Silencing and Oblivion of Psychological Trauma, Its Unconscious Aspects, and Their Impact on the Inflation of Vajrayāna. An Analysis of Cross-Group Dynamics and Recent Developments in Buddhist Groups Based on Qualitative Data
1. The Inflation of Vajrayāna
In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. Secrecy and silence are the perpetrator´s first line in defense. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure that no one listens. To this end, he marshals an impressive array of arguments, from the most blatant denial to the most sophisticated and elegant rationalization. After every atrocity one can expect to hear the same predictable apologies: it never happened; the victim lies; the victim exaggerates; the victim brought it upon herself; and in any case it is time to forget the past and move on. The more powerful the perpetrator, the greater is his prerogative to name and define reality, and the more completely his arguments prevail.
2. Implications of Losing the Heart of Vajrayāna
2.1. The Role of the Spiritual Teacher in Vajrayāna
2.2. The Method of Guru Yoga and Its Current Distortions
Please understand the harm that you have inflicted on us has also tainted our appreciation for and practice of the Dharma. In our decades of study and practice of Tibetan Buddhism with you, we trained our minds to view you as the ‘all embodied jewel’ and the ‘source of all the teachings and blessings’ of the Buddha-Dharma. We trusted you completely. Yet, we struggled for years because your actions did not square with the teachings. Today, for many of us who have left you, the Lerab Ling community, and Rigpa the organization, our ground of confidence in the Buddha-Dharma has been compromised. Some of us, who chose to depart abruptly Lerab Ling, left all of our possessions, because we were desperate to break away from your abuse and the community that supported it. […] Whether we departed abruptly or have faded away from you and Rigpa, we struggle to rekindle an appreciation for the transformative teachings and teachers we encountered.
2.3. The Narrative of Physical Closeness to One’s Guru Being Interpreted a Sign of Having ‘Good Karma’
2.4. Structural and Terminological Issues in Developing Power Imbalances
2.4.1. Structural Challenges
I found this mixture increasingly unacceptable. Glorifying attitudes, struggling for recognition, power over others and striving for top positions, under the carpet of niceties and hugs, denying and suspending unpleasant truths, neurotic devotion to a strictly hierarchical and non-transparent system that confuses spiritual devotion with self-abandonment. It was quite striking how easy it was to manipulate the vast majority of the participants, most of them were actually waiting for what I found to be a consequence of a lack of genuine personal responsibility. Even teachers unwilling to create such manipulations were wrapped up in a web of what I call ‘sangha-show’. Unfortunately, they do not seem to understand this. Often enough with a feeling of being at the pinnacle of evolution to be able to teach others. In the vast majority of groups, I found little room for what I consider to be genuine practice, which I believe to imply an ability of being honest with oneself, but instead any other substitute activities, concealed by incredible effort of pretending to be advanced already.(respondent #1)
Individual experiences are very different. There are varying degrees of closeness to Sogyal Lakar, with the closest relationships regularly referred to as the ‘inner circle’. The experiences of some of the members of the inner circle are very different from the experiences of many of those who are less close. […] a. some students of Sogyal Lakar (who were part of the ‘inner circle’, as described later in this report) have been subjected to serious physical, sexual and emotional abuse by him; and b. there were senior individuals within Rigpa who were aware of at least some of these issues and failed to address them, leaving others at risk.
2.4.2. Decontextualisation of Terms and Concepts
With Rigpa: Refusal of any discussion on the part of Rigpa, I felt the situation to be hopelessly stuck. My person as a critic was accordingly ridiculed, portrayed as psychologically ‘strange’. Usually this happened with most ‘dissidents’, that was one reason to go, some form of ethics was completely missing. Right was what was in the mind of the master or what was thought to be so. One could call it a general refusal to engage in dialogue. Other organizations: Even if the lama is okay and doesn’t abuse students, unfortunately there are always various phenomena: worship of the lama in a western, blind and seemingly naive way, completely intransparent structures regarding money, power, ways of decision. Fixation on career in the ranking in the ‘Sangha’. Willing adaptation of authoritarian structures. Those who don’t want to or can’t fit in will fall out sooner or later, the social pressure is often subtle but very high. Mixing of the whole sub-cultural mishmash of hippie, New Age small ideologies, green alternative behaviors with the traditional ballast from Asia: feudalistic structures, special hierarchies, outdated interpretations, etc. [sic.] Efforts to mix psychological methods with Buddhism.(respondent #2 in Anders 2019b)
2.4.3. Confusing Concepts
This letter is our request to you to stop your unethical and immoral behavior. Your public face is one of wisdom, kindness, humor, warmth and compassion, but your private behavior, the way you conduct yourself behind the scenes, is deeply disturbing and unsettling. A number of us have raised with you privately, our concerns about your behavior in recent years, but you have not changed.
