic bondage” on Wikipedia;
In INSIGHTS by Erik Pema Kunsang08/17/201714 Comments
Just as any other time in history, today here and now, the option to deceive oneself is wide open. Especially a very tricky and subtle type trying to disguise dualistic mind by pretending to be a member of Club Nondualité. It starts in all innocence and suddenly many years have passed; what to do?
Over the years people from all kinds of traditions—Advaita, Dzogchen, Mahamudra and Zen—came to see my teacher, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, and among them were some who had run into problems with their spiritual teacher. Rather than casting blame on their teacher or the person asking, he very kindly quoted an old statement from Padmasambhava: “In the age of kaliyuga you find no perfect masters, so be like a swan who can separate milk and water.”
In the age of kaliyuga you find no perfect masters, so be like a swan who can separate milk and water.
Then, with great kindness he explained, “It’s most unlikely to find a perfect master in our times, totally free of faults, and even if an ordinary person meets a perfect buddha today, he or she would not be able to see the perfection. It’s therefore much more important to extract the milk from the water.” Keep the message from the buddhas while filtering out the rest, and use the teaching to improve and deepen your understanding.
I find Eric’s comments very helpful and pure. I don’t want to over think all this, I do not find it helpful when it comes to ‘letting go of thought and emotion and simply rest the mind.’ It’s very good to look and investigate, to find ways to heal, but what’s also most important is to drop the process of investigation, and thinking so much. I don’t see that happening here. Just more and more questions which feels a distorted view, not the pure, unaltered clear nature. Please don’t leave that out.
A. Tom Grunfeld is quite controversial. http://www.reversespins.com/acme.html
So you censor / delete people posts here? Nice.
Hello J.R, Comments with links, which are often spam, are held for moderation and approval. Your original comment, which contained a link, was indeed approved. It just took us a little time to get to it. We’re not here 24/7. Otherwise, comments appear automatically.
In order to have a respectful discussion, we will however delete comments that are not in accord with our commenting guidelines, which are mentioned in the sidebar and in full here:
I think it would be important to distinguish between Buddhist organizational politics or ” Lama Politics” and the dharma itself.. i don’t see that what is being discussed here is the dharma .. I can’t help thinking that , if the bardo teachings are true, we may have a hard time convincing the wrathful deities that they have some abuse issues and that they need to accept the new policies that we feel need to be implemented!.. just saying..
I think Susan has point about the spiritual materialism .. and I am on the same page as Shirley as to the importance of being aware of how discursive thinking can create obstacles and distract us from authentic dharma practice..
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It seems to me that’s exactly what the Dalai Lama is calling for, a separation between politics and the Dharma. I understand how you feel. It would be nice if we could just focus on Dharma and not have to address issues of abuse. But the Dalai Lama tells us specifically that the feudal influences in Dharma organizations must stop, so I personally feel his advice is worth my consideration.
I agree with you, it’s important to have a stable mind in the Bardo. Let me assure you, we’re not trying to convince wrathful deities they have abuse issues. We’re talking about real teachers here.
This is very true, discursive thinking can indeed create obstacles and distract us from authentic dharma practice. But the nature of mind can’t be realized through restive meditation alone, investigation is a critical element at that level of practice as well. If we leave our critical thinking aside altogether, more harm could happen and it could create an obstacle for the Dharma as well. We really need a balance of both, I feel. I fully agree with Shirley, spaciousness in all this is very important indeed.
In Dalai Lama’s Dzogchen teachings in San Jose 1989 he says ( sorry I’m paraphrasing as I don’t have that book with me right now) that the mediation on compassion is closer to the Nature of Mind than analytical mediation , and that analytical mind can actually be an obstacle to actualizing the clear light mind .. since compassion and devotion operate on the subtler level of mind..
