You’re interested in going to a Buddhist center in your city for the first time. What advice can be given?

Lion’s Roar posted an entry I’m interested in going to a Buddhist center in my city for the first time. Any advice? On a rather quick reading I found it a bit incomplete recollecting my and others’ people experiences with cult-like groups such as the New Kadampa Tradition / Kadampa Buddhism. I wondered how that advice given by Lion’s Roar can prevent one from falling pray to cultish or questionable Buddhist groups? What do you think? I think its not a complete or a pretty save advice that Lion’s Roar offered.

That’s why I had the idea to ask YOU about what advice you have to offer to newly interested people who want to visit a Buddhist center in their city for the first time. Most of you have experiences of harm in cultish or damaging Buddhist groups. What would you advice to people interested to go to a Buddhist center in their city so that they might NOT end up in the pain and suffering as we had to experience it – or finally even abandoning the Buddhadharma altogether?

A person who relied on the Sangha of the Pagode Path Hue in Frankfurt – outwardly a young, dynamic Sangha – whose (former) abbot, Thich Thien Son (Mai Hue Giang Tran), has been alleged of multiple sexual abuse of his (male) students (including the abuse of young men who were already abused as children and whom he promised to heal from that abuse!) – wrote on my German blog this very sad message recently which I just approved:

Die Geschichte von TTS hat bei mir ziemlich viel zerstört. Von „Buddha Dharma Sangha“ ist nur noch Dharma geblieben. Den Buddhismus habe ich hinter mir gelassen.
„Sangha“??? um Gottes Willen – Die Sangha, die eine Stütze sein sollte, Reaktionen der Menschen in der Sangha, die Abhängigkeit von TTS hat mir gezeigt was Sanghas sind: Ein Haufen Blinder die nicht man zu sich selber ehrlich sind. Süchtig nach Macht, Anerkennung und Gier, hörig bis zum Anschlag. Oder einfach: Verlogen. Sangha ist definitiv kein „Juwel“. _()_

Translation: The story of TTS has destroyed a good deal to me. From “Buddha Dharma Sangha” has remained only Dharma. The Buddhism I have left behind me.
“Sangha” ??? For God’s sake – The Sangha, which should be a support, the reactions of people in the Sangha, the dependence on TTS showed me what Sanghas are: A pile of blind people who are not true to themselves. Addicted to power, recognition and greed, submissively dependent to the limit. Or simply: mendacious. Sangha is definitely not a “gem”. _ () _

It makes me so sad to read this.

And its even sadder that – as it appears to me – many gave up Buddhism altogether* after having made devastating experiences in unhealthy or abusive Buddhist groups. So my request, my call to you – the readers of this blog – is what advice would you give to newcomers to Buddhism to be able to avoid the negative and harmful experiences we had to make? How can new seekers of  Buddhism avoid to bump into a Buddhist centre which might be good in online and print marketing and self-presentation but harmful to its members or followers?

You could use the template by Lion’s Roar and offer your own advice in the comment section. Maybe we can help and protect some people?!

(I will add my thoughts later in a comment.)


* Luckily, Joram, who wrote the comment quoted above, seems still to have faith in the Dharma!

Comments

  1. https://www.academia.edu/14180155/Guru_Devotion_and_the_American_Buddhist_Experience
    At first glance this piece may appear academic but it is worth reading as there are some warning notes about the guru student relationship.

  2. suzanne o'meara says:

