August 22, 2017
Dear Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche,
I would like to thank you very much for taking the time to post your reflections about the “Guru and Student in the Vajrayana” on your Facebook Page on August 14. (Click here for Facebook post, or formatted version on Buddhistdoor.)
I did read your post several times, as you suggested, and reflected on it for a few days. I used to be someone trying to be a genuine Vajrayana practitioner, but after reading what you said, I am not sure if I ever was. In any case, I still do aim to be a genuine spiritual practitioner.
We met a few times. You might remember me most from when I was Sogyal Rinpocheʻs attendant when he visited your Sea to Sky Center in 1993. It might be a surprise to you that the same person you met then is writing this letter to you. But I suspect it will not come as a surprise to you that questions might come your way after writing your article. I would love to get answers, but please feel no pressure. It would be deeply appreciated, but is not expected. If anything in this letter sparks your interest, and you happen to get bored in a question and answer session with your students, I would love to get a recording.
You say you are not familiar with the Rigpa set-up, which makes it hard for you to say anything more definitive. So I thought it might be helpful to share with you my experience in Rigpa.
How I Was Introduced to Samaya
I met Sogyal Rinpoche in 1987 at a public talk held at the Rigpa London Center, which happened to take place one evening during the time I attended my first ten-week meditation course there. Towards the end of the course, I saw an announcement for an Easter Retreat at the center. I asked one of the senior students if that retreat was open to and would be suitable for beginners like me. The answer was: “Yes absolutely! Youʻll love it.”
On this retreat, Sogyal Rinpoche taught “Tsik Sum Ne Dek” (“Hitting the Essence in Three Words”), a high Dzogchen teaching. I had a powerful, life-changing experience. I remember vividly how being on the retreat was like being in a different reality. I figured since Rinpoche told us that he introduced the nature of mind, what I experienced must have something to do with the nature of mind.
Of course, I did realize quite quickly that I hadn’t fully realized it, due to the obvious fact that I couldn’t sustain the experience. And after trying for 30 years, I still canʻt do that very much. But it definitely made enlightenment a tangible and possible goal. I saw it dangle right in front of me.
I remember that, at this time, when I would meditate, I thought if I could meditate the right way, then enlightenment would just click into place. What I felt was maybe similar to what you described as “unexpected eruption of pious feelings” in your letter, and people who had “very little room left in their minds for further analysis, because emotionally they just wanted to ‘jump!’”
Reading Erik Pema Kunsangʻs recent article, Club NonDualité, also makes me wonder, not for the first time by the way, whether what I got was just a pure state of dualistic mind. That would make sense, because I donʻt have experiences where risings naturally liberate themselves.
Many students have asked questions about this many times and Sogyal Rinpoche usually advised them to trust they got a glimpse, trust on some level they already have realized it even though it may not be conscious and clear, and pray and keep practicing. Realization will happen, glimpse after glimpse after glimpse. At least that is what I heard. Many years later, I did receive the more detailed teachings clarifying the difference between ordinary mind and the nature of mind.
What I heard from Sogyal Rinpoche with respect to the Dzogchen samaya, that comes with the the fourth abhisheka, was that once you are introduced to the nature of mind, the teacher who introduced you becomes your root guru and there is commitment on both the side of the student and the teacher.
What I understood is that the most important commitment is toward enlightenment. That in Dzogchen the samaya is the Samaya to the View, to seeing without delusion. If you are in the View, the samaya is intact. Since Sogyal Rinpoche obviously knew we couldn’t do that completely at this point, he said practically this means to aspire to this.
At times, students voiced concerns about the scary aspects of samaya because they had heard traditional teachings on the topic or bits and pieces like the torment of “vajra hell.” Sogyal Rinpoche usually attempted to allay their concerns. He stressed the essential meaning behind these teachings: To honor a deep commitment to enlightenment and the sacred heart connection that’s made when the teaching is transmitted. I was still uncomfortable with some aspects of samaya, but the way he presented it seemed reasonable.
The other thing I learned about samaya, as I went along, was that once this connection was established and a teacher and student had made a deep bond, negativity on the part of the student would effect the well-being and even the life span of both parties.
I am not trying to make excuses here, but to answer your question: Were students fully aware what a Vajrayana initiation entails, had requested it, and received it completely? Looking back, I would say, for me and many otherʻs, the entrance into Vajrayana samaya was not a conscious informed choice. The road post did not say: “Enlightenment or Vajra Hell!“ There was no initial warning sign that said: “Beyond this point, no way back!”
Of course, if you stuck around and began to follow the teachings, you heard more teachings about samaya. And if you wanted to follow Rinpoche seriously and receive the Dzogchen teachings systematically, he required you to commit to following him as your main teacher until enlightenment.
I also want to point out that, in my opinion, Sogyal Rinpoche taught in this non-traditonal way out of compassion so modern people could relate to the amazing treasures that the Tibetan Buddhist tradition holds.
In terms of the Vajrayana, the way I entered was seeing its practices as support for Dzogchen. People doing prostrations and other Ngöndro practices seemed very strange at first. I tried to have an open mind, but also took my time. Slowly, I got over my resistance and started to do the Ngöndro practices. Intellectually, it made sense to me that they would help purify obscurations, so I gave them a chance.
I now truly appreciate Ngöndro. It took me almost 20 years to complete the numbers that you’re supposed to accumulate. Although I tried to do Ngöndro the right way, to be honest a lot of it could not be recorded as more than just completing numbers. Looking back I don’t see that the practices really helped me remove deep emotional and cognitive obscurations. I’m not saying this is the fault of the practices. I can see how they could do that and that I probably didn’t practice them the right way.
Sogyal Rinpoche never gave Vajrayana empowerments until 2003, when he gave the first Tendrel Nyesel empowerment, which he has given 17 times since then (according to the records on the rigpawiki.org.) But I got a lot of empowerments because Sogyal Rinpoche invited many great masters and encouraged us to get as many empowerments as we could from them mainly as a blessing and seed for the future.
Vajrayana was not our main path, but a support for Dzogchen. It was part of the preliminaries. I donʻt think I entered formally, but as I went along I heard the teachings on samaya and pure perception and the commitments, and in even more detail when I began with the practice of the three roots. We were told not to worry too much about the traditional things, but to focus on the main point of samaya as your heart connection.
In your letter, you emphasized that Vajrayana needs to be properly introduced. What I understood from your letter is that even though an authentic Vajra Master can pretty much do whatever they see fit, the relationship needs to be properly established. You say the Vajrayana teachings lay this out clearly. From this point of view, I would say I was not properly introduced, neither to the Vajryana nor the Dzogchen Samaya. If I manage to get a good lawyer, I think I have good chance to argue in Vajrayana court that my contract was not valid.
However, practically speaking, I have felt (and still feel), as do many of my sangha brothers and sisters, a deep heart connection with Sogyal Rinpoche because of the profound teachings I received from him.
When accusations of abuse were made seven years after I met Sogyal Rinpoche, samaya suddenly became a much more serious matter. I felt like I was asked to see Sogyal Rinpocheʻs behavior purely, but for me this meant giving up my personal sense of integrity. From my perspective, this was not healthy. Because l did not consciously enter into such an agreement, I was not prepared for such a big leap. This might have been a misunderstanding of samaya on my part.
I believe we need to be aware of and be respectful of our sacred connection with Sogyal Rinpoche. However, given we were introduced so informally, where does that leave us in terms of the traditional samaya?
What To Do If Samaya Is Not Clearly Established?
Since we did not consciously agree to the strict rules in the tantras, are we now bound by them? Or should our commitment to maintain samaya be based on the essential meaning that Sogyal Rinpoche explained to us? That would mean striving to maintain a positive connection, not allowing our actions be tainted by negative emotions, keeping a tender heart and an open mind, and trying to avoid harm as much as we can. Looking at it this way, it seems to me that maintaining a good heart connection and voicing criticism is not necessarily incompatible. It depends on the place you are coming from, your intention.
Considering that the way most of us in Rigpa entered into the Vajrayana was quite informal and unconventional, and thus unclear, would a positive step forward be for both students and teacher to clarify and review their Vajrayana commitments? I think it would be important for people to know that, after reflecting and looking into their hearts, they are free to decide whether or not to continue at a level that is appropriate for them. If there were a Supreme Court of the Vajrayana world, I’m sure these issues would land on its desk to consider how the rules of Vajrayana would best be applied to this situation and in the modern world in general. In the absence of such definitive advice, Sogyal Rinpoche and other masters could give advice on how a student can review commitments and make a conscious and informed decision.
You also brought up the question whether part of the problem might be that Sogyal Rinpoche did not have the full formal training that Vajrayana teachers usually go through. This possibility might make a lot of his students very uncomfortable. Are there any qualified masters that could do a peer review with Sogyal Rinpoche and look at how he is working personally with students? Of course, journalists will ask to sit in and stream it live with commentary, but such a process could happen privately and respectfully ending with an essential statement of those involved. Simply to know that it has happened would help to restore trust, especially with anyone who feels they do not sufficiently know the teachings or Sogyal Rinpoche well enough to come to a personal conclusion.
I personally believe that to process this scandal an honest look at the situation is healthy. I would not say everyone needs to engage in this but information should be available to those who feel they need to. Realistically, the only way to make the process accessible to all current and previous members of the Rigpa community is for it to be public. That is why I’m posting this letter to you publicly.
Even though my perspective is critical, my intention is to contribute to turning this situation into a positive experience of learning and spiritual growth for the students, the community as a whole, and the teachers. After all the articles that have been posted, anything that contributes to a more balanced and responsible view will, in my view, improve the situation. I also believe that the wider Buddhist community could learn something useful from how we address the current situation.
What If You Realize Your Path Does Not Work?
In a nutshell, here is my story of “non-liberation” that may help you understand my perspective better. At the end of the three-year retreat, I realized that something was not right on my spiritual path. After working with this realization and reflecting upon it for seven years, I came to the conclusion that Sogyal Rinpocheʻs way of teaching did not work for me. Looking back, it is clear that I was heading towards a physical and psychological breakdown. I deeply felt something was wrong and that my practice was not able to resolve it.
I did not consciously plan this, but I ended up in Hawaii, which interestingly is as far away from Lerab Ling as you can be on this earth. I figured I better go back to the basics, meditation and other foundational teachings, to figure out what I didn’t understand and why my practice was not working. The last thing I was looking for was another spiritual tradition, let alone another Guru. But opportunities to explore healing approaches from other traditions and Western Psychology came my way. I tried them out and found them a beneficial support for my spiritual path that also helped me look at my blockages.
After a few years, I noticed that one of the new teachers I had met seemed to be connected to me in what I can only describe as an inner wisdom voice, which uncannily guided me through working with my emotional and conceptual obscurations. This guidance was kind, wise, non-judgmental. More and more, the connection I felt to this inner guide in my heart seemed similar to the way Sogyal Rinpoche talked about his connection with his Gurus. Giving back my commitments to Sogyal Rinpoche was not planned, but eventually it happened.
I let this process happen in a conscious and slow way over five years. I made a good effort to own my own negativity and resentments about my time in Rigpa and to remove them as much as possible, so I could express gratitude for what I had received. I asked Sogyal Rinpoche for his blessing to move on to study with this teacher.
Just to be clear, I’m not telling anyone they should go to another teacher. If anyone would ask me about this, I would tell them to think about this very deeply. I would say not to have any illusions that there are other spiritual communities where basic human problems do not exist. At least, I have not found one. The basic principles behind the practices I am currently doing are in line with the Buddhist teachings. I continue to tremendously respect and appreciate the Buddhist teachings and still consider myself part of the Rigpa sangha.
Why Do Westerners Not Examine Their Teacher?
I am an example of the kind of Westerner that you describe who has dedicated their life to following this path, and tried to do everything the Guru asked. I agree with you that it’s puzzling why Westerners do not examine their teacher and why it takes them decades to realize something is wrong. I look back now and ask myself in utter amazement: “How could I have possibly stayed for so long in what I now clearly see was not a healthy situation for me?“
Sometimes, I can laugh about it all. Sometimes, I feel like crying. The short answer is that somehow I checked some cognitive and emotional functions that are necessary for self-responsibility and self-care at the door. The way I heard it, letting go of the judgments of my ego was the offering that Sogyal Rinpoche asked from us so that he could give and we could receive the teachings.
