Jealousy among the sangha

Jealousy among the sangha

Most of the hostile gossip about Ngak’chang Rinpoche comes originally from a few fellow students from twenty or more years ago. Some seem to be motivated by jealousies formed back then.

Unfortunately, jealousy between sangha members is probably inevitable. It is found in almost every sangha. If you are enthusiastic about the teachings, it is natural to want to be as close as possible to the teacher. Other sangha members may seem to be obstacles to getting time with the teacher. It is also samsaric human nature to want to be singled out as special, to be publicly praised by the teacher, and to be put in a position of power and responsibility by the teacher. Ideally, we can simply be aware of such feelings and regard them as funny. They sometimes lead to conflicts instead.

Jealousy is intensified by wrathful practice and by wrathful teaching. I will quote passages about this from Jeremy Hayward’s book about Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Warrior-King of Shambhala: Remembering Chögyam Trungpa.

Jealousy and wrathful practice

In wrathful practice, you set aside everything in your life other than Buddhism. This makes anything connected with Buddhist practice far more important than it would otherwise be. Any feelings around practice are intensified—including jealousy.

Anger and jealousy popped up again . . . We all wanted to be part of this brave new world, not to be left out of any smallest moment of it. He saw the potential brilliance and intelligence in each of his students and demanded everything from them, more than they even knew they had—and all of this could be quite addictive. In these early years he was drawing a group around him to work with him, so he did little at this point to deter our enthusiasm for being close to him, even elbowing others out of the way if necessary. (pp. 62-63)

[A senior student] became obsessed with the question of who was “in” and who was “out” of Rinpoche's intimate circle. There was no defined “in” or “out” as far as Rinpoche was concerned; it was simply a matter of how much you were able to relate with his world. Although we may have realized, at times, that it was mainly our own projection, this ambition to be “in” was a driving force for much of the politics and intrigue that went on around Rinpoche. It is not so different in any group of people—there is always some kind of inner circle that everyone aspires to be a part of. The difference in this case was that it affected people at the very core of their being and longing. (p. 126)

Jealousy and wrathful teaching

Wrathful teaching involves deliberately causing negative emotions—particularly anger—in students. One easy way to do that is set them against each other. The lama may deliberately create conflicts between students.

Rinpoche . . . often creat[ed] friction and feistiness among us that ignited a flame of great power and energy—all so that we could have the chance to leap to another level of genuine understanding. (p. 12)

People would come to one of us and say, “Rinpoche said we should do this,” and it would be quite difficult at times . . . Often people would have their own projections, or forcefully suggest something to Rinpoche to which he would agree, only to say quite the opposite to someone else. In that way we would frequently hear conflicting instructions prefaced by, “Rinpoche said . . .” (p. 241)

Appointing tantric teachers

Jealousies in the sangha come to a head when the time comes for the lama to appoint tantric teachers from among the senior students. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche made it clear that he would appoint only one.

Choosing one successor was very important to Rinpoche . . . [this] became a cause of paranoia in the community—because if there was only to be one successor, then who would it be, and what would happen to the rest of us? . . . . [this] provided a clear mirror for our own feelings of specialness and one-up-manship. (p. 63)

Trungpa Rinpoche’s choice of successor, the Vajra Regent Ösel Tendzin, turned out to cause huge problems. Apparently he was brilliant and charming, but also arrogant and self-indulgent. He inspired passionate feelings, positive and negative. Shortly after Trungpa Rinpoche died, Ösel Tendzin was revealed to have infected students with the AIDS virus, apparently knowingly. This produced in an epic civil war in the sangha that lasted many years and nearly destroyed Trungpa Rinpoche’s legacy.

The sangha became utterly divided . . . there were people who were simply overwhelmed by their personal anger toward the Regent, perhaps some of it a surfacing of resentment, jealousy, and anger that had [previously] built up toward him. (p. 407)

The split and subsequent battle in the sangha was painful beyond belief, dividing families and friends. This period brought to the surface so much of our latent jealousies, antagonisms, and basic aggression that it became a tremendous catharsis for many of us. (p. 409)