    almost all tib dharma groups currently have severe increasing psycho harm damages , mind rape , life threats , favouritism , strange bad things happen . even the best better groups sometimes have very bad bullies . the most deadly groups are Diamond Way , New Kadampa , Samye Ling Dzongs , Shambala , Rigpa. . the better groups are in France such as the DHAGPO KAGYU LING & KUNDREUL LING & their many branches worldwide like BODHIPATHS & they have in Italy a lovely centre in Bordo , in Virginia , Calgary, Chicago , & many more . but often lamas from the dangerous groups visit these . & you have to get mature & over time with tack explain what you prefer & ask when or where you can attend , or only maybe out of course times – during big courses everything you have gets stolen as well ,it is very rough then . but you can have your own place nearby & have private sessions & study at home…especially as you get older you will want like that . the retreat centres are usually much safer , & anyone can have separate solo retreats for 3 weeks or months up to 20 or more yrs. my retreat friends in France are much nicer . they say Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche & Khandro Rinpoche are very nice & some of the Drukpa centres much better & Pema Wangyal Rinpoche , the SONGTSEN vegetarians , Matthew Ricard , Dudjom Rinpoche , the Yeshe Tsogyal , so on are kinder & there is Tsultrim Rinpoche in Colorado , Tsoknyi Rinpoche , in california Kunga Rinpoche is very very nice.
    but one can easily get cancer or die from being in groups. Chatral Rinpoche was 1 of the best lamas – he just passed away , & Tai Situ Rinpoche is almost totally flawless but he only takes students who are already gifted . you should have regular emails & sign up for facebook & emails news with ll these lamas so wherever you end up , you have lots of support & options . there is Crestone Colorado – many centres there . 7& Ven Thrangu Rinpoche is really super Rinpoche – in Vancouver, US , worldwide – he is about the safest lama . KALU RINPOCHE IS TERRIFIC AMAZING YOUNG LAMA BUT WITH HIS CRITERIA . but eventually you will realise generally religious institutions are for monastics who are gifted people but almost all have mental problems & are housed in centres & they need money to live & usually rich & abusive leftist student attend & they will ALL ACTIVELY TRY TO KILL YOU . another new popular one is Chamtrul Rinpoche , also the old schools . some people like the Sakya sect . it is essential to be a pen friend of TAI SITU RINPOCHE . & THOSE TYPES . & read about PATRIARCH MILAREPA IN TAGONG MONASTERY IN TIBET & see his photos . & Dzongtsar Khyentse is a very modern nice bvery very high lama – he is doing tons worldwide , & he knows the dangers of groups . subscribe to Tai Situ Rinpoche & Chatral Rinpoche & Kalu Rinpoche , Thrangu RInp;oche Khandro Rinpoche , & new york monasteries , & so on . &* get a psycho therapist or friend at local, police station or local church to protect you every time . & many are vegetarian as well .

    • Dear Suzanne, my call was not to give a judgement (or list) of groups and Lamas – who are considered by individuals as save or not – but to give some advice as Lion’s Roar has done it what people who go first to a Dharma centre should have in mind to check and to consider. I might delete your comment later because it is not what I was asking for and it leads us into a total other direction which I didn’t have in mind. (I might have contributed to this direction by mentioning the NKT in the post.) However, good to see that you had also good experiences!

    • There again, one might just forget about declaring.allegiance to any particular group and just rely on oneself?

      • No name, what would be your advice? If you have time, it would be great to hear what you have to say about that.

        • MY advice would be to stay well clear of forming any sense of allegiance to any particular group or entering into any deeper relationship with any teacher for as long as possible. First study what the different traditions have to offer and, having considered what sounds most helpful, try to incorporate that teaching into ones being.
          Westerners are always becoming absorbed in their allegiance to particular groups, and have turned dharma devotion into something resembling being a supporter of a football club. This should be avoided at all costs
          Buddhas teaching on the four reliances ( the teaching not the teacher, he meaning of the words rather than just words etc) is useful. Also, recall Jamgon Kongtrul the Greats observation that any sense of allegiance to a particular sect or tradition can become an obstruction
          Again, it is imperative to remember that dharma centres are places of learning, not psychiatric care centres. If you have deep seated psychological problems, see a therapist and if necessary take meds. But don’t expect help or support from fellow seekers. The dharma has a habit of biting those who come to it for the wrong reasons, then.chewing them up and spitting them out
          Finally, try to remember that no one, no guru or God is ever going to save you from suffering. Two reasons- suffering is entirely natural in samsara and the only person who can extricate you from it is yourself.No saviours, no Shangrila- it’s a personal journey that requires a lot of hard work and at the end of the day the only saviour who exists for you is yourself’ not some oriental dressed in mystical robes with super powers
          Most importantly don’t rush towards dharma centres thinking they are places of salvation filled with people who are deeply spiritual and care about you: they are ONLY places of education. Dharma is primarily realised via ‘ field work’ not in a classroom

          • Thank you for this good advice, no name!