I was unable to notice the warning signs because I saw them as doubts. What I heard in the teachings was to not doubt and instead to trust. There were always explanations that put any criticism about Sogyal Rinpoche into question, even ones made by respected teachers like the Dalai Lama. Teachers like you (and many others) came to our centers and praised Sogyal Rinpoche in ways that gave me the impression you regarded him as an authentic teacher and therefore, his way of teaching must be without fault.
I’m not saying that Sogyal Rinpoche is not an authentic teacher. He is an amazingly gifted teacher and many, including myself, have benefitted in countless ways from his teachings and guidance.
Learning From Mistakes
It is said that even if we have the best intentions, we can still make mistakes. What you wrote suggests that this can also apply to Gurus. I heard you say that students are supposed to see critical thoughts and judgments about the Guru as their own projection. But you also said, “…when your Guru chairs a board meeting and it becomes obvious that he has no clue about an issue, as a prudent member of that board you shouldn’t hesitate to supply him with the information he needs. At the same time, as a Vajrayana student, you must skillfully remind yourself the Guru only looks clueless to you because of your own impure perception, and that by appearing to need your assistance the Guru is actually giving you the chance to accumulate merit.” So what should you do if concerned individuals have reported, over the course of 30 years, that some students feel deeply harmed by the Guru’s behavior, and how he’s dealing with the issue is clearly still not working?
To me it seems very obvious that something is not right. I am not quite sure what. From a perspective of pure perception, maybe everything is happening as it should? Could it be that Sogyal Rinpoche intended for these people to go through this experience, to feel harmed the way they have, to feel unsupported by the community, to lose trust in him as a teacher, and create a public scandal? That would imply he also intended to sacrifice his reputation and for this public discussion to take place, perhaps so it could reveal the problems and bring positive change.
In either case, I believe there is no choice now but to have a honest look at what is not right if we want to be sure this issue doesn’t continue to surface, again and again. Unless of course, one takes the stance that the benefit that Sogyal Rinpoche brings is so great that it outweighs the harm that is reported by some and that these experiences should be ignored as side effects of a powerful medicine. Spock, from the Starship Enterprise, might argue the need of the many outweighs the needs of the few. But the FDA would not approve this medicine. To consider the experiences of those who feel harmed as acceptable collateral damage, like Army generals justify civilian injuries in a war, does also not seem consistent with a spiritual view. You wrote something that could be perceived as promoting this last point, but I don’t think you meant it that way.
What I have learned, and what I found works for me, is this: If you want to solve a problem you need to take full responsibility for it first. This means, at the beginning, completely leaving aside the question of whose fault it is. This means dropping the victim attitude of “Poor me, I have been harmed,” or “He/she harmed me,” or “He/she does not understand me and is blaming me unjustly,” or “It is the other students fault if one of them misunderstands and complains,” or “It is the Westerner’s fault!” or “It is the Tibetanʻs fault!” or “Hearing the allegations were made public is really painful for me, how could those people write the letter?”
My new teacher says thoughts like this indicate you are playing the victim. The karma postman never delivers a package to the wrong door and the package will keep coming to your door until you’re able to open it and learn the lesson it contains. When you have gone through this process a bit and are able to begin to see and own your own emotions and projections then you can share your experience and the insights you gained with others much more effectively.
If Sogyal Rinpoche wanted to take this approach, he would have to take full responsibility for the behavior he manifested. Other teachers would have to look at how they might have contributed to the situation. The community and the organization would have to look honestly at how they contributed to a situation that allowed some people to feel harmed.
I probably don’t have many friends left after saying this, so let me sugar coat this bitter pill a little: I have found this advice useful. I am not quite done with taking full responsibility yet but I can attest it is working and am making good progress. I’m not saying to anybody they should do this if they don’t feel ready. It is something you might want to consider doing voluntarily, however. I can attest that it is quite painful but might be very healing.
One question I have is whether the practice of samaya and pure perception are compatible with the idea of self-responsibility? And if not, how Vajrayana can exist in this world in any way besides a secret path that selected students are invited to enter consciously with full understanding by a qualified teacher? Like you said, the famous examples of the students and teachers who engaged in an authentic Vajrayana path, knew they might get beaten up or thrown into prison and didn’t care if that happened. And as you pointed out in your letter, the roles of a public Buddhist teacher and true Vajrayana teacher do not seem compatible.
The Bigger Picture
You also encouraged us to look at the bigger picture. As much as I have tried to question this conclusion, I can’t shake a deep sense that there might be some subtle unhealthy dynamics in the way Tibetan Buddhism is practiced. Not just in our community but other places too.
I personally have come to the conclusion that I was following the path in the wrong way. That was not a comfortable thing to look at and to acknowledge after dedicating 25 years, half of my life, to it. I take solace that to see delusion is said to be an incredible accomplishment, a good start, and even half the journey. One thing I realize is that I was under the delusion that I could bypass looking at my stuff. I thought if I would just keep doing what I was asked to, all my obscurations would magically go away and I would miraculously emerge as a fully functioning enlightened being.
In the last seven years, I have gained a much deeper self-understanding of how my mind and heart works, how much I had repressed and disassociated from my experiences, and how I was unconscious of my obscurations. As I understand it, Rigpa generally means supreme intelligence or awareness. In Dzogchen, Rigpa has a deeper connotation, it means the inner most nature of mind, an even more profound primordially pure pristine awareness. How could awareness liberate what it is not aware of? How could I possibly think liberation of confusion, not to even speak of self-liberation, could happen if I was not conscious of my emotional and cognitive processes and obscurations? From what I can see, many others in my community and possibly the wider Buddhist world might be falling into a similar hole and like me, not even be aware of it.
Looking at the bigger picture of this scandal, I wonder whether an unhealthy way of teaching and following the dharma has contributed to allowing my confusion to go unchallenged for so long. Maybe it was just me and everyone except me is a perfect Dharma practitioner and heading smoothly towards enlightenment. Even if this is the case, I don’t think I will do any harm for anyone to do a reality check by having an honest look and asking some tough questions. That is all I’m suggesting. If you donʻt find any problems, it will help you confirm that you’re on the right track. For some, this might be uncomfortable and painful, especially if you notice some things that need attention. But if you stick with it until you come to your own conclusions, I don’t think it will harm you.
The Need for More Self-Understanding
Ultimately, if students could have enough self-understanding of their baggage and have tools and support, they would have the capacity to make their own choices and be able to process experiences that might come up in the Vajrayana Guru-Student relationship. If everyone — student, teacher and community — takes responsibility then the rules that many are advocating for and many others passionately oppose, as an infringement of their right of religious freedom, may not all be necessary. Establishing this will require a lot of work. And I don’t see how this could happen without looking into the insights and methods of Western Psychology.
Another way of expressing this is that you need to have a healthy ego before you can give it up. It would have been much better for me to first work through my stuff and become a healthy and joyful person before thinking about enlightenment. Instead, I thought I could bypass my stuff and directly go to enlightenment. Many people would probably be satisfied being happy and joyful and simply being a member of a spiritual community. And only those who feel drawn to the challenging path of full enlightenment would proceed further.
This seemed to be the situation in Tibet where the society was spiritual, but only a few really pursued the goal of enlightenment seriously. I personally am still interested in enlightenment. But I believe I lack a necessary foundation for my spiritual path and that it would be futile to try to progress with higher practices. That’s why I am presently taking some steps going back and am focusing on the basics of becoming a healthy human being.
Can Scandal Become a Cause of Positive Change?
My wife Sandra and I have set up a web site as a space for healthy, balanced and reasonable discussion and reflection on questions like these at howdidthishappen.org. We envision it as a place where people can learn about and understand the different issues that have been brought up by this scandal, better appreciate the different views, and come to their own conclusions.
I appreciate also that you put this issue into perspective by pointing out that Buddhism has weathered much heavier storms and we can look at this scandal as a test of resilience. I heard Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche once told Sogyal Rinpoche that time will tell because in the winds of time the dust blows away and the gold remains. Right now this still looks like a complicated mess with many questions and no easy answers. So maybe a lot of dust still has to blow away. I hope that good can come from this, real change that will allow the Buddhist teachings to flourish even more. I hope that we will be able to look back at this in 10 or 20 years and be grateful for what we learned.
I am sorry, I have probably given you a headache. Still, this is quite a bit shorter than your post ;-). If you got to this point, thank you for reading. If not, I want to say, I completely I understand, even if you wonʻt know.
Respectfully and with warm wishes,
P.S. I notice that your contagious humor and provocative writing style has been rubbing off on me, so if I went overboard at any point, please know that my intention is to express myself respectfully to you and everyone else I am referring to.
How are you processing and understanding Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s article? What questions do you have for him? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
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Thanks for writing this, Bernie. You raised very good points. Thanks for this blog too. It is certainly time to look at why the Rigpa debacle happened, and the unspoken question that follows is What changes or clarifications can be made to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen again? If the organization was truly healthy there would be no need for codes of ethics; such a code is bandaid, but it is a good start because without some intelligent thinking and engagement between psycholgists and people like you with lamas the benefit that could come from this is unlikely to manifest.
I hope DZKR considers your letter and manages a response. These are the kinds of experiences the other lamas we seek opinions from need to understand if they are to help Riga students and particularly to help Rigpa to rebuild into a healthy organization.
Really how can they understand the dynamics at play when we are only just coming to understand them ourselves. We need to be talking g to them, not sitting back and waiting for them to say something that solves all our problems.
For the sake of Vajrayana surviving and flourishing in the West these issues need to be resolved and changes made to the way Tibetan Buddhism is taught and understood to take into account this fact that many/most/all Westerners bring some kind of baggage with them to the spiritual path.
The sense that we are inherently flawed and must be fixed is what we all carry due to our Christian upbringings, and that is very different to the Buddhist idea of being inherently good. How does this change how Ngondro works for us? It’s worth considering.
Perhaps students should first be introduced to the words of the Buddha so we get a real foundation; they are very clear and stress the use of reason. Imagine if we spent time actually looking at ourselves and our baggage in the light of the Buddha’s teachings before we went on to even considering enlightenment for the sake of all beings?
