What the Sogyal affair tells us about anti-Shugden hypocrisy

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche (left) penned a Facebook post about Sogyal Rinpoche (right), his views of the sexual abuse allegedly perpetrated by Sogyal Rinpoche and his opinion that the students should have approached it from a Vajrayana practitioner’s perspective.

The opinion piece below was sent to dorjeshugden.com for publication. We accept submissions from the public, please send in your articles to [email protected].



By: Shashi Kei

Google the word “Rinpoche” and Sogyal Rinpoche’s name comes up prominently in the search results. Already well known in certain Tibetan Buddhist circles, in recent years Sogyal Rinpoche has gained worldwide infamy for the alleged sexual abuse of his students. Sogyal Rinpoche’s scandals were widely reported by global media and a formal investigation was commissioned to look into the multitude of charges against him. The 14th Dalai Lama eventually denounced him but not before the Dalai Lama himself was criticized for turning a blind eye to Sogyal Rinpoche’s abuses for years.

Since news of his alleged abuses came to light in July 2017, very few lamas have stood with Sogyal Rinpoche. However, a prominent Bhutanese lama, Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche published a statement in his personal Facebook page, which was later reproduced by a number of Buddhist media outlets such as Buddhist Door (see below). In the statement, he voiced his thoughts on how Sogyal Rinpoche’s students should have approached the issue from the perspective of Vajrayana, if indeed they regard themselves as Vajrayana practitioners.

In essence, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s reasoning was that those who have entered the Vajrayana path voluntarily, especially students who have received tantric empowerments from a Vajrayana teacher, are forbidden from viewing their teacher or their actions as wrong in any way, or regard them negatively. To do so and to condemn and criticize the teacher is to break samaya, or the holy spiritual bond between a student and his teacher. This breakage of samaya represents the collapse of the foundation of a practitioner’s spiritual path. Broken samaya with a Vajrayana teacher not only renders one’s practice impotent but also results in dire consequences.

The gist of Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s point was that all dualistic views, for example to think that this is ‘right’ while that is ‘wrong’, or this is ‘good’ while that is ‘bad’, arise from “impure perceptions”. And since the Vajrayana practice aims to be rid of such impure views, the Vajrayana teacher

“…will use anything he can to challenge and go against each individual student’s ego, pride, self-cherishing and dualistic mind, and might well end up telling a voracious, horny man to become a monk.”

The underlying understanding is that everything the Vajrayana teacher does should be seen as ‘methods’ which can range from the benign to the shocking, to help his students abandon impure perceptions.

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche warned that if the foundations of the guru-student relationship are correctly laid and both parties understand and accept the significance of entering into this relationship, then the students can no longer regard the Vajrayana teacher’s actions as that of an ordinary person. After this Vajrayana bond is created, then condemning or criticizing the teacher, or slandering them in whatever way will, according to tantric teachings, yield unimaginable consequences and create the causes for the student to land in Vajra Hell. Whilst the significance of Vajra Hell may be lost on casual readers, for those on the Vajrayana path, there is nothing worse than ending up there. Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche argued that in Vajrayana there is no way to circumvent this rule nor are there exceptions to the rule.

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s writing skillfully navigates the fine line between blaming Sogyal and exonerating him altogether. While there is a hint that the sexual activities Sogyal Rinpoche allegedly forced some of his students into may well be a means for a Vajrayana guru to train his students to surrender their ego and projections, the point Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche makes is not so much about whether Sogyal is innocent or guilty.

Sogyal Rinpoche (left) and Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche (right) share a joke. While Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche addressed the issue of Sogyal Rinpoche’s alleged sexual abuse from a Vajrayana perspective, he stopped short of excusing or justifying Sogyal’s behavior.

To be fair, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s post should not be taken as necessarily excusing Sogyal Rinpoche’s behavior and exempting him from the law. In fact, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche was quite candid in his observation that he did not think Sogyal Rinpoche had paid enough attention in making sure Rigpa students understood the significance of having a Vajrayana relationship with him. In addition, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche was clear in explaining that having a spiritual bond with a Vajrayana teacher does not mean the student will be made to endure unsavory or abusive experiences such as that which Sogyal Rinpoche’s students allegedly experienced.

The important point in the article is that there is a vital Vajrayana rule that must not be broken – that is, those who have entered the Vajrayana path, and especially those who have been initiated by their teachers, are forbidden from viewing or criticizing their teacher as wrong in any way. Once this rule is broken, the Vajrayana student will have committed a heinous spiritual crime. This rule that Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche articulated in his article may, for most people, be difficult to comprehend and accept. It may even come across as foolishness for a Vajrayana student to forfeit the right to complain, criticize and bring criminal charges against the teacher when there is depravity and criminality in his actions. However, from a Vajrayana perspective Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s reasoning is flawless.

But if we say that Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche is right about this non-negotiable Vajrayana rule, then this rule must apply to all teacher-student relationships in Vajrayana. If that is the case, then the interesting question that arises is this – if students must, by the Vajrayana rule, see their teacher with pure perception even if he is sexually abusive towards them, then should students not also view their teachers with the same pure view if the teacher happens to be a practitioner of Dorje Shugden, which the Tibetan leadership has unconstitutionally outlawed?