            • I would just add that if one comes to dharma expecting ones life of pain to be transformed into some blissful state of peace, one is cruising for a bruising. Practicing dharma is a lengthy and often painful process of unmasking that involves confronting ones own inadequacies and shortcomings. It doesn’t make life easier, it makes it harder. Two old quotes stick in my mind. One is if you don’t have room for an elephant in your kitchen, don’t make friends with the elephant tamer. The other is that entering the dharma is like getting on a fast moving train that doesn’t stop until it reaches its destination so you should think long and hard before jumping on!
              The teachings tell us that the practice will cause the negative karma of many lifetimes to ripen in this life. That means , of course, that we are freed from having to experience them in the future lives. But it also means that engaging with the path makes life MORE painful, not less. So again, think long and hard before one engages.
              We often wonder why it is that bad people can be seen experiencing great good fortune despite their evil actions. The Sakya Triple Vision teaching tells us this is because their negative acts cause all their positive karma to ripen and be burned up before they plummet into the lower realms at the end of their lives. Conversely, the practic of virtue causes all our non virtue to ripen in this life so that we may then proceed d to the upper realms at this life’s end. While this means we can learn to rejoice at our suffering, it also means we are entering onto a path which, until the end of this life at least, will be filled with pain. THINK FOR A VERY LONG TIME WHETHER YOU ARE READY FOR THIS.
              My own experience after fourty years of following tha path is that I have wound up with a brutal, degenerative and incurable brain disease that frequently ends in madness, incontinence and a slow, suffocating death I am reliably informed by incomparable masters that this is the result of all the time I’ve dedicated to preserving dharma and protecting beings from suffering. So, I can handle the future prospects. But this death is, in a way,the consequence of deciding to practice. Ask yourself if you are prepared for such an outcome before you sign up to anything.

              • dharmaanarchist says:

                “I would just add that if one comes to dharma expecting ones life of pain to be transformed into some blissful state of peace, one is cruising for a bruising. Practicing dharma is a lengthy and often painful process of unmasking that involves confronting ones own inadequacies and shortcomings.”

                Honestly, I find this a very negativistic outlook on dharma. Because, sure, you have to be able to see your shortcomings. But there are equally many very encouraging teachings about the innate qualities of mind. The teachings that teach that none of those shortcomings have any ultimate reality.

                • I think his comment does not exclude that there are positive qualities too, he seems to focus to stress that working on yourself is often a painful process and not a process of only light, peace and bliss – and this is just true. That’s why, if you cling too much to “blissful states of peace” true dharma practice might disappoint you. However, with practice and in the long run, there should be an increase in peace and bliss and fewer mind poisons. I remember a Vipassana Theravada teacher who stressed that most often the practice is a painful process. I think there is nothing wrong, to stress this at times too. Some groups or teachers have gone to the extreme to only talk about happiness and peace which sounds nice but is not necessarily the quality you experience a lot in practice.

                  However, if your concentration, insight, ethics and merits increase, of course there is also more bliss and peace – but even that is impermanent and dukkha …

                  BTW, also Ven Thubten Choedroen said something along the lines as this: if you practice you attack the ego, this is most often a painful process and you should not expect too much bliss going through such a process. Because the ego won’t like it, it will be painful. [However, once you reduced the ego a bit, there is also more happiness and peace but to achieve that through practice is rather challenging and can be painful …]

                  • dharmaanarchist says:

                    But it’s the ego clinging that creates all the problems in life anyway. Just without dharma you get more easily away with it because you feel entitled to unload your problems conveniently on other people or you drown them in useless activities.

                    A lot of people in western countries already have an excessively negative opinion about themselves and torment themselves with their thoughts of low self esteem. How much worse can it get when you apply dharma correctly? Someone telling you, that nope, just because you have made some stupid decisions, on top of it very often out of ignorance not outright malice, you are not an inheritantly bad person. That’s so much more encouraging than the western attitude that you are a loser if you fail in the big competition circus.

                    • Thank you dharmaanarchist.

                      A lot of people in western countries already have an excessively negative opinion about themselves and torment themselves with their thoughts of low self esteem. How much worse can it get when you apply dharma correctly?

                      True, there are a lot of problems for Westerners because of low self-esteem, self-hate etc. If you apply dharma correctly and if you have the correct method to resolve this problem of self-hate, low self-esteem, or a lack of cherishing yourself these problems can be overcome or change to the better. This improvement, getting rid of THESE problems, is not painful at all, I think. The teachings who can do that are about Buddha nature and Metta for oneself (cultivating for a while love for yourself, as it is done in the Theravada, before you cultivate love for others.)