As to the last part of your article, it seems you agreed to the vehicle of the solitary realizers, the words of the Buddha which can usually be found in the Sri Lankan Tradition, the Theravada(Northern propagation after the death of the Buddha). Enlightenment for the sake of all beings is the Mahayana and the Vajrayana which belongs to the Buddha’s 2nd Turning of the Wheel(Tibetan’s Middle Scope) and the 3rd Turning of the Wheel, i.e. Vajrayana which is the Final Scope. The Mahayana and the “vajrayana” is the propagation to the West(of Asian Nepal) after the death of the Buddha. These latter teachings are based on the Prajnaparamita Wisdom teachings of the Buddha and their scriptures are called Sutras(Sanskrit: Tibet, China, Korea, Vietnam, Japan, Taiwan) as opposed to Suttas(Pali language from Sri Lankan tradition; Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand). Where I was brought up, Penang, Malaysia we have both traditions namely Northern and Western propagation. In the Mahayana temple where I was trained by the Mahayana abbot, there are internal political religious forces of conversion to the Small Scope, the Theravada, the words of the Buddha. Earlier in my practice I was told in very subtle ways that the Mahayana and the Vajrayana are not the teachings of the Buddha Sakyamuni within the temple where I was trained! I refused to be converted because I followed a Mahayana root teacher instead of an orange clad robed tradition. From what I read of the article by the author, S. Bernie, he seemed to be on the correct whatever he is practicing. Even as an Asian Malaysian Chinese there are to me many ambiguous terms in Tibetan buddhism. I understood the dilemma of Rigpa’s practitioners. I was a Californian for almost 9 years. Americans are very practical and they follow rules A to Z. I don’t know what Dzongsar K.R said because I have not read yet his reply. Among most what I personally can think of is that the notion of Karmic consequences cannot be explained and accepted by people living in the West. My best advice is that the Buddha said, “Ehipassiko”, you will have to find it out, analyse it by yourself. It is a bit tricky when you are on the Mahayana and Vajrayana path. But I am not saying you must not try. It depends on past merits and accumulations and Karmic conditions of previous births, that is why Tibetan Buddhism have such things like “the precious ones”, Rinpoches). From what Bernie wrote, it looked that Sogyal Rinpoche is quite a responsible teacher in that he wanted his students to follow him until enlightened is attained. My precious teacher said a good teacher takes care of student’s rebirth(eg. like not going to Vajra Hell). As regards to the topic of Samaya and committments, whether one actually consciously goes into taking Samaya vows or committments or Abhiseka, from my own personal experience it would have to depend on your Karmic connection with the teacher whether good or bad. I took the highest yoga most secret tantric initiations and half consciously slept through the whole process. If I had, I would have to put a piece of toothpick on my eyelids because I could not sustained wakefulness! Though I still did remember some committments, I just practice what I remembered and make the best out of it. I don’t think the Buddha meant we have to die trying to do all committments or whatever the guru dish out to us if we did it badly. I remembered my compassionate root teacher once said to those who wanted to take the 5 Precepts and if they cannot then they can take 3 out of the 5 and slowly progress. Practicing Buddhism should be relaxed, not pressured into practicing ethics, morality and virtue(First Scope). Wisdom should reign. If your guru asked you to do something that you think is not reasonable there are ways to say, questioned and explain. The Buddha never said you cannot questioned. Questioning your root guru or the precious ones signifies your intelligence, not that you are not trusting your guru! Why should your guru have Ego? And as to Bernie, he certainly found his inner guru and it started with the outer guru pointing to him, but it seemed he did not noticed it. From what I gather from his letter, he was quite uptight because he could not progress and see the View. That is not the way to chase what you want. In one of the stories the Buddha taught, an arrow smith was unable to do meditation and he was taught by many of the Buddha’s disciple, still unable to get it correct. Then, the Buddha taught the arrow smith himself. The Buddha said in order to shoot straight and hit the bull eye, arrow smith must maintain the tightness of the strings; not too tight and not too loose. If Bernie have loosen his grasping on the View, he could have found and seen it earlier and able to maintain it for long. It is a matter of practice. I am still perfecting it. As to the foundation, you could always read up the words of the Buddha. And always analyse instead of taking words for value. Use wisdom on the Path…. Amituofo
First Taste Of Brown Sugar
Is there anyway to contact a blogger when they have posted a blog? many of them enable a mail you can contact them or let you post a comment on their blog others don’t want pple to post comments or contact them
I feel so privileged to be in the company of people like you, Bernie and Tahlia. You express your experiences and the teachings in such a relatable way and your discourse relating to leaving Rigpa and the abuse is helpful to many. The benefits you provide are immeasurable and the merit you receive is immense. Thank you. I try and step away from the groups for a bit but am continually drawn back like a moth to a flame. There is a reason-it is like medication for heartburn. Thanks to everyone for their insight and vulnerability.
There is a totally different point in DKR’s letter you did not mention: his disregard for the West
He seems not to know the “Abrahamic traditions”, the Western traditions of wisdom and love, the Western history of humanitarian action, religious and secular? The Jewish call for justice? The Christian call for “Peace on Earth to all men of good will”? The French secular ideal of H”Freedom, Equality, Brotherhood”? His letter shows a deep knowledge of the West
I feel he is insulting us and I cannot accept that.
Is there an ounce of love in this letter? It seems to express anger…
I agree completely about with what you said in general about the vajayana. Anyhow, this is not the vajrayana I received in the lineage of his grandfather, Dudjom Rinpoche. Other Tibetan teachers seem to understand that Vajrayana needs to be adapted for Westerners, except maybe for some exceptional students.
Degenerate times from a Buddhist point of view? Yes, but the desperate state of the planet, the imminent threat to the survival of many animal species, including the human species, are here for all of us to see. Couldn’t we, shouldn’t we all, including spiritual Teachers, join our efforts to answer the call of Mother Earth?
I am an old time student of Tibetan teachers. good husbands, good parents, wonderful human beings. I am immensely grateful to them and to their lineage. I am also Jewish and French, a proud heir and hold er of these lineages. And I am not impressed by a foreign Teacher who is insulting them.
Yet I have to acknowlege he is also doing some wonderful, very innovative things (see for instance http://84000.co), publishes interesting, provocative books. I enjoy reading the posts of the Facebook page “Learn From Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche”.
Oh sure! “We civilized Westerners” versus “feudal Tibetans”… How many people exterminated in the “name of God” (Hitler), how many in the name of ideology (URSS, ex-Yugoslavia)? How many people left dying in the Mediterranean sea NOWADAYS, or locked in detention centers and forgotten? How many damages & victims Western colonialism has done? How about Native Americans and the KKK, and racism and slavery in the USA? Who annihilated Hiroshima? How many wars, from Korea to Afghanistan & Iraq, we fought? And I do not want to go back too much with the “Holy Medieval Inquisition”, darling. I’m afraid your perception of the West is a little bit idyllic. Or a bit too righteous.
How could I forget that? 2 of my uncles died in concentration camps !
What I protested is the blanket indictment of the Abrahamic religions and the West at large.
The Jews did not kill, torture, for several thousand years, until recently. Now the victims are victimizers. The Israeli are the executioners of the Palestinians. It breaks my heart.
The Tibetans had their share of internal bloody conflicts.
The wonders and horrors coexist everywhere. Saints, heroes and criminals. Samsara. Let’s face this objective truth.
I objected to DKR’s onesided vision.
I am glad you are aware of what “we” Westerners did (and still do). Really. Believe me, it’s just because you do not know DJKR very well — he’s constantly blaming the East (and Tibetans) for their tribalism and feudalism. Watch a movie (it’s free) called “Return to Dzongsar”, or read his biography online: http://mugwortborn.wpengine.com/; you’ll see you’re attacking the wrong teacher. He may be sarcastic, he may be verbose, but he’s not one-sided.
I know DKR very well, I have been following him attentively, among other things because he is provocative, innovative, I have his books. I have been following his biography. Overall, I do enjoy him . I did not criticize him as an indicidual, as a teacher, I criticized what he wrote in this paper, no more, no less. I don’t like blanket statements, and this what I found in his paper.
Sangye Choga Martin
I think he may refer to much of what you said as “The aftermath”. I recall a segment in the film Word of my Perfect Teacher where he speaks of the Buddhist view of suffering as being the moment to moment shifting of things … and things like depression and more mundane relative suffering in Samsara as “aftermath”. Buddhism is dealing with things at a level beyond Samsara …. all of this is Samsara.
I could be wrong but that’s what comes to mind.
What you tell about your experience in Tibetan buddhism is well known: “spiritual bypassing. The term was introduced years ago by John Welwood in his book “Toward a Psychology of Awakening-Buddhism, Psychotherapy and the Path of Personal and Spiritual Transformation”. A classic !
Spiritual bypassing is avoiding personal and interpersonal problems, unsolved issues. It means that one should go through psychotherapy or psychoanalysis first, before entering the spiritual path. I feel these are the true preliminaries of Tibetan Buddhism, or preliminaries to Tibetan preliminaries.
But to enter psychotherapy or psychoanalysis, you have to recognize you have problems, and this is precisely what people who would need it refuse to do.
Spiritual Teachers could tell them to llok at their problems that before they accept them as students. In traditional Tibetan buddhism, the student chooses his Teacher, has to request to be accepted as a student, and the Teacher has to accept him/her as his/her student. So the Teacher could set prerequisites for his/her acceptance.
That is what the Jewish Teacher Zalman Shalomi Schachter used to do: he told people coming to him to be his students: “Work on your personal stuff, come back afterwards”
Much more simply, Dudjom Rinpoche used to say that before we start following the Buddha dharma, we must have realized the mundane dharma. Ordinary correct behavior. Being at peace with people around us. He insisted on being at peace with one’s parents, including their acceptance of our entrance into Buddhism. A clever way to show us that we do have a problem we need to solve.
As a former student of Mr. Norbu (“DJKR”), I quit mainly because I was appalled at his praise for Sogyal and Trungpa. Part of his shtick is what I call “Buddhist fundamentalism”–the idea that certain texts and teachers have spiritual authority, that their opinions are better than others, and should not be subjected to ordinary scrutiny (or academic scrutiny–Norby has little respect for critical scholarship on Buddhism). This is built into the DNA of Tibetan Buddhism, whose leadership structures and self-understanding would collapse without acceptance of the literal truth of such things as reincarnation, tulkus (and the conceit that they can be identified), liberation from samsara, vows / lineages / samaya, the benefits of meditation, and the superiority of the Prasangika Madhyamaka tenet system. Buddhists, I note, talk a lot about ethics, but are not usually good for very much, and Norbu is no exception. He and his lama buddies have each other’s back.
But if there is a vajra hell, then I guess I’ll see him there.
When I read DKR, my reaction was : A Buddhist fondamentalist, I did not think that this could be ! The same words as yours came to my mind.
For the rest, I disagree: you issue a blanket statement, just like Dzongsar !
In both cases, is there an underlying anger?
All this provides each of us a great opportunity to practice: looking inside to see our emotions, whether we réact or whether we respond. Checking the evidence for what we think. We could learn as much about ourselves as we learn about the teachers and Tibetan buddhism. Are you angry at your teachers and/or angry at yourself for having be deluded ?
I won’t generalize on Tibetan teachers: I know some who are good people, respect they believe in karma, reincarnation but understand that Westerners may not. They are effective teachers, so their students stay with them. They adapt to the West as best as they can without compromizing.
Of course, transplanting Tibetan buddhism, from a feodal, medieval, context to the contemporary world is not easy. Some lamas are more skillful than others, adapt more easily. In a new environment, they seem to go through trial and error, more or less skillfully, just like us.
To me, it is crucial to look at why so many Westerners delude themselves, trap themselves. They seem to get into some fantasy trip about Tibet, about enlightenment. They give up their critical sense -Yet Dzongsar did emphasize in other texts the need for students to test the teacher, before choosing one and also afterwards-
Look at some lamas, but also look at their students, they co-created this mess, this pathology. Look Inside, look outside.
“Fundamentalism” gets its name from a series of Christian tracts written a century ago, which identify what the authors felt were the non-negotiable “fundamentals” of their religion (at a time when these were being challenged by science–think evolution–and secular scholarship). Mr. Norbu has written a book, “What Makes You Not a Buddhist,” which identifies what he feels to be the non-negotiable fundamentals of Buddhism. Granted, there are only four of them (the Four Seals), and are philosophical in nature, but it does have the effect of denying the Buddhist-ness of many people who believe themselves to be Buddhists (possibly even the majority).
But I have in mind a broader approach to Buddhism which assumes various aspects, which one would normally be inclined to doubt, to be literally true. Nobody insists on the traditional Buddhist cosmology (e.g. the flat earth with Mt. Meru at the center), but most assume reincarnation to be fundamental (otherwise, how could there be liberation?), and then we argue about the six realms. There is a further presumption that certain identified lineages of texts, teachers, and practices are true and reliable, and a strong tradition of making supernatural claims (generally about other people, e.g. one’s teachers). All of this serves a certain social role, and in the West this generally means an institutional role. If we doubt that tulkus exist, or can be identified, then Norbu is just an ordinary person–so why prefer his opinions over your or mine? Why defer to him?
Yes, I accept that many Tibetan teachers are good people. They didn’t choose their tradition, and have little control over it. Whether they are “effective” is difficult to say (how would one decide? according to how many people they enlighten?!), but I recognize that most of them are fighting a difficult battle, just as we are, as we slog through life. However, the prevailing ethos of Tibetan Buddhism contains serious flaws, just as every culture and society does. Sure, I get angry from time to time (moreso when talking about lamas), but anger is a normal aspect of human psychology (not a poison per se, though it can certainly be overdone).
