After almost 20 years in Rigpa, I have left with a heavy heart and a wounded soul.
I still have huge faith and trust in the Dharma and have connected with my own wisdom in a real way. The allegations of abuse by Sogyal Rinpoche have been around for a long time and every now and again, they re-surface in the media and a whole new generation of Rigpa students become aware that all is not as it seems.
For my first few years in Rigpa, I was not aware of these issues at all and when I did become aware in some way, my mind compartamentalised these issues. I was so confused, I tried to rationalise it – so many people benefit from the teachings, this surely can’t be true and so on but there was always a niggling doubt. Then people that I trusted in the Dharma assured me that this was all fine, it was allegations, it was crazy wisdom, this was my ego reacting and so on. However, this doubt got bigger and bigger and when I discussed the issues with senior students, some of whom were in blank denial and issued a party line, some of whom admitted the truth of the allegations but justified it by “crazy wisdom” approach. Both reactions only made my doubts bigger, I read as much as could, watched interviews and soon found myself connecting with other students who had left or were leaving. We were all fearful as this was a taboo subject and had been taught that to speak or think badly about the master would be a terrible corruption of samaya and would send you to the vajra hells. These teachings in recent years in Rigpa on devotion and samaya have become more numerous and explicit – I believe this is deliberate.
Only after leaving Rigpa, did I realise how free I felt – no longer did I have to justify thoughts in my mind as bad or a corruption of samaya, I was recognising something wrong had happened. I had attended weekends where these issues were discussed in Rigpa but mostly how the issues could be managed in the face of questions from students or the public. It was effectively a re-education or PR training and it left me feeling deeply uncomfortable. Why should I put out a party line? I remember how my skin crawled a little when one instructor referred to those making allegations as “these women”, it was how it was said, it was loaded with meaning – these woman who dare speak out, who make these allegations, these women who don’t know what they want. We were told Sogyal is not a monk, he is not celibate and is entitled to a private life and that many woman because he is a Rinpoche want to connect with him and have a relationship. This does not make it ok as many people project hugely onto Tibetan masters, in much the same way as those in psychotherapy in the West might do so with a therapist. A good therapist sees this immediately and uses it in the therapy in a healthy way to sort out real issues and the idea of a therapist sleeping with a client is seen as a huge betrayal of trust and breach of fiduciary duty.
Since leaving Rigpa, I am clearer and happier – I feel sick that I stayed there so long and didn’t see the reality, that I listened to the lies and justification. I sometimes now meet people from Rigpa and I know that a lot of people have left in the past year or two and there is a concerted campaign to re-connect with those who have left, wanting to know their reasons why, wanting to talk to them. I want to have nothing to do with this as I believe the allegations against Sogyal Rinpoche should be dealt with openly and honesty.
The complicity of many people in Rigpa in covering up these allegations, managing what can and can’t be said and so on is wrong and so sad. It is no different that the terrible behaviour of the Catholic Church in how they covered up abuses for years.
This whole experience has left me deeply wounded in ways I cannot describe – Buddhism has brought huge benefit and meaning to my life but this experience with Rigpa about Rinpoche’s abuse and the cover-up of same means there is a dark shadow over my experience. I feel by participating in such an organisation for some time, I was also complicit as first I didn’t know and then I did and didn’t say anything about my questions or concerns. This isn’t surprisingly as a very strong and distinct culture of silence, group think and constant activity has built up in Rigpa. It means people are afraid to speak out, afraid to be different and the constant activity means people are so busy and tired they don’t question the norms.
I am hopeful that in the coming year the issues in Rigpa will be exposed more and more and there will be a honest dialogue that benefit all those who have suffered at the hands of this organisation. The really sad thing is there are many kind and good people in Rigpa, who lead lives according to the Dharma but there is this huge blindspot about the issues of the allegations about Rinpoche. Rigpa has also provided students in the west with access to extraordinary lamas such as Ringu Tulku Rinpoche, Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, Garchen Rinpoche and so on but I also have questions why does no-one speak up. Surely these lamas also know about these allegations? It is all so sad and confusing and disheartening and I commend those who have the bravery to speak out from the bottom of my heart.