                      Interesting point is, that harming groups pseudo-fix these problems with increasing the grasping to and by becoming part of an elite group with a claimed super-extraordinary teacher: if the teacher is so special and the group so special and if we have the most special or pure teachings, and I am part of that (I have very special karma…), after all, I can’t be so bad. However, in these ego-deluded processes low-self esteem is mainly replaced by pride and delusion, this can’t really fix the problem at its root. Metta or love for oneself naturally lead to self-esteem, also love towards others achieves that or compassion but as far as I observed it must be based on love and compassion for yourself. Another method is to use the teachings to see clearly the qualities you have already. The more one sees ones own really existing qualities and faults in a realistic manner – which needs introspection/ self-awareness – sometimes also analysis – and especially honesty – the more (grounded, realistic) self-esteem you can develop. For this process, for some, they would need to focus for a while to see or detect their own good qualities and for such people the practice of Atisha’s dharma advice,

                      Do not look for faults in others, but look for faults in yourself, and purge them like bad blood. Do not contemplate your own good qualities, but contemplate the good qualities of others, and respect everyone as a servant would.

                      would be poison because, in that context, it highly likely supports their negative attitudes of self-hate or lack of self-esteem. (Dharma is always a dependent thing and dharma advice is healthy only in certain contexts). That’s why sometimes I encourage people to invest more time to see and appreciate their good qualities. So, for many Western Dharma practitioners this problem of low self-esteem has to be addressed first what Tibetans rarely do because they (in general) don’t have a problem with a lack of self-esteem or self-hate (the Dalai didn’t even understand when Cutler asked him what he thinks about self-hate, what Cutler was talking about – see The Art of Happiness by H. Cutler).

                      That’s why I think it is as reasonable to demand more appreciation of one’s inner qualities (as you do) as it is reasonable to demand not to think Dharma is always a blissful enterprise as (as no name did). Both views are correct IMO but just come from different angles of thoughts, experiences and contexts.

                      just because you have made some stupid decisions, on top of it very often out of ignorance not outright malice, you are not an inheritantly bad person.

                      I think whoever says this is himself a bit blind (stupid) in that regard because stupid decisions are also only a dependent arising and that’s why they can be overcome by the person’s capacities and innate qualities of the mind – everybody can learn from his/her faults. Therefore, anybody can change to the better and stupid decisions cannot make you an inheritantly bad person in any way.

                    • For me, making the move from the Gelug to Red hat teachings was what helped me break out of dharma induced self loathing. One of the mistakes I made early on was buying into the ‘ relative reality/ samsara/ self existent I versus absolute reality/ nirvana/ no self’ dichotomy You know, relative self bad v absolute, no self good.. The self loathing that my narrow minded misinterpretation of Tzongkapa’s Prasangika led to meant that my ‘dharma’ was actually increasing self clinging and self loathing.
                      The teachings on Buddha nature, Mahamudra and Dzogchen helped me understand the deeper philosophical view of Buddhism that, although self grasping was the root of suffering, the image of self was fundamentally pure ( limited words don’t help) rather than impure and did not need to be rejected.This understanding helped remove the self loathing that pervaded my practice in the early years- although I still find my old ways rear their ugly head too frequently.
                      The teachings of all four sects are valid but IMO the Buddha nature doctrine(s), in particular as set out by the Third Karmapa and Jamgon Kongtrul the Great, are very helpful in removing the low self esteem many westerners suffer from.
                      For me, this is one reason why I find the NKTs approach of telling newcomers they have found the highest philosophical tool and they need look no further ( a claim I’ve also heard repeated elsewhere by teachers I respect) is really harmful.We need to study a wide range of philosophical views before determining the best path for ourselves. Dharma is not a ‘ one size fits all’ business. Strange how, when some sects study tenets, they completely overlook the Shentong view, despite it being so prominent in Tibet at different times and in different regions.fortunately for us, the banning of certain Shentong texts by the central Lhasa government didn’t work!

              • dharmaanarchist says:

                Oh and I forgot, especially with Tibetan buddhism, I have the impression that it’s not so much a personal choice whether to join or not.

                If you have some kind of samaya connection to a teacher from past lives, it’s unescapable that you eventually run into it and will be attracted to it, no matter if some childhood problems caused you to have a diagnosable mental illnes, or just general tendencies in that direction or not. And you will have to deal with that connection. Teachers too, I find it a bit hard to believe that the responsibility of a vajra master ends where they dump samaya connected disciples with difficulties at the next psychiatric institution in a “bye, see you next life, when you got better” fashion, instead of taking a little time and asking, hey what’s wrong with you.

                • Though karmic forces draw you into a certain direction helplessly, such karmic forces needn’t be based on a “samaya connection”.