I saw directly that while they present a very acceptable public image behind that is a lineage of pure violence. They believe they are accountable to no one and are quite capable of taking someone’s head off believing they are above any law. They also use remote viewing to injure people. One of their major teachers publicly said Tibetan Buddhism was a system that could be used by a good person or a terrorist. I have seen both sides.(respondent #3)
2.5. Economical, Physical and Psychological Abuse
Abuse of donations, of blind devotion, of the readiness for manipulation; abuse of power or power imbalances; abuse of unknowingness and abuse of the openness to engage in other traditions; abuse of naivety and good faith. Abuse of generosity, abuse of the Dharma to sexually utilise women. Abuse of the Dharma for concealing flaws, lack of education and of realisation. Abuse of the Dharma in order to present oneself as a great teacher. Abuse of Dharma in order to aggressively release one’s own negative emotions on others. Abuse of the Dharma in order to gain a position of elevation. Abuse of the Dharma in order to refuse communication.(respondent #1)
We have received directly from you, and witnessed others receiving, many different forms of physical abuse. You have punched and kicked us, pulled hair, torn ears, as well as hit us and others with various objects such as your back-scratcher, wooden hangers, phones, cups, and any other objects that happened to be close at hand. We trusted for many years that this physical and emotional treatment of students—what you assert to be your ‘skillful means’ of ‘wrathful compassion’ in the tradition of ‘crazy wisdom’—was done with our best interest at heart in order to free us from our ‘habitual patterns’. We no longer believe this to be so. We feel that we and others have been harmed because your actions were not compassionate; rather they demonstrated your lack of discipline and your own frustration. Your physical abuse—which constitutes a crime under the laws of the lands where you have done these acts—have left monks, nuns, and lay students of yours with bloody injuries and permanent scars. This is not second hand information; we have experienced and witnessed your behavior for years.
I tried to be cheerful and accommodating within reason, but they expect way too much from people. At a certain point after working between 8–10 h or if I got injured, I started telling people I was going to bed. They looked shocked like someone slapped them. Those who worked to exhaustion were seen as the most devoted until they could no longer complete tasks. After I threw my back out building the foundation for the lama’s cabin, I refused to do work that would harm me physically (I already had back problems from excessive manual labor during formative years in foster care).(Anders 2019c, respondent #4)
I separated from my first guru (from the now-defunct Ratna-Shri Drikung Kagyu center in Berkeley, California) because he sexually violated my best friend. The lama chose her because she was mentally ill and had a history of abuse. He told her he could heal her trauma through sexual acts. I separated from another center and lama (Dzogchen/Nyingma) in Oregon because students were being worked to exhaustion, financially exploited, and discarded. They were told if their minds were pure, they would not need much sleep and their bodies would not get injured from backbreaking labor. People were told the world was ending and they should use their credit cards and savings to make donations because the merit they would get would be incalculable. This place was run like a cult. The teacher also was very controlling and made homophobic comments. […] One of the students worked so much, she had a nervous breakdown and ended up in an institution. No one from the sangha visited her and they banned her from the center I practiced on my own for years after this until […] after I discovered that my best friend’s child had been raped by the lama/tulku Shenpen Rinpoche, in addition to other children. I had been struggling with my faith for years prior to this […] I could no longer represent an organization or faith that did this as a monk. I lost my faith in Buddhism completely after seeing that the historical Buddha subjected rape victims to interrogation and expulsion if their mindfullness [sic mindfulness] during an assault was deemed insufficient. That’s not compassion. I also was offended by The Buddha’s misogyny in general. I don’t even know what enlightenment means anymore.(Anders 2019c, respondent #5)
2.6. Psychological Aspects
2.6.1. Rationalisation of Damage for Silencing Trauma
You use your role as a teacher to gain access to young women, and to coerce, intimidate and manipulate them into giving you sexual favors. […] The ongoing controversies of your sexual abuse that we can read and watch on the Internet are only a small window into your decades of this behavior. Some of us have been subjected to sexual harassment in the form of being told to strip, to show you our genitals (both men and women), to give you oral sex, being groped, asked to give you photos of our genitals, to have sex in your bed with our partners, and to describe to you our sexual relations with our partners. You’ve ordered your students to photograph your attendants and girlfriends naked, and then forced other students to make photographic collages for you, which you have shown to others. You have offered one of your female attendants to another lama (who is well known in Rigpa) for sex. You have had for decades, and continue to have, sexual relationships with a number of your student attendants, some who are married. You have told us to lie on your behalf.