I think critical mind is on another level again.. a grosser level still… if we don’t understand these differences or have not really become aware of the subtler levels of mind, or only minimally aware.. it would be easy to give too much acknowledgment to the value of critical thinking.. or have the wrong kind of understanding of it… .. we have a strong habit of this in the west already.. I am very aware of this and cautious too. I notice the Hawaiians I hang out with seem to operate from a more intuitive mind set and their intellect does not tend to get so much in the way of their wisdom mind…… in some cases they seem to be able to grasp the subtler meanings of the teachings much more quickly than their intellectually oriented ” cuz’s”…even if they have not spent as much time ” listening” to teachings..
In his Dzogchen teachings from San Jose, His Holiness says that, “once the yogin has reached a definitive experience by analyzing the view of selflessness, and he or she is maintaining the state of rigpa as the main practice, no ordinary analysis is employed.” So yes, there is a point where the practitioner lets go of analysis. But prior to that, a definitive experience is reach by analyzing the view of selflessness. So His Holiness is clearly saying that analytical meditation supports the realization of the nature of mind.
It really depends on how the analytical mind is used, it can be either an obstacle or an aid to realizing the View. In the teachings I’ve received, analytical investigation is definitely an important aspect of realizing the nature of mind. Once we’re actually there, then of course, we can rest there and sustain it without the use of conceptual thought. But that’s a very advanced practice and I’m certainly not there myself.
I agree, there is a strong habit of residing in the “head,” in the West. That’s something to watch out for, indeed. We can know in our heart when something is harmful, we don’t always need to think it through with the mind.
Hi Sandra.. Why did you chose to quote only this paragraph? .. Did you notice the directly proceeding paragraphs wherein the Dalai Lama explains why analytical mediation is to be avoided in the Highest Yoga Tantra?
..” if you embark on analysis, there is the risk that the subtle energy you are gathering in through this practice will be scattered outwardly, and so it is a great hinderance to the whole purpose of the meditation”. .. and it goes on from there.. as well.. in an earlier paragraph wherein he says that “there are two approaches : one that employs discernment and analysis , and one that is meditation on the basis of settling, without analysis…. and ” to engage in analytical meditation inhibits the arising of great bliss and prevents the attainment of subtler states of mind..” (bottom of page 191)
And this is in reference to the analysis of the profound emptiness..not even on ‘who did what to who and why’..which is just the critical, judgmental mind gossip of organizational politics..
..I worry how the western mind has a way of just picking and choosing whatever it wants.. so as to ” win” a point.. and I am concerned that this is what is happening with the issues in regards to Rinpoche.. In fact i am seeing this happening in many blogs… the ‘ linch mob ” mentality as opposed to that of the ” bodhisattva manifesting the profound bodhichitta”.. which would be the way of the dharma. We are better than this…I hope…
Hello Dear Dawn,
I’m sorry to upset you! I’m just trying to share my understanding. It’s possible I’m wrong of course. I did read the part about Highest Yoga Tantra. But he differentiates that approach and the approach of Dzogchen. And since the topic of HHDL’s book is Dzogchen and the practice for a good part of the Rigpa sangha is Dzogchen, the part I quoted seemed the relevant piece for us.
You make a good point about using selected quote because it’s difficult, I feel, to understand what HH is saying in whole by quoting just parts of the text, it is such a profound topic.
I hear that you don’t feel it’s valid to explore the kinds of topics we’re discussing on this blog, that you feel it’s “critical, judgmental mind gossip of organizational politics” and “lynch mob” mentality. So let’s leave things there instead of continuing to debate if it’s creating bad feelings.
We can agree to disagree and do our best to respect one another in the spirit of bodhicitta that you suggest. I sense we both really care about the teachings, about Rigpa, and about SR, so maybe we have these things in common and that could be the basis for mutual respect. I want you to know that my intention is to help, I wouldn’t be here for any other reason. May you be well, happy, and safe.
