Understanding and Healing Abuse in Buddhist Communities

How to Respond Like a Buddha When Your Teacher Is Accused of Abuse

Advice from Thubten Chodron on AbuseA crisis, like the allegations of abuse in Rigpa, can unleash a torrent of afflictive emotions:  blame, judgment, anger, despair, fear — to name just a few.  People take sides and attack the other side.  People get stuck in their positions and lose the ability to hear one another.

If you’re lucky to be in the middle rather than at the extremes, you may still be plagued by inner conflict, even if your practice keeps you from disparaging others.

How can we respond like a Buddha instead?

In this teaching from August 27th, Buddhist teacher Thubten Chödön addresses the current crisis in Rigpa, showing us how to respond with greater equanimity.  She talks about:

  • The meaning of pure appearance
  • How pure appearance applies to your own mind, not just externals
  • How to respond like a Buddha rather than with emotional, critical, judgmental mind
  • How to respond if you see a teacher punch someone in the stomach
  • How karma comes into play in whatever arises
  • How to have the confidence to say “no” to a teacher
  • Seeing situations from the view of karma, bodhichitta, emptiness
  • Healing past situations by reviewing them with a more enlightened view
  • In the student-teacher relationship, relinquish your ego and self-grasping, not your wisdom
  • How to avoid discouragement when a teacher you respect falls down
  • Suggestions for organizations after allegations of abuse have been made, and how to prevent them in the first place
  • When things falls apart, learn from the experience and develop more wisdom
  • The three levels of spiritual teachers
  • What does it mean to see a Vajrayana teacher as a Buddha?
  • The importance of self-responsibility instead of blame

I found this teaching extremely helpful.  I hope you do too.

We would love to hear what stood out for you in the comments.  Did you find the video helpful?  Did you understand something in a new or different way?


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  1. Nicole HOREAU

    Very helpful and comforting, Sandra.

    I’d like everyone in the sangha to be able to watch that video.How can we manage to make it available to everyone without making pressure on them?

    The problem is how to communicate with people who have been brainwashed for years and feel angry, frustrated, blind, etc. and consider those who try to open their minds as black sheep? You know what I mean.

    • I’m glad you found the video helpful, Nicole. I wish everyone in the sangha could have access to it as well, and watch it if they wish.

      The schism in the sangha is painful, and I know it’s not fun to feel like a black sheep. In the end, some people will decide to remain with Sogyal Rinpoche because they feel his qualities supersede any flaws or they perceive flaws differently, and that’s there prerogative. I just want there to be transparency so everyone can make an educated decision.

  2. Rae Hatherton

    Lovely commentary and so reassuring Sandra. I am so glad you are posting things like this to bring conversations forward that support the path and individuals who feel caught. I am grateful for you and Bernie and your insights and connections with the Buddhist world outside of Rigpa.

    • Thank you, Rae. Your encouragement means a lot to us. I’m glad you found this reassuring. I find it helpful to hear clarifying perspectives from outside of Rigpa too. I know I easily get caught up in afflictive emotions myself, so I want to do my best to keep a Dharmic perspective in all this.

  3. Mary Finnigan

    Excellent insight. She’s a great communicator. My problem is that its one thing to understand clarity intellectually, quite another to realise it so that you no longer have to think your way through the arising thoughts and emotions… the clarity is embedded and happens automatically.

    • Hello Mary,

      This is so true. It’s not easy to work with difficult emotions and naturally they are going to arise, probably intensely, in a situation like this. As you say, we might understand the idea intellectually but it’s quite another to respond naturally. There could be a danger of suppressing emotions, which doesn’t help. At least having the understand is a first step. We can only do our best within our current capacity.

  4. sel

    For me two things stood out in this teaching: firstly, that pure vision means seeing yourself as a deity in the first place. For me, pure perception always was about how you view the teacher. Secondly: the bit about the hole of anger and blaming and how we fall so easily in there. “You fall into the hole, decorate it nicely, and then complain you’re in a hole” 😉

    • Hello Sel, Those are important points! Especially the first one, we don’t always remember that. I loved how she explained pure perception. And, of course, we have to watch out for those holes!

      • Dummy (aka Marc)

        Sandra wrote: ” we have to watch out for those holes!” My questions: Is this blog a great example of these holes, and are further elaborations on this blog only making this whole bigger and more comfortable for those who dug it?

        TC (7:16): “you can still say this action is not suitable and it is not appropriate but you don’t get angry and upset”. Can you? Is this enlightened view? Seeing the fact that the natural state (i.e. enlightenment) is beyond words and concepts. So it is clearly “relative enlightenment” that is being taught here by TC. (i.e. a contradiction in terms). Relative bodhicitta. Food for dummies…

        You can still say this action is not suitable and is not appropriate, but -by defintion of the words “suitable” and “appropriate- this implies it is relative to some (be it a mojority). So the “not suitable” and “not appropriate” is NOT some inherent quality of the action (hitting a student in the stomach), nor the actor, but arises in dependence on the acted upon. So you can still say it, but it is ultimately groundless, so why utter it? It is only digging the whole (of dualistic habituation) deeper. Only dummies do that…

        It is not about visualising yourself as the deity and acting from that perspective that is the core of practice, it is about the DISSOLTION of the deity (into emptiness). Right conduct is maintaining in thát openminded state during all of your actions. Visualisation of yourself as the deity and acting from thát perspective is for dummies.

        And it is not about negating ones emotions by not getting “angry and upset”, it is about seeing ones emotions as they really are. Seeing their nature. But this necessarily implies that you actually EXPERIENCE these emotions. Isn’t it? Negating ones emotions is also for dummies. What TC is teaching is for dummies

        Indeed, this post is intended to make you upset. Maybe even angry 😉 As upset as a mahasiddhas! As upset as yogis!

  5. Thelma

    Very good, Sandra. She reminds us of a lot of things we should know, but usually don’t think about.
    Thank you.

  6. Stephen

    I recommend watching the whole series of talks she gave on the “crisis”, from 26th-30th august I think

    • Thank you, Stephen. I agree. I only learned of the first two-talks later. I’ve also watched them and found them to be excellent. I’ll feature them in an upcoming blog post.

  7. Kathy R.

    This is helpful. Thank you Sandra.
    Among many parts that were helpful, I found this part reflects many of the teachings we have already received many times:

    “…the tragedy is when people don’t learn other ways to see situations… in a more beneficial way. … their usual, ordinary mind takes over and the result is just, you know, criticism, rubbish, gossip, and then, you know, they leave the practice, which is harmful to them.

    Student: Just to be clear about the pure view, it’s seeing situations as a result of your own karma, it’s not seeing others necessarily as buddhas and excusing any bad behavior that you see?

    TC: Yeah, that’s not the standard definition of pure view but that’s, definitely, if you’re practicing seeing yourself as the Buddha, [it’s] some attitude, some outlook, some perspective, that you should have. Even in the Bodhisattva path, even in the fundamental vehicle path, you know, what happens to me as a result of my karma, there’s no sense in getting mad at other people, because if i hadn’t created that in the past then i wouldn’t be experiencing this now. It doesn’t mean what the other person is doing is right, it means you’re taking responsibility for your part in it. When ever we blame, then we dig ourselves into a hole, [as if one says] “I can’t release my anger until they apologize.” You dig yourself into a hole, decorate the hole and then complain that you’re in it.”

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