Khenchen Namdrol Rinpoche Speaks Out Over Public Criticism of Sogyal Rinpoche
In a video released over the weekend, the revered senior khenpo Khenchen Namdrol Rinpoche spoke out about the recent publicity surrounding the alleged misconduct of the Nyingma teacher and Rigpa founder Sogyal Rinpoche. In a 10-minute address filmed during a teaching at the Lerab Ling Tibetan Buddhist retreat center in France, the respected Buddhist teacher and scholar highlighted the unique nature of the relationship between students and Dharma teachers and was strongly critical of the way the events of the past few months have unfolded.
The video is the latest in a series of statements by senior Buddhist figures (including His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche) over the increasingly public controversy that has gripped Rigpa, an international network of Buddhist centers founded by Sogyal Rinpoche, and that has raised troubling questions about student-teacher relationships among Buddhists around the world, particularly those affiliated with Himalayan schools of Buddhism.
On 14 July, a detailed letter signed by eight senior and former members* of Rigpa was circulated within the organization. Addressed directly to Sogyal Rinpoche, the letter** detailed various abuses allegedly committed by the Rigpa founder and highlighted four main concerns: the alleged physical and psychological abuse of students (which Sogyal Rinpoche has asserted are an expression of his “skillful means” and “wrathful compassion”), the alleged sexual abuse of students, alleged excesses of Rinpoche’s lifestyle funded by Rigpa, and the impact these alleged actions have had on the students’ trust in their teacher and their appreciation of the Dharma. A subsequent press release from Rigpa dated 11 August stated that Sogyal Rinpoche had decided to retire as the spiritual director of Rigpa and related organizations with immediate effect.***
In his address, which was read out on his behalf by a Rigpa member, Khenchen Namdrol Rinpoche broached many deeply held concerns among Buddhist practitioners, expressing dismay over the divisive repercussions that the situation could have, both within the Rigpa community and beyond:
And that’s something that really really makes me feel upset, and upsets everyone else too. This kind of activity is so completely unnecessary. Why? Because it's so detrimental to the doctrine. From a spiritual point of view, it goes against every aspect of Dharma, and from a worldly point of view it is so disrespectful and unnecessary, and also instilling doubt and wrong view in the minds of so many disciples unnecessarily, to the point where they may even turn their minds away from the Dharma for good.
Khenchen Namdrol Rinpoche did not address any of the allegations directed against Sogyal Rinpoche, or accusations that the Rigpa founder abused his position of trust and authority as the organization’s head. Instead Rinpoche confined his criticism to the public way the situation had unfolded, mentioning two of the authors of the original letter by name, both of whom he is personally acquainted with. Khenchen Namdrol Rinpoche also observed that the scandal may be rooted in more esoteric conditions:
So that's why I think that this is maybe the magical manifestation of mimayan—non-human entities—trying to destroy the doctrine. In general Buddhism, in particular Nyingmapa, and especially the Rigpa sangha. And so what we need to do now is neutralize this. Just neutralize. Go into evenness and with faith towards the master and Dharma, lift ourselves up and be even stronger than ever before with faith in this doctrine of the Dzogpachenpo. More than ever before and to inspire others with our examples in this way.
Underscoring his conviction that Dharma students should maintain their faith in their teachers and in the Buddhist teachings, Khenchen Namdrol Rinpoche emphasized the timeless value of the Buddhadharma, noting that all negative actions carry with them inherent karmic implications and reinforcing the importance of not speaking, thinking, or acting in ways that are harmful or not beneficial to others.
This is not a doctrine that’s new. This is thousands of years old. It is time-tested material. It delivers liberation to countless practitioners and has actually cultivated countless realized accomplished masters and scholars. We can have confidence in every single word of this doctrine.
Born in eastern Tibet in 1953, Khenchen Namdrol Tsering Rinpoche is a senior khenpo in the Nyingma tradition of Vajrayana Buddhism and is widely recognized as an expert on the Guhyagarbha Tantra and its commentaries. In 1959, aged seven, he fled Tibet for India, and ordained as a monk at the age of 13 and was a student of Penor Rinoche, 11th throne holder of the Palyul Lineage of the Nyingma school and the head of the Nyingmapa lineage from 1993–2001. Khenchen Namdrol Rinpoche is one the most senior khenpos of Namdroling Monastery and a close disciple of Khenpo Jikme Phuntsok (1933–2004), a recognized incarnation of Terton Sogyal Lerab Lingpa and an emanation of Mipham Rinpoche. He oversees Rigpa Shedra East in Nepal and spends much of his time at the Palyul Retreat Center he established in the Kathmandu Valley in 1998.
* All of the letter's authors, six of whom resigned from Rigpa after the letter was circulated, had been students of Sogyal Rinpoche for more than 15 years.
*** Press Release from Rigpa (Rigpa International)
Khenchen Namdrol Rinpoche's final message and advice to Sogyal Rinpoche's disciples. (YouTube)
Khenchen Namdrol Rinpoche
Shedra East (Rigpa Shedra - College for Buddhist Studies)
Reigpa: Lerab Ling
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