Sogyal Rinpoche Pledges to Enter Retreat After Rigpa Members Detail Abuse Allegations
On 14 July, a detailed letter signed by eight senior and former members of Rigpa,* an international network of Buddhist centers founded by the renowned Nyingma teacher Sogyal Rinpoche, was circulated among members of the organization. Addressed directly to Sogyal Rinpoche, the letter describes in distressing detail various abuses allegedly committed by the Rigpa founder and calls for for major change within the community.**
The accusations of abuse are not new—for several years they have periodically their way to the public sphere and the press. The official explanation of Rigpa for the allegation directed at Sogyal Rinpoche has always been to cite the “crazy wisdom” tradition characterized by unconventional teaching methods aimed at breaking down the preconceptions and mental barriers of the students, in this case Western Buddhist converts. Based on the view that most Westerners are overly burdened by a materialist perspective on life, which clouds their vision, “crazy wisdom” is considered by its adherents to be an accelerated means to challenge such perceptions and open the eyes of the student to the true nature of the Dharma.
In the letter, the authors state that the behavior of Sogyal Rinpoche can no longer be attributed to the “crazy wisdom” principle and that they feel compelled to share their concerns, encouraged by an unambiguous statement from His Holiness the Dalai Lama:
Buddhist teachers who abuse sex, power, money, alcohol, or drugs, and who, when faced with legitimate complaints from their own students, do not correct their behavior, should be criticized openly and by name. (Interview with HH the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso)
In its opening paragraphs, the letter explains: “Those of us who write to you today have firsthand experience of your abusive behaviors, as well as the massive efforts not to allow others to know about them. . . . Our wish is to break this veil of secrecy, deception, and deceit. We can no longer remain silent.”
The letter details four main concerns: the alleged physical and psychological abuse of students (which Sogyal Rinpoche has asserted is an expression of his “skillful means” and “wrathful compassion”), the alleged sexual abuse of students, the alleged lavish excesses of Rinpoche’s lifestyle funded by Rigpa, and the impact these alleged actions have had on the students’ trust in their teacher and on their appreciation of the Dharma.
The letter provides several graphic examples of each of these allegations, before concluding: “We can no longer stay silent while you harm others in the name of Buddhism. . . . We no longer want to indulge in the stupidity of seeing the Guru as perfect at any cost. . . . Our heartfelt wish is that you seek guidance from the Dalai Lama, other reputable lamas of good heart, or anyone who can help to bring you back onto the true path of the Dharma.”
In a followup to the letter, a post dated 16 July on the blog “What now” (set up by the authors of the letter as a meeting place and platform for concerned students.)** and directed to Sogyal Rinpoche, Australian Rigpa students propose the drafting of a “code of ethical behavior” applicable to all Rigpa members, and procedures for addressing violations of the code. In addition, they call on Sogyal Rinpoche to acknowledge the error of his actions and to express genuine regret. The students advise a period of retreat, “without an entourage, but with support from his peers such as Mingyur Rinpoche and professionals who can help him to manage his urges,” giving both sides time to reflect on the situation.
In a written response to the allegations of the Rigpa sangha last week,**** Sogyal Rinpoche declares that he plans to “follow [the students’] advice and enter into retreat as soon as possible”—later confirmed in an official press release from Rigpa.***** Sogyal Rinpoche states: “While I am on retreat, I intend to reflect deeply about myself, about how best to support students, and about the future of Rigpa. My being on retreat like this will open the opportunity for other teachers to take a more prominent part in guiding and advising the Rigpa Sangha . . . it will also be the right time for me to hand over the work of Rigpa to my trusted students and to take a full step back.”
Yesterday, the eight authors of the original letter published a second letter to Sogyal Rinpoche on the “What now” blog, titled “Response to SL.”***** After stating that it was Rinpoche’s actions and not their letter that broke the samaya vows, the students request that Sogyal Rinpoche acknowledge his wrongdoing: “[In your letter,] you repeatedly mention the manner in which your actions have been ‘perceived.’ Again, the critical issue here is not about our and others’ perception; it is about how your actions have caused actual harm to many people. . . . we had hoped that you would take responsibility and begin to try to repair this. However, instead of moving towards repairing, you ask for forgiveness for our misunderstanding, not for your actions. What kind of forgiveness is this?”
The students also expressed dismay that Sogyal Rinpoche’s response also made no mention of the possibility that he might also seek guidance from his most senior teacher, His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
* All of the letter's authors, six of whom resigned from Rigpa after the letter was circulated, have been students of Sogyal Rinpoche for more than 15 years.
***** Press release from Rigpa International (Rigpa)
***** Response to SL” (What now?)
Ethics in the Teacher-Student Relationship: The Responsibilities of Teachers and Students (Interview with HH the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso)
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