The warm water has already been invented, I mean like it has been said here before, Tenpel and others are doing a great job since long time about this matters. So, I understand you want your own blog trying to treat this matters in a soft way, considering the situation. But as written in your guidelines ( reflection upon and learning from the current crisis in Rigpa, as well as experiences from similar incidents in other Buddhist communities ), I don’t understand you seem not to know the controversial blog, but now you know, building bridges would be also a thing to do, even if it may be painfull.
Wish you insight
Thanks for your suggestions, Ronny. We appreciate Tenphel’s work. The purpose of this blog is a little different. I don’t think he’ll mind.
But Trungpa was as bad as Sogyal. There’s no reason to assume his concept of “spiritual materialism” to be helpful.
Zla’od, If people find the teachings on spiritual materialism helpful, I would like to support that. I feel it’s certainly a valuable idea to explore when we consider “why did it happen.” But that doesn’t mean we have to condone behaviors we don’t find acceptable.
There still seems to be a big emphasis on the teacher (positive or negative). This approach seems to me a large part of what got us into trouble in the first place.
Listening and speaking to one another in ways that step outside of our normal habits seems an extraordinarily difficult task, but possible if we can come together.
As long as the emphasis is on the teacher (or the bureaucracy) it seems to me we are repeating the same patterns.
For those that might be interested, David Bohm wrote quite movingly on this situation in “On Dialogue.”
Thank you, good idea.But what do you suggest we do?How can we stop putting the emphasis on the teacher
Thanks for your reply.
Perhaps there are a lot of possibilities? Below are a few ways that could be explored (or discarded or riffed off of, or…)
When we speak to one another, notice if we are creating hierarchy or comparing levels, by how much we know or how close to the teacher we are.
When we speak to one another, speak as directly as possible, notice when we are putting the teacher or teachings as a buffer between us.
Realize the problems we have our ours (together) own them as a Sangha and don’t separate individuals out as “their” problem. We are creating how we are together.
Face the divisiveness between us as a working ground.
Respect one another as much as we do the teacher.
Listen deeply to one another.
Have less teachings and more group communication sessions.
Take over the institutions (as HHDL recommended) then any problems are ours.
Since we are the Sangha, emphasize the third Jewell. Not to become centric, but because it is here we can be responsible and not blame others (ie, the Teacher)
Don’t create ordinary institutions, but develop something new.
Look into Bohm Dialogue (as it emphasises group meditation and coherence)
What do you think?
Rick, I think these are great suggestions too.
It seems very challenging, wondering how we could move forward together, especially considering our space/time differences?
Maybe you could start a focus group with individuals who are interested in this particular thread. You could meet on Google+ or Skype as a group.
> Maybe you could start a focus group with individuals who are interested in this particular thread. You could meet on Google+ or Skype as a group.
This reply seems that it isn’t taking a different approach very seriously.
It is easy to say something is a “great suggestion”, but it quickly becomes like something one drops into a corporate suggestion box and business continues as usual.
I appreciate your ideas and we might address some of these approaches on the blog. But I’m not in charge of making change happen in Rigpa, I’m just doing my part. There are different efforts happening simultaneously, in terms of change in Rigpa, different Facebook groups, different blogs, and the official channels via Rigpa International and National Rigpas. If someone has an important idea and wants to see it happen, they need to take responsibility for moving it forward. It doesn’t mean I don’t value your ideas. I’ll also be away for awhile, so I wouldn’t be able to participate or help.
Thanks for your reply, Sandra.
“As long as the emphasis is on the teacher (or the bureaucracy) it seems to me we are repeating the same patterns.”
Perhaps I misunderstand the purpose of this blog as to try and discover “how it happened”. I’m not meaning to suggest any changes in Rigpa or in making something else happen. Sorry for my lack of clarity.
We are already here together and can look into these issues, right here.
I’m asking if we might stop looking toward changes in the teacher or in the bureaucracy and perhaps look for “how it happened” within ourselves, with one another? To see how we might be creating division right now, here in this thread and how difficult communication is.
