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Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism, book review

Saturday, October 5th, 2019

[ By Charles Cameron — rise and fall, hubris and nemesis, a frequent pattern in human existence ]
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Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism: The Rise and Fall of Sogyal Rinpoche
by Mary Finnigan & Rob Hogendoorn
Jorvik Press, 199 pp. (2019)

The book benefits enormously from having twin authors — Rob Hogendoorn provides invaluable biographical and analytical material, credited to him as it occurs, while Mary Finnegan‘s contributions relate, in her own voice, her experiences. Both authors are Buddhist practitioners, both have researched the sexual abuse claims around Sogyal for years — claims which have since been admitted by Rigpa, Sogyal‘s teaching organization.

**

Mary Finnigan & Rob Hogendoorn‘s book title hits two human keynotes. You’ll find them intertwined for crowd-pleasing reasonsd in Game of Thrones:

It’s a question that’s been asked of Game of Thrones as long as the HBO series has been on the air: Why so much sex and violence?

But Tibet? Perfect Tibet of our wishes? Tibet of the revered Dalai Lama? Tibet of the lamas who create intricate mandalas of colored sands — then brush them away in a gesture of impermanence and carry the dust to rivers which wash them out to sea? Shangri-La — in fact not fiction?

There’s a lot that’s wonderful to Tibetan Buddhism, and the better it looks and actually can be, the easier it is for non-Tibetans — us Westerners — to fall for the trap of projection — to believe, in this case, in the impeccability of Sogyal Lakar, sometimes titled Rinpoche, or Precious-One.

**

It’s unwise in general to speak ill of the recent dead, and Sogyal died in August 2019. Yet his story must be told, because unhappy though it is, the telling can help us avoid the illusion of a supposedly great lama — second only to the Dalai Lama in popularity in the west — who was in fact assaulting his female students sexually on numerous occasions across decades.

That’s the tale Mary Finnigan, herself a practitioner of DzogchenSogyal‘s own form of Tibetan Buddhism — details in collaboration with her co-author Ron Hogendoorn in this book.

The accusations against Sogyal, of “sexual, physical and emotional abuse”, led to the Dalai Lama declaring Sogyal “disgraced”. The Charity Commission for England and Wales disqualified two of the Trustees of Sogyal’s  organisation, the Rigpa Fellowship, in the UK because they covered up “knowledge of instances and allegations of improper acts and sexual and physical abuse against students”..

**

But although sex, violence, and sexual violence are at the heart of the anguish Sogyal inflicted on unwary students, there’s another side to Sogyal‘s story that Finnigan and Hogendoorn illuminate — the story of the son of a wealthy family, in contact with a senior Dzogchen lama and taken under his wing, who learned little that might have qualified him to be a teacher of that tradition, yet who managed to wangle his Tibetan nationality into the appearance of a gifted and highly educated lama on his arrival in England.

It’s a fascinating and heart-rending story — heart-rending is the word used by the New York Times in its obit for Sogyal — throwing light on Tibetan Buddhism itself, an astonishing mesh-work of visualizations and compassionate insight; the vicious politics that have long existed within the cloak of lamaism, and which the Dalai Lama has partially uncloaked; an archaic gender differential as power differential; and in general, eastern wisdom meets western credulity.

**

Sogyal‘s wealthy family connection gives him access to a high lama, Chokyi Lodro, and his presence at Lodro‘s side gives him in turn the title of Tulku, which often but not always signifies the reincarnation of some previous high lama, and is always a term of respect.

An authentically scholarly Tibetan meditation master, Dudjom Rinpoche, knows Sogyal has little to no education in the finer points of Tibetan philosophy or meditation, but considers him someone a western student might pick up some hints from — crossing the cultural divide as it were.

Sogyal , moving to the west, is on his way.

**

The years pass, just being a Tibetan guru in the west is sexy in the broad sense in which Lamborghinis and orchids are sexy: scholars of religion call it charisma. And when young and impressionable women become devotees of supposed high lamas — and when there are rumors, not without foundation, of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism including tantra, or spiritual-sexual practices, feelings and expectations can get very confused.