                  I was not attracted to my misleading teachers at all, they had just the most spread ads about Buddhism. The bookshop I visited there was his book presented at the main table, at the door there was a poster to his center, in the book there was a bookmark “your Buddhist center” nearby. Healthier groups or good teacher just didn’t have this marketing machine. Moreover, I was also utterly sceptical with my NKT teacher, nothing attracted me. Her first teaching I didn’t find inspiring at all and didn’t want to come back but then she sent her assistant to give me an appointment for the next day, which she used to manipulate me … Nowadays, I rather see it as a paying back of a karmic debt. They exploited me, I must have exploited them. Ok, I payed back my debts …

                  Such a connection needn’t be based on samaya, it could be just a negative karmic connection. Parents might pay back karmic debts with unruly children who take away all their money or ruin them in other ways (or even kill them) …

          • dharmaanarchist says:

            ” The dharma has a habit of biting those who come to it for the wrong reasons, then.chewing them up and spitting them out”

            That’s not the dharma’s doing, that’s people’s doing. The problem here is if you expect that humans in a “holy environment” behave a lot better and more social than at your average work place, where you tend to expect such behaviour. Reality clashing with naive expecations about the saintliness of the average dharma practitioner is what will chew you up.

            About what you said that dharma or a dharma group can not replace psychotherapy: Unfortunately there still isn’t all that much really good psychotherapy available out there. Particularly the love, compassion and meaning of life aspect is missing in a lot of psychotherapeutic treatments. So it’s not a miracle that a lot of people will feel more drawn to some lama and a teaching about love and compassion than a psychotherapist/psychiatric institution, where you get neither true compassion and respect as an individual being nor a perspective for meaning of life.

            • “That’s not the dharma’s doing, that’s people’s doing”
              Perhaps
              In the end, the result is the same
              Btw, my comments re dharma being painful do not preclude happiness on the path. However all samsara is suffering. Even arya beings experience all pervasive suffering ‘ like the pain of having a hair in ones eye’ when not in meditative absorption.its called all pervasive because it’s with us wherever we are in samsara. And these are the lucky ones…,! There is happiness but it is contaminated and transitory

              • dharmaanarchist says:

                There are supposedly 84000 types of dharma teachings for the 84000 types of mental afflictions. I’m quite sure that among those are teachings that are helpful, even therapeutic for people suffering from low self esteem related mental illnesses as a lot of westerners do. Because if the 84000 is not a randomly set large number but represents all possible forms of mental afflictions, what I personally believe, and low self esteem related psychological problems are among the 84000 possible mental afflictions, then dharma should have offer methods to help with those. Then in Tibetan buddhism there is the terma tradition, where teachings appropriate for a particular time are revealed by realized incarnations of his followers. Assuming that Padmasambhava was a fully enlightened being he could have forseen the problems of a lot of westerners interested in dharma, after all, he prophesized that buddhism would go to the west when the iron bird flies.

                I personally believe that those were never cultivated by Asian teachers/lineage holders because in their home countries there was no need for this type of help against mental afflictions.

  3. suzanne o'meara says:

    they say the Drikhung Kagyu Holiness & Garchen Rinpoche are much better normal kind centres. & also the Drukpa are very famous yogis .

  4. Bristollad says:

    I would advise to check out the long-time students, as well as the teachers: if the students are uptight, stressed, judgemental, or come across as falsely happy (if you understand what I mean) then I would be cautious. Also, if every answer to a question starts with, “[my teacher] says…” and goes no further, this would also be a warning sign for me. And pressure, pressure to attend teachings, pressure to give donations, pressure to volunteer plus being disparaging to those who don’t attend everything, give genorously, or volunteer all their time.

    • Thank you Bristollad. This is very useful advice.

      Yesterday it came to my mind that the German Buddhist Union (DBU) – as part of the process of raising awareness and dealing with the problems of Buddhist “cults” (or groups with harmful structures) – dedicated a whole weekend workshop to that topic. (York Johns and I were invited as the guests because of having been damaged as well as followed a “Buddhist cult”.) The DBU finally gave an official guideline to judge and understand if groups haver rather healthy or unhealthy structures. Here is their official guideline (in German). Maybe I translate it into English and post it here …

      http://buddhistische-sekten.de/PDF/info_heilsame-Strukt.pdf

      It was interesting to see how the DBU workshop group members (»AG-Zukunft Thema ‘Sekten’«) were initially totally sceptical of York and me. They even seemed to have feared us coming because in their invitation they warned us not to show strong emotions because this would weaken our points. I found this demand ridiculous but understood it as an expression of their fears. You could feel how insecure and sceptical they were when York and I introduced ourselves and our experiences with a “Buddhist cult”. They were not convinced after our introduction. But then as the second part or third part of the opening meeting they showed two documentaries about classic cults which included the interviews with ex-members of cults. These ex-members just told almost exactly the same as York and I told them in our personal introductions! They were totally flabbergasted about this congruency and asked us: “Did you see these documentaries before?” We both said: “No! We have never seen or known about these documentaries.” This changed the whole situation because now they took us really seriously and really worked with us. It was finally a wonderful and constructive weekend workshop with, I think, a very good and very useful and acceptable result.