We are not showing a lack of trust and respect, being a ‘trouble-maker’ with ‘negative talk’ as you often assert when anyone has dared to object to your methods. In fact, we have trusted you too long, given you the benefit of the doubt over and over again. When we’ve attempted to raise these concerns you’ve shamed us, and threatened to withhold the teachings from all the students because we had ‘doubts’.
Presenting a very narrow perspective of fundamentalist Tibetan Buddhism as the only true view. Selective and manipulative quotation from scriptures. Using Buddhist teachings to psychologically cleverly exploit needs [sic.] Avoiding systematic teaching on the basics of Buddhism, e.g., the actual teachings, e.g., ethics, and subtle dismissal of such teachings as low [sic.] Attempts to seduce people along rapid paths, e.g., Atiyoga, lacking one’s own basics, lacking students’ basics, or lacking basic knowledge on how to convey these. The sale of mere tradition-bound phenomena to be Buddhism. Establishing a Lamaism instead of Buddhism. Confusing ‘Tibetism’ with Vajrayana.(respondent #1)
Very often it was taught Lakar would apply wrathful wisdom, a traditional tool of TB, historically e.g., Milarepa. In this way the ground was prepared if disloyal students would report nonsense (i.e., the truth). The majority of them simply left without any attempts towards disclosure. Karma (negative) could be very quickly matured and passed in Lerab Ling in case of unpleasant events. Any small sign of whatsoever, even good weather, was considered ‘magical’. A constant show was presented on how much Lakar would take care of all the students and he would work day and night for their good. Reality looked different. Most of the students he didn’t know and he only cared about money and his reputation. Due to the high fluctuation of students, however, it would have taken a considerable effort on his part. Dharma was always taught in ways that fitted, e.g., what hells would await a person breaking samaya. However, no basics were taught whatsoever regarding sound knowledge of samaya and examining the [spiritual] teacher. In fact, hardly any Westerners ever have the chance to examine a Tibetan lama. This is impeded by language limitations, disassociation from the students and brief stays. In the case of Lakar, a highly professional image was created for those new and older students, who were not in the ‘inner circle’, that had nothing in common with reality.(respondent #1)
Typical public methods at Rigpa: public humiliation, abuse, exposure, exaggerated false praise, promoting or degrading people in the ‘Rigpa Ranking’. Promoting and exploiting intrigues, power games and denunciation among students. Encouraging a sense of value within the collective and for the individual by cleverly presenting the Lama and his organisation as unique, exceptional, significant, superior to others, more advanced, etc. and then reducing the pupils to pocket size by public speech. I have called this attracting and domestising. Secrecy as a measure to create unofficial, subtle, non-formal structures within the so-called ‘sangha’. Ideologically, this is justified by the selective use of specific parts of texts from the canon of Tibetan Buddhist texts, partly in a quite subtle and manipulative ways. Encouraging unhealthy ambitiousness and worldly interest by publicly displaying students’ diligence, dedication, working enthusiasm, readiness to donate, etc. by setting up a gold standard in devotion. Great ‘devotion’ = greater progress on the path, thus also greater appreciation by the collective, thus higher ranking. The longing for alternatives for family and social belonging is being exploited to a very great extent.(Anders 2019c, respondent #2)
There is one single teacher in Pathgate […]. He functions as an authoritarian leader, dictating every aspect of students’ lives […] gives Buddhist teachings, taichi and qigong [sic Taichi and Qigong] classes, provides advice to students, dictates their daily routines, and delegates jobs and functions for regular students, whether they are staying at the center or not. […] I realised that Pathgate was a cult and PY was behaving like a authoritarian cult leader. I concluded that his behaviour was unethical, narcissistic, manipulative and aggressive, which is not what an authentic Buddhist teacher should have. […] Psychologically, I feel anger, depression and a sense of injustice. Professionally, I have not been in a stable job for 6–7 years because PY has discouraged his students to detach from mainstream society.(respondent #7)
I did not experienced violence towards me personally. I saw PY verbally abuse students on multiple occasions. I saw him humiliate students publicly several times. I saw him physically strike a female student on 1 [sic one] occasion. On these occasions the students were upset and crying after. I felt uncomfortable but I justified PY’s abuse as ‘crazy wisdom’, that the teacher was using skilful methods to teach the students and ‘purify their negative karma’, Now I realise that there was no wisdom in PY’s methods, he was simply abusive and there was no justification for it. Many students are so brainwashed and fearful of PY that they are conditioned to accept the abuse.(respondent #7)
2.6.2. Methods of Isolation and Intimidation—Portraying Others as Crazy or rlung Diseased
In both his letter to me of 4 July 2018, and the letter 18 July 2017 to the eight letter writers, I noted that Sogyal did not deny the allegations against him, but instead pointed out that he did not ever intend to cause harm. Having heard evidence from a number of witnesses and listened to some recorded teachings by Sogyal, I have concluded that it would not be safe to treat his lack of denial as a tacit admission. Sogyal has stated publically that he considers that he will not defend himself against attack, and others (e.g., Witness N) spoke to me of the Buddhist belief that there is no need to respond to any form of attack against you—‘wait and the truth will come’.
