What do scientists say about spiritual enlightenment

Buddhism The dark side of enlightenment

Sogyal Rinpoche is the founder of the Rigpa Organization, one of the most famous Tibetan Buddhist groups in the West. At the end of August the spiritual teacher died of complications from cancer. He played the central role in the Rigpa crisis. Ex-students publicly accused him of physical and mental abuse, months later the master resigned without admitting guilt. That was 2 years ago. The sociologist Werner Vogd has dealt extensively with this Buddhist trend. In his analysis he would like to decipher the thought patterns and dynamics for abuse of power. When he began his research on the Rigpa movement, Sogyal Rinpoche was still in office and dignity. But even then there were apparently many confidantes among the followers, says the scientist:

"They oscillated between trust and mistrust. And in the interview they began:" Yes, there is a problem, there is bad talk about us from outside. But that can't be. That's an enlightened born-again master and I don't want to believe that. "

Anyone who criticizes suddenly finds himself alone

Werner Vogd teaches at the University of Witten / Herdecke. In his book he describes the Rigpa movement as a system shaped by expectations, by deception and disappointment - factors that mutually condition and stabilize one another. Master worked with expectations and disappointments. There are reasons why so many students did not leave despite their discomfort. Vogd says:

"... that many people have also gained something very valuable. So through Rigpa, through the courses, through the teachings of the master. And in places they have also emerged from deep existential crises. Then of course this gratitude. And then you can't at the same time Believing things that shouldn't happen. It's a very simple psychological mechanism. The technical term is cognitive dissonance. And then you try to push away the one side that you don't want. "

If you criticize something, you suddenly find yourself alone. Everyone is then against one or the other - the group has developed such mechanisms. Even at so-called information events on the crisis, those affected were advised to work through the events for themselves as a spiritual task. In the book it says:

"It is not the (alleged) perpetrator who appears as a problem, but the people who sympathetically participate in the victims' perspective or even see themselves deceived. What is revealed here on this side of the silence is an ontological confusion: facts that need to be clarified objectively The subjectivity of the master - his alleged holiness - is transfigured into an objective fact. The silence does not protect a mystical secret, but only prevents the uncovering of an illusion. The tragic thing is that with this arrangement the spirituality of the followers of Rigpa is profoundly corrupted. "

Because the master is silent on the allegations, the organization must lie all the more, writes Vogd. If doubt about his righteousness is only a personal problem of the student, then the master can do what he wants. Even if he harasses students - there are reports of violence and beatings - then the master only works with them to dissolve their ego, according to the internal view.

Turn action into enlightenment

In Tantric Buddhism, students take the vow to develop love and compassion for every being, and in a special exercise they begin to practice with their master as the main teacher.

Vogd says: "The basic idea is wonderful because then I learn that maybe animals, dogs, criminals and murderers too are naturally suffering beings for whom I develop compassion. That is actually the basic idea that one tries to First of all to practice it with the teacher. And when you can and see that he is only human, you have mistakes to pass it on to others.

According to the sociologist, however, there is the fatal misunderstanding that the student sees all the teacher's actions as enlightened. So it happens that students think of their guru, "If the master messes up, leave him alone. It's part of the spiritual program." - The exercise is not only thought of as reality, it is reality, says Vogd.

"So if he hits someone now. Then they say he's doing something great to lead people to enlightenment. Unfortunately, many believe that. And that's nonsense, of course. We can say that empirically relatively well with our means that the way no one came to enlightenment. They are traumatized people. Unfortunately, that goes in exactly the opposite direction. But through this misunderstanding, people just want to believe that this is something good. That this is an act that people do brings to a spiritual awakening. "

"Questioning your own projections"

And because the followers have also had good experiences, they constantly push aside what is irritating or disturbing. Even the course beginners learn that. An uneasiness remains, even with people who have been with us for 10 or 15 years. Some are aware of the splitting off of this observation, but they do not want to lose their faith.

Vogd: "I see: people are being treated badly, people are actually not doing well at all, who are being badly treated by the group or the system. But now I actually have to distrust my own perceptions and say that they are actually just projections, all just illusions. In reality this is an enlightened master. "

The tragic thing is: the longer a follower has participated, the more he or she has to acknowledge that he or she played along and supported the lie. This is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to quit. The basic idea could be helpful, says Vogd: that you question your projections by looking at your own fears, wishes, desires and doubts. Then you wouldn't have to react symptomatically, but would be really free - from a Buddhist point of view.

Instead, the Rigpa followers heard: You have to overcome your doubts in order to overcome your ego - this is a classic trap. "Most people don't even know what it means to overcome the ego. They have an idea that someone comes along, smashes the ego and then I'm free. But in fact, the more someone hits you, the more it is The more you are mistreated, the more you accumulate new trauma. Liberation - as I understand it - is much more about getting out of old emotional entanglements in order to be able to see the present as it is now. And seeing also clearly includes that maybe my teacher has problems. "

Victims exchange ideas on the Internet

Maybe the teacher is addicted to sex and violent. Various groups at Rigpa are currently looking for a way out of the crisis. This does not end with the death of Sogyal Rinpoche either. For example the processing group "What now" - the members exchange information on the Internet.

Vogd says: "The group recognizes that these abuse stories exist. They first try to forgive themselves for being fooled for so long. But they also try to develop compassion for themselves and for the other victims at the same time. That is a very productive way of coming to terms with it. "

But there are a number of Tibetan Buddhist lamas who want to continue as before. They responded to resignations and criticism with punishments and threats, says Vogd. Tantric hells are said to await apostates if they turn away from their main teacher. But just replacing the person at the top - Werner Vogd thinks that is not enough. This would keep the old system, with all the susceptibility to abuse of power. In his study, the sociologist comes to the conclusion that the dogmas and taboos of Tibetan Buddhism should also be put to the test in the West. The essential insights of Tibetan Buddhism would have to be translated anew.

Werner Vogd: The empowered master - a systemic reconstruction using the example of the Sogyal Rinpoche scandal
Carl-Auer Verlag, Heidelberg 2019, 138 pages, 19.95 euros.