Understanding and Healing Abuse in Buddhist Communities

Tag: Sogyal Rinpoche Page 1 of 2

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


The Rigpa International Newsletter: Connection or Disconnection?

When I read the recent Rigpa International Newsletter, titled “Sangha Connection,”  I sense a profound disconnect between the leadership of Rigpa and those who feel concern about the abuse that has occurred in Rigpa—both victim/survivors and everyone else who felt deeply impacted.

The very first paragraph of the March-April 2018 newsletter describes the Rigpa Bodhgaya Prayer Gathering as “wonderful” and “joy-filled,” with even more “delight” due to the presence of the Bhutanese sangha.  Later, a sangha member is quoted as saying,

“I can feel the presence and blessings pervading the place. It is evident that almost everyone feels the same. There is so much joy and devotion expressed in our interactions with each other.”

While I would never begrudge anyone their joy, I’m struck by the complete lack of awareness these words evidence in relation to the Rigpa victims of abuse. But I also know, this is trademark Rigpa: insular, self-centered, and self-celebratory.  

Remembering the Victims

All the while Rigpa celebrates itself, there are victim/survivors and other disenchanted former members who struggle in recovery.  Clearly, the writers and all the Rigpa newsletter approvers (the Vision Board and the like) cannot imagine what it might feel like for an abuse survivor to read their words via Sangha “Connection.”  It feels more like disconnection than connection.

If you’ve spent years in a high-demand organization, like Rigpa, where you suffered abuse – emotional, physical, and/or sexual – it can take years for you to recover.  You may struggle with flashbacks, nightmares, insomnia, anxiety, hyper-vigilance, dissociation or any of the numerous symptoms of PTSD or C-PTSD, even if you don’t have the full blown disorder.  You may grapple with guilt, shame, self-blame, feelings of worthlessness, anger, disbelief, an inability to trust, and/or a loss of faith, identity and/or community.  When you least expect it, an external trigger may re-invoke memories and an assortment of trauma symptoms that bring your life, momentarily, to a full stop.

So many other former sangha members, who never experienced direct abuse themselves, wrestle with similar feelings.  They wonder why they didn’t put two and two together sooner.  They feel unable to practice at all.  They feel they’ve lost their spiritual path. And so much more.

Sure some have healed, some have moved on. But many are still in recovery.

No One Chooses Trauma

“Trauma creates change you don’t choose.”  Michelle Rosenthal

Trauma changes your brain and your biochemistry.  No one chooses trauma.  It happens to them, and it’s largely a biological event that can happen to anyone. 

Trauma can be healed, but it takes time – especially the kind of trauma that occurs as a resulted of repeated abuse over a number of years—the kind of abuse that occurred to a number of students in Rigpa.

If You Really Cared

If you really cared about the students who were abused by Sogyal Rinpoche, you would know this.  You would make an effort to become trauma informed.  And once you were, if you really took the information in, out of respect for what they endured and knowing its long-term effects, you could never write a newsletter that begins as this one did.

While I might seem like a killjoy, I would prefer to open a Rigpa International Sangha Connection newsletter and read, as the first entry, an announcement of how Rigpa teams worldwide had attended an in-depth training to learn about trauma, its impacts, and how to provide trauma-informed care.  That would give me hope that real change is taking place in Rigpa.

Riding It Out

Instead, the newsletter fails to mention the abuse at all. I had to read through 28 more paragraphs (or so) to get to any veiled mention of the abuse, a word that Rigpa never seems to actually use. In the final paragraph of the newsletter, I read:

“Updates related to acting on the recommendations of the Lewis Silkin report and Rigpa moving forward will be mainly shared on the Moving Forward section of rigpa.org rather than this newsletter.”

Sounds innocuous, doesn’t it? How would you know the “Lewis Silkin” report relates to abuse, if you didn’t already know?  There’s no mention it’s an “investigative” report.  You could imagine it relates to anything.  You might even skip the links after already reading 29 paragraphs, and never be the wiser.

Now I know why Rigpa calls this section of its website “Moving Forward.”  They are truly moving on, leaving the victim/survivors behind, removing any substantial mention of the abuse from the sangha newsletter, relegating updates of this less palatable material to the website, where most sangha members rarely visit.  Making it easy to forget that abuse has ever occurred.

This is the Rigpa modus operandi:  Riding It Out.

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 or 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.

A Chance to Be Heard: An Invitation to Current & Former Rigpa US Students

An Olive Branch

Have you received the following letter from An Olive Branch?  Can you help pass it along to any current or former members of Rigpa US who may not have received it? I’ll share the full letter in this post.

An Olive Branch is a Zen-based organization that has been hired to offer processes of healing and reconciliation for current AND former members of the Rigpa U. S. sangha.

Some people object, saying that reconciliation cannot occur unless there’s acknowledgement of harm and an apology on the part of Sogyal Rinpoche and the leadership of Rigpa.  In many ways I agree.

But even without an apology, healing can occur.  An Olive Branch offers current and former members of the Rigpa US a chance to be personally heard in private without judgement via their Listening Post.  Feeling heard is one of the most powerful ways healing can take place or at least begin.

Latest News: Investigation and New Rigpa Vision Board

Rigpa Investigation and Vision Board

On December 21, 2017, the Rigpa International Holding Group announced the beginning of an independent investigation by a neutral third party into the allegations of abuse made against Sogyal Rinpoche. The independent investigation will be conducted by the law firm Lewis Silkin, which was hired recently by the Old Vic Theater in London to investigate the allegations of inappropriate behavior by Kevin Spacey during his 11-year run as artistic director.

Although it has taken a very long time to get this investigation started, more than five months, I would like acknowledge the positive, reasonable and encouraging tone of the announcement which stated:

Our heartfelt concern is for the wellbeing of our Rigpa community as a whole, including the authors of the letter of allegations sent to Sogyal Rinpoche last July, and to ensure that the love, friendship and other positive qualities we share do not diminish. In this sense, we are all still very much connected to each other. Over the last few months, it has become clear that we need to work together to understand how, over the years, we got to where we are, and then what we need to do to rebuild and heal our relationships with everyone who has been affected.

In addition, the Rigpa US Board has concurrently engaged An Olive Branch, a Zen-based reconciliation organization, to help support the US sangha, both current and past members, with healing and reconciliation.  Read the full letter to current and former members of the Rigpa sangha from An Oliver Branch.  You may want to participate in the Listening Post or the healing and reconciliation process.

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