I’m not trying to suggest that you should be interested in such a possibility, but since you stated that you were interested, then I didn’t understand your next response to startup a group or something.
Hope that helps to clarify and thanks again for responding.
Yes, that does help to clarify, Rick! And I am indeed interested in looking within ourselves to see how it happened. Thanks for clearing that up.
Thank you, Rick. That’s an important point. Maybe at this stage, both might be necessary, I’m wondering. Since many people still rely on the teachers and their instructions though, maybe it’s helpful to be sure to fully understand what they’ve said rather than quick assumptions they’ve made about it.
Thanks, Sandra. Yes, not to exclude anything.
Thank you, Rick.
That’s food for thought , for opening our hearts and for authentic communication.I’ll try to put your suggestions into practice as well as I can.They deserve contemplating and training.
Thanks, Nicole, that’s great.
If you feel like it, please let me know how it goes. Every experiment reveals something new.
I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Thank you, Rick.I’ll go step by step, it will take time!
Quotes which seem appropriate:
Namgyal Dawa Rinpoche, another grandson of Dudjom Rinpoche, DKR’s cousin
“Don’t surrender your free will to Question and Analyze for yourself any teachings or instructions asked of you to do in the name of the Dharma, if it goes against your sense of reasoning .
A kind and compassionate Teacher will be understanding and work with you to resolve any uncertainties you may have. It’s always better to seek clarification so that you can make a decision, rather than follow through with reservations and plant the seed of doubt in your Dharma practice . .
“May all our hearts and minds heal from the anger and injurious words we may have uttered to one another.
May love and compassion repair the broken connections we share with each-other.
Through loving-kindness may we be able to dissolve our resentment towards others and ourselves,
And may we live in harmony and in accord with the Dharma.
A comment: “Please do say such things from time to time, because it does help a lot and hits right at the heart of some of our suffering, and just saying these simple things, it can heartfully help liberate us from our entanglement with phenomena.”
A deeper analysis of spiritual bypassing, in the context of abuse by teacher/
“How Student-Teacher Relationships Go Awry in the West
Buddhist psychotherapist Dr. Miles Neale explains why Western Tibetan Buddhist students often bring psychological baggage to their spiritual quest and how communities can heal after accusations of abuse.”
Has anyone else noticed that most of what is now being written about SR is starting to read like a series of long-winded excuses?…..whether it’s coming from lamas or students, whether it’s about crazy wisdom, samaya, the feudal system or any of the other painfully obvious attempts at sophistry.
There’s something quite sad about witnessing people who consider themselves to be spiritual and thus moral, desperately trying to use convoluted obscurantist argument to try to somehow minimize the seriousness of decades of rape, abuse, bullying, violence, exploitation and deception…..just to take the edge off their own embarrassment or suffering.
Where’s the compassion for the victims? Where’s the sense of moral responsibility to speak out clearly to try and prevent it happening again? Where’s the real honesty in all this?
Most lamas have known about SR for a very long time, but kept silent because they either thought it might be bad for business, were compromised by endorsing him and taking money from him, or were just indifferent. For them it’s mildly embarrassing, but there’s no personal suffering involved at all.
But for his students it is suffering: many years ago, when the first scandal broke, many of us were deeply disgusted and just left, it was painful but we didn’t feel there was any choice, given the grotesque disparity between what he was supposed to be and the suffering he was causing. It wiped out trust very quickly and for some of us the weak ambivalent attitude of other lamas also destroyed trust in them and so the Tibetan tradition itself began to appear as inherently corrupt.
The DL belatedly ‘discovering’ that Feudalism in Tibetan Buddhism might be the problem is hypocrisy when it comes so long after the fact and the opportunity to speak out years ago was deliberately ignored out of self-interest. How much abuse could he have prevented if he had found the courage and integrity to denounce SR then……rather than now when he has no longer has any choice?
