Understanding and Healing Abuse in Buddhist Communities

Tag: Abuse

A Brilliant Analysis of the Rigpa Renewed Apology

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

In this brand new YouTube video, former long-time Rigpa student and instructor, Tahlia Newland, examines the “Rigpa Renewed Apology” recently issued on October 15, 2021. She holds it up against the Four Powers described in the Vajrasattva practice of confession and healing.

Newland points out where the apology matches the criteria laid out in the practice for a real confession and apology and where it falls short.

Watch it below or on YouTube.

And if you haven’t seen it yet, you can read my own written response to the Rigpa Renewed Apology in this article: Never Accept an Incomplete or Inauthentic Apology.

I sent my response to Rigpa on October 31. 2021, but have yet heard anything back, despite their claim to care so much for the people who were abused by Sogyal Rinpoche.

By provide feedback like this, I personally hope to help Rigpa craft a true and complete apology that would be meaningful to the people who were harmed by Sogyal Rinpoche.

Should We Accept Rigpa’s October 2021 “Renewed Apology?”

Photo by Kate Williams on Unsplash

Hello Friends,

It’s been a while since I’ve posted on this blog—more than two years.

But recently—out of the blue—I received an email from the Rigpa U.S. Board directing me to Rigpa’s Renewed Apology (dated October 15, 2021) on the Rigpa International website.

I don’t trust the new apology and felt compelled to respond. If you’d like to read my response, you’ll find it here:

Never Accept an Incomplete or Inauthentic Apology

In this article, I describe what constitutes a “true apology.” I then go on to enumerate the ways in which I find Rigpa’s Renewed Apology lacking.

I hope you find it helpful or illuminating in some way.

With best wishes, Sandra

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

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

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

But Fallout is much more than a memoir.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Significant News

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

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

Checking Out

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

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

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

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

Wishing you all the very best on your spiritual journey.

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


Get Angry! The Dalai Lama on Compassionate Anger

Can anger be a healthy response to unjust situations like the abuse that has occurred in Rigpa and Shambhala? Or should it be avoided at all costs?  Let’s look at the Dalai Lama’s view on compassionate anger.

In the West, we see emotions as either pleasurable or painful and relate to them accordingly.  But from a Buddhist perspective, mental states that involve an emotional dimension are seen, instead, as either beneficial or harmful.  

The Dalai Lama explains that all emotions have an evolutionary purpose and a biological dimension – in other words, they’re natural responses to circumstances that appear in our lives.  For example, he says “…anger helps us repel forces that are detrimental to our survival and well-being.”

It’s natural for feelings, including anger, to arise. Emotions aren’t harmful in and of themselves.  All emotions have destructive and non-destructive sides.

“So the important point to bear in mind is that these feelings are not destructive in themselves; they become destructive only when their intensity is out of promotion to the situation, or when they arise in situations that do not call for them.”

He further clarifies::

“Generally, we can  define destructive emotions as those states which undermine our well-being by creating inner turmoil, thereby undermining self-control and depriving us of mental freedom.  Within this, it is also possible to distinguish between two sub-categories:  those emotional states that are destructive in themselves, such as greed, hatred, or malice; and those states, such as attachment, anger, or fear, which only become destructive when their intensity is disproportionate to the situation in which they arise.”

Does that seem obvious? 

It might be for some individuals. But you may have been raised to believe that anger is always bad and you should never feel it. If you do, you’re bad too. 

Or you may have spent years in a spiritual or religious organization where you were taught that anger—even a single moment of anger—should always be avoided or you’ll go directly to hell. There are hell realms in Buddhism too.

Or you may have come to believe that compassion means patience, tolerance, and forgiveness and doesn’t include anger at all. You should be meek and submissive.

Or you may have been told that if you’re angry, you’re not in the natural of mind. Very bad.

But is this true?  The Dalai Lama suggests there’s far more subtlety involved when it comes to emotions, including  anger. He says:

“So when we are dealing with matters as subtle as human mental processes, it is important not to be too dogmatic.  It is difficult or impossible to determine whether or not a given mental state is destructive without knowing the context.  Often we can make this determination only by taking into account the underlying motivation, the specific object of the emotion, the consequences of the emotion, and so on.  In the area of the human mind, therefore, we should always maintain an attitude of open-mindedness, pragmatism, and flexibility.”