    • One problem with bristollads criteria is that the first half of his lift can be found in most ‘good’ centres
      As I said, best just go there for education and stay out of the hierarchy, be it a good or bad center.

      • Yes, this might be true, also in good centres you can find uptight, stressed, judgemental people but rarer, people who come across as falsely happy. And I think it will be rare to find students in good centres whose every answer to a question starts with, “[my teacher] says…” …

        What came quickly to my mind, I think the most dangerous trap is if someone who goes to a centre has a desire for belonging to someone, a group or so. This clinging to belong to a group, to become part of a group, seems to be a fertile condition to get involved with all types of painful experiences in the long run. Such a motivation does not have in its focus to change the mind (getting rid of mind poisons, cultivating qualities etc) by using the Dharma but to belong to somebody. This motivation or desire of belonging leads one into a total different direction. And cultish groups know how to increase and sustain + maintain this desire. In unhealthy groups this clinging to belong to somebody/a group/ a very special teacher is further increased by proclaiming and stressing the supposed group’s and the group master’s specialness – as someone recently wrote on this blog:

        “we really should understand, that [our lama] is the manifestation of Guru Rinpoche/ Padmasambhava for our times”. And the most of us were so proud and so glad and happy to hear this, because this was another very welcome reminder: we can be so so lucky to be disciples of that unique rinpoche, how great is this?!

        Unhealthy elite groups with cultish tendencies do exactly that: they inflate the ego of their followers and newcomers by proclaiming the group’s supposed super special character and their leaders utter purity, and super special specialness. And what ordinary person does not want to be part of something very unique, special? This mechanism you find in marketing also for branding purposes – maybe there a bit weaker and less exaggerated…

        However, if one would be aware of one’s clinging to belong to somebody or to be part of a bigger thing and keeping mindfully in mind the dangers of this longing, this could already help. But it would be far saver to abandon this idea completely and to long to have contact with genuine dharma from genuine teachers just for the purpose to work on one’s own mind and at the same time to be utterly careful not to make any early commitment to any particular group or teacher.

        HH the Dalai Lama stressed that beginners of Buddhism should just strive to develop a good understanding of the Buddhadharma by initially reading good books about the Dharma or Buddhism. When they finally seek some oral teachings about the Dharma/Buddhism, they should just see the teachers from whom they receive dharma teachings as a friend in the Dharma and not as a teacher. For some years they should follow this approach until they have enough Dharma knowledge to check a teacher properly and only then they should gradually and carefully consider a person as a teacher and commit to him in a teacher-student relationship. (Who is interested, I can give his exact words and the reference for this advice. I quoted it on my German Buddhist cult site.)

        Additionally I would strongly recommend to go to different teachers and centres for a long time in order to get an awareness or experiences about the variety and different approaches there are. Once you were in an extremely tolerant, non-sectarian centre with an open approach and without cultish issues, it will be very easy to detect unhealthy groups or centres, just based on your own, different experiences.

        (More later, just some quick thoughts …)

        • Sadly TP in my experience even ‘ kosher’ dharma centres have more than their fair share of smiley happy people and folk fond of talking about how fortunate we are to have our precious teacher. Of course they may be genuine but I still find the potential for lama worship a very real and present danger. The dividing line between a health respect and hero worship is very thin.Cultism seems to be rooted in : personality worship, the search for security and support, and the need to be among the chosen few. Such thoughts and feelings fall on either side of the dividing line between cult and genuine group.
          My original observation of self reliance helps

          • Bristollad says:

            “One problem with bristollads criteria is that the first half of his lift can be found in most ‘good’ centres”
            You are right of course – that’s why I urged caution not just avoidance. As for the hero-worship that can occur; I think it’s worthwhile checking out how the teacher reacts to it: does the teacher accept and play up to it or do they downplay it and admit their own limitations.

            • Well pointed out, “does the teacher accept and play up to it or do they downplay it and admit their own limitations.” – a really important point!

          • dharmaanarchist says:

            Indeed. Even with healthy teachers some westerners self-cultisize themselves into a psychologically unhealthy worship/dependency state. Even with good teachres some students develop a hypocritical ego-trip.