Why didn’t previous DLs or other high lamas abandon feudalism, and would the present DL have done so if he hadn’t been forced to…..and has he really fully abandoned the mindset that goes with it even now…..or is this just another convenient posture?
Does it even occur to apologists to ask: if Tibet really was so full of enlightened and highly realized beings and profound dharma, then why exactly did it stay such a savage and backward society until circumstances forced change ?
And if SR has really understood and realized the nature of mind to an extent that he is able to magically transmit it, then exactly what possible use is that understanding, if it doesn’t prevent such savage and backward behavior?
There’s a kind of intellectual corruption common to some people in religious groups…..a perversely stubborn belief in the infallible truth of their religion, the self-inflated significance of artificially induced, transient changes in their brain chemistry and the moral innocence that they naively think results from these subjective experiences and blind faith alone.
Because after all, Buddhism is just another religion, a human fabrication from a very ignorant and superstitious society with a rigid and cruel caste system, two and a half millennia ago. It’s now advertised as a supposed ‘science of the mind’ but manifestly it’s no such thing: in that two and a half thousand years, not one mention of the brain
And in all that time, Buddhist teachings, for all their supposed truth and compassion have still apparently done little to truly eradicate superstition, credulity, an acceptance of religious feudalism and inequality in the mindset of all those who follow them whether teachers or students.
No matter what happens, there’s always a complicated excuse to be found somewhere in the texts for anything uncomfortable or threatening. This is what keeps justifying the abuse, and it is this continued complicity that has enabled it. This sadly is what has come to characterize SR as a person and R as an organisation.
SR has run away but some of his students will hang on at all cost, but it’s a very heavy cost indeed and one that they have to keep on paying constantly to keep doubt and clarity at bay.
How can there be any peace of mind on that path?
“And in all that time, Buddhist teachings, for all their supposed truth and compassion have still apparently done little to truly eradicate superstition, credulity, an acceptance of religious feudalism and inequality in the mindset of all those who follow them whether teachers or students.”
You raise powerful challenges and questions. Thanks very much for your email. Rather than turning away, I hope these kind of questions can make us look even more deeply into ourselves and ask what the relevance of “..transient changes in their brain chemistry ” might mean.
Chemistry seems to be the core of the matter and beginning to understand this chemistry by working and thinking together might be a response to some of the issues you bring to light.
Thank you, Alex, for such a clear-sighted comment. Nicole
@Alex, thanks you for your comments. it is very refreshing. I’m glad I’m not the only one who is feeling disillusioned. Sometimes I feel like the only one who is moving away from Tibetan Buddhism, (and Buddhism in general), while everyone else around me is either converting, or they are a “fan” of TB/Buddhism without knowing much about what the real teachings or the corruption involved.
The problem with SR is, he is an ambiguous figure. He has done harm to some people and genuinely helped others.
It’s not like he is an L. Ron Hubbard figure who created a cult and never ever benefitted anyone with what he did.
So yes, he has done harm, but you can not just ignore the good things he has done. And people who have genuinely profited from his acitivty have every right to be grateful for what he did for them.
It’s like your neighbour who has robbed a bank and is in prison now. But besides being a convicted criminal he was also a good father, helps everyone in the neighbourhood etc. Would you demand that nobody is ever again supposed to say anything positive about that bank robber?
And, by the way, most people who do bad things do not only have bad traits. It’s totally inappropriate to condemn a person on some selective bad traits. If you start that way, we could find condemnable faults with tons of people.
Turning Suffering into enlightment?
I am coming a bit late but wish to say I watched HHDL videos and red MR advices and I am fully in line with your interpretation.
All this is so cristal clear that there is no way it could even bet subject to debate!
And Anything like ‘HHDL is from another school therefore his comments are not relevant…’ is simply shoking and just ‘blabla’ to protect SR bad behaviour and R leaders.
