Eyes on the Prize (Vulnerability is not Weakness), Fallen Gurus
No way around it, this past year has been intense for me. Driving this morning however with many thoughts in my head of disparate events happening in my life and around me, so much suddenly came together and I feel like I have crystal clear clarity about the direction and challenges I face now.
Post-eclipse happenings on an earth scale (this is what eclipses do) have been scary- multiple devastating hurricanes hitting Texas, Florida, the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, a terrible earthquake in Mexico, so much flooding in South East Asia before that, crazy war mongering politicians, it's all a lot to digest day to day. I have written this past year about the challenges I have had to process with what has happened in the US politically and the impact on the urgency of climate change. Now many in the climate change community think we are past a hopeful threshold, and in some sense, it's time to make peace with inevitable collapse.
Meantime, as all of this has been happening, a scandal is rocking the Tibetan Buddhist world, as news of the Buddhist teach Sogyal Rinpoche's sexual, physical and psychological abuses have finally gained the attention of the larger world. Fallen gurus and the trauma they leave is something that hits close to home as I am close to a community of people who have experienced this before. I am aware of what people can experience in these situations, the heartbreak, and the lifelong trauma it can leave, and the very slow, long process of recovery.
Sogyal Rinpoche from what I know was a proponent of what is called "Crazy Wisdom" in Buddhism, where a teacher can use techniques ranging from the unconventional to the outright crazy, in order to awaken students' minds. A Tibetan teacher I greatly admire and feel deeply connected to, who Sogyal Rinpoche supposedly semi-modeled himself on, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, was also a proponent of crazy wisdom. While I truly feel a deep love for and connection to Trungpa Rinpoche (who is passed), I am also aware of the controversy around him, including his alcoholism, and widespread sexual involvement with his students.
I am reading some horrific stories of Sogyal Rinpoche's abuses this week, and am aware of other stories of violence and sexual abuse in some Tibetan monasteries. This is causing tremendous turmoil in the Buddhist world, as it is considered incredibly damning to even question your teacher. To some degree the conflict becomes even more difficult to explore because of cultural differences between East and West- Westerners struggling greatly with hierarchy and deference to authority figures, versus Eastern cultures where this is second nature. Having lived in Japan for a decade I am familiar with these cultural gaps and strains. At the same time, Buddhism is from the big picture, brand new in the West. Tibetan Buddhism was first brought in a meaningful way to the West mostly since the 1970s... Trungpa Rinpoche was one of the first to introduce it to the West, and was greatly castigated and punished for his determination to open up traditional Tibetan Buddhist teachings to Westerners, who were seen as too undisciplined in mind and spirit to be able to work within this sacred path.
I sense in some of the heartbreak around the recent scandals is the feeling that it could permanently tarnish Tibetan Buddhism. I see so much popular open and cynical hostility and dismissal to all religions these days, and simply put, it's an easy way out for people not to bother with the challenge and beauty of spirituality which I think is inherent to all of existence, like it or not, see it or not. I am saddened by the recent accounts of abuse but I also know teachers are still human, even if they are seen as almost divine by some. I also think that greed, and in particular our human sexual natures are perhaps more powerful than we acknowledge, and it is very easy for it to go into shadow territory- where we are not even seeing to what degree it is challenging us. I know desire is challenging for me and I can only imagine what it is like as a teacher with followers who adore and love you, and how hard it is to deal with boundaries in these circumstances. But we are all experiments, and life is in some sense is a series of trial and error. The trick is managing the failures and asking for help, before things get out of control. And speaking up when people have crossed the line, which with Sogyal Rinpoche, seems to have been way past due.
I had a lot of other stuff on my mind today but this is getting long. I had a meeting with a professional art consultant this week which was incredibly constructive, helpful and inspiring. After a year of a lot of contemplation, emotional struggle, I feel that another pair of expert eyes is helping me to refocus and redirect my aspirations and ambitions. I have my eyes on the prize.
At the same time, in a world of so much cowardly behavior and false posturing, aggression and offense, every day I so greatly admire those courageous enough to be vulnerable and open out in the world, still wanting to do good. So many people sadly are very out of touch with themselves, leading to so much unneeded suffering in our lives. Meantime there are warriors, who despite the daily blows, get up each day in the name of beauty, truth and goodness. I am inspired, and increasingly grateful for life, and for working towards bettering life, each day, as it is, and the world, as we find ourselves, here and now.