            Sure, a good teacher makes it less likely to happen, but by no means a good teacher is a guarantee that individual disciples don’t misunderstand the teachings or are so eager for the trip that the teacher can not prevent it. (there is this group where the main teacher is really a saint, totally a bodhisattva and he stresses again and again and again the importance of compassion. Everyone there smiles, people are incredibly friendly. But as soon as you need a ride to your accommodation because you don’t have a car and you ask around you get comments like “I didn’t come here to be a taxi, I’m here to practice my preliminary practice” or “yeahh ooookayyyy, I can do it now if you don’t find someone else, but please don’t think I will do it every day”. And if there are special events where there was no time for a public announcement only the people who belong to some sort of inner circle hear of it, they don’t see the need to give this information to just everyone, great teacher, totally bizarre behaviour of the followers)

            • Well said, well said. That’s why the Buddha stated:

              (17) Though they devote their lifetimes
              To wise beings, infantile ones
              Do not understand the doctrine
              Of the Buddha in its entirety.
              Those with wisdom understand
              The doctrine of the Buddha
              In its entirety after just
              A brief attendance on the wise.

              (18) Even just one meaningful line
              Sets the wise ones to their task,
              But all the teaching that the Buddhas gave
              Won’t set infantile ones to work.

            • It must be same center I was some time ago.

              Just to get the ride, they promised you before the booking was done, I had really to fight for a ride to the train station, and so on…..

              It is a very good teacher, but his followers keep me away from his center.

              But: From my feeling, most tibetan teachers do not want to know what really happens in their crowd of followers, or to say: each of that teachers I have met yet.

              The teacher I mentioned above, keeps himself very much away from lower people. Once he came to rooms, and shouted around, very loud: “Are you happy, are you happy”, of course everybody answered:
              “Oh Yes Rinpoche, very happy”.

              Thats all he he want as “feedback”

              That way of communication seems to me not enough. He has of course his “main people”, who have as well a special status with lots of admirers, and the have no clue what happens behind their back, and they do not want to hear about it, to keep themselves safe from any trouble.

  5. DorjeShugden227 says:

    Wear a butt plug, child abuse and violence is rampant in many monasteries. What happened to Kalu Rinpoche is happening to nearly every child in a monastery from what I’ve heard.

    • “is happening to nearly every child in a monastery from what I’ve heard.” don’t know what your sources are but you can forget about such a claim. However, I don’t deny that there are problems as in any society or family.

    • Utter sectarian nonsense there DS227. And before claiming this about monasteries, ask. questions about Neil Elliott and Steve Wass, both prominent Shugden worshippers highly respected in the NKT

  6. jigmeyeshe says:

    Aspects of safety when choosing a spiritual group to attend:

    1. Is there only one teacher whose books are promoted to the exclusion of others and photos only of that teacher on shrines, in their bookshops and libraries, etc. What is the reaction of the group if you talk about other teachers or other kinds of Buddhism.

    2. Does the group in question have interactions with the ‘culture of origin’ i.e. does a Tibetan group have connections to Tibetans and other Tibetan Buddhist teachers.

    3. What length of training do people have before teaching others. (Retreats, studies, etc). Is this systematised. Are the sick and elderly teachers and ordained looked after. If teachers are ‘volunteers’ how are they supporting themselves. Can low waged students attend for free or for a minimal donation. Dharma teachings should be given freely; a group that insists on specific payments may not be so giving in other ways either.

    4. Are the vows and commitments promoted in a group tied to that group and not to a wider sense of ‘Buddha, Dharma and Sangha’ as going far beyond that group. (Are people told it is ‘bad karma’ to leave a teacher, particularly their teacher.)

    5. Is there a ‘love-bombing’ going on towards newcomers. Are you treated in an over friendly way, invited to ‘study to be a teacher’ in your first weeks, etc. i.e. a pushing towards commitment and intimacy with the group.

    6. Google the group with the words, ‘cult’, ‘abuse’, survivors, etc. Check with an organisation like Inform or a traditional organisation (like the Office of Tibet for Tibetan groups). If there are ‘survivor’ group there are most likely some problems.

    7. Is the group open about its history and the biographies of its teachers. How does a group relate to ex followers.

    8. Are newcomers aware of the depth of influence a spiritual teacher will have on their lives and how profound the changes from meditation practice can be. That choosing a teacher can be understood as more important than choosing who to marry and should therefore be done with great care. Not to underestimate the need for a skilled and ethical teacher for safe guidance.