If this propaganda is spread at R scale, this is a very bad signal that, at the end of the day, nothing may change there.
By the way, still no sign, since PG adress annoucing internal investigation, an ethic code… and no new message…
The Moral Authority of the Dalai Lama
In the controversy over Sogyal Rinpoche, the Dalai Lama’s voice has been constantly invoked during the past six months as the senior and most authoritative source of guidance.
Indeed, it is almost a given these days that the Dalai Lama has the highest authority in matters of morality and ethics, and of course he is widely known as a man of peace who always promotes non-violence. His influence in the Buddhist world is even greater and in Vajrayana Buddhism it is enormous. Indeed he is regularly referred to as “spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists.” In some countries, like India for example, ordinary people often know nothing about Buddhism aside from its association with the Dalai Lama.
At the same time, His Holiness has advised and insisted time and again that we must carefully scrutinize and analyse our teachers. So perhaps this is the time also to scrutinize and analyse the advisor himself – both his past and his present.
The past – spiritual history
Hardly anyone knows of the Dalai Lama’s own spiritual history and it remains carefully concealed for good reason. Thus, some may be interested to know that the Dalai Lama has four spiritual masters from the Gelugpa tradition.
The first of these, Reting Rinpoche, is the one who actually found the present Dalai Lama after the death of the 13th Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama’s second guru, Tagdrag Rinpoche, ordered the assassination of his first guru, Reting Rinpoche in 1947. Even though the Dalai Lama was only about 12 years old at the time, he could – by his own admission – have intervened but did not. In his autobiography, he writes:
“[L]ooking back, I sometimes wonder whether in this case I might not have been able to do something. Had I intervened in some way, it is possible that the destruction of Reting monastery, one of the oldest and most beautiful in Tibet, might have been prevented.”
In the attack on Reting Rinpoche’s monastery, about 80 monks were killed. And although the Dalai Lama writes that Reting Rinpoche “died in prison”, it is accepted that he was poisoned on Tagdrag Rinpoche’s orders.
Bestowing the Hayagriva empowerment at Sera-Jey Monastery in Karnataka in December 2017, the Dalai Lama said: “I received the empowerments for this collection from Tagdrag Rinpoche when I was boy.” What he doesn’t say is that he could have stopped this same guru from murdering his first guru who had actually made him the Dalai Lama.
Nor does the Dalai Lama admit that all four of his gurus were students of Phabongkhapa, who used his political power to destroy Nyingma and Kagyu monasteries, to ban hosts of non-Gelug commentaries like those of the great Sakyapa scholar Gorampa, to order Guru Rinpoche statues to be thrown into the river, and to imprison Tibetans just for chanting the Vajra Guru mantra. Phabhongkhapa even asked the Chinese to wage war against all the other Tibetan Buddhist schools that flourished in eastern Tibet.
These are not exaggerations. In fact, this is just a small glimpse of what any unbiased student of Tibetan history can verify and of what can be found in Phabhongkhapa’s own collected works. Please refer to the older edition of those texts, as important details may be omitted from newer editions published since 1959, in the interests of political correctness to conform to the Dalai Lama’s non-sectarian policies.
And the past haunts the present
It was the Dalai Lama’s third guru, Trijang Rinpoche, who gave the teachings of Dorje Shugden, the protector practice that the Dalai Lama has vigorously condemned. The Dalai Lama went so far as to ban Dorje Shugden practitioners from his teachings, and so intimidated Tibetans that they stopped patronizing stores and restaurants of Dorje Shugden practitioners who quickly lost their jobs and livelihoods.
No wonder many Tibetans are quietly laughing as naïve westerners righteously quote the Dalai Lama’s recent remarks that one does not have to obey one’s Vajrayana master. Those Tibetans know the Dalai Lama is trying to justify his own actions in disobeying his own Vajrayana master. It is even more ironic that the Dalai Lama enforced his anti-Shugden edicts with the same argument now being used to cover up Sogyal Rinpoche’s misdeeds — namely that his life will be shortened if people disobey him.
