By Joanne Clark
When His Holiness the Dalai Lama made his first statement supporting the letter by the eight ex-senior Rigpa students, outlining abuses committed by Sogyal Lakar, he stated:
Many years ago in Dharmasala at a Western [Buddhist] Teachers Conference, some Western Buddhist teachers mentioned some Zen masters and Tibetan Buddhist masters had created a very bad impression among people. Then I told them then; these people do not follow Buddha’s advice, Buddha’s teaching. We cannot do. So, the only thing is to make it public, through newspapers, through the radio. Make it public!
So although this conference took place twenty-five years ago, it is clear that His Holiness still abides by the advice he gave at that time. This advice is significant because he addresses in detail when and how a student might criticize his / her teacher. In particular, I believe it is the only time he has addressed the question of whether or not a student can speak out critically against his / her Vajrayana lama.
I recommend anyone with the time to watch that conference in full. The issues raised are totally relevant today. They haven’t gone away and that is a teaching in itself!
So what is the advice His Holiness gave during the conference?
The afternoon of the first day of the conference was devoted to the subject of: Lamas and Ethics. The first presenter was from the Zen tradition, but he spoke about abuses across all Buddhist traditions. His Holiness responded at length on the need to speak out and criticize, publicize the lama’s misbehavior in newspapers if necessary etc. In his own words, in English, he concluded,
Anyway, worthwhile to publicize these things. And make other people know. That’s the only way. Meanwhile, make very clear, clear distinction what is true Buddhist teaching. Then these individual behavior totally against Buddha’s teaching. So—no longer considered as a teacher. That’s the only way.
However, during this same session, the subject moved on to what a student should do if the misbehavior occurred by a teacher to whom he / she has committed through tantra or vows. His Holiness responded to this in a very traditional manner on minute 48:15:
Now this is the problem now. Now, as a Buddhist, as a Buddhist who practice Tantrayana, now I can only say is before receiving teacher [before you] consider as your teacher—before that, no problem. Receive teaching, then see something wrong, then no more respect. Perfectly all right. Should be. Once you receive teaching, with realization, recognition as your guru, and particularly tantric teaching, after that you saw some problem there, then it is very very difficult to develop disrespect to that person. And best thing in the meantime, no need to keep receiving teaching or something, become distance. Just ignore. Not showing disrespect. Simply close on that side. That’s the only way.
So here, the advice he gave is the traditional advice that is in some scriptures, advice that Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche gave recently. It is also the advice he gave in a teaching on Mahamudra that has been published (HH Dalai Lama, 1997, The Gelug/Kagyu Tradition of Mahamudra, Snow Lion Publications, pp. 209-210).
However, two days later at this 1993 conference, the discussion returned to this subject once again and His Holiness was questioned about this particular advice, in the context of his own actions in openly criticizing one of his own teachers. In response, His Holiness gives a very different advice as you can see from the video clip below.
In this clip, His Holiness referenced a statement he made during the afternoon session of Day One (Minute 58 approximately) regarding the scholar Lal Mani Joshi (Professor Joshi). This was in response to Venerable Tenzin Palmo, who spoke about how the behaviors of some lamas can leave lasting damage in the students. Here is the conversation:
One’s view should be as wide as the sky and one’s conduct as fine as barley flour. – Padmasambhava
Tenzin Palmo said, “For example, in Chogyam Trungpa’s organization, many students became alcoholics, in addition to indulging in promiscuous sex, which simply created a lot of chaos in their lives. After all, Padmasambhava said, ‘One’s view should be as wide as the sky and one’s conduct as—”
Whereupon His Holiness interjected, “yes, exactly!”
Tenzin Palmo: “As fine as barley flour.”
His Holiness then replied, “Really it’s a serious matter. It reminds me of the late Professor Joshi.”
And he continued in Tibetan, with Thubten Jingpa translating as follows: “The late Professor Joshi in his book, he cites one of the factors that led to the degeneration of Buddhism inside India was the popularization of tantric practices, particularly leading to unethical behavior.”