The thing is, Dzongsar actually has a good reputation, as lamas go. As far as I know, he’s remained free of major scandal, and does a lot of good work (the 84,000 project, his scholarships for dharma practitioners, etc.). He does have a subversive side (or at least he did when he was younger), but when push comes to shove, he’s a conservative–and trying to keep his head down, so as not to endanger the privileges and deference he receives. Unfortunately, all of Tibetan Buddhism in the West seems to be like this.
Sangye Choga Martin
“Trying to keep his head down” …hilarious. That’s one characteristic I never thought someone would apply to DK
Bernie, lovely to see your post, thanks for sharing your views, very helpful, especially around spiritual ‘bypassing’. While I am far from completing the ngondro, and don’t really count to accumulate, any practice consistently done brings its own benefits…including pointing us to seemingly other areas that need attention. But if reality is non dual, then cognitive vs emotional vs physical/energetic obscurations and limitations are all interconnected, and their sum total constitutes our sense of individuality against the heartbeat and background of infinity and grace. The example of the karma postman is instructive. That might be the only consistent explanation, if we were to attempt to make sense of this scandal. Community troubles, including controversy and scandal such as the current one, it would seem, come from collective, sometimes even conscious spiritual bypassing, and several karmic postmen have landed up at the door all at once. No answers, but may little bit of ever present grace prevail for all.
There seems to be a confusion between samayas, requirements, .. for vajrayana and for dzogchen.
Traditionnally, dzogchen or mahamudra is presented as the pinacle of vajrayana, the ultimate yana.
But Namkhaï Norbu is teaching that it is a path in itself, that can therefore be accessed directly. The entrance is the introduction to the nature of mind. If you don’t perceive you have experienced it, May be you will later. If you have experienced it, then you train yourself to stabilize iit. A simple set of practices, instructions. Students are told to work with their circumstances. If somebody feels he needs to do the ngöndro, it is up to him. No way to become dependant, but you may feel stuck, unable to find the entrance door. Sogyal invited him to Lerab Ling, so many of his students heard NN, but then… I know some students who moved from Sogyal to NN.
In my opinion, there is no formal prerequisite, no samaya for dzogchen, but you have to be fit for it. And there is no way to know how long you will stay at the door, or whether you will enter before you die. In the mean time, it might be good to prepare yourself, through vajrayana or any other means. This is my understanding.
My understanding is like this:
The ngondro is called the preliminary or foundation to the main practices of Kyerim, dzogrim, and dzogchen. The masters say if one hasn’t engaged with the ngondro, then it’s like trying to build a castle on sand with no foundation.
So, if one hasn’t engaged in ngondro….or put it like this, if one engages in the ngondro and does the 100,000 accumulations maybe once and then does it everyday as a maintenance, then that this is the foundation for vajrayana and dzogchen. One is purifying ones obscurations that veil the buddha nature. If one doesn’t do the preliminaries, then how will one let go of one’s obscurations?
Some do the full ngondro many times. It’s not because they get addicted to it, but they see the merit and purification from it as the basis for removing the veils and thus more able to access their buddha nature through the practices of vajrayana and dzogchen.
So, I don’t see the main practice as separate from the preliminaries. Dudjom Rinpoche said the preliminaries are the main practice because if there is no preliminaries, there is no main practice.
Whatever I write here is based on what I read or heard from Dzogchen Masters and from my own experience. The way I put all of this together is mine.
Again I think there is no formal preliminary for dzogchen. If you don’t experience rigpa, if nothing is pointed out for you when you receive the pointing out instructions, again and again and again, you need to purify first and of course, you need to do the ngöndro. If you do experience rigpa, as Bernie did, but you cannot stabilize it, you also need purification. This is what I understand in the perspective of dzogchen as a path in itself. Of course, if dzogchen/mahamudra is the ultimate level of vajrayana, of course you have to start with the ngöndro.
As I sse it, Vajrayana is culturally counditioned, dzogchen is not. I believe, without any proof, that there must be other methods of purification, more rapid, more adapted to Westerners than ngöndro.
Here are a few additional informations:
The teachings of Namkhai Norbu (https://dzogchen.net/ ) have been available for years live by webcast.
Mingyur Rimpoche is starting September 1st a cycle of teachings on line on Mahamudra. https://learning.tergar.org/course_library/vajrayana-online/mahamudra-course-home/ This course is open to his Vajrayana students who have recently started ngôndro, but also to those who have only received both ngondro transmission and pointing out instructions from a qualified lineage holder of either the Kagyu or Nyingma traditions. A have never seen anything like that!
There is a fee for the course.
Mingyur Rinpoche is a young tulku, a son of Urgyen Tulku who was famous for his introductions to the nature of the mind. Also well known for his books.
Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche is starting September 6 a 12-week series on “Dzogchen Pith Instructions-Personal reflections on the Heart Essence of Dzogchen”. Teachings and guided meditations. Open to everybody, free.
He is another extraordinary living Dzogchen teacher. A Bönpo, but actually Namkhai Norbu has argued that dzogchen originated in pre-buddhist Tibet and was later integrated into Buddhism. Anyhow, in my own experience, Nyingma Dzogchen and Bönpo Dzogchen are basically the same.
I have been impressed by these teachers and their teachings. They adapt to us without compromising. It is a new generation of tulkus. So you see, the times they are a’changing.
You wrote “The masters say if one hasn’t engaged with the ngondro, then it’s like trying to build a castle on sand with no foundation.”. Actually some, maybe most of them, say so, but some say otherwise. It is up to you to choose.
Just reading this now. That’s interesting to hear about the other lamas and I’d be interested in hearing what they have to say exactly on that. I know what MR thinks. He taught teachings us in the 3 yr retreat that he didn’t yet start teaching his own students. He told us this was because they hadn’t been through all the ngondro and vajrayana training as we had, but that it would be the case once they had.I heard him say this twice. So he will get his students to rely on the preliminaries.
The master who said that the preliminary is the main practice was Dudjom Rinpoche.
Yeah, I suppose it does come down to follow the advise of the master we are/will be getting dzogchen teachings from. Sure let us know how you get on.
Ps One thing to note is that one can receive dzogchen teachings from masters like MR and SR and do the ngondro etc at the same time, but in their tradition/lineage, not doing the ngondro isn’t really an option.
Sure let us know what you go for and what that master says re preliminaries.
I registered for DR’s Mahamudra course online. I will see whether he requires participants to do ngöndro along. If he does, I will cancel.
I know what Dudjom Rinpoché said, but again, I think it applies to vajarayana and dzogchen as the final yana and not to dzogchen as a path. Anyhow my Teacher dispended me from doing the ngöndro and I will (happily) stick with that and I know of at least one partial exemption. SInce his guidance is individual, I don’t know what he required of others. I definitely saw many of his students doing prostrations.
Hi Annie Bloch
Along with app 20 of Sogyal’s original group in London (we set him up from scratch) in 1979 I left after experiencing Chogyal Namkhai Norbu for the first time. I have been with ChNN ever since. I am maybe a teeny weeny bit closer to understanding Dzogchen, I may have managed to integrate some clarity, but overall I am still a long way away from a deeply embedded state of contemplation. But — I have had a fabulous ride and am still enjoying it. Freedom to be my flawed self as well as access to a palette of practices to be applied according to circumstances and conditions. ChNN is human. He makes mistakes just like we all do — without exception. He is also an authentic Dzogchen master and being a member of the Dzogchen Community does not involve violence and coercion. Samaya (damtzig) is voluntary. Overall the atmosphere has remained healthy. I was one of the lucky ones. Emaho!
“the Dzogchen Community does not involve violence and coercion.”
Indeed. So why is this word used over and over on this blog? If you ask Bernie and Annie whether this word is rightly used within a tantric context they keep diving this pivotal question.
Maybe for outsiders it may look like “violence”, but is boxing a form of violence or a form of sport from the point of view of the boxers or the audience? A boxing match may be called a “fight”, but is it a fight in the common or legal connotation of the word? Did Tilopa use “violence” against Naropa? Were Annie and Bernie “coerced” into sex? I doubt that.
Are you aware that the not so critical minds in this world start seeing things as “true by itself” if you repeat something over and over in the media? Are you aware Mary Finnigan that from a western point of view, by using legal terms like “violence” and “coersion” without a legal case as base, this blog and your response is a form of reproach?
” understanding dzogchen” is a contradiction in terms…
After almost 40 years of “study and practice” Mary Finnegan…
This is a place for healthy debate, but personal criticism or attacks will not be tolerated. If you continue to attack people personally, your comments will be deleted. See our commenting guidelines here: http://howdidithappen.org/commenting-guidelines/
Don’t try to frame me as “attacking”. Stop your own ad hominem “attacks” that you are probably not aware of.: my motivations have been questioned, my form is experienced as jufgemental, I am remembered on right speech. All framing and ad hominem! All killinging the messenger.
Don’t try to force me into a form you prefer to see, give me the freedom to be Dutch and frank, please. That is how Dutchies do business: straight to the point! No excuses! No selfpity!
Criticism is the greatest thing one can get. Don’t start threathening me with deletion of my messages. If you truely are interested in the points I raised, then adress them! Don’t give lip service as all of you three have been doing.
Stop diving the pivotal questions:
– are my actions according to the dharma.
– are my actions that what one would expect from someone that has practiced the buddhadharma for over thirty years and has lived at lerab ling for years.
– are my actions that of a bodhisattva, or better: that of a dzogchenpa
If all above question are answered with “no (not entirely)” this begs the question:
– Am I a spiritual materialist, and have I been fooling myself the last few decades.
– Is a “new path” or “starting from scratch” with lama such-and-so the most ridiculous thing one can opt for, and a summum of spiritual materialism.
Is this (buddhist) debate?! Come on! Showing others their own stupidity is the greatest act of compassion one can give. The form in which this stupidity is shown to others is irrelevant. It is about the efficacy, that makes it most compassionate! Especially from a tantric or dzogchen perspective. Don’t get AGAIN lost in the form Bernie, Annie and Sandra! Look at yourselves!
Answer these questions. At least for yourselves! Even better purely for yourself and in private, instead of on this Ophrah Winfrey Selfliberation blog.
Nice ad hominem framing again Sandra. I’m getting used to it now 😉 It implies my debate is unhealthy, and that I am attacking others. You are plain ordinary dreaming Sandra. But unaware of it…
Do you realize that these so called guidelines, or moderation as such on blogs are principially at odds with the freedom of speech, and at odds with a healthy debate?
And do you see that in almost 100% of the “fierce but healthy” debates this moderation is applied, and in 100% of these cases the opponent is excluded. Is that in order to MAINTAIN the healthy debate by EXCLUDING one’s opponent? How circular can you get? The snake biting it’s own tail. Go fool yourself.
Greetings, lucky one !
Unlike many participants of this blog, I have no accounts to settle with Sogyal. I have known him for more than 30 years, I have never been his student, I have just attended some of his evening talks a long time ago and more recently I went to see some of the lamas he invited to give talks to Rigpa Paris, including Namkhai Norbu. Actually, I saw both of them on stage in Paris, quite friendly. I have followed the development of his activities through a close friend who has followed his programs for years.
So I have nothing to contribute to the debate about Sogyal.
For the fortunate ones who received teachings from his own teachers and/or from Namkhai Norbu, the difference of the level, the quality of the teachings, was clear, regardless of his behavior. At that time, I had already found my main teacher. Several students left to follow Namkhai Norbu. Among them, Philippe Cornu, who has become an impressive scholar, a great translator and is now co-teaching with Mila Rinpoche, a French tulku.
I have been following Namkhai Norbu for years (books, webcasts, retreats), without feeling or having a personal relationship with him. I learned from him most of what I know about Dzogchen and how to practice. It was a vital complement to my very personal, heartfelt relationship with my lama.
I don’t think any general statement can be made about Sogyal and his contribution as a teacher: it is all personal, based on the interaction one had with his person and his teachings, the information one has on Tibetan Buddhism at large (experience, factual information, beliefs). For instance, my closest Dharma friend who has been a student of Namkhai Norbu for years found that Sogyal’s handbook on meditation, text and CDs, was vital for him. He had no personal connexion with Sogyal, but he got from him the detailed, basic instructions on meditation that Namkhai Norbu does not teach.