The main thrust of Mary and Rob’s book is to tell the rise and fall of Sogyal Lakar, his rise by that wider “sexy” quality we term charisma, his fall by discovery of the abuses of both spirituality and sex he’s inflicted on so many of his students across the years. I won’t go into the details, it’s their story to tell, and they tell it with the probing integrity of journalists as well as the sincerity of practitioners.

**

It has to be said that young Western women stood in line to sleep with Trungpa [“a formidably intelligent iconoclast” meditation master] and were usually eager to oblige with Sogyal. They became known as dharma groupies and sex with a Rinpoche became almost as much of a status symbol as plaster casting Mick Jagger.

Oh, Mary can write!

The problem was the abuse at Sogyal‘s “feudal” court.

**

The Heart Sutra of Mahayana Buddhism teaches something often translated:

form is emptiness, emptiness is form

where emptiness is better understood as <em>void, and void as devoid of self-establishing nature — so that these lines might be rendered:

Form is devoid of self-establishing nature,
absence of self-establishing nature is form,

**

Sogyal — no great meditation master, it would seem — has another form of emptiness. Whatever he may have thought, he lacked that compassion which is the fruit of deep meditative practice. And so he was able to enact violence on his students.

But we may witness that emptiness in another arena, that of scholarship.

Early on in Sogyal‘s time in the west, Dudjom Rinpoche is giving a talk to a hundred eager students, packed into a room intended for an average London family, and Sogyal is translating for him. Mary was there, sitting next to her then boyfriend John Driver, a linguist gifted in Tibetan, and noted that John was frowning. She writes:

During the first lunch break, John steered me into a cafe down the road. He was quite angry.

“Sogyal is not translating correctly,” he said. “Either he’s interpreting Rinpoche’s words into what he thinks is suitable for Westerners or he doesn’t understand what Dudjom is saying.”

**

It was a foreshadowing. Ever since Walter Evans-Wentz published an early English translation of The Tibetan Book of the Dead in 1927, the gold-embossed green cloth volume has been a choice text to set beside the Chinese I Ching in pride of place on one’s desk or shelf. Come 1992, and The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying was published, updating the timeless Buddhist classic, personalizing it with some of Sogyal‘s own tales, made “accurate” to some degree by the inclusion of questions and answers from distinguished Tibetan masters such as Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and the Dalai Lama together with western masters of hospice living and dying such as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross — but, but–

As one student who was around at the time put it:

Could anyone who knew Sogyal imagine him being able to quote the German mystical poet Rainer Maria Rilke? Or the Sufi sage, Jalaluddin Rumi?

No, the “editor” who’d have provided those quotes, and much more of the content and form, indeed the very flowing language of the book, would have been Andrew Harvey, Oxford scholar extraordinaire and author of The Way of Passion: A Celebration of Rumi and other works.

So much for a great book — and it was and is great, and Sogyal deserves some, though by no means all, credit for it.

**

To sum up:

Sex and violence are paired in the book’s title. The problem with the sex is not that it was sex — Sogyal was no more a monk than Trungpa was, and it was often consensual. The problem was in the tirades, the humiliations, the violence, the abuse — delivered under cover of spiritual authority in violation of trust across a power and gender differential.

The scholarship is, well, Andrew Harvey‘s, and Padmasambhava‘s, and Kubler Ross‘.

**

I met Sogyal once. I asked him about the meaning of “skillful means”, and he responded “not entering or leaving a room through the wall, when there’s a door available.” He seemed pleasant enough. Trungpa Rinpoche I befriended at Oxford, and took to visit friends of mine at Prinknash Abbey near Gloucester: later he wrote that the visit had shown him the possibility of living the contemplative life in the west. He opened the first Tibetan monastery in the west shortly thereafter, Samye Ling in Scotland. And Mary is an old friend from hippie days.

