Dear Sogyal Rinpoche….
I think it is time to revisit this trouble about the allegations against you. I know that I risk repeating myself and sounding foolish, but what are we to do in the face of your aloof silence? So I will write you a letter and see what can be done. At best, I don’t want those courageous women to feel abandoned, don’t want my own silence to be added to yours. So I’ll keep writing, keep repeating myself, until things start moving forward in this awful business.
There is no rancor or ill will in me as I write. I only want to end the suffering. I include “Rinpoche” in your title because you were the one who first introduced me to the Buddha’s teachings and I would like to honor that fact. However, I would also like to speak to you as simply one human being to another. I would like the power of your title and fame to be laid aside for a few moments in hopes that you can hear me better.
I also include “Rinpoche”, meaning “precious one”, to remind you that this is not about you. This is not about Sogyal the man, but about Sogyal Rinpoche who has taken upon himself the heavy burden of bringing the Buddha’s teachings to the West. That is a deep, frightening responsibility, isn’t it? Not a place for pride or power or wealth to accumulate.
This is why you sit above others, why sometimes they prostrate to you. This is why you have a title. It’s on loan, not about you, not permanent.
There has been much discussion on this website and others about why HH Dalai Lama has not spoken out regarding the allegations of sexual abuse against you. One conclusion I thought of recently, which has never been proposed, is the simple fact that you are an adult. You are not a child who requires chastising by an elder. Perhaps His Holiness is simply expecting you to step forward, as any adult would, and do the responsible thing, whatever that might be, in order to bring resolve and an end to needless suffering.
Surely one possible start to solving this trouble would be for you to address the allegations publicly? You are a public figure after all. Fame has brought you much wealth, power and comfort. However, fame also brings with it that responsibility. You are a public representative of our lord Buddha. Surely that is a mandate for public action?
I was deeply disturbed to read a comment on this website from a Rigpa youth some months ago. This youth was censored on the Rigpa youth Facebook page for questioning the allegations in Behind the Thangkas and In the Name of Enlightenment. He/she was told to come privately to Rigpa officials who would explain the situation. I have heard that apparently there is a “re-education” program existent in Rigpa (not unlike the re-education programs used by the communist Chinese in Tibet). I have heard that this is one approach being taken by Rigpa to counter the allegations. Is this really true or is it just a wild rumor?
Of course, these allegations are well beyond what can be comprehended by youth. I can understand why there would be a need to protect young ears from them and remove the discussion from the youth FB page. Indeed, many of us adults feel that same need for protection when we hear of the allegations!
However, this is a difficult approach. Controlling the fresh minds of Rigpa youth away from their natural and rightful inquisitiveness seems very dangerous. Because your actions as described in the allegations are so bizarre and distasteful, parents and educators are stuck, Rinpoche. They can’t explain them to their children in the healthy ways that they might otherwise explain sex. They can’t be transparent without traumatizing Rigpa youth and causing them to lose respect for you. The situation then becomes one where the natural and wonderful inclination of our youth to question their elders becomes circumscribed. How can this be a healthy first step on the Buddhist path? Is it not a step towards blind faith?
If this “re-education” program does in fact exist, then aren’t you digging a prison of treachery and fear for yourself? Aren’t you turning away from the Buddha’s words of freedom?
The Buddha said:
“Oh monks and wise ones
Like gold that is heated, cut and rubbed,
Examine well my words
And accept them, but not out of your reverence.”
HH Dalai Lama said:
“It is with an objective mind, endowed with a curious skepticism that we should engage in careful analysis and seek the reasons. Then on the basis of seeing the reasons, we engender a faith that is accompanied by reason.”
Is there room for inquisitiveness and questioning in your re-education program and silence, Rinpoche? I believe that students—all of them, past and present—need a clear, decent, transparent and rational path out of this trouble, not silence, not re-education and certainly not blind loyalties.
And believe me, people are looking at this trouble, people are wondering. I heard recently that in the three weeks during which In the Name of Enlightenment was up for open viewing on the internet, the site received 3000 hits. I wonder why it was taken down—perhaps your lawyers did that, Rinpoche? Do you think you can really stem people’s right to know the truth?
So instead of asking why HH Dalai Lama has been silent regarding this trouble, I am asking you why you are silent? Certainly, if you weren’t a representative of Buddha, your silence could be easily explained. It would be exactly what your lawyers would advise. It would be part of a sound corporate strategy, a component of maintaining your power and control. Let it all blow over. Many of us are quite familiar in the West with this approach to difficulties!