There are some objective facts about Sogyal, his unethical behavior, but basically, for everyone, it all depends on the interaction one had with him and one made out of it. As long as one keeps that in mind, it can be be very valuable to share one’s perceptions as we do in this blog. There is a lot to learn by being exposed from points of view very different from our own.
Last point: I am puzzled by what DKR writes about vajrayana commitmant, samayas. I don’t know of any lama who gave such explanations and requirements to his Western students. Dudjom Rinpoche, a foremost spiritual authority, the grandfather of DKR never told his students anything like that.
What his son told us is very different:
To become a student of a teacher, you have to request it formally. I assume that the teacher may refuse. So the choice has to be mutual. Otherwise, there cannot be a true Teacher/Student bond, a real partnership, a truthful encounter . So some people think they are students, actually they are just “followers”. This mutually accepted bond is the real samaya, a deep commitment to each other.
If you can leave aTeacher who has accepted you for another one, you have first to request his permission. He may refuse, for your own good. It reminds something I have heard about patients in psychoanalysis. At some point, they decide to leave and this is exactly when some major breakthrough is about to happen. If they are concinced to continue, this does happen. This is why I think a qualified teacher may refuse to let a student go, for his/her own good. A have been told that usually a lama lets a student move to somebody “higher” than him.
That’s all. For some specific Vajrayana teachings and practices, there could be some special instructions, commitments, but nothing like DKR’s stuff.
I wonder whether DKR is telling us indirectly to “get out of there”, that this is not for us. Reaction to that could, should be “I don’t want to get into that”, “I am unable, not fit to get into that” or even ‘This is crazy, nonsense”
If this is the case, the Daali Lama is givind the same message, but doing it truthfully, directly, respectfully: he said that as he watched it, very few Westerners got results in Tibetan Buddhism, that Westerners should rather stay within their own tradition -I don’t have the exact quotation, but I did hear this statement-
There is not just one view of sayamas, etc., but multiple traditions of rhetoric about how they work. So unless Buddha himself descends to clarify matters, we’re all on our own, and this is just one more unresolvable matter of opinion.
To summarize: Have the terms “precept” and “vow” suddenly become ambiguous terms in English the last thirty years?
Is this investigation into samaya (after thirty years of samaya precepts) genuine and sincere, or just a way to find excuses, in order not having to confront oneself with one’s own habitual “try before you die” impulsive behaviour? If the latter is ruled out, then why does the supposed unclarity by lamas about the meaning and consequences of samaya form the larger part of Bernies response to the letter of DKR? And why is this supposed aspect of unclarity about precepts, vows or samaya further investigated by you now, Annie? It looks like you all want it to be ambigous. Why? Maybe because that suits you better?
Just some questions… not an attack.
This is Rick New.
Thanks for your post. I’ve been very interested in these issues since the early days, I’m glad things are coming out into the open.
I’ve tried a few replies, but none seem to be appropriate for a public forum, perhaps we could talk via Skype/Hangouts/Phone if you are interested in talking further in a different context?
Rick N ew
Dr. Elizabeth Selandia, OMD, CA
There is an extensive clarification on the 14-root and 8-branch samaya vows by the Sakya Pandit (written in the 11th century) that should be read by all. DJKR–bless him for what little he did do in commenting on ONE of the 14-root samaya vows–neglected the other 13 vows (although a few of those could be said to be subsumed under the one he addresses, namely “holding pure view”).
What westerners will always have a problem with is the reality that vajrayana is not on their terms, and never will be. Rather, it is always set forth as a path involving devotion to the guru and practice of the wangs received that connect one to the dakinis and protectors: the Three Roots.
Westerners of all sorts do not naturally cotton to such a path. For instance, Jews never bow to anything besides the Torah; most Christians take faith in absolution and a reward of heaven based solely upon their being baptized; most Moslems do not comprehend the beginning or end of buddhadharma, and rely instead on their rituals, and so forth. This interpersonal relationship is not part of the Abrahamic traditions, (which is what I believe his reference is in using this term).
Vajrayana, however, requires not only an interpersonal relationship with one’s teacher, it also requires that there is a huge portion of time spent by each student away from the teacher: time spent in practice, study, reading, meditation, etc.
Most importantly, vajrayana requires the respect of three sets of vows, those of the lesser vehicle (the vinaya), those of the greater vehicle (the bodhisattva), and those of the secret vehicle, or vajrayana, (the samaya vows).
Westerners, with all their laws in place, do not take well to being told what to do and therein lies the first problem dealing with this avenue of spiritual path, because vajrayana and buddhadharma in general is all about “what to do and what not to do.”
Basically, as DJKR cites, if one cannot keep samaya vows, then one best leave and find another spiritual path; however, if one wants to continue with buddhadharma, then one should seek teachings in either the lesser or greater vehicles. Otherwise, there are a lot of other options out there.
In the end, it is all a matter of time. The quick path–vajrayana–IF not practiced properly and IF samayas are violated, leads to aeons of suffering in vajra hell, which will take a lot longer than those paths in the lesser or greater vehicles.
This needs to be taught up front; so, I rather agree that the opening introduction to vajrayana should be: “Liberation or Vajra Hell: The Choice is Yours and the Result is Based on Your Devotion, Your Practice, and Your Abilities to Uphold Samaya.”
But, I turn to the realities that not all students are Naropa or Milarepa, and not all teachers are Tilopa or Marpa. The miscastigation of the historical stories of these relationships, often characterized as “crazy wisdom,” is a disconnect used to cover up abuses that did not occur in their relationships. Naropa and Milarepa were not sexually abused by their respective teachers, Tilopa or Marpa. So, this mischaracterization has got to come to a full halt, IF we are going to have a successful transplant of vajrayana to the West.
DJKR has just now published his complaints and observations re the tulku system not preparing adequately teachers for the coming generations; and he speaks with insider knowledge few of us have on these points.
But there is also a lot of responsibility that needs to be laid correctly at the feet of westerners, who seem to demand of every teacher automatic access to the highest teachings, if only because, “I am here now, and I want everything I can get because I deserve it, because I am here, aren’t I” attitude.
The realities are that no matter the vehicle, the paths are progressive, just like the paths through the bhumis are.
So, before examining the potential teacher as one’s guru, one would do better, imho, to examine the paths themselves so as better to understand what they are and what they offer (and in what order). Were this done, I think the tomfoolery of many teachers would be more easily seen for what it is.
Personally, I request much more teachings on samaya vows, so as better to keep them in today’s age. (I note that dzogchen is properly introduced through the receipt of the complete dzogchen transmissions; so, the idea that there is “no samaya in dzogchen” is simply not true, sorry.)
Thank you for taking the time to leave such an in-depth response. We need this kind of knowledge to understand the whole picture. I think this point is so important to understand: “Vajrayana, however, requires not only an interpersonal relationship with one’s teacher, it also requires that there is a huge portion of time spent by each student away from the teacher: time spent in practice, study, reading, meditation, etc.” And I appreciate your perspective on how historical stories can be used in the wrong way: “The miscastigation of the historical stories of these relationships, often characterized as “crazy wisdom,” is a disconnect used to cover up abuses that did not occur in their relationships.” Thank you. I hope you’ll continue to comment and share your knowledge and insights. They are illuminating.
Mmh, a lot of buddhists that I know do not even really believe in the normal hells, how do you want to sell them something as “archaic” and exotic as the vajra hell?
I mean, until not long ago in our society little boys were threatened with hell for masturbating. Christian churches exploited and abused “hell as punishment for sins” to such an extent that the concept is really hard to sell in our society. Because we westerners were quite right to throw off that type of (Christian) indoctrination.
And now buddhism is trying to sell something that looks eerily similar. Too similar for a lot of people’s comfort. That’s totally understandable, we westerners have been the collective victim of the cult of Christianity for 1500 years.
Studying is the first prajna, Bernie.
There’s not a single *genuine* teacher in Mahayana/Vajrayana who will tell you you can skip years and years of study.
From a teaching by Ponlop Rinpoche:
“We have the prajna of listening, the prajna of contemplating, and the prajna of meditation. This three-stage process develops the three prajnas, and the development of these three prajnas is very crucial on our path. For that reason Gampopa, the great lineage holder and master of the Kagyu lineage, said in his instructions that if we combine these three prajnas together, if we accumulate these three prajnas without missing any one, then we have a complete path. Then we are on the path. Not just on the path, but we are genuinely on the path, at that point. Gampopa said that when one adopts these three prajnas, when one reveals or uncovers these three prajnas altogether, then one develops the genuine understanding, experience and realization of the path of the dharma. He said that if one is missing, any one of these three, then one is not honestly on the path. One’s path is not complete, and one’s realization is not full and perfect. Therefore, the development of these three prajnas is very much emphasized in the path of Buddhism in general, and specifically in the path of Mahayana Buddhism. If we look briefly at this three-stage process and at the prajnas connected to each of them, the first stage is the “stage of listening or studying” the dharma, which is totally dependent on conceptual mind, on communication, language and form. In this stage of hearing, listening or studying, we are developing the prajna of understanding. This is the primary prajna required for us to go further into the path. Sometimes when we say “study,” we connect ourselves with the notion of a regular study environment such as college, university, or other schools. Many of these have been painful experiences. As a result, when we come to a spiritual path we often say, “I’ve had enough of that stuff,” of studying. Now we want to just simply sit and be there on the spot, in meditation, whatever that means. There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding of this process of hearing or studying or listening, because studying, we feel, is not practice, right? Studying is not dharma practice. So we say, “Yes, I’ve had enough studies. Now I want to practice. I don’t want to study anymore.” We are separating the notion of study from practice. We are connecting the notion of practice with meditation, and study with something else. This is a misunderstanding as far as Buddhism is concerned, as far as this spiritual journey is concerned. In the spiritual path of Buddhism, and especially in the Mahayana path, studying or hearing is practice, studying is meditation, and studying is path. Through study, we also involve ourselves in the first stage of the path, which is known as the Path of Accumulation. Both the accumulation of merit and the accumulation of wisdom are connected with study. Without study or hearing, there’s no way we can accumulate these two, and without these accumulations, we are not entering any path. So, studying is a great practice in Buddhism.”
Sakya Pandita said: “One should never stop studying the Dharma even if one is certain to die tomorrow”.
(Sorry for my bad English…)
And here’s the 14th Dalai Lama:
“Meanwhile, we all have marvellous brains. Use them. If you have money you’d think it foolish not to use it. You invest it in doing business. You should think of your intelligence as just such an asset too. Learn about the mind and emotions.” At this point, a woman in the group piped up, “We are studying, we are.” His Holiness smiled and responded, “That’s really good. And it shouldn’t just be monks and nuns; lay people can study and engage in debate too.” “One of the sections or limbs of the prayer involves requesting the Buddhas to turn the wheel of Dharma. However, if we were to meet the Buddha and make the request face to face, he might say I’ve already turned the wheel and what I taught is contained in the scriptures. You need to read them. You should use your eyes not just for trivial pursuits, but to imbibe the Dharma. You could also listen to recorded teachings by great masters rather than songs from movies.” — from a teaching of HH the 14th Dalai Lama, 18 Great Stages of the Path (Lam Rim) Commentaries, dec 2015
Yes, exactly. I really do not want to say anything bad or good about Sogyal Rinpoche because I hardly know who he is and I do not like to judge. All I can tell you is: I had the good fortune to meet three *Mahayana* teachers, in life (one Gelugpa, one Kagyu and one Rimé, non-sectarian): all of them stressed *so much* the importance of studying, contemplating and meditating (in equal measure) for almost a decade *before* stepping into any Vajrayana practice. Studying and contemplating is our biggest insurance: to have solid foundations and also (sad but true) to be able to analyze the teacher before trusting him 100%. I hope DJKR will reply your letter, Bernie.
The crux of the dharma is the empty nature of persons and phenomena (and thus of their actions). The crux of dzogchen is the unempeded pure awareness of this inherent unity of emptiness and clarity that forms the “base” of all our perceptions. Did anyone ever realy reflect on that within RIGPA???