As I indicated above, Mary and Rob have a story to tell, and they can tell a story.

Sogyal himself is no longer with us. He has entered, perhaps, the bardo, that liminal space between lives about which The Tibetan Book of the Dead — and to some extent its Sogyal reincarnation, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying — are written.

Go, read.

Trump — King or Queen? A Biblical DoubleQuote

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — a gender-bender for our times, and a caution against messianic projections on all too fallible humans }
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Either way, Donald Trump:

**

To be frank, I don’t think Trump is either one — but Biblical excuses made by or on behalf of those Evangelicals who favor Trump‘s policies, and particularly his choices for the bench, are worth considering on their own merits.

King David notoriously slept with Bathsheba after sending his friend, her husband, off to die on the front lines, and yet G*d seems to have favored and used him. Similarly, Cyrus wasn’t even one of the Chosen People, yet he seems to have been one of the people chosen.

An aside — while I’m not sure if he originated the idea, it’s interesting that David Koresh, the leader of the Branch Davidians, named himself “Koresh” — “Cyrus” in Hebrew — and gave himself the title “sinful Messiah” because he felt both convinced / convicted of his sinfulness and called to a salvific, nay messianic, purpose. Esther? She was Jewish herself and beautiful, and protected the Jews from a holocaust back in the day.

David exemplifies the leader with a shady, nay adulterous and murderous, past.

Cyrus is the unbeliever in a G*d who uses him for his own purposes. And Esther is a ruler who preserves the Jewish people in a time of trouble.

Each analogy in turn has its merits — yet as regular readers here know, while I’m an enthusiast for thinking via analogies, I’m also concerned to bring critical appraisal to them. I have to admit I don’t see a Cyrus, David, or Esther here, and tend to think the long history of messianic projections by enthusiastic crowds, and messianic pretenders who came and went, should be a caution for us.

Trump looks to me like a man, is all. I wouldn’t trust him, and I don’t even trust myself.

**

Sources:

  • CBN (2016), Chaos Candidate: Is Trump a Modern-Day King Cyrus?
  • WaPo (2019), Holy Moses. Mike Pompeo thinks Trump is Queen Esther
  • Eros, the Renaissance and advertising

    Sunday, May 5th, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — Dell ad challenges magic, Couliano shows advertising is magic (in the Renaissance sense) — intro to a series on TV commercials ]
    .

    Continuing the series we began with Advertising series 01: Music..

    Dell intro:

    Dell Technologies, not having much historical insight into either magic or advertising, pits magic against tech and suggests that tech wins, hands down..

    I take that as a personal affront..

    **

    Ioan Couliano:

    The late, esteemed scholar Ioan Couliano, in contrast to Dell, shows in his great book Eros and Magic in the Renaissance that magic, as practiced in the Renaissance, is precisely what advertising is up to today..

    Renaissance magic, according to Couliano, was a scientifically plausible attempt to manipulate individuals and groups based on a knowledge of motivations, particularly erotic motivations. Its key principle was that everyone (and in a sense everything) could be influenced by appeal to sexual desire. In addition, the magician relied on a profound knowledge of the art of memory to manipulate the imaginations of his subjects. In these respects, Couliano suggests, magic is the precursor of the modern psychological and sociological sciences, and the magician is the distant ancestor of the psychoanalyst and the advertising and publicity agent.

    That’s from the cover of Couliano‘s book, and the remainder of this post will track eros from simple erotic desire — mostly from the male perspective? — to the mystical ascent in response to the divine beloved..

    **

    Desire, the universal lure:

    The lure of the erotic will peel your money from your wallet in various skillful ways:

    Sandals

    What is love? Love is advertising. Love — didn’t the Beatles mention this? — is all you need.

    Nugenix:

    What is love? It is nod-nod, wink-wink..

    You wanna go more overt still?

    For that (beer) you’d best be in Rio..

    **

    And then there’s the broader sense of desire:

    Wanting it all:

    But that’s just the desire for food — easily satisfied, even here in these United States..