    9. That newcomers should be aware that ‘meditation’ can be a way for a group to attract new followers into their projects (or ‘agenda’). The purpose of meditation may ultimately be to get enlightened but any path won’t be safe unless we bring an awareness of what we, ourselves, are searching for into our assessment of a group. If we want to ‘belong’ then we may be attracted to a group that promotes ‘belonging’ (‘Everyone welcome to the Kadampa world!’). Clarifiying our own intentions can be very helpful.

    10. 8 week registered courses in Mindfulness give a good grounding in basic kindness towards oneself as an integral part of any spiritual path as well as a focus on being aware of one’s own needs. Any spiritual group can be assessed in the way it approaches kindness to and awareness of oneself as part of its path. A questionable group will ‘push’ and ‘pull’ a student towards its own aims. This is often surprisingly easy to see once we become aware that this is possible; many newcomers to Buddhism, for instance, naively assume that all ‘Buddhists’ are ethical.

    11. A mature group will be often be more concerned with supporting its members in their development than focusing on recruiting new followers. Self promotion doesn’t necessarily mean a group is ‘good’; in spiritual terms often means exactly the opposite. Having large properties (buildings, gardens, etc) doesn’t ‘prove’ the ‘good karma’ of a group.

    12. Spiritual practice is difficult and there are no short cuts. Groups that promise ‘special methods’ and ‘fast paths’ (quick results) will be cutting corners and may not be offering something completely safe or reliable.

    13. A group that says the teacher will ‘take you there’ through faith, etc, is missing the point of the path – that the teacher points the way and we do the work. What we follow we become; so we need to be careful that what is being pointed out to us is what we are actually asking for or wish to have.

    • Thank you very much, jigmeyeshe. This is a great list of very useful points to consider / check!

      One remark: »Dharma teachings should be given freely; a group that insists on specific payments may not be so giving in other ways either.« – this is the ideal but practical seen even for healthy groups this is rather rare because its not practical in the West where there is no culture for the kind of giving and support as there is in Buddhist countries …

      One very important point is indeed to clarify or get aware of the own intentions. If someone has the motivation to belong to something – especially something higher/transcendental or being part of such a “higher thing” the motivation is rather for identity, not feeling alone, overcoming feelings of not feeling worthy or low self-esteem, having significance etc. And groups with abusive structures or relationships will definitely know how to serve these longings but only to bind such individuals to the group – up to a point where one cannot leave anymore freely due to the indoctrination and “brainwashings”. Actual, I think any motivation in that direction is the biggest risk to bump into a cult because they not only offer identity and might have extremely good oiled marketing strategies, but they also will increase these hopes and satisfy these needs with pseudo–achievements of it. For instance many have problems with their families and such individuals might long for a better family / better peers / a better society. In the NKT they branded the idea of the “Kelsang Family” – which of course is very special and pure – but if you look more deeply into how the “Kelsang Family” is functioning, you can see that this “Kelsang Family” is totally dysfunctional or maladjusted. The “Kelsang Family” takes care only of those who are very new (and can become new members) or young (and can work for free for the organisation) or who are rich (and can give their money) or who have useful skills (to expand the organisation) or who are famous (to share their fame to promote the organisation). Once any member looses those attributes they are easily dropped, ignored or bullied all together …

      Maybe another point that could be added: Unhealthy groups and teachers will make you dependent on themselves and disconnect you from other teachers and groups. Healthy teachers will make you independent, they help you to understand / see yourself better. If you give up responsibility for yourself and ask the teacher to ask all of your questions and what to do, unhealthy teachers (and groups) will not only accept that role but also encourage it while healthy teachers won’t take on the role to take responsibility for yourself while you yourself put it into their hands but they will skilfully help you to take responsibility for yourself, for your own spiritual path, to find the answers within you … though they might answer questions or give advice you will see in the long run, they want you to think for yourself, to decide for yourself, to get independent and to detect your own “inner guru” – which means to rely on your own wisdom, intuition and compassion … That’s why cultish groups have a tendencies that nobody can really think for themselves and they repeat like parrots “the guru said, the guru said” (well pointed out here with respect to Geshe Michael Roach) – they “leave their brains in the wardrobe” – and all members say and think quite the same while in healthy groups there is a variety of opinions and views and people don’t fear to disagree with the guru. (Just witnessed recently how a member of a rather healthy group said very strongly to the Rinpoche who is in charge of the group “No, Rinpoche, you are wrong!” Nobody, condemned her for what she said or looked on her shocked but just continued to check who has the better argument.)

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