It was striking that Rigpa wanted to find out if and which other teacher I would turn to. […] When I first came to a seminar, rather soon after I had left, I met a ‘senior student’ of Rigpa, we knew each other. He was a bit uneasy about me. He had already conveyed messages from Sogyal Lakar to other Lamas on several previous occasions, as I knew. Anyway, as Rigpas’ representative, he paid his respects and handed over a letter. Then the Lama intensely looked at me, and upon parting he told me to come again, in a compassionate tone. I cannot prove it, but I know of similar cases where lamas were informed that student xyz would come, he/she would have difficulties, or too much lung or something similar. At this point I would consider that as a precaution against negative information about Sogyal Lakar which ex-disciples could tell.(Anders 2019c, respondent #2)
Distrust. Trusting other people has become much more difficult for me than it was when I was younger, before my participation in an abusive sangha. Boundary: By this I intend to clearly disassociate from people who act strongly dishonest, who permanently manipulate, and/or who present characteristics of belonging to particular subcultures. Anger: When it comes to abuse in religious groups and concealment, and when ritualised behaviour is being sold for spiritual practice, my fuse has become quite short. Resignation: I have no more patience to use energy and time on others.(respondent #1)
2.6.3. Breakdown of People
Your emotional and psychological abuse has been perhaps more damaging than the physical scars you have left on us. When we have worked for you while organizing and setting up the infrastructure for you to teach at different places around the world (Europe, North America, Australia, and India and Nepal), your shaming and threatening have led some of your closest students and attendants to emotional breakdowns.
People asking critical or unwanted questions were talked down, humiliated, marginalised, ridiculed, or got a special corruptive treatment, original tone: ‘You’re that far, we may introduce Rinpoche directly, if you like’. People who broke mentally for various reasons were made a case for Sanghacare. This usually meant that one was desperately looking for someone to whom the person was referred, who was not from the Sanghacare. It was quickly moving from hand to hand just like a hot potato. As these ‘cases’ also ended up with me, I have personally experienced this several times. Once the issue was solved, or alleviated, Sanghacare would praise herself on her great work. By the way, it was striking how many students of Lakar accepted tasks, quickly looking for someone else to ‘do the job’, to then present the success after completion. I also know personally from some cases that they were being ‘psychologically’ approached: Admonition, angry impression, threats (samaya and other consequences), withdrawal of love, exposing (this also has an intensive effect on others). Intimidation, bad cop-good cop—playing, acting authoritatively, focused attention and attentive love-bombing.(respondent #1)
2.6.4. Spiritual Crisis and the Concept of One’s Own Spirituality Depending on a Male Master
3. Self-Responsibility, Autonomy and Integrity as Factors for Change and Knowledge Preservation
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Anders, A.I.M. Silencing and Oblivion of Psychological Trauma, Its Unconscious Aspects, and Their Impact on the Inflation of Vajrayāna. An Analysis of Cross-Group Dynamics and Recent Developments in Buddhist Groups Based on Qualitative Data. Religions 2019, 10, 622. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10110622
Anders AIM. Silencing and Oblivion of Psychological Trauma, Its Unconscious Aspects, and Their Impact on the Inflation of Vajrayāna. An Analysis of Cross-Group Dynamics and Recent Developments in Buddhist Groups Based on Qualitative Data. Religions. 2019; 10(11):622. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10110622Chicago/Turabian Style
Anders, Anne Iris Miriam. 2019. "Silencing and Oblivion of Psychological Trauma, Its Unconscious Aspects, and Their Impact on the Inflation of Vajrayāna. An Analysis of Cross-Group Dynamics and Recent Developments in Buddhist Groups Based on Qualitative Data" Religions 10, no. 11: 622. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10110622