What westerners don’t realize in their naiveté is the impossible bind into which the Dalai Lama’s clever phrasing put true Vajrayana practitioners who know one has to obey one’s guru wholeheartedly. On the one hand, others who also received Dorje Shugden teachings from the Dalai Lama’s third guru, Trijang Rinpoche, know the Dalai Lama is not above the Buddha and has no authority to change the most basic Vajrayana command. On the other hand, the reality of Tibetan society is that one’s life is finished once outcast by the Dalai Lama.
Typical is the tragic experience of the present Trijang Rinpoche Tulku, now 35 years old, dogged by threats, fearing bloodshed, and forced into exile and to cut off all ties with loyal disciples because he can neither disobey the Dalai Lama nor implement the Dalai Lama’s ban on Dorje Shugden.
The purpose of writing this now is definitely not to create discord but the opposite. The truth matters and if we excise it from the history books as is already happening, we will be condemned to repeat the grievous faults of the past. These truths have to come out into the open while the Dalai Lama is still alive, so that people start to question the mortal danger of mixing religion and politics that has proved so deadly, destructive and bewildering in the Dalai Lama’s own lifetime.
In the absence of such questioning, the confusion continues unabated to this day compromising and undermining the integrity of both due political process and of the true Buddhist teachings to say nothing of personal probity. Let’s look at the present evidence.
Of politics, money and character today
It’s said that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” In the world of Tibetan Buddhist politics, there is no question of the Dalai Lama’s supreme and unquestioned authority. And so it is only fair to assess the nature and character of his influence in that political world.
In 2011, headlines around the world proclaimed: “Dalai Lama Cedes Power”, “Dalai Lama Gives up Political Role”, “Dalai Lama Retires from Political Life.” While westerners readily swallowed and never questioned the news, Tibetans know well it simply isn’t true and never happened in practice. In fact, all major decisions are still made by the Dalai Lama.
As one example among very many, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA or Tibetan Government in Exile) is supposed to have a democratically elected Sikyong (or President) and Parliament. As executive authority is vested in the President, he theoretically has power to appoint his own Cabinet.
In fact the Dalai Lama has directly intervened to nominate rivals to the present Sikyong to key Cabinet posts and as Speaker of the House. And such intervention is constant.
Western government and private donors who donate millions to fund the CTA, including USAID that in 2016 gave $23 million, should open their eyes and check present myths about the Dalai Lama. Indeed, they should check the Dalai Lama’s own reserves and resources.
Tibetan sources say the Dalai Lama has enormous personal wealth, including huge quantities of gold he brought out from Tibet, all of which could do so much for Tibetan welfare if it were spent. Instead, only the foreign aid is spent. A very rare 2010 investigation by Australian journalist Michael Bachman noted that the CTA does not acknowledge millions received in private donations or reveal their sources.
A key reason the Dalai Lama’s personal wealth is so carefully hushed up is that it might reflect on the supposedly impeccable moral and ethical image of the Dalai Lama so assiduously cultivated in the west. Yet close associates of the Dalai Lama refer to him as stingy and very envious and jealous by nature. Thus the Dalai Lama is known to be jealous of anyone else in the Tibetan Buddhist world who has some sort of fame and respect.
While painfully aware of such stains, these same associates have no choice but diligently to conceal them from the outside world if only to protect their own privileged positions and to ensure the continued flow of foreign donations.
And a disservice to Buddhism itself
Despite the Dalai Lama’s supposedly non-sectarian stance, these same close associates report him to be deeply sectarian – not surprising in light of the volatile mixture of politics and sectarianism in the Dalai Lama’s own history and upbringing.
