Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Dilemma of Choosing the Right Buddhist Teachers: Feelings of a 21st Century Buddhist



A recent letter dated July 14, 2017 signed by current and ex-members of Rigpa, the international network of centers and groups founded by Sogyal Rinpoche in 1979, surfaced on the internet detailing abuses allegedly committed by Sogyal Rinpoche.  A week later, Rigpa made a press release stating that, "we respect Sogyal Rinpoche's decision to enter a period of retreat and reflection." 

If I have not read it wrong, the press release was an indication that Sogyal Rinpoche is no more associated with Rigpa.  Even if I have read it wrong, it may be very difficult for Rigpa to welcome Sogyal Rinpoche back to its centers around the world after what His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said on August 1, 2017 at Leh, Ladakh, India.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama shared on a video, "Sogyal Rinpoche, my very good friend. But he (is) disgraced." As a 21st century Buddhist, I never had a good feeling about Sogyal Rinpoche since my childhood days. 

My first encounter with Sogyal Rinpoche was at a teaching held at Dzogchen Monastery, Kollegal Tibetan Settlement, South India more than a decade ago.  At that time, I didn't know anything about him except that he was the elder brother of Dzogchen Rinpoche and author of the best selling book, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.

At an age where you are just a teenager, you don't have the luxury to make an informed decision on your own than to follow your parent's footstep.  I attended this teaching with my parents but I felt a strong disconnection with what Sogyal Rinpoche was saying.  I console myself at that time that it may be because of Sogyal Rinpoche's strong involvement with western students and their cultures. 

After coming to the United States for my graduate program, I came to know about sexual assault allegations against Sogyal Rinpoche.  If you google, you will find many articles and a couple of YouTube videos.  For instance, according to The Guardian, in November 1994, an American woman known as Janice Doe filed a US $10 million lawsuit against Sogyal Rinpoche, charging him with sexual, mental and physical abuse. The case was dealt with out of court and Janice Doe signed a non-disclosure agreement in return for a cash settlement. Also, watch on YouTube a short documentary called In the Name of Enlightenment - Sex Scandal in Religion. If your memory is strong, you may also remember seeing him dancing with his student on a Facebook video.

As His Holiness the Dalai Lama repeatedly speaks about examining your Buddhist teachers, I have been personally very careful about who should I seek my spiritual guidance from.  I have become extra cautious when it comes to receiving long life empowerment or paying a hefty fees for teachings from any Rinpoches or Trulkus.  If you live in New York, you will see teachings or empowerment from Buddhist teachers almost every month.
Snapshot of the event from TCNYNJ Facebook page

One such teaching of Sogyal Rinpoche was organized by The Tibetan Community of New York and New Jersey Inc. on June 11, 2017 at Elmhurst, New York.  I shared with a couple of my friends that I am not going to attend teachings of Sogyal Rinpoche because of my hesitation of seeking spiritual guidance from someone who has been accused of sexual harassment. 

So far, these conversations of examining Buddhist teachers has remained behind closed doors primarily because of many Buddha disciples who think that its a sin to doubt or question high lamas.  Sadly, in the Tibetan Buddhist community, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has to take the first step in denouncing any form of practice that is against Buddha teachings. Once he said, no one even think of doing their own research to learn more.

This video statement of His Holiness the Dalai Lama on Sogyal Rinpoche could be optimistically viewed as the beginning of a more informed and cautious Buddhist community, and the possible end of disgraced Buddhist teachers.  As a 21st century Buddhist, we all have the responsibility to examine Buddhist teachers and make public those who practice against Buddha's teachings.

In the same video, His Holiness stressed, "they (Western Buddhist teachers) create some very bad impression among people. Then I told them all these people not follow Buddha's advice/teachings. We cannot do. Only thing is - Make public through newspaper, through radio. Make public. Although they don't care about Buddha teachings but they may care their face.  I told them at that conference (Conference of Western Buddhist Teachers), 15 years ago."

The advice of making public should be extended to all lamas including Rinpoches, Trulkus, Khenpos and monks.  Sogyal Rinpoche is disgraced now but there are many many Buddhist lamas who teaches for money, sleeps with their disciples, falls in love with women, flirts on the social media sites, and sexually abuse minor monks at monasteries around India, Nepal and Bhutan.  As I repeatedly said, there needs to be a structural reform in all Buddhist monasteries where regulations should be put in place to protect minor monks and to dig out disgraced and dishonored lamas from the monastery.

To conclude, I hope Sogyal Rinpoche and other disgraced Buddhist teachers and lamas listen to what the July 14, 2017 letter says at the end, "our heartfelt wish is that you seek guidance from the Dalai Lama, other reputable lamas of good heart, or anyone who can help to bring you back onto the true path of the Dharma."

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