Why does almost nobody within RIGPA practice these crucial things, but get lost in wordly judgementals about “abuse”??? Read “cutting through spiritual materialism” by Chogyam Trungpa please, and reflect deeply on the words of Dzongsar Khyentse BEFORE you start running again after your uncontrolled dual mind that is obsessed with judgements and excuses. Spare me your excuses Bernie et al… There are no real or true or objective or valid excuses! If you still think so after thirty years of what you probably call “practice”, you completely missed the crucial point!
1987-2017. Thirty years, and not a single bit of insight!!! All you can come up with after thirty years is excuses: “ich habe es nicht gewusst” come on fool yourself Bernie. Be honest to yourself: it has only been outer windowdressing for three decades “playing” a buddhist practitioner…Come on! Motherfucking sentiengt beings: PRACTICE the crucial things. Integrate this insight of appearance emptiness in all your motivations and actions towards others… beginning with a guru OF YOUR OWN CHOICE.
My life has been ruined since I met Sogyal Rinpoche, and I am truely grateful for that 😉
DKR: “In Buddhadharma, not just the Vajrayana, the only way any of us can keep all the samayas, is by fully realizing a perfect understanding of shunyata.”
BTW: sunyata is NOT a “legal” argument in court, but it IS the crux of the Dharma (with a capital D). You choose Bernie, and most “dharma practitioners” of RIGPA….
Don’t you see you all hold (wordly) legal arguments against a Vajrayana master? This is incoherent, inconsistent and self-refuting. And therefor it is absurd to put forward (from a Buddhadharma perspective) by a practitioner that thinks of himself as having practiced Dharma for thirty years.
For instance: being hit with a backscratcher…. what does that mean (from a Buddhadharma perspective/legal perspective)
I have heard Sogyal Rinpoche call the backscratcher “part of the lineage” in 2015. Don’t you see the “funny”, “profound” and “symbolic” side of this (after thirty years)? The backscratcher stands for “svasamvedana” or (non-dual) reflexive (self)awareness. It is the crucial point of Dzogchen (and a historic base for debate between dzogchenpas and madhyamikas).
So hitting someone with a backscratcher is both funny, profound and symbolic on the one hand for some, and on the other hand it also is a crime for some… So since hitting someone with a backscratcher can have so many meanings, it is obvious that it’s nature MUST be empty (of inherent qualities) otherwise we would be forced to see it as either this or that. And we are NOT forced by a “given reality” but free to “interprete” and “transform” and ultimately “transcend” a reality that HAS NO FORM OF IT’S OWN.
This is simplified, but it is thát simple…
And “self liberation” (of your thoughts) is also extremely simple, and works for anyone. Nobody excluded, independent of yearlong experience in meditation, SINCE it is how the mind functions (Study lo.rig please Bernie).
If you follow the CONTENT or OBJECTS of your thoughts your gross consciousness is operating on a dual level. If you however focus on the thought itself, this initial content of the thought is automatically dissolved SINCE your focus changes to another object; the thought itself. And a thought by itself “as thought” is pure metaphysical, contentless and literally empty. So the content and thus the object is lost when you shift your awareness from content of a thought to the thought itself. Since the object dissolves necessarily (according to buddhist lorig) the subject dissolves simultaniously, since subject and object arise, manifest and dissolve in dependence on eachother . So what is left is NOT an un-consciousness BUT a pure (object/subjectless non-dual) awareness. Anyone can be aware of that. It is the same as the moments of awareness between thoughts… nothing special… The same as awareness during deep sleep or during death. Nothing special here either… 😉 Get accustomed to THAT!
So claiming that self liberation (of your thoughts) is not for you is absurd! It would imply your mind functions in a completely alternative way compared to all other sentient beings.
UC Bernie? After thirty years?
Or to put it extremely simple for “ordinairy practitioners”: NOT finding something “special” IS the liberation!
Finding all kind of special things and their objective qualities (like “compassion” or for that matter “abuse”) IS samsara.
Simple huh? But profound! 😉
First you bow to me, and then you start questioning if I am caught up in judgement myself. And (clairvoyant?) Annie immediately starts questioning my motivations in her first and only line to me. The ground for my initial question: “what have you all been practicing the last thirty years in Lerab Ling” could not be better made clearer! ha, ha, ha, ho!
And err… by the way… do you both notice that by doing this your are diving my initial questions?
Is “being coerced into sex” a correct formulation, given the tantric relation between student and master? Why didn’t you take happiness and suffering on the path when it arose in dependence on your tantric master? Why didn’t you take te cow by the horns when the right conditions arose and realize the most crucial point in Buddhism: the dreamlike nature of reality, but choose to take your own problems with your tantric master so seriously, so concrete and so real? Why did you act only after thirty years? Why make exuses you did not fully understand the consquences of a tantric path? Are you fooling yourself? Maybe it was your devotion that made you blind for the consequences. But please realize then that it was YOUR devotion that was the primary cause for your actions. We commonly say: “this or that has made me angry”, but is this true? What is the primairy cause for OUR anger? And what is the cooperative condition for OUR anger? So who is not primary responsible for his or her own stupidity? Who has “real excuses” Bernie??? Especially within tantra…
PSE have a look at the movie “Kumare”, and see the two kinds of responses by the students of the fake guru Kumare after they find out he has Trumpian qualities… 😉
And PSE re-read DKR’s letter Bernie. In Vajrayana it is well possible that a student becomes enlightened before his or her tantric master. That can also be one of the consequences of a tantric bond that you maybe have overlooked. And it could be so much fun if that would happen between you and Sogyal Rinpoche.
I remember Sogyal Rinpoche saying: “you can let go of me, but I will not let go of you.” So nothing is lost, especially not from a dzogchen perspective. 😉
“If there were a Supreme Court of the Vajrayana world, I’m sure these issues would land on its desk to consider how the rules of Vajrayana would best be applied to this situation and in the modern world in general.”
Yazz! Ofkoz! Vajrayana must be adapted to the modern world, some products are permanent, emptiness is only for philosophers and scolars, clarity is only for yogis, liberation is only for the happy few and illuminati, the self is changeless and does inherently exist. Madhyamikas are nihilists. Dzogchenpas are idealists and eternalists. For a pure view you need Ray-Ban’s. Love is only for hippies, compassion is only for gutmenschen, joy is only for madmen and equanimity is only for marihuana smokers. Reincarnation should be debunked by physics. The recognition of tulkus should be dependent on likes on facebook. Sectarian conflicts should be adressed in Oprah Winfey’s late night show. There should be insurance policies against obstacles on the path. Samaya should be framed within a legal cadre, and there should be a notice period for returning one’s samaya. And there should be an independent commitee to file complaints against enlightened beings headed by Dr. Phil
In other words: we need Buddhism 2.0! Please sign the iPetition on our website http://www.postmodernbuddhism.org
I suggest you look into your motivation for writing this stuff.
I don’t write stuff, Annie. I smoke it.
That is the Dudjom Rinpoche type of Ray Ban’s ofkoz.. available from ZAM:
(No I do not, and did not work for ZAM Bernie).
It is not so that Tibetan tantric practices can be put in any cadre in order to control it and cut off the sharp edges, based on a quasi moral or intellectual superiority of secular, legal or scientific insights in the West, and still remain it’s effectivity. On the contrary; it will destroy tantric Buddhism, or at least make it literally secret again. Figuratively speaking it will always remain “secret” anyway 😉
In the same way it is not good for the spread of Tibetan Buddhism that preliminary practices to dzogchen are reduced to MBSR courses that strip off the wisdom from the method.
There is no office in a Tibetan monastery where you can file a complaint against your tantric master. And there is no special code of conduct within a Tibetan monastery adapted to Tibetan values from the vinaya pitaka. So I wonder what RIGPA and Lerab Ling will come up with…
If you want to practice Tibetan Tantric Vajrayana, you practice Tibetan Tantric Vajrayana. With all it’s consequences. If you want to play American football, you cannot introduce the rules of European soccer halfway. Otherwise all of American football would be foul play. The heart of the game will be destroyed!
That is what DKR is saying. Metaphorically speaking it is about the degeneration of American football.
A new transparent, ethical or moral Buddhism, as a Western adaptation of Tibetan Buddhism will not be a continuation of “lineages” or “traditions” at all. It will be MBSR course centres with a customer support service and a legal disclaimer on their website. That is what we are talking about as I understand DKR. The heart of the method is being lost, and thus will only become method. Nobody is better off with that. Don’t fool yourselves!!!
How did it happen? In a way it is irrelevant what happened and how it happened. It is not about what happens after the crisis at RIGPA. It is about the crisis we are in now. It is about the continuation of unbroken lineages and traditions. But what do “we” do? We start introducing European soccer rules in American football halfway the game… as an excuse for our own ignorant impulsive and habitual behaviourof joining an american football club before knowing the rules of the game .
Welcome in samsara!
I think that one way Tantra could work better would be for lamas to NOT give initiations to people who are not qualified. That’s just for starters. If Tantra is going to be casually given out to just anyone passing by, then the rules ARE going to have to change, especially in the West. If you want to keep Tantra in its original form, with no modernization or reforms, then it has to be only for a select FEW people. That was how it used to be. Perhaps there has always been abuse, but at least those who signed up for Tantra knew more about what they were getting into.
You are right that Tantra (as we know it) would probably be at least somewhat destroyed by too much regulation and reform, but what else can be done if the teachers behave the way they do? Either it should be limited to a certain, select group of people, who have been studying and practicing for years, or it has to be reformed to protect people.
This started in Tibet with giving initiations to huge crowds as a public event and blessing. In India that was unheard of. But I guess in most cases hardly a problem in Tibet because the people receiving it were faith buddhists despite not being interested in studying and practicing it beyond reciting some mantras.
And that Tibetan custom was transferred to the west where it doesn’t really fit into the cultural conditioning already existing here.
I think here in the west vajrayana needs to be seperated into a public part and a private part. Public vajrayana can be, like in Tibet things like devotional practice of Padmasambhava, Tara, Avalokiteshvara etc, up to ngöndro, meditation methods that do not rely on transmission of the nature of mind and anything that helps people to work through their own personal emotional troubles (I would consider that psychotherapeutical methods that help trauma victims or unstable people to get a grip on their emotional states are totally legitimate mind training in the buddhist sense)
All the rest that Tibetan buddhism has to offer should not happen without a personal teacher-disciple relationship to oversee the process. And that teacher has to have sufficient insight into the typical emotional problems westerners have.
“I agree that the crucial point is realizing emptiness. However Milarepa said, “Seeing emptiness, have compassion.”, and I don’t see that coming through in your response.”
It could be that you are missing many layers in (tantric) life, Bernie. And this in my posts. And that is the whole point I am making. These layers in life are not inherent to life, but are dependent on your mind and create by your mind. You must have heard that line before while thirty yeras in Lerab Ling. So it is a lack of imagination, creativity, or visualisation – to make it more buddhist- on your side.
Apparently you take things very personal, but remember that sound criticism especially within a Dharma context, is the greatest gift one can give, and can get. My response is intended that way.
Do you notice that your defence is an offence? Don’t start questioning my actions. Start questioning your own actions.
Marc, what about trying to tame your mind and speech for a start?
Not a troll
We, as westerners, think we have a critical mind. But in fact we run on automatic pilot programmed by our personal and cultural prejudices 24/7. The fact that we jump into a tantric relation within a few days or weeks after having met a “master”, and the fact that we realize the stupidity of our actions and act on that insight only after thirty years, shows this. Buddhism in the West has become spiritual materialism in optima forma. The “excuses” put forward on this blog and the blaming of others behaviour as a cause for our own stupidity show this. We are materialists! lets face it! In a spiritual sense, in a scientific sense, and in a cultural and social sense.
Let’s start te discussion of “how did it happen” there: our own judgement of our own stupidity and ignorance based on our materialistic worldview that clashes head on with the buddhist worldview. That would be the “Buddhist way”, wouldn’t it?
Look! All you see is your own mind! This is especially clear in judging others in public on the internet.