There is reliable speculation that, contrary to popular beliefs about the 17th Karmapa Trinley Dorje’s “escape” from Tibet, the entire episode was in fact engineered and closely monitored by the Dalai Lama. This Karmapa, after all, had been endorsed by Chinese strongmen Ziang Zemin and Xi Jinping — not for any spiritual reason but for their own political agendas.
But the Dalai Lama knew as well as the Chinese that the Karmapa lineage is much older and more influential than the present Dalai Lama dynasty and he therefore had a direct interest in having Tibet’s most influential man in his own hands, especially as he himself aged. This, say influential Tibetan observers, explains the Karmapa’s years of virtual “house arrest” after arriving in India under the Dalai Lama’s watchful eye. The wisest of these observers still express disbelief that Tai Situ Rinpoche so completely fell into the Dalai Lama’s manoeuvre to bring the Karmapa under his control.
While this view of the Karmapa’s escape has not been definitively proved, other sectarian interventions by the Dalai Lama are more blatant and widely acknowledged among senior Tibetan observers. For example, the Dalai Lama’s controversial 2015 recognition of Trulshik Rinpoche’s reincarnation in Nepal seemed deliberately designed to cause disharmony in the Nyingma lineage.
Even more provocative was the Dalai Lama’s ploy to break the powerful influence of the abbots of Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok’s Larung Gar Serthar monastery by recognizing a reincarnation of Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok, who had specifically instructed his disciples that he would not reincarnate and not to recognize any supposed reincarnation. Yet, such is the influence of the Dalai Lama that Tibetan society cannot oppose his decisions.
Countless other examples abound into the present day, including talk of the Dalai Lama’s unspoken and informal alliance with the extreme Hindu nationalist RSS in refusing to support millions of Indians eager to be Buddhist but who would be out of his own control. It is not difficult for readers to discover and learn this for themselves if they are willing to look.
But perhaps the Dalai Lama’s greatest disservice is to the essence of Buddhist philosophy and practice itself. As he cajoles scientists, secularists and the western media with his “secular ethics”, mind-life dialogues and humanitarian goodwill ambassador, the Dalai Lama is subtly eviscerating and undermining the profound spiritual basis of Buddhism.
The Dalai Lama recently went so far to declare that he longer believes in prayer. “Thousands of years we pray, pray, pray, pray. Nothing happened”, he said. If nothing happens, one wonders why his monasteries and schools under the Central Tibetan Administration are still required to recite the Dalai Lama’s long life prayers.
Some of the Dalai Lama’s increasingly secularist approach seems aimed at persuading sceptical, rationalist westerners who know nothing about Buddhism that it is not a “religion”. He is even supposedly creating a non-religious version of the Buddha’s basic Kangyur teachings. But the Dalai Lama seems neither to understand western culture nor to recognize that he is putting Buddhism in grave danger of losing its very essence and its spiritual heart that are its most profound offering to the world.
Though many knowledgeable Tibetans and Buddhist masters long ago lost their respect for the Dalai Lama, the purpose of this analysis is certainly not to create discord or disharmony. Rather, it is a simple and necessary wake-up call:
Unless westerners and blind Tibetan devotees inform themselves of past and present realities, they will uncritically continue to swallow every remark the Dalai Lama makes about the Sogyal Rinpoche affair as if it is the gospel truth. And unless they ask the basic questions raised here while the Dalai Lama is still alive, serious dangers await both the Tibetan community and the future of Buddhism itself after the Dalai Lama passes.
The Dalai Lama has urged us to analyse, examine and question other teachers and leaders according to the highest standards. He is surely not exempt.
More importantly I think the whole of the Buddhist community’s ethical conduct must be protected first. One bad conduct from either the Vajayana or feudalism, and even other schools will destroy the buddhist community as a body of ethical examples.
Sexual abuses and acts between students and gurus cannot not be tolerated. Period. Follow the Buddha example. Investigate your teachers and leave if you don’t feel comfortable. Dharma can be learned from elsewhere.
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