Just to Clarify: What H.H. the Dalai Lama Said About Criticizing a Vajrayana Lama

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.






Update 2021