    But wanting the world, in the cultural appropriation sense? That’s a more subtle desire, and Las Vegas aims to satisfy it by bringing analogs of Venice, the Pyramids, whatever, to a single easily accessible location:

    **

    But wait..

    All of these inevitably fall short of what interests me: the desire to be acquainted with the ludus globi or game of the world, which Couliano describes:

    The ludus globi is the supreme mystical game, the game the Titans made Dionysus play in order to seize him and put him to death. From the ashes of the Titans struck down by the lightning of Zeus, arose mankind, a race guilty without having sinned because of the deicide of its ancestors. But, since the Titans had incorporated part of the god, men also inherited a spark from the murdered child, the divine child whose game is the metaphor of the ages: ?Aion is a child who plays checkers: the sovereignty of a child!

    and the desire for the mystical ascent, not infrequently expressed in erotic terms:

    In Mecca in 1201, he composes a Diwan dedicated to Nezam (Harmony), daughter of an Imam nobleman of Persian origin, Zahir ibn Rostam. Entitled The Interpreter of Burning Desires, the
    Diwan’s prologue contains these intimate confessions:

    Now this sheik had a daughter, a slender and willowy adolescent who attracted the attention of anyone who saw her, whose presence alone was the embellishment of public meetings and struck with amazement all who looked upon her. Her name was Nezam (Harmonia) and her surname ?Eye of the Sun and of Beauty” [?ayn al?Shams wa’Z-Baha? .[Scholarly and pious, with experience of the spiritual and mystical life, she personified the venerable antiquity of the Holy Land and the innocent youth of the prophet’s great city. The magic of her glance, the grace of her conversation, was so enchanting that if she happened to be prolix her speech was filled with references; if concise, a marvel of eloquence; holding forth on a subject, clear and lucid. . . . Were it not for petty minds eager for scandal and inclined to slander, I would here comment on the beauty that God lavished on her body as well as on her soul, which was a garden of generosity. .. .

    Plato in The Symposium:

    Love is simply the name for the desire and pursuit of the whole.

    TripleQuoting trees and spirits, onwards, 37

    Monday, April 15th, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — a woman so lovely she’s pure spirit, carved in stone and overgrown by trees — great christina greer quote — rachel’s mille feuille mar-a-lago ]
    .

    Here’s the TripleQuote:

    To the left, the statue of an apsara or female dancer spirit peers out from a tangle of forest encroaching on abandoned Khmer temples.. Center, she looks to him, Khajuraho temple sculpture, India,mand right — look closer — tree.

    **

    Craig Melvin, 4/12/2019:

    There’s no daylight between him and the Attorney General ..
    He wanted to show that he’s in lockstep with the Attorney General on this issue ..

    **

    Nicolle Wallace, 4/12/2019:

    Nicole: Three dominios have fallen in this story since late last night: the Washington Post reporting about his desire to release human beings into sanctuary cities as some sort of pawn in his political battle over immigration —

    — Julia Ainsley and Courtney Kube, superb reporting on how he wants to use the military in effect as human toy soldiers to carry out his political goals on immigration .. and now Annie Karni and her colleagues reporting about the dangling of a pardon ..

    Chuck Rosenberg: At least historically, pardons were always an act of Presidential compassion and mercy, that’s certainly how they were designed and intended….

    **

    Erin Burnett 4/12/2019::

    I heard those words, and I didn’t know if I was in 1967 or 2017..

    **

    Not sure where, but war room *****

    **

    DoubleQuote:

    Bannon embraces Trump

    Pope embraces Imam of Al Azhar

    **

    MTP 4/12/2019:

    You don’t want to replicate Trump; but you want to beat Trump .
    **

    Ari Melber:

    Let’s see if they have open arms

    Tillerson:

    When the President would say, Well here’s what I want to do, and here’s how I want to do it, and I’d have to say to him, Mr President, I understand what you want to do, but you can’t do it that way, it violates the law, it violates the treaty, you know — he got really frustrated..