Dear Not a Troll,
> Let’s start the discussion of “how did it happen” there: our own…”
How might one begin such an investigation, together, without blaming one another, without knowing the answer in advance?
How might we look together, openly in good spirit and friendship? Is this possible online in such a forum?
If interested, might the first step be to find a proper environment for such an exploration?
advocate of the devil
Is the internet a place for investigation of one’s own stupidity in tantra? Hasn’t enough harm been done to tantrayana already by going public in the first place?
Is a new ethical code a solution? No! An independent committee? No! Is evaluation of ones personal experiences in order to get on with one’s “practice” the solution? NO!!! That is fooling yourself! It is our worldview in the West that seems incompatible with (tantric) Buddhism and dzogchen. We in the West have to change our mental attitude and worldview before we can even call ourselves (Tibetan) Buddhist. That’s the whole point. We are not Buddhists! Be critical! It liberates!!!
Meditate on historical “secret” lineages that were “democratized” when these lineages moved to the West, and what the future will bring for these unbroken lineages.
Now visualize MBSR centres all over the place in the West. With customer support service and a legal disclaimer on their websites. And image someone would ask you: Where do these come from? And your answer will: these are the effect of the introduction of dzochen in the west.
All I am saying is that Bernie seems a very open and sincere host. I don’t feel it is respectful to criticize his practice or experience. My question about taming the speech is in fact good for everybody including myself.
“Right speech” is a practice after all. So we all have a nice opportunity to practice.
advocate of the devil
Is criticism by definition respectful? Nope. Does your mind make it seem so? Yazz!
The point is that this “open and sincere” discussion on “how it happened”, and the “going public” on one’s growing disbelief in the tantric practices RIPA (one has practiced for thirty years), has devastating consequences for tantraya. Criticism is well in it’s place. No criticism (ALSO on Sogyal Rinpoche’s sangha) would be absurd!
Who cares about one’s own broken samaya with Sogyal Rinpoche when the continuation of linegaes within tantraya is at stake? Let us OBSERVE it from that broader view, instead of – typically western – only from a personal and experiential and annecdotal perspective. Playing footbaal on a square cenjtimeter, while you can use the whole field!
Exactly my point French Observer: Bernie SEEMS open and sincere… and most fall for that act…
Legal claims but no legal action. Public accustation without a means for the accused to respond. Claiming after thirty years of practice that the consquences of samaya were unclear to you. But still worry about the (karmic) consquences. Is that sincere? Nope it is spiritual materialsim! Or have the terms “vow” or “precept” become ambiguos terms all of a sudden in English? SRY I am not a native speaker… 😉
How many sentient beings will not come into contact with Tibetan Buddhism because they have gotten prejudiced based on this Ophray Winfrey “Selfliberation” blog on the internet? How will other lamas and the new generation of lamas respond to this sangha revolte within RIGPA?
If you all want to look back on how it happened, don’t look at the content of that thought, but look at that thought itself. Then you will experience the baseless base were it all happens diectly! 😉
I understand your point and it’s an important one. Your perspective really needs to be considered, and I’m glad you are raising it. This blog is a place for open debate. But it’s not a place for personal attacks, personal criticism, harsh words or aggression. If you continue with personal attacks, your comments will be deleted. Please seen the commenting guidelines:
Hi Bernie. My very best regards. I am in admiration of what you re doing here and I have learned a lot from theading the debates. I don;t think I am qualified to comment on much of it.
But for me, this is the essence of the dilemma. You wrote: “I felt like I was asked to see Sogyal Rinpocheʻs behavior purely, but for me this meant giving up my personal sense of integrity.” I think that is precisely what you were asked to do, and no human being, not even a ‘Western” one, should be required to do that.
So two points: First, to quote HHDL, “We are all one human being.” If there is anything I fault “Westerners” for, it is their idealization of Tibetans. Culture is merely an overlay. Having worked for almost 30 years now as a psychotherapist with people from many different cultures, including the “Eastern” ones, I am always struck by the basic fact that, paraphrasing the great universal Shakespeare, “If you cut us, we all bleed.”
All of us have baggage. Why would one not assume that Tibetans who have lost their country and family members, often when they were very young, do not suffer and react in precisely the same ways as “Westerners” do? “According to a 2008 field-study, in part conducted by Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College in London http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=20341938 the extent of alcohol related disorders has reached 31.6% for males and nearly 10 % for women. While a 2003 investigation recorded that “Alcohol use disorder was the most serious problem in Tibet with a point prevalence of 41.89‰ and a lifetime prevalence of 43.6%“. So today’s Tibetans, including those in India, have the same issues regarding self-esteem and the ways they use to deal with those issues. We see the same physical, emotional and sexual abuse patterns in Tibetan families (not to mention the monasteries) as among those of other cultures. The only difference I have found is an initial reticence to talk about it.
Probably most modern people do not have healthy egos, regardless of where they have been brought up.
The second point I want to make is that, at least to my limited understanding, the “ego” is the product of our own self-grasping and self-cherishing. When we give up the latter, then the ego (healthy or not) weakens and hopefully at some point disappears. But we always have our Buddha nature. It is from the Buddha nature, not the ego, that concerns about harm to others and to self arise. I don’t think it was your ego telling you that what Sogyal did was wrong; it was your Buddha nature
Thanks for your appreciative words, Nora, and for giving us this cross-cultural perspective. It’s alarming to hear these statistics about alcohol abuse among Tibetans. They have been through so much. We are all suffering, it’s good to remember that and open our hearts wider.
This is a beautiful point you’ve made about the ego and buddha nature. Our buddha nature does know what’s harmful and what isn’t, doesn’t it!
Bernie is away on a 10-day retreat right now, but I’m sure he’ll appreciate reading your thoughts when he returns.
For some reason, I am not geting notifications of responses or new posts. I just read what you posted on Facebook.and wanted to tell you that I am absolutely in awe of your honesty and integrity. You have done a great service in putting this together and it demonstrates the gravity of our capacity to be fooled. Oddly, I just got an email notifying me of the next course in the Bodhicitta series, and I signed up. I continue to love the clarity of the teachings. How deeply tragic this i all is. His Holiness ask us to remember the good a person does as well as the bad, and I have benefited so much from the teachings. You were my first teacher.
I do hope Bernie will find time to reply, but will understand if he does not.
I’m not sure what email you used, but I don’t see you on the subscriber list. Once you sign up, they send you a confirmation email and you have to click a link in that email to be subscribed. It could have gone into your spam filter in your email program. Why don’t you try to sign up again?
This phrase really struck me in what you wrote: “the gravity of our capacity to be fooled.” It is quite astonishing given how we are all intelligent adults, but then our subconscious mind works in interesting ways. Thanks for your encouraging words. I feel I need to speak up so all this isn’t swept under the rug. But I still deeply appreciate all I’ve received from Rinpoche and acknowledge his brilliance.
I love the teachings too. I encourage you to continue with the Bodhicitta course if it resonates for you.
I’m quite sure Bernie will reply when he comes out of his 10-day retreat, but of course I can’t speak for him. Thanks for supporting us. I’m grateful for your comments here.
I think people in the East suffer from low self esteem and self hatred, but the repress it much more than Westerners do. With all of the negative teachings on karma, one couldn’t help but suffer from all kinds of issues relating to self blame for whatever bad things that happen, etc. In our culture, things like that are not hidden and shameful, although I would say that these things used to be more repressed than they are in modern times, (even in the West). But in the East, (unless they are being influenced by the modern West), people would not even address these issue, nor do they have a phrase for “low self esteem.” That doesn’t mean that people in the East do not feel these feelings, which are universal and human. But in their culture, (and it used to be somewhat that way in Western culture too), negative emotions are repressed because they are considered “unseemly” so it would be hard for them to even admit that they feel anger, jealousy, sadness, or what we call “low self esteem,” which they would consider a shameful form of self indulgence. Feeling sorry for oneself and self hatred would be considered a form of selfishness, even if it is turned onto ones self, because it involves a lot of preoccupation with thinking about oneself, so it is considered a form of selfishness. Therefore it is greatly discouraged or repressed. I think it’s possible that the Eastern version of “low self esteem” would be a sense of shame or “losing face,” but they wouldn’t call it by the same name as we would call it. That’s why HHDL never heard of the phrase “low self esteem” but people in the West mistakenly took that to mean that Tibetans don’t ever feel any low self esteem or negative emotions, therefore they must be special and superior to people in the West. No, it doesn’t mean that at all. It just means that Tibetans don’t address those issues in their culture, nor do they have names for them, nor have they even thought about them the same way we do. There was a time when Western culture did not address it or have names for it either. Go back to the Middle Ages in Europe, or even to a later time, (before the 20th century and psychotherapy), and ask a European what “low self esteem” means. They would give you a blank stare and have no clue what you’re talking about! Yet there have always been plenty of people with low self esteem in all cultures. It is not a new thing that has happened to humanity because of the pressures of modern times. it is just that modern, Western psychotherapy has made “low self esteem” into an issue, and it never was before. Before psychotherapy, you were sometimes abused, and you suffered however you suffered afterward, but your psych problems did not have names, nor were they analyzed.
Nope. In the west the notorious low self esteem is based on the teachings of Christianity of man being sinful in nature that were hammered into people for 1.5 millenia. And the manipulation into dependency of the church for salvation using these teachings.
That created a climate with a negative image about human nature that is detrimental for development of good self confidence. And this has become a culture that is passed on from one generation to the next.
Another thing is the mass wars that the recurring mass wars we had in Europe over the last centuries. We know these days that PTBS is not only affecting the one person having suffered in war, but also the family for generations. That’s most definitely a factor with many people suffering from it.
My grandfather fought in WW2 in Montecassino and he had fits of rage where he beat up his wife and children. My father was unable to take care for me on an emotional level because of it, so I suffered directly because of it. And that was the same with all the previous wars in the last centuries. It’s passed on.
And here I don’t think that the type of tribal warfare they had in Tibet is as mentally damaging to large portions of the population.
the core issued discussed in this piece and reply comments is samaya.
unfortunately there is much confusion on this issue flogged in part by Dzonger Rinpoche’s flawed ideas on what samaya is.
not that I am an expert here or scholar but by logic and by my experience being a student of Trungpa Rinpoche I fearlessly make the following assertions:
if your guru is fat he is fat and pure vision does not require you to put on rose coloured glasses – contrary to that idea pure vision is the most accurate possible.
especially flawed is the idea that if your guru is ignorant of something or other that he is only giving you an opportunity to increase your merit by pointing out your guru’s misinformation or lack of information -that sounds like childish logic to me.
culture is a non issue re tantrayana samaya.
samaya are the boundaries that keep you in the guru’s mandala and they work by magic and automatically – sometimes you may want to escape the guru’s mandala but to your surprise you are pushed back – of coarse you can escape if your ego really gets in the way and this is were breaking samaya gets very perilous.
samaya limitations have nothing to do with culture – in it are rules for dealing with energy like fire or atomic energy which have their own rules irrespective of culture.
tantrayana samaya is for heroes (here hero is used in gender nonspecific) and originally in India the guru would only join 25 students in an initiation mandala but thanks to Tusem Kempa who opened up initiation mandalas to greater numbers we have perhaps some students of tantrayana that may not be very heroic. The reason why 25 of initiates was the original limit was that the guru knew each member personally and could vouch for his potential heroism. But the great Tusem Kempa changed all that and to boot wound up being the very first recognized tulku and changed all the other Tibetan lineages into developing tulku tradition. Perhaps this maybe be a happy corruption as the benefits of tantrayana can be spread more widely and on the whole be more beneficial than not so good benefit for people entering this path.
don’t get me wrong – I love Dzonger Rinpoche to pieces and that is why if finfhis ideas on samaya all the more perplexing.
You did not understand a thing he wrote on the subject. The only one remark you may really have on what he says and writes is that sometimes he is really talking to students of “higher” capacity and we of lesser don´t quite get it!
