What is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from the West? Thus begins one of the teaching dilemmas, or koans, through which practitioners of Zen Buddhism strive for Enlightenment. If a student imagines he has the answer to the question, the master may well rise up and clout him with a stick. If the answer is a good one, he might clout the student even harder.
While shocks may be useful in preparing the mind for awareness, one might wonder about the man or woman who administers them. Is he or she a true representative of that greater reality the student is seeking? Is he or she truly selfless? If not, the potential for delusion is great, and the relationship between teacher and student can be abusive.
A case in point is Sogyal Lakar, a Buddhist teacher of no small renown. Sogyal is credited with the authorship of ‘The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying,’ which is regarded by some as a spiritual classic. In a letter now made public (June, 2017), a number of close disciples have accused Sogyal of physical, emotional, psychological and sexual abuse, of damaging their reception of spiritual teachings, and of a “lavish, gluttonous, and sybaritic lifestyle” financed in part by donations to his organization.
The letter is here:
Sogyal’s inadequate reply is here:
Dzogchen, the tantric form of Buddhism taught by Sogyal Lakar, is known for the severe demands it can make on teacher and student. Sogyal would not be the first teacher to mistake the chimeras of his ego for wisdom and the gratification of his appetites for compassion. These students would not be the first to be overcome by resentment at the corrections meted out by their teacher and to revert to frames of reference they would claim to have put behind them for the sake of their chosen path.
Though Zen has nothing to do with Tibetan Buddhism, the koan is rather apt. Sogyal Lakar, who seems to have little to say to his fellow Tibetans, found adulation in the West, and liked it. His students, mainly Westerners who believed that they were studying with an authentic Tibetan master, ended up with familiar Western abuse. It is good that they have woken up to it.
Bodhidharma’s coming from the West? For Sogyal Lakar, it never happened. Let’s hope it happens now for his students.
If you think I deserve a clout for this, you can leave a comment here and say so.