However, this is Buddha’s world you are in, not a corporate world. The huge temples you have built at Lerab Ling and Dzogchen Beara are not your temples, Rinpoche. They are owned by the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, precious jewels of Buddhism. As such, they belong to all beings and can only be protected by decency, honesty, moral integrity, compassion, wisdom, love, generosity and complete transparency. Those are the trademarks of Buddha, not legal strategies.
The former President of Ireland opened the Centre in 2007
I myself have suffered terribly since walking into that first teaching of yours 13 years ago. As I have written previously, from a happily married, sane woman, I became psychotic and deeply disturbed, my marriage in tatters. It is many years later and I still suffer from the consequences of that horrible year as your student. From the standpoint of your lawyers, you have no culpability whatsoever for my suffering. From the standpoint of your position as a servant of the Buddha, however, you have failed to provide for the needs of at least one student who has come to you in faith, looking for a Buddhist practice and spiritual path. You have failed to provide a safe place.
You stand behind your aloof mask of fame and power and if people stumble away from your teaching to get drunk and smoke cigarettes, as I did, you are immune. You are not accountable. However, I didn’t stumble and get drunk before I first attended your teachings. I wasn’t even remotely psychotic before I first attended your teachings. You are immune because of course you cannot be responsible for someone you have never spoken with, someone you don’t know. However, I am asking: Do you have any right to be so famous that you can’t be accountable to every blessed person who walks into your teachings?
But this is not about me. I have a path of healing now and I can get through the day without a drink or a cigarette. However, there are women out there still who are struggling to put together enough courage to get out of bed in the morning. There are students of yours whose practices are in crises. There are students who have turned away from the dharma, turned away from the benefit of religion entirely, based on your actions.
Most of all, you must know that it was an act of enormous courage for those few women to step forward and speak of their experiences of sexual abuse at your hands. They have exposed themselves and their pain publicly and that runs very deep. You must know that your silence, your refusal to publicly acknowledge their pain and suffering, could be harmful to them. You are silent and the women who have come forward are silenced. Is that right, Rinpoche?
And on the other hand, this is about me as well because until your actions reach even me, even the person no one knew who stumbled away from your teachings in despair on her way to getting drunk all those years ago, then they haven’t reached far enough. There will be no resolve. This is what I firmly believe. Do you want resolve, Rinpoche?
Perhaps you only feel really responsible now for those close students whom you know and speak with. Your inner circle. Perhaps you’ve explained things to them to their satisfaction and you don’t feel responsible for others who have attended your teachings or read your book or watched the documentary, except in that vague, habitual manner which an insincere Buddhist might take on when he/she says the words “all sentient beings, without exception.”
Indeed, your inner circle is terribly important isn’t it? I remember occasions when I was made to sit outside of that inner circle during a teaching. Once, you drew the “old students” close to you. You rearranged the setting of the teaching, so that we who were “not close” could truly know that we were outsiders, sitting outside of some intimate moment you were creating with the others.
The second time you did that, I had come to the teaching quite desperate for help. All the insiders were called backstage to see you and I was left completely alone in the front ten rows. This was in Harlem and I left in trauma, wandering the streets and grasping onto the buildings for grounding before finally finding a bar. Do you do that still? Separate out your students, bring some close and cast some off?
Either the recent allegations in Behind the Thangkas are true or they are not true. If they are not true, why don’t you deny them and then try to help us understand where they came from? If they are true, then why don’t you address them, why don’t you demonstrate to your students how to own up, express appropriate remorse and purify wrongdoing? Or perhaps they are partly true and partly false—in which case, that could be explained fully, denying what is not true and owning up to what is true.
Or perhaps the allegations are mostly true and you’re a little embarrassed, but you believe there is nothing wrong in your behavior. While celibacy is considered the best condition for dharma practice and sexual desire is seen as a potentially dangerous affliction, Buddha himself laid out very few restrictions on sexual conduct for non-celibate practitioners. I have looked and cannot find specific scriptural references in the Tibetan commentaries prohibiting promiscuity, as long as it doesn’t involve a married woman, a member of the same sex or someone else’s prostitute or isn’t more than five times in a night. There’s nothing in the Buddhist canon specifically prohibiting non-celibate lamas from using their powers of fiduciary care to seduce women.
As long as it doesn’t cause harm.
And women have stepped forward, under great duress, claiming harm, Rinpoche. Is your silence another form of public humiliation? Are you working on their egos perhaps?
Why don’t you speak? Or write? HH Dalai Lama teaches frequently about the relationship between compassion and honesty. He describes a compassionate mind as one that is completely transparent, with nothing to hide. He says that this is a source of great self-confidence and wellbeing. Wouldn’t you like to follow that advice, Rinpoche? Wouldn’t you like to pave a new, transparent, honest, open and healing path for Rigpa and its students? Most of all, wouldn’t you like the suffering to stop?
Yours in the Dharma,