If you find yourself becoming judgmental and righteous in response to anger that arises in yourself or others, you might want to take a step back and be sure you understand the context. 

For example, some people dismissed the 8 letter writers who revealed emotional, physical, and sexual abuse in Rigpa because they “sounded so angry.” Or because the letter they wrote was so strong.

But the Dalai says anger and strong countermeasures can be an appropriate response to wrongdoing. He even says we should continue to harbor a feeling of anger until the injustice is corrected. Let’s look at what he says exactly.

Dalai Lama Quotes on Compassionate Anger

The Dalai Lama says anger can be constructive at times.

“Similarly, even anger is not always destructive. For example, in some situations strong compassion may give rise to an equally strong sense of outrage—that is anger about an injustice.  Again, feeling angry can, in the short term, make our minds more focused and give us an extra burst of energy and determination.  In these ways, anger can, in certain situations, make us more effective in getting things done and in obtaining what we rightly seek.  However, when anger extends beyond this practical function, most of the energy it brings us is not helpful at all.  Since all of us have probably at one time or another, been on the receiving end of other people’s anger, we all have experience of its unpleasant consequences.”

In the following quotes, the Dalai Lama sheds light on “compassionate anger.” You might be surprised to hear he encourages it by saying it is a good anger that is worth having.

“When faced with economic or any other kind of injustice, it is totally wrong for a religious person to remain indifferent.  Religious people must struggle to solve these problems.”

“Suffering should make us angry.  This type of anger moves us toward a wrathful compassion to take action to end suffering.” - the Dalai Lama  | Click through for more quotes on compassionate anger from the Dalai Lama #dalailama #dalailamaquotes #angerquotes

“Suffering should make us angry.  This type of anger moves us toward a wrathful compassion to take action to end suffering.”

“Here the issue is how to deal with anger.  There are two types of anger.  One type arises out of compassion; that kind of anger is useful.  Anger that is motivated by compassion or a desire to correct social injustice, and does not seek to harm the other person, is a good anger that is worth having.”

“Anger brings more energy, more determination, more forceful action to correct injustice.”

“The deep motivation is compassion, but it takes anger as the means to accomplish its end.”

“To use anger as a motivating force, should we transform it into another state, into something positive?  Or should we maintain it as it is?

The answer to this question is a person’s state of mind—that is, the motivation that causes the action.  When we act, that act arises out of a cause that already exists in us.

“If we act when our inner motivation is hatred toward another person, then that hatred expressed as anger will lead to destructive action.  This is negative action. But if we act out of consideration for the other person, if we are motivated by affection and sympathy, the we can act out of anger because we are concerned for that person’s well-being.”

“Hatred expressed as anger will lead to destructive action, compassion expressed as anger leads to positive change.”  | Click through for more quotes on compassionate anger and social injustice from the Dalai Lama #dalailama #dalailamaquotes #angerquotes #socialinjustice

“Hatred expressed as anger will lead to destructive action, compassion expressed as anger leads to positive change.”

“Anger toward social injustice will remain until the goal is achieved.  It has to remain.

In this case, one should truly continue to harbor a feeling of anger.  That anger is directed toward the social injustice itself, along with the struggle to correct it, so the anger should be maintained until the goal is achieved.  It is necessary in order to stop social injustice and wrong destructive actions.

For example, a negative or harsh attitude toward Chinese wrongdoing, such as human rights violations and torture, will remain so long as those actions continue.  One will be angry as long as injustice remains.”  

“In theory, it is true that anger is never good, and we must get rid of all attachment.  But when we actually confront social injustice and think about how to correct it, not all anger is bad, and we shouldn’t try to overcome all attachment.  Anger is bad in theory, and we must get ride of attachment, but in practice, we cannot completely negate them all. We must discern between theory and practice.”

“To be angry in a positive way means we open our eyes to the suffering in the world, to social injustice.” - the Dalai Lama  | Click through to learn more about the Dalai Lama’s views on compassionate anger in the face of wrong doing. #dalailama #dalailamaquotes #angerquotes

“To be angry is a very subjective thing.  To be angry in a positive way means we open our eyes to the suffering in the world, to social injustice.”

“It is not enough to remain quietly meditating in the monastery—we must confront the violence in the outside world.”