In the context of this, the following statement, which you will hear in the video, has added urgency:
Now, what our aim is—purify—Buddha Dharma. The interests of the Buddha Dharma and interests of one individual lama—other is much bigger. Isn’t it? So, with sincere motivation, in order to save Buddha Dharma, in order to save at least a few hundred disciples of that particular lama, with sincere motivation, with salutation, then criticize. I think that’s the proper way.
HOW TO SUPPORT A SURVIVOR OF ABUSE
- How You Can Support a Victim of Clergy Sexual Misconduct – Lama Miller (Lion’s Roar)
STATEMENTS BY HH THE DALAI LAMA
- The Faultless Faulty Guru: Teachings from the 14th Dalai Lama (June 2, 2019)
- Dalai Lama Speaks Out About Sogyal Rinpoche
- The Dalai Lama about Sogyal Rinpoche and Rigpa with students from the University of California | Sept. 2017
- The Dalai Lama again about Sogyal Rinpoche at Skonto Hall in Riga, Latvia, on September 23, 2017 (Minute 2:24:30)
- The Dalai Lama on Abuse by Buddhist Teachers or Gurus October 10, 2017
- Ethics in the Teacher-Student Relationship: The Responsibilities of Teachers and Studentsby H.H. the XIV. Dalai Lama
- Questioning the Advice of the Guru by H.H. the XIV. Dalai Lama
- Open Letter of Western Buddhist Teachers after a conference with HH the Dalai Lama
STATEMENTS BY OTHER LAMAS
- A point of view – Matthieu Ricard
- Treat Everyone as the Buddha – Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche about Ethics in the Teacher-Student Relationship in Tibetan Buddhism / Vajrayana
- Letter to Sangya Ngawang by Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche
- Khenchen Namdrol Rinpoche’s concluding Words and advice to Sogyal Rinpoche’s disciples
- How meditation can make Hong Kong healthier and happier, from two of world’s happiest people October 24, 2017 (South China Morning Post / Mingyur Rinpoche about the importance to speak up [if there is abuse of power])
- Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s Response – Tahlia Newland (WhatNow blog)
DZONGSAR KHYENTSE RINPOCHE’S TAKE ON ABUSE, VAJRAYANA, SOGYAL RINPOCHE AND RIGPA & RESPONSES TO IT
- Guru and Student in the Vajrayana – by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse
- The merit of pointing out abuse in Buddhism: Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche – Justin Whitaker
- On Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s Statement From a Reader of the New York Times 2017/08/18
- A Heartfelt Response to Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche on “Guru and Student in Vajrayana” – What Now Blog
- Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche On the Situation in Rigpa – What Now Blog
- Is Vajrayana Buddhism a Cult Religion? Part 1 – What Now Blog
- Is Vajrayana Buddhism a Cult Religion? Part 2 – What Now Blog
- Calling Out the Guru from Afar: Dzongsar Khyentse’s ‘Sex Contract’ and the Subsequent Backlash from the Buddhist Community – Erik Jampa Andersson (see also Justin Whitaker’s In Wake of #MeToo, a Tibetan Buddhist lama Offers a Teacher-Student “Sex Contract”)
- A Letter to Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche Concerning “Guru and Student in the Vajrayana” by Bernie Schreck
- Talk at Rigpa Berlin February 2018
- Vajrayana Buddhism in the Modern World – What Now Blog
- Some thoughts on Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s talks – What Now Blog
- Another View on Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s talks – Topden
- Some Reflections on Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s Talk at Rigpa Berlin – Joanne Clark
- Talk at Lerab Ling France February 2018
- Talk at Rigpa London Part I // Part II
- A good summary of key issues of all the talks given by DJKR at European Rigpa Centres: THE ELEPHANT, THE MOUSE AND THE SCARY WORDS – What Now Blog
- Dzongsar Khyentse & his Dance with Nihilism – Joanne Clark