    Matt Miller:

    When the DHS Director — who was willing to do a lot for Donald Trump — when Kirstjen Nielsen said, the one thing I can’t do is break the law, he fired her. And now you have him telling the new Acting DHS Director, It’s okay if you break the law. I want you to break the law, and if you do it, and if you go to jail, I’ll pardon you. So even this constraint, where you have officials that say, The one thing I can’t do is break the law, he’s trying to find away around that — and it’s about the most lawless thing you can imagine for a President..

    Victoria DeFrancesco Soto:

    They like his boldness, they like that he’s authentic, they like that he shoots from the hip. And he’s leveraging that, even to the detriment of our democracy.

    Christina Greer:

    Unfortunately, there are far too many Americans who look at these families at the birder, and they don’t see human beings. This is the consistent message that the President is giving his base, when he talks on Twitter, on television, calling them animals, calling them undeserving, saying the doors are closed. Even though he is the child of an immigrant, even though two of his three wives were immigrants, even though four of his five children are children of an immigrant, he doesn’t see these people at the border as of the same lineage as his family.

    John Flannery:

    I sort of think of them as nested Russian wacky dolls, you know, one supporting each other..

    And what it looks like is, the Justice Department is so despoiled now that they’ve becpome a p[olitical arm of the West Wing ..

    You can’t win an argument you don’t make, and we’re not making that argument..

    Ari Melber:

    You can’t win a legal argument you don’t make — is that sort of a court version of Michael Jordan, You miss 100% of the shot you don’t take?<

    **

    Hardball:

    Chris M:

    If that’s not impeachable, I don’t know what is. A President of the United States using his authority to tell government senior officials, cabinet level people, to break the law, I’ll cover you.

    Leon Panetta:

    I think we’ve all gone down the rabbit-hole with Donald Trump into Wonderland, I have no idea what is going on here with the President, who acts like a punch-drunk fighter striking out in all directions ..

    Richard Engel:

    The Pope under attack, and look who’s leading the charge..

    Bannon:

    He’s constantly coming back and putting all the faults in the world on this populist nationalist movement..

    CC comment — this is what really has Bannon exercised, not pedophilia, which is something that both left and right can agree on, and a terrific diversion from his real concern..

    Bannon’s Institute:

    Chris M:

    He’s also building a monastery .. he is putting together a huge facility on a hilltop outside Rome .. It is an 800-room monastery .. and this is going to be the center of his movement ..

    — but we’ll get to all that, after Richard Engel’s evening special tonight..

    All In Chris Hayes:

    That’s John Yoo, unbelievably enough now the Emanuel S. Heller Professor of Law at the University of California —

    — Berkeley.!– which a right-edge very bearded ‘vette-owning vet friend said could be nuked, no problem..

    Apocalypse:

    Jeff Biggers:

    Coal is really like a fourth-string pitcher ..

    Rachel Maddow:

    on having her first taste of mille feuille on her b’day —

    Rachel:

    Apparently this is a whole category of dessert ..

    **

    And ain’t this delicious, too? DoubleQuoting two brilliant women in science — fifty years in a single tweet:

    **

    ANd I’m done.

    32, let’s begin with Her Majesty’s hat

    Sunday, March 31st, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — hat and flag, insecurity clearances, quantum physics and what it tells us about truth and spin, paris, city of lovers, sex, scandal naturellement, and would you believe it, treason? ]
    .

    Brexit. Her Majesty’s hat draws a clear parallel, but is it a metaphor?

    That was the hat HM wore for the 2017 Queen’s Speech to the joint Houses of Parliament — and we have no reason to suppose her opinion has changed since then. Visual DoubleQuote courtesy of Federica Cocco

    And then…

    I mean, what a nightmare…

    **

    But then, you can’t always trust the facts:

    I mean, news these daze:

    Spin corresponds to fact, like the hands of a stopped clock, twice a day.. (thanks, Wolfram)

    Here’s some detail from the Ars Technical piece:

    You, however, are in a box and cannot report your measurements to me. Instead, I have to measure your state to discover the result of your measurement.

