Abuse is abuse: we live in the world of conventional reality

I find it very troubling to realize the general quietism about and surrounding the issue of Sogyal Rinpoche and the responses to it, especially among Tibetan netizens and the community as a whole. This is major news in the international Buddhist community yet our media outlets (Phayul, Radio Free Asia or Voice of America Tibetan service) have considered it insignificant or taboo, and very few individuals seem to be following the controversy and the responses on social media. This absence of coverage, comment or criticism connecting to this well-known Tibetan Buddhist figure tells us something about the general mindset of Tibetans, our unquestioned faith and uncritical judgment toward our religious figures, and ignorance of social justice issues outside of our ‘political’ cause. However, that is beside the point. Here, I intend to discuss and comment on Sogyal’s case in light of the strikingly different responses from the His Holiness Dalai Lama and Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche (DKR), respectively.

Sogyal Rinpoche was recognized by Dzongsar Khyentse Chokyi Lodro as one of the incarnations of Terton Sogyal (another famous incarnation being Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok). Sogyal is best known for his bestseller The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (1998), and with over hundred Rigpa centers around the world, he has become one of the most popular Tibetan Buddhist teachers in the West. Controversies surrounding his abusive behavior have been around for decades, however, Sogyal remained untarnished by those allegations until two weeks ago when he had to “take a step back” from teaching and “retire” as the director of Rigpa sangha. He was forced to do so after this 12-page long letter of allegations of abuse by current and ex-Rigpa members. The letter details the unfathomable hypocrisy and deeply unsettling misbehaviors of Sogyal towards sangha members close to him from emotional and psychological to physical and sexual abuse. It also remonstrates with Sogyal for his gluttonous and lavish lifestyle fixated on a “continual supply of sensual pleasures.” As expected, the letter sparked much debate and discussion on the character of Sogyal, the problem of patriarchy and conformism in Western Buddhist communities, and the need for critical vigilance and critique in the event of such circumstances. Continue reading