“To be angry on behalf of those who are treated unjustly means that we have compassionate anger.  This type of anger leads to right action, and leads to social change.  

To be angry toward the people in power does not create change.  It creates more anger, more resentment, more fighting.”

“However, if one is treated unfairly and if the situation is left unaddressed, it may have extremely negative consequences for the perpetrator of the crime. Such a situation calls for a strong counteraction. Under such circumstances, it is possible that one can, out of compassion for the perpetrator of the crime—and without generating anger and hatred—actually take a strong stand and strong countermeasures. In fact, one of the precepts of the bodhisattva vows is to take strong countermeasures when the situation calls for it. If a bodhisattva doesn’t take strong countermeasures when the situation requires, then that constitutes an infraction of one of the vows.” –

Can Anger and Compassion Coexist?

But doesn’t compassion mean you should be meek, submissive, and always forgive?

Quite to the contrary, the Dalai Lama says that compassion sometimes requires a strong countermeasure.  In fact, if you do not respond appropriately and intercede when mistreatment occurs, you could be partially responsible for future harm that takes place.

Let’s look at what the Dalai Lama says about the true meaning of compassion.

“Nothing in the principle of compassion—the wish to see others relieved of suffering—involves surrender to the misdeeds of others.  Nor does compassion demand that we meekly accept injustice.  Far from promoting weakness or passivity, compassion requires great fortitude and strength of character.”

“…compassion by no means implies surrender in the face of wrongdoing or injustice.  When an unjust situation demands a strong response, as in the case of apartheid, compassion demands, not that we accept injustice, but that we take a stand against it.  It does imply that such a stand should be non-violent.”

“Imagine yourself with difficult neighbors who repeatedly behave aggressively toward you.  What is the appropriate compassionate response?  In my understanding, there is no reason why compassion, including of course compassion toward the aggressors, should prevent you from making a forceful response.  Depending on the context, a failure to respond with strong measures, thereby allowing the aggressors to continue their destructive behavior, could even make you partially responsible for the harm they continue to inflict.  In addition, doing nothing to oppose such behavior in effect encourages those unfortunate persons, with the likely consequence that they will move on to even more destructive behavior, bringing still greater harm to others and, in the long run, to themselves.  The only way to change a person’s mind is with concern, not with anger or hatred.  Physical or violent measures can only restrain other’s physical behavior, never their mind.”

What About Hatred?

“The important point about the principle of compassion, as a basis for the exercise of justice, is that it is directed not toward actions, but toward the actor.  Compassion demands that we condemn wrong actions and oppose them with all means necessary, while at the same time forgiving and maintain an attitude of kindness toward the perpetrators of those actions.”

“As I have already mentioned, it is vital to keep in mind the distinction between the doer and the deed.  Sometimes this can be hard.  When we ourselves or those very close to us have been victims of terrible crimes, it can be difficult not to feel hatred toward the perpetrators of those crimes.”

The Dalai Lama says anger should be directed toward the action or the injustice not toward the individual or it can have detrimental consequences for both you and the other person or persons.

But, understandably, when the actions are heinous, as in the case of abuse and violence, this can be hard.  What do you do?  The Dalai Lama shares a precise methodology for working with afflictive emotions like anger in the chapter, “Dealing with Afflictive Emotions” in Beyond Religion, Ethics for a Whole World

This is my feeling about it. If hatred arises within you against the perpetrator(s), don’t be harsh or judgmental towards yourself because religious doctrine says hatred is wrong.  In fact, you may go through a stage when you feel hatred. It could last for some time.

If that’s the case, try to be compassionate towards yourself.  You’ve endured too much, and you’re only human.  But try not to act out hatred in harmful ways.  

Don’t suppress your emotions, which might aggravate and intensify them until they finally boil over and result in harmful words or actions.  But also try not to feed destructive emotions like hatred, or it will grow stronger and keep you in a constant state of distress. Work with your own mind and heart to heal and reduce feelings of hatred over time.  When you feel ready, use your anger for constructive purposes as the Dalai Lama suggests.  

Anger Is Not Automatically Good or Bad

According to the Dalai Lama, anger is not automatically good or bad.  It can be constructive or destructive.  It depends on the state of your mind and your motivation.  And chances are, being human, your motivation may be mixed at times.  Be aware of that and do the best you can, whatever the situation.  Never hesitate to express your anger constructively in the face of injustice and wrongdoing.