    So what we have here, if I might say so, is a case of Matryoshka measurements..

    That means you are in a superposition state of having measured a vertical or horizontal photon, even after you have made the measurement. I can measure your state, and we end up with two sensible outcomes: you measure horizontal, and I measure you to have measured horizontal; you measure vertical and I measure you to have measured vertical.

    But there are two more possibilities: you measure horizontal, but I measure you to have measured vertical, and you measure vertical, but I measure you to have measured horizontal. If the second measurement is governed by quantum mechanics, those two are just as likely to occur as the sensible outcomes. So half the time, the measurement result you obtain contradicts my measurement of your measurement.

    Got it?

    If not read, the whole article, then read it again. Frown. You’ll get it.

    There is nothing wrong with either measurement, and there is no calculation that we can perform to resolve the contradiction.**

    **

    Reading an account of the Al Franken affair, focused on the questions of piling on (scapegoating?)nand equal justice for accuser and accused — two sports metaphors:

    Fellow Democratic senators quickly entered the scrum as they fought to be next in line to proclaim outrage and demand he should go.

    One of the most disturbing aspects of #MeToo is that watching someone get destroyed in real time has become something of a sport.

    In the course of reading in and around that article, I ran across this brilliant visual DoubleQuoting of the Christine Blasey Ford / Brett Kavanaugh matter:

    On such balance we may project each our suppositions: but to have achieved such balance!

    **
    And so to my dialysis viewing:

    Hardball, 3/29/2019:

    Julia Ainsley:

    He [Barr] doesn’t have blinders on, he knows the public criticism here..

    David Corn:

    It doesn’t look like he’s playing Even Stephen here..

    Zerlina Maxwell [on Barr making decisions ahead of release of Mueller report]: I look at this situation almost like the track and field runner that’s running down the hoe stretch, and they put their arms over their head, and then they’re crossed at the finish line..

    .. this feels like a premature victory lap

    Chris M:Well, David, Zerlina caught me .. with that visual of the President of the United States, this particular one, running a hundred yard dash. I don’t think that would be his event. I think riding a golf cart would be his event.

    .. that must be the sound of a bus going over you ..


    Chris M [ourob]:

    How can a white person [ie Hillary Clinton] bea racist agfainst white people?

    [ but cf “self-hating Jews”]

    With anyb luck, I’ll get access to a complete Hardball video for 3/29/2019 and be able to find the chyrons “DeVos grilled’ (42); Trump “overriding” (43); and “Trump questioned” (50)

    I have a note, “that’s the inverse of what’s true” which is a superb example of reverse (pos-neg) symmetry, cf the spy vs spy image in a recent post).. There was also a ref to David Ignatius, How the mysteries of Khashoggi’s murder have rocked the U.S.-Saudi partnership

    **

    Then there was the Green New Deal, with Chris Hayes:

    Seb Gorka: They want to take away your hamburgers. This is what Stalin dreamed of and never achieved.

    AOC: I expected a little more nuance..

    It’s surreal ..

    No more disposable people, no more disposable places ..

    Ref:

    A Green New Deal Is Technologically Possible. Its Political Prospects Are Another Question.

    **

    Rachel Maddow 3/29/3019:

    Rachel re Barr:

    It was kind of him free-styling, this was him showing off his dance moves ..

    Now, tonight, it appears there’s a little bit of panic in the disco, because now William Barr has released yet another unexpected, taken it upon himself, ad lib, figuring it out as he goes along letter ..

    **

    Let’s close with this stunning image by Stephane De Sakutin / AFP / Getty:

    A mold of the Genie de la Patrie damaged during a “yellow vest” protest at the Arc de Triomphe in December is seen during its renovation by the French restorer Agnes Le Boudec in Paris on March 25, 2019.


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