Further Tibetan Buddhist thoughts on Sogyal/Rigpa

Further Tibetan Buddhist thoughts on Sogyal/Rigpa September 7, 2017

The following comes from the head teachers of the Aro community, a Nyingma lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. It was posted to facebook by a senior teacher, Bar-ché Dorje, and is reposted here with his permission.

Reflections on the Ramifications of Disgrace

It is not our custom to address those other than our students – but our view has been requested on the recent revelations with regard to Sogyal Lakar – and their implications in respect of Vajrayana Buddhism. We wish both to support the abused—several of whom have approached us—and to defend the vajra master rôle.

These revelations vis-à-vis Sogyal Lakar are not recent. He has appeared to exhibit sociopathic tendencies increasingly since 1976. According to substantiated accusations, he has damaged those who trusted him – and, brought Vajrayana into question; regarding ‘crazy wisdom’ (yeshé ’cholwa / primordial wisdom chaos) and wrathful compassion (tröwo tshul). His behaviour cannot be legitimised either by ‘crazy wisdom’ or by wrathful compassion – for various obvious reasons that we shall explain in this discourse.

Whilst defending the abused – we oppose limiting the ‘vajra master rôle’ according to ‘common moral criteria’. Each Buddhist vehicle is distinct in terms of base, path, and result – and Vajrayana is not required to be in exact accordance with Sutrayana. Be that as it may, we feel that vajra masters must be understood as fundamentally different from cult leaders. This distinction requires careful observation of anyone acting as a vajra master. No one is a vajra master to everyone. Relationship with the vajra master is a style of relationship rather than a person. Vajra relationship must be requested: it cannot exist merely because an empowerment appears to have been taken. Empowerments are frequently taken without due consideration – and it is the Lama’s responsibility to ensure that no one enters vajra relationship without sufficient experience of study and practice. It is the Lama who bears the responsibility because the Lama has superior wisdom in terms of who should enter into vajra relationship. To blame students for lack of wisdom is inappropriate.

There are many examples in Vajrayana history, where Lamas have acted in extraordinary ways – but the results have been extraordinarily positive. When extraordinary behaviour leads to confusion and misery – it can only be understood as the teacher’s lack of realisation. Our two ‘wrathful Lamas’’ (Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche and Kyabjé Künzang Dorje Rinpoche) manifested extraordinary behaviour – but we only ever experienced it as positive. They gained no personal advantage from their unusual displays. Both were known for displays of yeshé ’cholwa and tröwo tshul – but neither abused their rôles. Neither were sexually predatory, sybaritic, gluttonous, self-aggrandising, narcissistic, avaricious, mercenary, or sadistic. There is nothing ‘crazy’ about such abuse of power, in terms of ‘wisdom’. The traits previously described, are typical of cult leaders. We refer to available psychiatric information on Antisocial and Narcissistic Personality Disorders – and suggest that people draw their own conclusions. Cult leaders characteristically exemplify these disorders – and Sogyal Lakar, from all accounts given, fits the criteria.

Cult leaders behave predictably – but yeshé ’cholwa (crazy wisdom) is unclassifiable and undefinable. There is nothing unpredictable about: sexual abuse, sadism, financial exploitation, petulant histrionics, or physical assault. Yeshé ’cholwa is not stereotypical or clichéd. Sogyal Lakar’s behaviour should therefore not be described in terms of yeshé ’cholwa. The Nyingma Tradition is replete with examples of wonderful yeshé ’cholwa masters – but Sogyal Lakar is not one of them. Neither are we. What we communicate however, is self-evident – and requires no realisation on our part.

The 8 students who addressed Sogyal Lakar with an account of recognisable sociopathic behaviour have broken no vows. One cannot break vows made to a vow breaker. Sogyal Lakar broke his vows to Kyabjé Düd’jom Rinpoche in the late 1970s. He gave Ögyen Chöling to Düd’jom Rinpoche – but when advised to study and gain retreat experience before continuing as a teacher, he broke with his Lama, rescinded his offering, and changed his practice allegiance.

Some address Sogyal Lakar’s ‘disgrace’ by positing that the vajra master rôle is mediæval – but this does not consider the ‘principle and function’ of the rôle – and partially excuses the man by blaming Vajrayana. Our Lamas never behaved as mediæval theocrats and nor have the heads of the Nyingma Tradition. Vajra masters and feudal hierarchs may have superficial similarities – but any training undertaken in an extraordinary field will reveal similar correspondences: in the Arts or where risks are taken – such as climbing. Where one is determined to excel beyond average expectations, special circumstances and trust will be required. Obedience to an instructor on a sheer cliff is reasonable – but obedience to a sexual predator, is unreasonable; especially when the explanations for it are dubious in terms of Vajrayana.

Sexuality is a valid mode of transmission – but did Sogyal Lakar ever make such ‘transmissions’ available to portly or elderly women? Whatever the case, such transmissions are rare – and the recipients require nondual experience which would be lacking without years of practice and retreat. ‘Recognising’ slim, conventionally beautiful, young women as dakinis was merely Sogyal Lakar’s depraved seduction ploy.

Sogyal Lakar is not universally accepted as an incarnation of gTértön Sogyal. Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche and Künzang Dorje Rinpoche both held it to be impossible. They quoted many other Lamas including Düd’jom Rinpoche, Chatral Rinpoche, and the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa as holding this view. We would not draw attention to this question of legitimacy if Sogyal Lakar was a kindly gentleman who served the Nyingma Tradition unselfishly – but this would appear to be far from the case.

Responses may be elicited in respect of our view – but we shall not enter into public debate. We leave that to those who disseminate our view. We are committed to supporting and encouraging anyone who has been abused by Sogyal Lakar. All Aro gTér teachers will be available to provide a listening ear, and support, to any Rigpa student – without obligation or recruitment agenda.

Ngak’chang Rinpoche and Khandro Déchen


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