But don’t accept what the Dalai Lama has said about compassionate anger on faith or admiration alone.  As he always says, investigate it for yourself.  Think about it and determine whether it’s true and valid yourself.

I feel angry about the abuse that has occurred in Rigpa, Shambhala, and other Buddhist organizations. But I don’t feel stuck in anger, and I don’t feel hatred toward anyone in Rigpa. I try to use my anger constructively, as the Dalai Lama suggests, to write on this blog, education others especially about trauma, and warn them about the potential dangers.

I believe the 8 letter writers were motivated by compassionate anger as well.

This article first appeared on Always Well Within, and was modified for the How Did It Happen Blog.

Sources and Resources

  • Be Angry, The Dalai Lama – An interview conducted by Noriyuki Oda, a well known Japanese author, lecturer, and cultural anthropologist.
  • Beyond Religion, Ethics for the Whole World, The Dalai Lama
  • Don’t Let Hatred Destroy Your Practice, Spring 2019 Edition of Buddhadharma Magazine

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


Lewis-Silkin Investigation Confirms Abuse in Rigpa & Related News Reports

Lewis Silkin Report Rigpa Abuse

By now, most of you know the independent investigation conducted by the law firm Lewis-Silken has published its findings and confirmed abuse in Rigpa.

But in case you missed it, you can download the report here: Independent Investigation Report.  Scroll to the bottom of the page to find the download link.

Below you’ll find the Executive Summary and Recommendations from the report, as well as links to recent news coverage related to the findings.  The full report is 50 pages long and highly detailed.  This is just a brief summary.

Before reading, please be aware that this report includes language and content which some people might find upsetting or triggering.

Shambhala & Rigpa Call Abuse Victims Liars


Buddhist Project Sunshine has released its Phase 3 Final Report on sexualized violence at the core of the Shambhala Buddhist Community.  You can download the report here. Be sure to read Carol Merchasin’s investigative report at the very end of the document.  It’s easy to miss, but it contains important details concerning the alleged sexual assaults and misconduct as well as a timeline.

The Phase 3 Buddhist Project Sunshine report contains:

  • New claims of sexual misconduct on the part of Ösel Rangdröl Mukpo (Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche), Shambhala’s spiritual head and main teacher.
  • The names of Shambhala leaders alleged to have been involved in group sexual assault, individual rape, present or serving as attendants during such assaults, or procuring women for Ösel Rangdröl Mukpo.
  • Pema Chödrön’s alleged response to a Shambhala rape victim.

Shambhala’s Denial Statement

In response, the outgoing governing council (called the Kalapa Council) has issued a denial on August 23 which says, in part:

Kaleidoscope of Viewpoints

Different ways we see a teachers who is allegedly abusive

A guest post by Elaine Zablocki

As dharma students, we’ve learned that a single object arises from many causes and conditions. When we look at a wooden table, we may consider the harvested tree, stored and dried, cut to size, assembled by someone using an array of tools and fasteners. We see a chain of people stretching back centuries who perfected “table.” When we look at a tree we see a constant flow of related processes:  leaves taking in carbon dioxide, putting out oxygen. Water flowing up from the ground, sunlight on leaves producing sugar, leaves dropping to create soft forest soil that holds water and feeds the tree.

Could we look at the situation in Rigpa from a similarly expansive viewpoint, observing many interactive processes that led to the present moment?

Shambhala: Abuse, Intergenerational Trauma, and Undoing the “No Right, No Wrong” Argument

Shambhala Sun

If you think abuse didn’t happen in Rigpa, consider the recent allegations of sexual misconduct made against the head of Shambhala, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. 

Although the modus operandi may vary to some degree, you can see the same mix of male privilege, adoration, feudalism, mysticism, and manipulation seems to have occurred in both Shambhala and Rigpa, protecting the alleged perpetuators for decades.

I’d like to share with you a small collection of recent articles and one video, ones I found extremely helpful, which illuminate what has occurred, analyze what went wrong, or explore the way we respond, for better or for worse.

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

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

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

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

How Can the Rigpa Community Process the Controversy?

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

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

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

My Faith Has Been Strengthened

For some, facing this controversy has strengthened their faith.

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

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