If a Vajrayana student is considered to be Vajra Hell-bound when they accuse and condemn an abusive teacher, then is it not only logical that Vajrayana students will similarly land in Vajra Hell if they criticize or abandon a teacher merely because the teacher practices one particular Dharma Protector along with countless other Buddhas and deities? It would be ridiculous to suggest that one should view a sexually abusive teacher with pure perception but should not view a Dorje Shugden teacher with the same pure view, even if that teacher is compassionate, wise and attained. Surely a Vajrayana teacher who practices Dorje Shugden to uphold a vow he made to his own teacher, cannot be considered bad and false and therefore worthy of condemnation whereas a sexually abusive teacher deserves to be seen with a pure view simply because he does not practice Dorje Shugden. Dzongsar Khyentse himself said that there are no exceptions to the Vajrayana rule if one wishes to practice the Vajrayana tradition. To manipulate the rule to suit a purpose is to corrupt the tradition itself.

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche also wrote,

“If an impure perception – such as criticism of one’s guru – is made deliberately and consciously, and it then goes on to become a well-organized, choreographed public discussion with no room for amendments or correction, it constitutes a total breakage of samaya.”

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s statement fits the Dorje Shugden debacle extremely well. Based on his definition, every single lama, monk and lay practitioner who has received the Dharma from a teacher who worships Dorje Shugden, but now participates in the CTA’s persecution of Dorje Shugden practitioners, has without doubt, committed a breakage of samaya. The bulk of the responsibility for this broken samaya lies with the Tibetan leadership who not only orchestrated the spread of this impure view but also coerced many Vajrayana practitioners into condemning their teachers on account of the teacher’s worship of Dorje Shugden.

The Dalai Lama has been recorded publicly saying that his teachers who practiced Dorje Shugden were “wrong”. Of the Dalai Lama’s two tutors, His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche was well known to have trusted Dorje Shugden throughout his life and wrote the seminal Dorje Shugden text Music Delighting the Ocean of Protectors, describing Dorje Shugden as an enlightened being. His Holiness Ling Rinpoche too, wrote a Fulfilment, Confession, Request for Activity and Serkym text for a number of Dharma Protectors including Dorje Shugden. Thus in encouraging discrimination against Shugden practitioners which include his own teachers, the logical but discomforting conclusion is that the Dalai Lama too has damaged his samaya with his own Vajrayana masters, according to Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s definition.

His Holiness Ling Rinpoche (left) and His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche (right), the two tutors of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, both of whom relied strongly on Dorje Shugden. According to Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, criticizing our masters after we have received initiation from them, will lead to a breakage in the guru-disciple relationship.

Or will the Tibetan leadership decree that the Vajrayana rule applies to everyone except them? There is no tradition in Tibetan Buddhism that states that the Dalai Lama or CTA can override one’s samaya with his teacher and yet this is what has been happening.

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s writing may be in relation to Sogyal Rinpoche’s scandals but the Vajrayana rule that he referred to must surely apply to all situations involving a Vajrayana teacher and his students who are on the Vajrayana path. There cannot be one Vajrayana rule for Dorje Shugden practitioners and another one for others. Those who agree with what Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche wrote, and acknowledge that a proper Vajrayana student must not see the teacher with impure perception, should also understand why Vajrayana students who have received the Dorje Shugden practice from their teacher cannot abandon the practice or criticize their teacher without breaking samaya and creating the cause to end up in Vajra Hell.

On the other hand, those who disagree with Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche and insist that the Vajrayana rule should not be used as an escape clause when a lama like Sogyal Rinpoche has perpetrated an illegal act, thereafter cannot use the same Vajrayana rule to justify the Dalai Lama’s banning of Dorje Shugden practice, which not only constitutes a breach of Shugden Buddhists’ human rights but is also unlawful, unconstitutional, not to mention an outright corruption of the very important guru-student relationship.

It means that if readers disagree that the Vajrayana rule mentioned by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche is all-encompassing and without exception, and students should NOT therefore blindly go along when the teacher is wrong (as in Sogyal Rinpoche’s case), then students who regard the Dalai Lama as a teacher should not blindly obey his Dorje Shugden ban when it is clearly immoral and against the law.

So which one is it, to follow the rule or not? It cannot be one or the other, applied as and when it suits the Tibetan leadership’s devices at the time. Practicing the Buddhadharma is not a matter of convenience, or something that can or should be treated whimsically. If the CTA is the Buddhist administration they claim themselves to be, then it is time for them to decide once and for all. The Buddhist world is waiting.


Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche Issues
Public Statement on Recent Criticism
of Sogyal Rinpoche

Download the PDF here

Cropped for brevity. Click to enlarge and read the full post (Source: https://www.buddhistdoor.net/news/dzongsar-khyentse-rinpoche-issues-public-statement-on-recent-criticism-of-sogyal-rinpoche)

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  1. Sogyal Rinpoche passed away on Wednesday (28 Aug 2019) at a hospital in Thailand. Most news platforms when reporting about this news had inevitably brought up his sex scandal. He could have left this world with a different reputation if he didn’t choose to engage in those scandals. As the author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, he has tens of thousands readers from around the world who could have grived over his death, but now what he left is only the reputation about the sex scandal. People are actually happy to hear about his death, some even said it’s the ripening of his karma. What a sad ending.

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.…Instead of turning away people who practise Dorje Shugden, we should be kind to them. Give them logic and wisdom without fear, then in time they give up the ‘wrong’ practice. Actually Shugden practitioners are not doing anything wrong. But hypothetically, if they are, wouldn’t it be more Buddhistic to be accepting? So those who have views against Dorje Shugden should contemplate this. Those practicing Dorje Shugden should forbear with extreme patience, fortitude and keep your commitments. The time will come as predicted that Dorje Shugden’s practice and it’s terrific quick benefits will be embraced by the world and it will be a practice of many beings.

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