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hey bernie! did you attend the very last fall retreat (nov) that was held at Clear Lake CA? i was there and it was my first exposure to “tibetan buddhism” in the context of a group of people. i had read and been very inspired by TTBLD; had read it a couple of times actually and written songs of inspiration coming from it. later i found out that perhaps SR did not even truly write it. but i remember that fall retreat as interesting, amazing, indescribable…
since then i have taken empowerments from so many lamas and several have stayed at my home. these situations manifested due to strangely fortunate and unfortunate karma. fortunate because taking in dharma empowerment is by nature like that. unfortunate in that there is suffering involved–but if “life is suffering” then we’ll get that no matter what we do. yet if dharma practice can be “the end of suffering” then…is it the END OF LIFE?
finally i have learned that unchanging most high awareness is indivisibility itself, and it is the truly ultimate wisdom and compassion; some need a little help from others, or a guru; others need a lot of help from a guru. yet others can just directly interact with the most high truth-force without a human intermediary “teacher” or “guide” or “guru.” one thing i have seen without a doubt: “Tibetan Buddhism” is not naming anything at all! Neither is “Christianity” or your name, or my name!
Did you see the film about Garchen Rinpoche? It’s great, as it shows that whether one suffers “more” or “less” in this life hardly matters compared to the great power human beings innately carry to transform any suffering into liberation. I have seen that Tibetans can and do use “Tibetan Buddhism” in the West to set up organizations and “mind control” no less efficiently than Christianity or any colonization or feudalization of Pure Truth. But, for example, Viktor Frankl in “Man’s Search For Meaning” exposes nothing other than Dzogchen! It is simple: anything can be transformed with the endless power that is the human mind; liberation from suffering means an ever dynamic quest to BE that Unborn Perfection capable of transforming suffering into liberation. Yet while we live, can we ever escape the truth that “life is suffering” ???
Also, if the Kogi People of Columbia are not the example of a society even more enlightened than Tibetans, then no human beings are! Fearless adherence to Truth is all we have; and while Truth never changes, culture, like the human body and, yes, even like Vajra practices, always changing in its struggle to realize its own essence!
All my love to you brother Bernie!
Hey, there is a second video, in DKR’s youtube channel, the talk he gave in Lerab Ling in February.
Below is one version of a famous Indian legend. The story pointedly illustrates the confusion that results when we mistake a fragmented view for the whole picture.
The Blind Men and the Elephant
It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant (Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.
The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”
The Second, feeling of the tusk
Cried, “Ho! what have we here,
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me “tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!”
The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up he spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!”
The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee:
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he;
‘”Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”
The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!”
The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope.
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!”
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!
So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!
This amusing and incredibly illustrative story summarizes quite well the attempts of all of us sentient beings to interpret and understand “elephants” such as the few really extraordinary beings that are surprisingly still among us.
I am quite strict when it comes to seeing someone as an “elephant”; and when I do, I choose to accept that everything that beings does leads to nothing I could judge, expect or even understand, so I try to be somehow receptive to whatever results come from this being´s doings and just let them sink in and learn. The Guru I chose is definitely an “elephant” to me. But that does not discourage me from trying to be impartial and investigative, having continuous insights from all phenomena he brings about within me.
In writing these conclusions (and my written English is not so good, for which I ask you to be patient) I am well aware that I´m exercising “the capacity to see with both eyes” in the best way I can, but that does not guarantee I can really see the whole “elephant”.
That being said, there has been so much misunderstanding concerning the 19 pages Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche wrote about the Sogyal Rinpoche tragedy.
To begin with, Dzongsar Khyentse does not hide the fact that he is actually very much concerned and working at full speed to preserve the Dharma intact and orthodox, to which purpose the whole Sogyal Rinpoche tragedy was a very open and publicized threat. Despite all the kerfuffle he knew this would cause, he was also well aware that he had to move in and participate and be available and interact directly, because he is probably the sole Lama who is seeing ahead well enough to know that now is the time to make the difference and warn against the “hijacking” of the Buddhist tradition. On one side tibetan lamas who are blind to western culture and ways and westerners who insist on being “tibetanized”, on the other, westerners who are making their own Buddhism and becoming “samsaric gurus” and fake “elephants”.
Dzongsar Khyentse firstly addresses Sogyal Rinpoche´s students who came public and propagated the facts that led to this tragedy; and he does so from the standpoint he is representing: buddhist Dharma and, specifically here, Vajrayana.
Everything he wrote about the students´ actions were backed by the spiritual authority of the Vajrayana path itself, nothing left out! While doing it he was also giving priceless Vajrayana teachings for the still confused other students. And this quick note summarizes well the first part of Rinpoche´s writings.
Now for the second part, where he talks about Sogyal Rinpoche, that´s where he gets the main misinterpretation set as if he was somehow coping out and defending him; but not in the least.
Rinpoche´s position is quite delicate here being as he is, and much to his discontent, a very high profile lama, unwillingly caught in the prosaic Dharma politics´ web, who grew braver and braver as age progressed but had ingrained Padmasambhava´s saying: “Though the view should be as vast as the sky, keep your conduct as fine as barley flour”.
He commented on Sogyal Rinpoche´s not having laid the adequate foundations for the Vajrayana through appropriate warnings and fundamental teachings; clearly declared that as the person with the greater knowledge, power and therefore responsibility, Sogyal Rinpoche was also more culpable when those obligations were not fulfilled. And then he goes further to examine the consequences when a Vajrayana teacher and student fall out, boldly and impartially addressing the many accusations and implications involved. Here again he is backed by the authority of the Vajrayana path in its clear law concerning a teacher´s shortcomings. He spares no one! He definitely does not cop out!
He even has the audacity to write something as (and I please ask his forgiveness for quoting this, but it is impossible not to, in face of the many allegations about his defending Sogyal Rinpoche): “At the very least, an unenlightened Vajrayana master must always consider the consequences of his actions. In particular, he should ask himself if his actions might turn people away from the Buddhadharma in general and the Vajrayana in particular. And an unenlightened but decent Vajrayana master must always remind himself to distinguish between the fearlessness of ‘crazy wisdom’ and the stupidity of ‘I will never get caught!”
And he ends this other one of his masterpieces calling out every game and defilement commited nowadays against the Buddhadharma and tops that to finish it with a song of praise and sincere appreciation for the actual beauty of the humble sangha of us Westerners with good heart and earnest motivation… and we are so many!
I invite you to read his article over and over again! Each time the bluntness, the sharpness, the intelligence, the impartiality, the brilliance, they´re all there, deeper and deeper with each new reading! And the courage to face what he already knew would be misunderstood, the love, the compassion towards all students and the foresight moved to save the Dharma from getting diluted and wronged, they´re all there, deeper and deeper with each reading.
Dear Clarita Maia,
I perceive your post as your point of view about the point of view of Dzongsar Khyentse, the point of view of a student about the point of view of her Teacher.
And I see this blog as nothing else than points of views of lamas, points of views of students, points of view of students about their Teacher, points of view of students about other lamas, points of view of students about points of view of other students. All of this being relative.
What is clear, is that different lamas have different views of the student/teacher relationship , in Tibet and here, different view of samaya. In addition, what a Lama says about these topics in his/her personal guidance to one of his/her students may differ from what he/she says in a public talk to his sangha.
Tibetan Buddhism is decentralized. A variety of points of view coexist. Even the Dalai Lama to whom all Rinpoches pay respect has no authority over them. His advice is often ignored. They don’t have to comply.
As far as I am concerned, I simply follow my Teacher’s teachings about samayas and student/teacher relationship and how they apply to me. I have never seen him doing anything unethical. So I will ignore all the points of views expressed in the blog: they are irrelevant for my study and my practice, they would be confusing.
I also follow the Dalai Lama’s advice about all this: http://howdidithappen.org/dalai-lama-advice/. Not because he is the “Supreme head of Tibetan Buddhism”, but because what he said about Sogyal and Student/Teacher relationship makes sense to me. Notice that he does not mention samaya.
See also https://whatnow727.wordpress.com/2017/07/15/confused-or-conflicted-what-the-dalai-lama-says-about-teachers-and-unethical-behavior/
This is very clear and totally consistent with Western values and ethics.
If I did not have a personal relationship with a lama who has proved to me that he is qualified, I would have simply followed His Holiness’advice and forgotten the rest.
In time: Bernie, I really appreciated ALL you wrote. I´m 100% in agreement.
What you said Annie just comes to exemplify the legend I began my comments with. Or not?
On the contrary !
I am saying that there is no such thing as an elephant ! Only individual perceptions and points of view which people imagine to be part of this legendary being they have heard about.
We are very used to think and feel and assume that people think, feel, should act as and react to things as we do. It is true that we share a collective karma and live this illusion as if it were real, but our karmas are unique. We forget that fact more often that not and just project what we are in others. As a result we seldom put things into adequate perspective by impartialy (as much as we can) examining the context and circumstances that make other people´s actions also unique. On the contrary, we use our own self-righteous ideas and feelings to judge and criticize other´s actions based on our own actions and reactions, as if they were just like us. This can and should be dealt with through therapy in order that we could “grow-up” and be prepared to go on any spiritual journey. But that´s not what most of us do. We expect to mature through the spiritual path. And when things like the Sogyal scandal take place, we reveal our psychological hang-ups in the worst of ways: blindly and unconsciously.
Let´s look at the context we missed, I´m sure there are many others, but this is just what my “impartiality” could examine and come up with. After the scandal NO other Lamas came out to deeply interfere or help. As usual there was silence: Dharma politics, tibetan ingrained cultural habits, coping out, fear of exposure, etc. But this was a major scandal that involved thousands of people of the largest western sangha in existence today. Something had to be done. Many people were suffering, many lost and confused, many naively blaming Dharma and distancing themselves from it, many wanting retaliation, and (we forget) many who were still true to their Guru Yoga. And there was only one Lama who did come out and was brave enough to speak out and really get involved neck deep. Since Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche has his own life story to back him up, we could say that he did this solely out of compassion, specially because he knew in what he was getting into. His 19 pages showed the shortcomings of both students and Guru and was a profound teaching as well, and he had to address wisely ALL groups mentioned above: the suffering, the lost, the quitters of Dharma, the ones demanding for retaliation and the remaining students with Guru Yoga.
After his response got public, there were many personal, individual, partial and psychologically immature reactions, that blinded some people to really get the message. Their demand for “justice” and exposure made them do superficial evaluations such as citing ONE word of the Dalai Lama, “disgraced”, as the proof of his concern and correctness as opposed to Dzongsar Rinpoche´s complete and profound involvement; accusing DK Rinpoche of coping out, not being overtly against Sogyal Rinpoche´s doings, being a gender offender and many other blind self projections.
Like Bernie so well stated in his letter: “One thing I realize is that I was under the delusion that I could bypass looking at my stuff. I thought if I would just keep doing what I was asked to, all my obscurations would magically go away and I would miraculously emerge as a fully functioning enlightened being….How could I possibly think liberation of confusion, not to even speak of self-liberation, could happen if I was not conscious of my emotional and cognitive processes and obscurations? From what I can see, many others in my community and possibly the wider Buddhist world might be falling into a similar hole and like me, not even be aware of it.”
There are many more analysis that could be written here, but what is important is to really “grow up” and go look for help to deal with your own “stuff” because Vajrayana is NOT a therapy and was tailored for “grown-ups”.
“We are very used to think and feel and assume that people think, feel, should act as and react to things as we do.”
Thanks, Clarita, for this and other topics you brought up.
Oh Annie…there IS an elephant AND individual perceptions of it. Why do we have the tendency to use EITHER OR instead of AND????? Please read the legend again. It seems you did not understand it!
The elephant represents absolute truth. What I read in this blog is a set of relative truths, points of view. Do you, does DJKR see the absolute truth ?
As a long time student of Sogyal Rinpoche and having a series of connections to Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, I’d like to say here just how big an impact these teachers have on my life.
As someone who grew up suffering in an environment of long term abuse (both physical and psychological) spending time with both of these teachers deeply healed a lifetime of deep misery and confusion. It wasn’t and isn’t easy, yet the healing continues.
This isn’t meant to deny any one else’s experience, but simply to express my own.
Thanks for just listening.
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